Episode 177 - We Often Take Our Jobs Both Too Seriously and Not Seriously Enough

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Last week, we talked about a topic that's a little different than usual. It's not dealing with arguments or evidence for the Christian worldview. We talked about how we spend time with communicates something about our gospel convictions. So, we should care about that. If you missed the episode, I'd encourage you to go back and listen to it. This week we're going to apply similar thinking in a different way. We're going to talk about how our jobs, our vocations obviously are taken both too seriously by us and simultaneously not seriously enough and how this communicates something about what we believe to be true about Christ, Christianity, and the gospel. For many people, work is the place where they spend the single most amount of time, at least during the work week.

So, it's something we need to think about as Christians. How are we looking at the workplace? How do we think of the tasks that we're doing? How do we even think about the fact that we have to work? I think for many people work is seen as a negative. When you get together with someone you say, "How's your week going?" Often the negatives in their life if there are some stem from their job. It's stressful and it's difficult and it's boring and it's busy and those sorts of things. So, we end up with this view that work is actually a negative thing when work itself proceeds the fall. Work was in the world. It was a feature of creation and how God designed us and oriented reality before sin entered the world. Isn't that interesting to take a moment to think about that work is not a bad thing. Now, after the fall as a result of the curse, work becomes more difficult. It becomes more burdensome, but work itself is not a bad thing.

It's actually a good thing. So, I want to talk today about the ways in which we take our jobs often too seriously and the ways in which we take them not seriously enough and what that communicates, good or bad about what we believe to be true about Christ and Christianity. So, we're going to talk about a few passages today. Once again, good amount of scripture going on in this episode. Let's start in Ephesians 6:5 where Paul is addressing slaves. Maybe this is a topic we'll spend some more time on directly in the future, but for now I think it'll be sufficient to make a point that's parallel and in a slightly different area. Paul says, "Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling in the sincerity of your heart as to Christ. Not like those who do their work only when someone is watching as people pleasers, but as slaves of Christ doing the will of God from the heart. Obey with enthusiasm as though serving the Lord and not people. Because you know that each person whether slave or free, if he does something good will be rewarded by the Lord."

So, he's addressing people who are slaves of human masters, but he says that they should actually work as though they are slaves of Christ. Now, what is the work they're doing? Well, it's the work that their human master has them do, but they're doing it as if they're doing it for Christ, because in a perhaps more true way, they actually are working for Christ. We struggle here often times. The slavery topic notwithstanding to realize that everything in life is actually a part of the Christian life. There's no non-Christian part of life for the Christian. There may be areas where we act unchristlike, but there is no area over which the Lord does not claim authority and the right to receive worship through it. So, there's no actual insignificant area of life for the Christian. I would say for anyone, but especially and in a different way for the Christian. So, Paul is telling slaves here, and let's just make a parallel here to employees.

That's not true in every sense, but he's telling people who were even more disadvantaged than employees are today. Much more so that their work should be as if it's unto the Lord. That they should be striving to do a good job. Not just when someone's watching, but they should obey with enthusiasm. Now, these are people who are not free. They're constrained to be where they are. They're viewed as property. He's telling them to act in a way that many of us who are free in different ways do not act in our jobs. That should be instructive for us and how we think through work. We'll mix it up location points here in a minute. Another passage would be 1 Corinthians 10. We looked at this recently dealing with meat sacrificed to idols and that sort of situation, but Paul says here at the end of that section, "So whatever you eat and drink or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God." I always have found it interesting that he chooses two very simple things here. Eating and drinking.

Of course, those were some of the debated topics in this passage, but he's saying, even though simple things when you do them or anything else, do for the glory of God. We would agree with that in the abstract, but how do I view typing a report at work? Am I doing that for the glory of God? Am I trying to apply myself in that way for God's glory, not my own? I think this is an area where we don't spend enough thought and we really need to. So, here are a few other passages that speak to this issue and then we'll bring this together for some conclusions. In Luke 3, some soldiers are asking Jesus for advice about their physician. They say, "Well, as for us, what should we do?" He says to them, "Take money from no one by violence or false accusation and be content with your pay." I think there's a principle here that's specifically applied to these soldiers and how they would exploit their power as we've just seen a few verses earlier in Luke where the tax collectors exploited their power for ill gotten gain.

Well, the soldiers were doing the same thing, but this ending principle I think applies to everyone. Be content with your pay. Well, what about Luke 10 where it's not just be content with your pay, but Jesus says in a different way, the laborer is worthy of his wages? You are worthy to be paid a fair wage for your work. Which means for some work, some people deserve more because it may be more skilled, it may be more sought after. It may have taken them longer to be qualified for it, but you are worthy of a fair wage for your work. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 also speaks to this which says, "If anyone is not willing to work, neither should he eat." So, there are several principles here. Like many things in the Bible when we try to bring them together, they overlap in points and some of them are situational in how they're set, but on the one hand, we're told that the worker is worthy of its wage and on the other, he should be content with his pay.

Yet, if you don't work and are not willing to work you should not eat, so there's this personal responsibility aspect there. We bring these together and we also say that whatever we do should also be for the glory of God. We start to say, "What does all this look like if we applied it to how we look at our jobs? How do we look at our jobs and how does that communicate something about Christianity and what we believe?” Because I think far too many of us spend far too much effort trying to advance in our career, trying to make more money. Maybe to have more things that we enjoy and we are not working as if unto the Lord. If the slave was supposed to work to the Lord, surely the free person is supposed to work unto the Lord and yes, we are.

So, we look at work both the reason why we do it, what we hope to get out of it not primarily in terms of what the Bible says we should look at work like and what we should get out of it. So, that's what I'm saying. In some ways we take our job more seriously than we should. The job is not primarily about self fulfillment. The job is not primarily about advancement or respect or power or money even. Work is not primarily about money. So, we look at it in all of these ways and make it more important in those areas than we should. We don't make it and don't view it accurately as important as it should be in other ways because work is worship. It's worshiping something. If what we're doing in our jobs is seeking our own advancement and fulfillment, then in some ways, we're worshiping ourself or the American dream. But work should be worship unto God.

If we go back to that Ephesians passage. Work as slaves of Christ doing the will of God from the heart. Our hearts in our work should be towards God. Now, yes we are doing that in a physical place for a human employer, but we're supposed to do this work for enthusiasm for God. Not for people as though we're serving God and the Lord, not people. Isn't that interesting? We need to think of work that way. I'm preaching to myself here. This is something I need to realize that my worth and my identity should not be found in my job. The main reason I go to work should not be to make money. It should not be to advance, to pursue the American dream, because that's all smoke and mirrors at the end. It does not persist. I didn't need God and Jesus and the gospel to want those things. I actually need the gospel and the work of the spirit to transform my heart to want those things less.

So, the American dream and how it's viewed often in religious circles is a form of the prosperity gospel. This whole life, liberty and pursuit of happiness that gets translated into a view of materialistic success is not the gospel and it is not at home in the Bible or in Christianity. Now, does that mean it's bad to advance in your career? Does that mean it's bad if you get a raise at work? No, it doesn't in and of itself. It could be bad for you. It could be because of bad motives, but it doesn't mean that. So, people who have more authority at work or do make more than others, that doesn't mean that that's bad or wrong. A lot of it has to do with how we view these things and what place they have in our hearts and what our desires are like. So, quickly in our remaining few minutes, I want to give you a few thoughts about how we should view work, how we should view it as more important in other areas than we do.

Work is worship as I pointed out. It's discipleship. It's the area where we make the most decisions in a row in a day. We are at work many of us for at least eight hours or more depending on what you do. If you don't work, translate yourself to your context. If you're a stay at home mom, that is definitely work. If you're a student, that's your job. If you're volunteering somewhere as a retired person, that's your work. It's your vocation. It's what you've applied yourself to. So, whatever you're doing in that way, it is worship and it is a opportunity for discipleship. All of our relationship context are opportunities for discipleship. We are either discipling ourselves well, or we're discipling ourselves and others poorly, but what am I primarily aiming to do in my job? Who am I working for? Who am I trying to please ultimately?

I think for most of us, we're going to answer that question and it's going to be ourselves or our boss. We're trying to do better because our spouse wants us to make more money. You fill in the blank, but none of those are the ultimate and good biblical reason to apply ourselves well at work. Would I think as much of myself if I worked at Mcdonalds? That can be a helpful diagnostic question. There are no bad jobs. There are no jobs we should look down on people for as long as they are not immoral. Even then, we shouldn't be judgey about it, but my point here is our jobs do not give us our worth, but how we apply ourselves at our jobs can testify to the glory of God and to whom we're working or they can distract from it. Our jobs can be an apologetic. Something that gives defense or gives reasons for the hope we have.

If we are demonstrating publicly that we are working hard and when asked or given the opportunity, we say, "I'm working as unto the Lord. I want this company to succeed, but I am working for my ultimate Lord. For my savior who gave me far more than I deserve and I am working in this world doing good work for him. I'm doing it here at this company for you as my boss, but nonetheless I am working hard for my Lord." What would that look like in terms of Christian witness? It's not just words at that point is it? If you've been recognized as doing good and hard work and you say you're doing it for Jesus, isn't that revolutionary? Especially in a time where there are many people who just kind of phone it in at work. Who view work as showing up, getting a paycheck, doing some things, talking with some people and going home. What would it look like if that was not you and that testified to the glory of God and what he has done for you with grace you didn't deserve?

So, our work can be an apologetic. But work is primarily about serving others. It's working for God and serving others. I'm not talking about ministry. I'm not talking about pastoral staff. I'm talking about every single person. The thing that motivates us should not be making more money, should not be attaining more power and prestige. It should be serving others through whatever means and place God has us at this moment. So, we're working for him and we're serving others. If we are looking at work in that way, it will be harder to view it through the lens solely of personal fulfillment or personal power. It will be harder to be prideful about serving God. Isn't that kind of an odd pairing of things, if that's actually how we view it? Work is actually very dignified. There are no undignified jobs as long as they're not immoral.

So, the person who collects garbage. There's as much dignity in that as there is as running a company. So, your worth is not based on your work. There are many people today wondering what should I do with my life? What type of career or field should I enter? How do I find the will of God? Maybe we'll talk about the will of God in future episodes. I do have very defined thoughts on that, but let me just say now God is much more concerned with what type of worker you'll be than what career you're in. He's much more concerned with the type of spouse you'll be if you get married than who you marry. He's more concerned with the type of neighbor you'll be than what neighborhood you live in or what state you live in. It is very much about how we are applying ourselves, how we are living, how we are glorifying God in our circumstances than what specific activities we're doing.

Once again, as long as those activities are not immoral. So, work is dignified. All work is dignified. Even jobs that society may look down as mundane and dirty or trivial, all work is dignified. Remember work is not a feature of a fallen world. It was a feature of a pre-fall world. My last point is that Christians should be better. So, work is worship. It's discipleship. It's an apologetic. It's about serving others and Christians should be better at it. Consider, who are we working for? If we're working for God, our savior who gave us far much more than we deserve, why would we not work harder for him than we would for a secular boss or for ourselves if we're viewing work primarily as about self fulfillment. Shouldn't we work harder for Jesus than for ourselves? Shouldn't we do better more wholesome, better quality work for God than for a human master? Yes. Yes we should.

So, if Christians are working as if unto the Lord, their work will be better. It will be more ethical. It will be above board. It will be no questions asked. They will make things right. They will put the customer first because they're working to serve others. They're working as if unto the Lord in a primary sense. So, there are far too many, in my experience, Christians who do not do a good job at their job. They're just content to kind of phone it in along with everyone else. That testifies to something. It actually detracts from their Christian witness. In the past, I've kind of looked at hiring people to do work around the house or professional services or things like that. I've tried actually to stay away from hiring Christians because I've had a bad run hiring Christians. This is not a specific commentary on any one in particular and it may just have been my bad luck and run of experiences.

But in my experience, many of the people who are not Christians do better work than the people who are Christians. It should not be that way. God can distribute giftings as he wants, but many times Christians just kind of seem to show up, do a job, and call you brother and leave. That's not how it should be. The Bible says we should do good to everyone, especially to those in the household of faith. So, if you are a Christian working for another Christian, arguably you should do even better work than you did for anyone else, but we all should do excellent work and strive to be the best at our careers we can. Not for self advancement. Not for more money or material gains, but as if unto the Lord. Isn't it interesting that if we are doing it that way, we will find so much more joy and contentment in our work.

Whether once again, that's a stay at home mom, whether it's volunteering, whether it's a professional career, whatever it is. We'll find more contentment in it actually if we approach it through the lens of serving God and just the way God has ordered this world and with the current economic principles that are in play, it's very likely that if you are doing a good job serving the Lord that you will advance in your career. That you will make more money, but there again we have to make some decisions. It's not always worth it if we're viewing everything under the lordship of Christ and everything as a part of the Christian life, it's not always worth it to take the more money and work the more time to sacrifice opportunities to be with your family, to do ministry, to relax. So, we must be careful that even in our attempt to serve the Lord well, we don't get caught up in the whole American dream cycle of chasing a path that leads to materialistic success.

There's something very noble in prioritizing other things besides worldly career advancement. So, I hope this has been helpful. I hope it helps you think through the fact that how we live, how we work can be an aspect and is an aspect of Christian discipleship. It can be an apologetic. Either add to or detract from our Christian witness.