What do Christians believe about work? And how does that impact your work, whatever that may be?
Work has meaning
Christians believe that work isn’t just something you do because you have to eat, and you need money. Work is one of the things God designed people for, and so it has meaning for us. In the very beginning, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). It was in his plan from the start that humans have something purposeful to do with our time and energy.
The Bible tells us that people were made in the image of God, and one of the first things the Bible tells us about God is that he works. He creates. He makes things—all things, in fact. So it’s no surprise that human beings made in God’s image also have a drive to work—to create—to make and do things which are “very good” (Genesis 1:31).
Work is hard
Of course, this doesn’t mean everything we call “work” is good. There are jobs that are harmful, like those that encourage people to overspend, to get addicted, to do things that hurt themselves and other people. Intuitively, and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we know what kind of work does and does not honor God and others. When in doubt, consider whether the job helps, encourages, uplifts, heals, or brings truth to people; or, whether the job harms, steals, exploits, cheats, or lies to people.
There are also jobs which could be very good, but aren’t—because the boss is unfair, because the company cuts corners on safety, because the pay and the hours are terrible, and workers aren’t in a position to make things better. If you work in one of these jobs, we’re sorry. Some of us have been there, too. Seek God’s word and counsel from someone you trust to see how you can get out of an unfair or unsafe situation.
Of course, normal, healthy people want to work at jobs that are good—that help the world instead of harming it further. But not everybody gets to choose. Sometimes the only job choices available to people are bad ones. They may not have the training to get better jobs, or they may live in a place where the jobs just aren’t there. They make do with what they can get.
This state of affairs has been going on for so long that it almost seems normal to us. We blame the economy, the current administration, or just plain bad luck. But the Bible tells us there is a deeper reason for the mess that we call work, and that is the result of human rebellion against God. It says that long ago, at the very dawn of human history, we turned against God, and by doing so, we managed to mess up the entire human race. Our relationship to work was never the same. In Genesis 3:17-19, God describes the future to the first humans:
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)
The scripture references agriculture, which is the primary way humans have historically earned a living; but the difficulty with which we carry out our work applies to all jobs. Human beings were made to live in harmony with God, with his life running through us. When mankind cut itself off from that source of life and health, we caused harm and trouble in every area of our lives, not the least of which is work. We’ve been toiling ever since.
It isn’t going to stay this way
The good news is, it isn’t going to stay this way forever. At the same time God foretold the mess we would make of human life and work, he also promised us a way out. He would come as a human being to live among us and break the power of evil over us all. And that’s exactly what he did when he was born 2,000 years ago as the man, Jesus. Jesus grew up working as a carpenter under his stepfather’s teaching, and then became a homeless traveling preacher. He knew what it was to work hard. His followers did, too.
But his real work, the work he spoke of throughout his ministry, was to suffer, die, and rise again from the dead. By doing this, he would break the power of evil and free us all to be people of God again. And that’s what he did. Now everyone who trusts in him is a part of God’s family and a coworker with him in reconciling the world to what it is meant to be.
Christians and the future of work
What does that mean for those of us who follow Jesus today? It means that, among other things, we try to serve God through our work. First and foremost, we work hard, as though we were working for God himself. Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” Similarly, Proverbs 14:23 says, “All hard work brings profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” It’s a God-given task to work hard and take care of your family with the rewards of that work.
All good work—be it running a country, running a software program, or fixing a running toilet—is a gift from God that we get to take satisfaction in, even when it’s difficult. The God of the universe wants us to participate in maintaining and improving his created world, and that is a true honor. Whether we face work that appears very overwhelming, or very menial, when we work for the Lord, it’s anything but meaningless.
Furthermore, we try to help others who need work. If you look at the bulletin boards of your local churches, you’ll doubtless find flyers and advertisements for job training programs run by Christians; immigrant English lessons and job placement help; GED programs for those who need more education, etc.
You will also find Christians involved in activism—starting or helping in unions, trying to settle disputes, or working to pass fair labor laws. All of this is our responsibility as we see it under God.
We can’t fix everything—we let God be in charge of the ultimate solution—but we’re called to make a difference where we can, so that more people can work and take care of themselves and their families. In matters of work, and in all things on this earth, we ask the Lord for guidance: “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans” (Proverbs 16:3).