CREATED TO WORK: A PRIMER ON LAYERING FAITH AND WORK VS. INTEGRATING THE TWO

Reprinted with permission from the Nashville Institute for Faith and Work.

In the last decade, more and more people are engaging in discussion about integrating their faith into their day-to-day work. As such, church leaders are re-engaging Dorothy Sayers’s prescription from her essay Why Work: “It is the business of the Church to recognize that the secular vocation, as such, is sacred.”

Teachings that demonstrate how our work matters to God provide comfort for Christians who feel alienated from their jobs. Yet we must not neglect to develop an eschatological, or end-times, stance regarding our work.

Without a proper perspective on the eternal implications of vocation, perseverance in our work may diminish when we encounter inevitable challenges in our jobs.

Before examining this eschatological view of work in next month’s post, let’s first consider three common views that are in fact spiritual, but in isolation can actually devalue the function of work for work’s sake in God’s design.

The examples include: “Our work matters to God because it can be a vehicle to evangelize,” “Our work matters because through it we can gain wealth to ‘bless’ others,” or “Our work matters if it temporarily alleviates poverty and suffering until Jesus returns.”

“Though Biblical and inherently good in nature, these responses flow from views of work that are not an integration of faith and work but a layering of one’s faith on top of one’s work."

The Bible unequivocally advocates for evangelism (Matthew 28:16-20), selflessness with wealth (Malachi 3:10), and tending to the poor (Matthew 25:35-40). But each of these views places ultimate value on a spiritual good beyond work itself.

Consequently, if work is a mere vehicle to other, more spiritual goals, then will work have any function in heaven where sin is no more and souls no longer need to be saved? How can we expect Christians to give their all to something with no lasting significance?

Without a theology that values work for its own sake, we end up seeking value in some external outcome unrelated to the work itself in order to avoid feeling hopeless about an endeavor that consumes the majority of our time.

If we believe that God created and cares about us, sent us out to "take dominion" and "be fruitful,” and is a sovereign God, then can't we believe that he cares about what we do everyday—that he cares about companies, art, education, and government?

“Without a theology that values work for its own sake, we end up seeking value in some external outcome unrelated to the work itself in order to avoid feeling hopeless about an endeavor that consumes the majority of our time.

In our fallen world, work will inevitably become alienating to some degree. So when it does, will your theology embolden you to confront and correct the alienation, or will your theology ask you to push disappointment in your work to the side in order to focus on “more important things”?

When we value our work by its external spiritual effects, it becomes easy to ignore (and sometimes participate in) the real and negative consequences of work that must be completed in a broken world.

These consequences might be dehumanization in our businesses, injustices in the marketplace, shoddy craftsmanship, and secular influence in culture. Instead, we should embrace a theology that empowers us to reform that which is broken.

We can more easily redeem and approach our work wholeheartedly if our theology tells us that our work is not only good, but that it will continue into eternity—not in the form of more Christians in heaven, but as itself.

So the art, politics, business, sports, architecture, agriculture, education, technology, economics and more we push forward will become, as Sayers says, “a way of life in which the nature of man should find its proper exercise and delight and so fulfill itself to the glory of God.”