“Brother John gave up a lucrative career in the business world to enter full-time Christian service,” the pastor announced. “He’s working for Jesus now.”
The church erupted in applause, but my heart sank because I felt sorry for the man sitting next to me. My father, a skilled tradesman, wasn’t leaving his business to enter “full-time Christian service.” Was he somehow less of a believer or less spiritual than those who received a paycheck from a Christian 501(c)(3)?
These are questions that rattled around in my teenage brain. Fortunately, I later acquired a more robust theology of faith and work and came not only to appreciate so-called “laymen” like my father, but also to see all work, not just church work, as Christian service. But I suspect most believers, who labor every day in secular factories and offices, soldier on with a theologically deficient view of their calling. Mondays continue to be the most difficult day of the week for many because they can’t see God at work in their work.
We typically think of the utility of our jobs in three categories:
First, our jobs are opportunities to make money. This may sound rather crass, but working to make money is a biblical concept. Paul reminded the Thessalonians, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10 ESV). Later in a letter to Timothy, Paul said a man who doesn’t provide for his family is “worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). Christians shouldn’t love money, but they shouldn’t disregard its usefulness, either. It’s necessary to live and function in the world.
Second, our jobs are opportunities to share the gospel. Most Christians would acknowledge that their presence in a mostly secular work environment is an opportunity, given by God, to be a gospel witness. Romans 10:14 reminds us that we are the preachers God sends into a lost world. Over time, a believer can be a faithful presence when work relationships provide the opportunity for gospel conversations. What’s more, the quality of our work can, in and of itself, be a silent witness to the gospel.
Third, our job allows us to support the church. Most Christians would acknowledge that a steady income gives more opportunity to help fund kingdom work. Giving is an act of joyful worship (2 Corinthians 9:7); it is also how we demonstrate our spiritual priorities. A regular commitment to give to the local church is an ongoing witness to ourselves and to the world that we value Christ and the gathering of His people.
Most Christians might list one or all three of the above reasons as motivations for their work. But are provision, evangelism, and giving the only reasons for clocking in on Monday? Or could it be that the cubicle, the truck stop, or the hospital might also be full-time service in the way that Christian ministry is?
We tend to see work as a product of the fall, as an unnecessary yet now integral part of living in a cursed world. But work is not punishment—it’s a gift. Work is cursed only insomuch as it is harder because of sin. The ground now fights back with thorns and thistles. Sin infects our business dealings and motivations. And the cursedness of humanity often creates difficult working conditions.
Mondays continue to be the most difficult day of the week for many because they can’t see God at work in their work.
But work, in and of itself, is not a curse. It is one way in which we reflect the image of God. Unlike the rest of creation, humans were given a mandate—to subdue the earth and to leverage our creative gifts to glorify Him. When we labor with our hands and take pride in what we produce, we are performing godlike functions. This is why the Bible urges, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Eccl. 9:10). So if good work produced by skillful hands glorifies God, His people should be motivated to give it their best.
Our work, done well and with a good heart, is also an act of worship. This is why Paul says we work “as for the Lord rather than for men” (Col. 3:23). Working for the applause of man is a fleeting motivation. We may not get the verbal or financial affirmation we desire. We may labor under horrible conditions with little incentive. Working with excellence may, at times, even cost us rather than provide gain. But if we view our work as an act of worship to our Creator, we’ll never run short on inspiration. Even when we have enough money. Even when we’ve ascended the heights of corporate success. Even if everyone in our office is a believer.
By viewing our work as God’s gift, we no longer have to dread Mondays or view our cubicles, kitchens, classrooms, or construction sites as less than sacred. The workplace becomes a canvas on which to display God’s creative glory. This is why Abraham Kuyper famously said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’” There is no division between secular and sacred, because all the earth is the Lord’s, even the humble and seemingly inconsequential spaces where many Christians ply their trade.
Our work is not just a means to an end, an ATM to fund church work, or a place to grudgingly evangelize. No matter what we do for a living, we’re engaged in full-time Christian ministry from nine to five each day. The cubicle is not a prison but an altar, and knowing that should radically change how we think about the place where we spend a large part of our adult lives.