By Steve Sherman
Faculty, College of Theology
A Christocentric view of work must 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 recognized that the Father was always at work alongside his own labor (John 5:17). Christ likened doing the Father’s will and completing the work he was sent to do to being his very sustenance (John 4:34).
We are to complete what the Father gives us to do: “I have glorified you on the earth. I have finished the work which you have given me to do” (John 17:4). The Savior is the exalted cultivator and restorer of creation and culture – the very (creative) Word of God. Thus, a Christocentric view of work assumes that the “food” we work for is that of eternal worth through trust in Jesus himself (John 6:27-29).
Martin Luther understood that one’s station in life (i.e. work setting) served as the place for doing God’s kingdom work, ministering to others and meeting the needs of people through everyday efforts (unless involving illegal or immoral activities). 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. Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and other Reformers agree: It is not when we are concerned with the contemplative life, but rather when we (in devoted care and holiness) engage in the institutions and stations to which we are called that we are best reflecting God.
Calvin and later Reformers encouraged choosing one’s station and using one’s gifts as instruments of life for serving God’s purposes for and with others in the world. Calvin especially paralleled Paul’s commands for the church (primarily related to serving and depending on one other) with what ought to be the case in human society – encouraging natural gifts functioning for everyone’s benefit (See Gal. 6:9-11; I Cor. 12:21ff; Eph. 4:16; 1 Tim 6; I Pet. 4:10).
Pope Paul VI and John Paul II largely agree with the “Protestant work ethic.” For instance, that it is through work that we fulfill our God-given mandates to care for the earth and cultivate it, and that work is an essential part of humankind’s existence: part of the divine intent for human life (Hardy, 1990, 71).
Catholic theology also agrees with Reformed thought that humans reflect the imago Dei partly by carrying out the creation cultivation mandate and that God works in this world through the works of our hands, providing through our labors and sharing in the creative activity of God. Catholic thought enlarges this point to include the cross; in our everyday faithful Christian work we in a small way share in the continuing spirit of redemption whereby Christ accepted his cross for us (Hardy, 1990, 74).
Loving God and loving neighbor in our work must be inseparable. To serve one’s neighbor is to serve God, and serving God entails serving one’s neighbor. Nevertheless, individual and institutional reformation is required until the eschaton, indicating this biblical truth: Personal and corporate sin must be taken seriously. This includes prophetic calls to repent, rethink, renew and revitalize – imperatives in line with the totality of Scripture.
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