Glorifying God in Your 9 to 5

Beginning with Worldview
It is a bit of a misconception to suggest that a secular worldview is one that is void of God. On the contrary, many secularists do believe there is a place for God, but it is a very limited place. A secular worldview is not necessarily one that eliminates God; rather, a secular worldview is one that compartmentalizes God. “Secularization did not cause the death of religion,” says theologian Walter Kasper. It did, however, relegate it to “one sector of modern life along with many others. Religion lost its claim to universality and its power of interpretation.”[1] In other words, a secular worldview is one that allows God to inform some parts of life, but not all. The Creator is marginalized. A secularist may invite God into certain rooms, but He is not permitted access to the entire house.
Leslie Newbigin, who spent many years as a missionary to India, tells that this kind of compartmentalization of God is a Western phenomenon. Few cultures around the world encourage a division between the sacred and secular or the public and the private. Faith is something that is intended to permeate all of life. “In most human cultures, religion is not a separate activity set apart from the rest of life.”[2] For sure, this is one of the ways that the “world” has affected the modern American church.
In stark contrast to a secular worldview, the Bible teaches that God is concerned about all of life. In addition to so-called religious activities (e.g. prayer, worship, etc.), God desires to inform every facet of life: work, play, relationship, family, etc. Paul gives a great summary of this when he states that even the most mundane actives of eating and drinking can and should be done to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).
 
Unfortunately, the workplace has been one of the hardest hit areas by the secularization of America. Although most Christians spend the majority of their time at work, few stop to think about how deeply interested God is in both their performance and attitude towards their vocation. In her article, “How the Church Has Failed Business,” Laura Nash shows the dichotomy between work and faith. Christian businesspeople assume one worldview Monday through Friday and another on Sunday. Church and business have basically agreed to say off of each other’s turf.[3] However, this kind of compartmentalization fails to square with verses such as Colossians 3:23-24: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
A Theology of Work
While there are many entry points to a theology of work, perhaps the best is the Genesis account of the creation:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:26-28)
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. (Gen 2:15)
Defining Work
According to these verses, work is glorifying God by bringing out and cultivating the potential of the creation for the purpose of human flourishing. In the Genesis account of the creation God did not present Adam with a complete earth, in the sense that all of the work was done for him; rather, he was given the raw materials and the gifts to bring out the numerous possibilities of the creation. K. Scott Oliphint echoes this idea when he states, “Creation was not given to man ‘complete,’ but was given as a gift to man, in order that we might bring out its latent potential in such a way that God would continue to be glorified in it.”[4] While God could have given the creation to man with all of its potential already drawn out, He chose to have man glorify Him though discovering and bringing out that potential, in other words, through work.
This definition finds further support from the so-called “creational” or “cultural mandate.” The words “subdue it and have dominion” show progress (Gen. 1:28). Adam was called and gifted to till the ground to bring the natural resources of the creation to a useful end (Gen. 2:15). As people created in God’s image, we are called to do what God does.[5] We cannot bring something out of nothing, but we can order the natural resources. This was at least part of Adam’s commission in these verses. In greater detail, Wayne Grudem explains:
The word translated “subdue” (Hebrew: kabash) implies that Adam and Eve should make the resources of the earth useful for their own benefit, and this implies that God intended them to develop the earth so they could come to own agricultural products and animals, then housing and works of craftsmanship and beauty, and eventually buildings, means of transportation, cities, and inventions of all sorts.[6]
Vocation
The word vocation comes from the Latin word for “call.” The world is a big place. Not all people are called to Adam’s vocation of gardener. All honest professions, however, move in the direction of subduing and ruling.[7] All work seeks to bring out the potential of the creation for the purpose of human flourishing. A plumber uses pipes, and gravity, and principles of pressure to channel water in useful ways.[8] An electrician uses his gifts of harnessing and moving electricity through conductors so that people can plug in TV’s, lights, and charge phones. An artist takes the raw material of the cosmos and rearranges it so that it is pleasing to the eye. Musicians take sounds that make little sense and arrange them in a way that communicates meaning. Good managers coordinate others to use their gifts and talents for the good of humanity. In addition to Adam’s, all honest vocations move in the direction of bringing out the potential of the creation.
Mental and Physical Labor
Before exploring some of the implications, it should be noted that both mental and physical labor can be done to God’s glory as evidenced by Adam doing both of these in the Garden. Most are quick to recall that man, as a gardener, used physical labor to till the ground. It should also be remembered, however, that man used his mental capabilities to name the animals. Stan Reeves notes that “Adam had to study, compare and contrast the animals to assign appropriate names to each of them.”[9] It is a mistake to assume that one occupation is more God honoring than the next.
Applications of Work
How does this theology of work apply to us today? What does any of this have to do with washing dishes, painting a room, or selling houses? The implications are huge! Consider just a few…
Decompartmentalizing God
First,a proper understanding of work should cause us to decompartmentalize our lives. God is concerned about all of the work that we do. Work is a way of bringing glory to God. In his classic book, The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer devotes a chapter to this topic. He states, “One of the greatest hindrances to internal peace which the Christian encounters is the common habit of dividing our lives into two areas, the sacred and the secular.”[10] The Gospel must shed light on everything that a believer does.
In their excellent article, “Church Support for Doing Business,” Ron Ferner and Philip Ryken show a contrast between the two powerful businessmen, John D. Rockefeller and John Wanamaker. It is well known that Rockefeller was faithful to his local church. He taught Sunday School and even tithed off of his massive salary. No doubt he placed great importance on worship on the first day of the week. This, however, did little to stifle the fact that he was ruthless businessman the other six days. Wanamaker also taught and gave to his local church. The difference between the two is that Wanamaker also sought to live the Gospel throughout the rest of the week. He looked for ways to integrate his faith into his business. Wanamaker went as far as delaying the opening of his department store on Broad Street in Philadelphia, the first and largest on the street, to allow D.L. Moody to use the building for a meeting. As postmaster general, he sought to do all business to the glory of God. His epitaph reads, “Servant of God.”[11]
The result of compartmentalizing faith can be devastating. A Christian who does not guard against this will find himself to be a faithful Christian on Sunday and a cut-throat worker on Monday. On Sunday he will attempt to consecrate himself to God, and on Monday intentionally fail to disclose valuable information to a client.
The Biblical writers know nothing of a division between the sacred and the secular. All work is sacred when done unto the Lord (Col. 3:22-24). Here we must agree with Dutch Statesman Abraham Kuyper: “There is not an inch of any sphere of life over which Jesus Christ does not say, ‘Mine.’” God’s concern for the life of a Christian runs through everything: the treatment of clients, the manner in which a waiter waits tables, the treatment of employees or employers, the care that a nurse takes in inserting an IV needle, the diligence that a city worker gives to something as trivial as filling a pothole for safe streets, the manner in which a stay at home mom rocks her baby to sleep. A worldview such as this makes good sense of verses that appear to be void of any spiritual advice: “Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house” (Prov. 24:27). God is even concerned about how the house is built.
The Moral Goodness of Work
A second implication is, when done to the glory of God, work is a good thing. Work is not a necessary evil. God has privileged man to work. This principle comes to life when we remember that Adam’s call to work was not a result of the Fall. He worked the garden before he sinned. Work did change after the Fall; it became more difficult; but it has always been a part of God’s plan. It has been wisely pointed out that the curse in Genesis 3:17-18 is not on work, but on the ground. Also, work is part of the fourth commandment. As surely as Israel’s remembrance of the Sabbath recalls God’s resting on the seventh day, the command to work the other six recalls God’s creating activity. There is good cause, therefore, to say that there is a moral goodness to work. Three applications come to the surface. First, Christians should not be shy to explore their creativity and the potential of the creation since we understand that God has created us, at least in part, for this purpose. Michael Faraday (1791-1867) was a brilliant English chemist and physicist who contributed to the fields of electromagnetism and electrochemistry. In speaking about his love of science his niece, Margaret Reid, once said, “I shall never look at the lightening flashes without recalling his delight in a beautiful storm. How he would stand at the window for hours watching the effects and enjoying the scene; while we knew his mind was full of lofty thoughts, sometimes of the great Creator, and sometimes of the laws by which He sees meet to govern the earth.”[12] With great love for the Creator, Christians ought to pursue fields such as science, economics, politics, business, and the arts.
In addition to encouraging creativity, the moral goodness of work should also inspire believers to work hard with integrity (Exod. 28:3; 35:26; I Ki. 7:14; Dan. 1:17). The often quoted words of Marin Luther King, Jr. ring well here: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’” Christians should not be shoddy in their work; God has not called His people to laziness and poor craftsmanship. All work should be done to His glory.
Finally, we should be thankful to the Lord for all of the good gifts that come as a result of work (Jam. 1:17). Wayne Grudem’s imaginary encounter with Adam and Eve illustrates this point:
 
Manufactured products give us opportunity to praise God for anything we look at in the world around us. Imagine what would happen if we were able somehow to transport Adam and Eve, before they had sinned, into a twenty-firstcentury American home. After we gave them appropriate clothing, we would turn on the faucet to offer them a glass of water, and they would ask, “What’s that?” When we explained that the pipes enabled us to have water whenever we wanted it, they would exclaim, “Do you mean to say that God has put in the earth materials that would enable you to make that water system?”
“Yes,” we would reply.
“Then praise God for giving us such a great earth! And praise him for giving us the knowledge and skill to be able to make that water system!” They would have hearts sensitive to God’s desire that he be honored in all things.
The refrigerator would elicit even more praise to God from their lips. And so would the electric lights and the newspaper and the oven and the telephone, and so forth. Their hearts would brim over with thankfulness to the Creator who had hidden such wonderful materials in the earth and had also given to human beings such skill in working with them. And as Adam and Eve’s hearts were filled with overflowing thanksgiving to God, God would see it and be pleased. He would look with delight as the man and woman made in his image gave glory to their Creator and fulfilled the purpose for which they were made.[13]
All Work Can Be Done to His Glory
A third implication of this theology of work is that Christians should be cautious in drawing hard divisions between “full time Christian work” and “secular work.” While few would come right out and say it, many are under the impression that the work of a janitor is a second rate way to serve the Lord. There are people who serve the Lord, and then there are people in full time ministry that really serve God.
Some call the division between the secular and the sacred the “Catholic Distortion” since it was especially prominent in the Catholic era.[14] Protestant Reformers such as Luther would have nothing to do with it. He rejected the idea that priests performed work that was holier than shopkeepers. The entire world was to be “full of service to God, not only the churches but also the home, the kitchen, the cellar, the workshop, and the field.” According to the English Reformer William Tyndale, “there is difference betwixt washing of dishes and preaching of the word of God; but as touching to please God, none at all.” All of life is sacred for the Christian and should be done to the glory of God.
Columnist and author Nancy Pearcey tells of a conversation she had after speaking on Capitol Hill. She was approached by a congressional chief of staff who expressed frustration with many of the Christian young people who were working in politics felt “guilty” about their work in the field. He went on to explain, “[They] feel that if they were really committed to God, they wouldn’t be here. They’d be in the ministry.” Pearcey, then states, “Though many of these young people were graduates of Christian colleges, they had not been taught a Christian worldview. They still placed their professional work on the secular side of the secular/sacred split, regarding it as less valuable than religious activity.”[15]
The solution to this problem is not to downplay a call to full time Christian ministry, but to emphasize that all work can and should be done to God’s glory. Listen again to Colossians 3:23-24: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” We would expect to find a verse such as this in the context of prayer, evangelism, or fellowship. The context, however, is work. In addition to this, how encouraging it should be to the Christian worker to discover that the first instance of people being “filled with the Spirit” in the Bible are those doing the work of a craftsman: cutting stones and working with wood (Exod. 28:3l 31:1; 35:31). This passage shows a wonderful picture of redeemed workers glorifying God as they work their craft. As Ferner and Ryken state, “The point… is not simply that Christians can serve God in business, but that Christians can serve God through business.”[16]
Guarding Against the Extremes
One final implication of the creational mandate is that we are not owners, but stewards of the creation. As such, all responsible stewards must guard against two extremes of work: lackadaisicalness and idolatry. The first of these has such a pessimistic view of work that the best thing that can happen is for someone to find a way not to work. The second category has such a high view of work that it tends to make a god out of achievement.
Those who are lackadaisical work for the weekend. Work is just something done to “get by” or support a lifestyle; hence, there is little joy in work. People in this category tend to be shoddy and lazy in their work. Many in this category dream of winning the lottery and early retirement. In addition to this, lackadaisical people view others who have done well in business as “lucky.”[17]
Those who fall into the second category, idolatry, identify themselves by their work. They become obsessed with accomplishment. Work is like a drug; it is a fix. In this sense the worker derives pleasure from work itself, not from serving the Lord. Whereas the lackadaisical worker works for the weekend, the workaholic works the weekend. People in this category are highly motivated, defined by work and driven by the glory of ambition. Their career is the sun of their solar system; Jesus is not the savior, work is. The symptoms of this kind of idolatry are fairly obvious. There are great highs when things go well at work and great lows when things fall apart or when expectations are not met.
When a society gravitates towards these two extremes, conflict is inevitable. The shalom of the community can only deteriorate. Asmus and Grudem explain:
The lazy, careless, selfish consumers, who produce less and less of value for society; and the workaholics, who produce more and more, and gain immense wealth, but leave trails of broken families and lost children…. The “have-nots” will pull the economy down, and the “haves” will pull it up, and there will be increasing conflict between the two groups as they pull apart. Nobody will find joy and fulfillment in work.[18]
Sadly, as both sides demonize each other the wedge is driven deeper and deeper in between classes and people. A house divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:25).
The Gospel and Work
 
The good news is that the Gospel has the power to save both the lackadaisical and idolatrous worker. In the Gospel, Jesus restores people to be the kind of workers that they were created to be. He does so by renewing the motivations of the lackadaisical worker and the identity of the ambitious. Regarding the first, the Gospel has the power to change motives. The law can make you drive the speed limit, but it cannot make you want to be a responsible citizen. The law can make you an equal opportunity employer, but it cannot make you love someone of another race. In short, the law can change behavior, but not motivation. More than mere behavior modification, there are numerous examples in the Gospels of Jesus changing hearts. In Zacchaeus, a white collar criminal becomes a generous servant of the community (Luke 19:1-9). In confronting the woman at the well, as dignity is restored, the Samaritan woman shows a heartfelt desire to honor God with her life (John 4:1-29). Regarding Matthew, a one time traitor of the Jewish people joyfully takes on a new ministry to Israel. Through the power of the Gospel, the lackadaisical worker discovers a newfound desire to be a faithful worker.
The Gospel also rescues the ambitious worker from the idol of work. Whereas this individual once found value and satisfaction from achievement or employment status, he or she is now able to serve God through work without serving work itself. The one time workaholic who lived for the thrill of the accomplishment can finally put to rest runaway ambition. In union with Christ, this person no longer has to look towards the work of his hands to feel a sense of accomplishment. At the cross Jesus accomplished all that is necessary to feel significant before the One whose opinion really matters. There is a great picture of this in Luke 10:17-20, where the disciples return rejoicing that they have performed such great works. Jesus says to them, “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” What Jesus is saying, in essence, is, “Do not draw your value and significance because of what you do; rather, know that you are significant because of your relationship with me.”
Work to the Glory of God
 

In the earlier part of the 20thcentury, Eric Liddell was one of the greatest runners in the world. In addition to being a great athlete, Liddell would eventually move to China where he served as a missionary. Liddell bucked every trend of the day. Prior to running every race he would go down the line and shake the hand of every other man in the race. He would run every race flailing his arms with his face pointed to the sky. When Liddell was asked, “How can you see the finish line?” he would reply, “The Lord guides me.” He was also a man of strong conviction. In the 1924 Olympics Liddell gladly gave up what most consider to be a sure gold medal because of his refusal to run on Sunday. A few days later he ran the 400 meter race, which he was not expected to win. He crossed the line in record time. When asked why he ran, he replied, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” The same should be true for all Christian workers. God has created each person with gifts to use for His glory.



[1]. Walter Kasper, “Nature, Grace, and Culture: On the Meaning of Secularization,” in Catholicism and Secularization in American: Essays on Nature, Grace, and Culture, ed. David L. Schindler (Huntington, IN: Communion Books, 1990), 38.
[2]. Quoted by Nancy Pearcey in Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 69.
[3]. Laura Nash cited by Ron Ferner and Philip Ryken, “Church Support for Doing Business in God’s Word,” in Business Ethics Today: Adding a Christian Worldview as Found in the Westminster Confession of Faith, ed. Philip J. Clements (Philadelphia: Westminster Theological Seminary, 2011), 332.
[4]. K. Scott Oliphint, “Prolegomena to the Practice of Ethics in Business,” in Business Ethics Today: Adding a Christian Worldview as Found in the Westminster Confession of Faith, ed. Philip J. Clements (Philadelphia: Westminster Theological Seminary, 2011), 64.
[5]. David VanDrunen supports the reading, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, so that they might have dominion…” in Living in God’s Two Kingdoms (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 39.
[6]. Wayne Grudem, Business for the Glory of God: The Bible’s Teaching on the Moral Goodness of Business (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003), 25-6.
[7]. Some understand work to be a response to Christ’s fulfillment of the Genesis mandate (VanDrunen, 57) while others suggest that it is a contribution or continuation (Al Wolters, Creation Regained: Biblical Basis for a Reformational Worldview [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005], 41). This discussion is beyond the scope of this short essay.
[8]. Stan Reeves, “The Spirituality of Work,” Founders Journal (Spring, 2004): http://www.founders.org/journal/fj56/article1.html
[9]. Ibid.
[10]. A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1993), 109.
[11]. Ron Ferner and Philip Ryken, “Church Support for Doing Business in God’s World,” in Business Ethics Today: Adding a Christian Worldview as Found in the Westminster Confession of Faith, ed. Philip J. Clements (Philadelphia: Westminster Theological Seminary, 2011), 328-29.
[12]. George Johnson, The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008), 75.
[13]. Grudem, Business for the Glory of God, 26.
[14]. Os Guinness, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Nashville: Word, 1998), 32.
[15]. Pearcey, 66.
[16]. Ferner and Ryken, 325.
[17]. Barry Asmus and Wayne Grudem, “What is at Risk for Business if We Lose a Christian Worldview” in Business Ethics Today: Adding a Christian Worldview as Found in the Westminster Confession of Faith, ed. Philip J. Clements (Philadelphia: Westminster Theological Seminary, 2011), 180.
[18]. Ibid., 180-81.

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