A biblical model of work requires a holistic approach that understands and embraces three important convictions. First, work is a creational blessing and mandate, individually and corporately, and human flourishing through work is God’s will. Second, vocation supersede occupation, meaning that our calling as Christ-followers ought to be the motivating force for our particular work (or “station”) in life. Third, work is but one aspect of personal and communal life. So, our occupations should not be our central or sole identity. Let’s briefly look into each of these three parts of a biblical model of work: creational, Christocentric and constituent.
A biblical basis for work begins with God’s own work of creation. As the pinnacle of Yahweh’s creation, humans are to reflect the very image of God (imago Dei), which indicates being in relationship with one another as stewards and cultivators of the earth—representing well God’s own “culture-making” caretaking tasks (Gen. 1:26-28). Work is part of the world’s fabric and thus not a result of the Fall or sin. It is inherently part of our calling, serves as a primary means for human sustenance and flourishing and gives meaning to our lives.
A biblical basis for work ought to be Christ-centered—based on the example, teaching and will of the Master craftsman. Jesus models for us, both in word and deed, joyful and obedient response to God’s call to Kingdom work: as a carpenter first, then throughout his ministry. Jesus recognizes the Father is always at work alongside his own labor (John 5:17). Christ likens doing the Father’s will, including completing the work he is sent to do, to being his very sustenance (John 4:34). We are Christ’s hands and feet in our work, and as we receive from others, it is as if we are receiving from God himself. Work is grounded in creation and serves to reflect the image of God and love of God for others.
Real and potential obsession with our work is, for many of us, a constant temptation. Cornelius Plantinga encourages controlling our work parameters wisely: “No matter what our primary occupation, we can’t let it become a preoccupation” (2002, 139). Our personal and communal lives ought to substantially exceed workplace limitations. Our other callings are significant and extensive. These may include, for instance, loving and honoring our families and friends, actively participation and using our gifts in local ecclesial (church) communities and contributing to justice and mercy in the church and culture. Jesus’ earthly life again exemplifies this full-orbed, holistic approach to vocation. His standard activities include substantial hours (apparently daily) away from the pressing concerns of his itinerate ministry even when the needs seem urgent and endless. Our Lord likewise calls us to pray, fast, rest, build relationships and the like: such practices illustrate the wisdom and balance our lives must have for faithful, energetic and effective Kingdom work.
This trinity—work as creational, Christocentric and constituent—provides the basis for a God-centered biblical model of work.
Grace & Peace, Steve Sherman
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