Work’s Place in the Christian Life
It is common knowledge that a large percentage of our short lives is invested in our workplaces. This means that there will be plenty of worldly temptations vying for our attention intended to gradually pull us away from a healthy and intimate relationship with God. These worldly temptations may include: climbing the corporate ladder at the expense of relationships; seeking career promotions for the love of money(root of all evil); relying on work as a source for approval and recognition; allowing yourself to be defined by your work(identity); or even allowing work to become a replacement for God through idolatry.
Despite the fact that work is generally viewed as some kind of burden, work certainly is a gift from God as clearly seen in Genesis 1 and 2. The key text for this article is from Ecclesiastes 4:1-16 which essentially teaches us the importance of worshiping solely God through the gift of work.
1 Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun:I saw the tears of the oppressed—and they have no comforter;power was on the side of their oppressors—and they have no comforter.2 And I declared that the dead,who had already died,are happier than the living,who are still alive.3 But better than bothis the one who has never been born,who has not seen the evilthat is done under the sun.4 And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.5 Fools fold their handsand ruin themselves.6 Better one handful with tranquillitythan two handfuls with toiland chasing after the wind.7 Again I saw something meaningless under the sun:8 There was a man all alone;he had neither son nor brother.There was no end to his toil,yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.“For whom am I toiling,” he asked,“and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”This too is meaningless—a miserable business!9 Two are better than one,because they have a good return for their labor:10 If either of them falls down,one can help the other up.But pity anyone who fallsand has no one to help them up.11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.But how can one keep warm alone?12 Though one may be overpowered,two can defend themselves.A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.13 Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to heed a warning. 14 The youth may have come from prison to the kingship, or he may have been born in poverty within his kingdom. 15 I saw that all who lived and walked under the sun followed the youth, the king’s successor. 16 There was no end to all the people who were before them. But those who came later were not pleased with the successor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
Throughout verses 1-4 we are given a glimpse of what a secularized approach towards work looks like. In verse 4, we are told that this approach is ultimately meaningless because it is in essence a “chasing after the wind”. The resultant lesson is to make work about contentment instead of (unhealthy) competition. When envy of your neighbor is the key motivator you will encounter various kinds of problems because the source of your motivation is wrongly rooted in evil desire. Then what tends to happen is that our achievements mistakenly begin to form our identity as if they are somehow able to generate our self-worth/value. Healthy rivalry is still very important because of the intrinsic value existing in the strength of numbers. The over-arching goal here is to promote unity rather than division. This means that we allow ourselves to walk away from our jobs being content with what we have accomplished through abiding in Christ.
The polar opposite of the aforementioned, which should also be avoided, is idleness as mentioned as verse 5 as when, “fools fold their hands and ruin themselves”. God always demands excellence in our workplace because He is really our Boss; we serve Him which means we must always give 100%.
From a macro level, as Christians we can always find our answer in the Truth from the Gospel in that Christ has already paid the price in full. We no longer need to prove ourselves, and/or ever perform to be accepted! We are already proven and made secure through His atoning sacrifice for all our sins!
From verses 7-12, another lesson being taught is that work is about relationships and not getting richer. Verse 8 underscores what happens to someone when they vainly pursue advancing in their career throughout their lives. To paraphrase, it tells us that even when someone attains the pinnacle of their career they are still all alone! While they were busy focusing on climbing the corporate ladder, relational sacrifices were being made in the process. For example, it may have started off as the parent having no time for their spouse and kids, but now their spouse and grown-up kids have no time for the now financially-rich and worldly-successful parent.
Verses 10-12 remind us that we are better together than we are apart and how we need one another especially during times of trouble.
Lastly, verses 13-16 convey the lesson for us to make work about impact and not about fame. Although the unwise king had great authority, the inexperienced humble person had a much greater impact. This humble person later become the king’s successor, however he eventually became forgotten like the king did. Like these two characters, everyone’s impact will one day be forgotten, which means that we should never anchor ourselves towards achievement and performance because they too are meaningless.
In conclusion, we should express worship to God through work so we can be the best He wants us to be. This means finding our identity in serving Him and others rather than through finding it through our work alone. Everything will one day pass away, but our imperishable inheritance we have in Christ Jesus will last forever!!
Note: This blog entry has been based on notes taken from my pastor’s sermon back from March 15, 2015. It was his exegetical work of which I cannot take credit for. Throughout this post I have compiled his substantive points largely into my own words in the form of one cohesive entry.
I pray that this relevant message blesses every reader abundantly in his or her workplaces. Grace and peace to you all!
In Jesus’ Name, I pray. Amen.