Why Work?

Cultures flourish and deteriorate based on how they answer these questions: Why do people exist? Is there some greater meaning to life? What’s our purpose in the here and now?

Mark Twain said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” If we’re honest, we all want to know the why.

So what if someone told you, “You were born to work.” Seriously? We understand the need to work, at least in terms of providing financial means for individuals and their families. And clearly “born to work” isn’t referring to living in captivity, so there must be another interpretation. But finding transcendent value and purpose in everyday work––that doesn’t compute. Especially for those of us whose daily grind wears us out. Especially when people at work cut us down. Especially when we’re not using our gifts and we don’t like what we do.

Why work?

Early twentieth-century author Dorothy Sayers answered this question and challenged the church and Christians everywhere to view work as the primary way we live out the Great Commandment to love God and love others (Matt 22:37–39). In her article “Why Work” (which you can find online), Sayers proclaims that work “should be looked upon, not as a necessary drudgery to be undergone for the purpose of making money, but as a way of life in which the nature of [humanity] should find its proper exercise and delight and so fulfill itself to the glory of God.”

Translation: We’re created by God to glorify Him through our work. And work is meant to be a joy-filled way of life.

Sayers continues: “The habit of thinking about work as something one does to make money is so ingrained in us that we can scarcely imagine what a revolutionary change it would be to think about it instead in terms of the work done.” In other words, the value of work is not calculated by how much money it generates. Rather, the true value comes in the way we do our work––the quality of the work itself and our interactions with others.

Our daily work is a reflection of who we are as Christ’s image-bearers.

God’s Word lays the foundation for a His perspective of work. We don’t have time to dig deep into Scripture, but here’s the progression:

  • Gen 1:26–28 confirms that all humanity is created in the image of God (Himself a worker throughout Scripture), and God commands His image-bearers to continue His work on earth by creating culture: “Let us make humanity in our image…”
  • 2 Cor 5:17–21 declares that once we put our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior, we’re transformed into image-bearers of Christ by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And He calls us to join in His work: “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation…. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors…”
  • Col 3:17 affirms that we glorify God through our daily work, and our work becomes a witness to the watching world: “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

Summary of the progression:  All humans are image-bearers of God. Christ-followers are image-bearers and ambassadors of Christ. The work of Christians glorifies God and witnesses to the world.

In Sayers’ day, the label “Christian work” erroneously applied only to work conducted in and for the church, and thus Christian/church work was deemed more valuable to God than “secular” non-church work. Sayers took issue with this unbiblical dichotomy, proclaiming, “The only Christian work is good work, well done. Let the Church see to it that the workers are Christian people and do their work well, as to God: then all the work will be Christian work.”

Her point: Excellent work done for the glory of God is “sacred” work. The context of the work doesn’t matter.

Getting back to our original questions:

  • Why do people exist? To glorify God and live in relationship with Him.
  • Is there a greater meaning to life? Yes, and that meaning is detailed in God’s Word.
  • What’s our purpose in the here and now? To glorify God by loving Him and loving others well. And one of the primary means of loving God and loving others is work––whatever that work may entail, and regardless of whether or not we get paid to do it.
  • Why work? Excellent work honors God and gives us credibility in the watching world. Through our work, we’re a vessel of God’s Kingdom expansion. We demonstrate God’s love for others when we work with integrity and care for those we work alongside. And God uses our work as a means of providing for families, communities, and society as a whole.

Amen! Let it be!

We covered a lot of ground today, and I hope you’ll take some time to pray through the concepts and passages included. One thing I know for sure: Embracing a biblical perspective of work will change your life.

So now, dear friends, I joyfully send you into your day armed with truths about work. Have a fabulous day in whatever you’ll be doing!

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