twenty four: reflections on the theology of work

Over the years my birthdays have been a time of reflection of how the Lord has kindly led me through the seasons. Perhaps this year, specifically, calls for the thoughts on the Theology of Work, especially, as I step into the workplace for the first time. I am thankful that these have been restless months, and I pray that this post may be one of many conversations to come about what it means for us to “work as unto the Lord.”

where is Jesus in my work?

Stepping into the marketplace for work these months, there have been many things that I find myself wrestling with. Whereas before it had been clear-cut as to how I was supposed to live out my faith, as the past 7 years I have been in school while being heavily involved in church ministry, right now, the lines have faded and there have been many times when I honestly really don’t know. If my goal as a Christian ought to be to glorify God and make Christ known, then how can I be satisfied with my work, sitting at a desk, and in meetings that do not mention the name Jesus at all, from 9-5?

to love thy neighbour: a theology of work

A main passage that I ended up sitting with for a very long time had been the Greatest Commandment that Jesus had told His disciples to follow: “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbour as yourself,” (Luke 10:27). What a great call to love God Himself and the people He created? Such a command seeks not to differentiate between a believing and a non-believing neighbour, but rather, calls us to serve, love, and honour our neighbours—regardless of the color of their skin, their background, their beliefs…

my neighbours: the dignity of all mankind

For as Christians, we believe that Scripture teaches us that “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…[and] God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female,” (Genesis 1:1, 27). And so, our faith as Christians gives us the very foundations we need to believe in the dignity of all of mankind, and how we are called to serve and love all, regardless of our differences. We live in a culture that emphasises on basic human rights, when in essence, the thought of every human as being equal rests in the doctrine of man being made in the image of God.

…in essence, the thought of every human as being equal rests in the doctrine of man being made in the image of God.

But to then know that in Adam, all have sinned (Genesis 3), is to understand that this image is marred. So though we should believe that mankind is created good, and that we must honour our neighbours (regardless of our differences) because they bear the image of God—we must also understand that we are all fallen creatures, and we live in a fallen world.

meaningless: toiling in this fallen world

Such has been an eye opener, as I stepped into the workplace. Truly, this is a fallen world that we live in. The meaninglessness of work is such a real thing that people are faced with in the daily, especially as we see recent examples of successful people who felt the weight of it all to the point of ending their own lives. No matter how much wealth, fame and power we can accumulate, there will always be “something missing”—a certain meaninglessness in our toil.

But as a believer, it comes as no surprise to us, either, as we look to the warning of Genesis 3:17, when God cursed the ground because of the sin of man, and that work now becomes “painful toil [from which we] will eat food from” all the days of our lives.

One of the things that has brought me so much grief in seeing our present generation today, and the work culture that is prevalent, is how integrity has become an issue, especially in the pursuit of success. Perhaps integrity has been emphasized more than ever, in the workplace, but in essence, we have forgotten the meaning of integrity altogether, that is, being an authentic, genuine person, who is the same wherever and whenever we are. Integrity is seen as something we must uphold in the workplace, when it comes to legal and ethical issues, but when it comes to relationships post-work, we are an entirely different person altogether (but that is another post for another day).

…we have forgotten the meaning of integrity altogether, that is, being an authentic, genuine person, who is the same wherever and whenever we are.

ambition as a vice

How fallen is our world, friends, and how fallen are we! This is especially true because as believers we have forgotten how ambition is never applauded in the Bible—but how is it elevated to the highest place in the world today! “Dream big,” people say, “you can be successful if you only believe.” But friends, if we truly believe that what the Bible says is true, we must come to understand that as believers we are never called to success. (Though, the Bible also does not condemn success/growth, and attributes any form of blessing as being a gift of God.) We are not called to “leave a mark in the world,” or to “leave a legacy.”

Instead, Scripture talks so clearly about how ambition is self-seeking and self-serving—and how much does the Bible condemn this! If only we could reclaim the most basic understanding of working for the glory of God—because if we are honest, often times (all the time) our ambition always reveals a heart that seeks to glorify the self.

…if we are honest, our ambition always reveals a heart that seeks to glorify the self.

To instead echo Paul in the Bible as he says, “I make it my ambition to preach the Gospel…” (Romans 15:20)—is the Christian imperative. Yet many of us, as believers, neglect to do so, and are even finding it hard to articulate what the Gospel is all about (and again, that is another post for another day).

the theology of glory & the theology of the Cross

And so I do pray, that we get to—as Christians in the workplace—wrestle with our personal ambition. Has this become our goal—in glorifying God above all things? Because often times, I believe we have been all too caught up in the worldview out there, that we have misunderstood what “giving glory to God” looks like.

Personally, what I’ve come to realise as I step into the workplace, in meeting other believers, and observing my own tendencies, is that we often fall on two extremes. We may either think that glorifying God means we have to succeed in our work and be the best business in the industry (or the best student at school), or, that glorifying God means we have to be a successful preacher of the Word at all times in all our circumstances.

Regardless, we tend to associate giving God glory with our own successes. But what I particularly love is that as we ponder upon Jesus, whom we call upon as Lord and Saviour, we see that His greatest triumph was at the Cross—where He died as the Slain Lamb on behalf of those who would believe in Him.

…as we ponder upon Jesus, we see that His greatest triumph was at the Cross.

If our Lord was glorified in His death on Calvary—what to man looks foolish and shameful—how can we claim otherwise? How is it that we become people who proclaim the cross but live lives that do not resemble the Way of the Lamb?

Oh friends, may we remember that the Lord does not call us to “great successful work,” but He calls us “good and faithful servant,” (Matthew 25:23). And this faithfulness we are called to is one that had first been displayed by Christ on the cross, who, though God, “humbled Himself by being obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8).

…the Lord does not call us to “great successful work,” but He calls us “good and faithful servant.” And this faithfulness we are called to is one that had first been displayed by Christ on the cross.

preaching Christ crucified & loving your neighbor

And so as we look to our Ultimate Example, Jesus Christ, who endured the cross on our behalf, shall we not now live for Him? The saying is true and trustworthy, that for us believers now, “to live is Christ and to die is gain,” (Philippians 1:21). So as long as we still have breath in our lungs, friends, all our lives, even in the nook and crannies, is called to the same, singular, heavenward call: to preach Christ crucified.

Let this be done through both our words and works, and may this be done regardless of whether we are placed in a position of authority or obscurity. For to know that our lives no longer belong to us, is to know that our wealth (if we have been given so), is not ours to claim, and hence we must learn to steward it well…and that even if we do not succeed in the eyes of the world, oh may we rest in knowing that our Lord is still glorified in the smallest of our faithful work.

So I hope, I pray—that we may better wrestle with our own work in the daily. To consider our Lord even in our toiling, and to remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, “It is better to give than to receive,” (Acts 20:35). Friends, may our ambition only be this: to preach Christ crucified, as we view our work to be an act of service, and a labor of love to our neighbour, regardless of who they are, wherever the Lord may lead us.

Friends, may our ambition only be this: to preach Christ crucified, as we view our work to be an act of service, and a labor of love to our neighbour, regardless of who they are, wherever the Lord may lead us.

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