The Value of Work
By Larry Platner
I once had a conversation with a member of our church who works for a company that produces kitchen appliances. I asked him what value he saw in his work and he was at a loss as to what to say.
Within the evangelical world much has been made about witnessing at work. This is good, but it can lead to thinking that the only good thing about work is that it offers a chance to witness to others. But what about the actual work that you do?
You’ve probably heard that you should do it well, “as unto the Lord”, as it serves as a witness to others of your Christian character. But again, what about the service you provide to others, the products you produce, the management you provide for a business, the teaching and training you offer, songs you write, paintings you paint, etc.? Does this have any value in the eyes of God?
Many Christians see work as a necessity for making a living and compared to full time ministry it has little value. Others value work to the extent they enjoy what they do and find it satisfying. If that is the only value that work has, then we should pity those in much of the world where people just hope for any source of work to enable them to survive.
Some see certain kinds of work as reflecting God’s character and so have value. So medical staff, teachers, social workers and such can be seen as doing work that is valued by God. But what about my friend who works to produce kitchen appliances? What about housework, rubbish collection, data analysis, accounting, banking, politics, driving instructors, IT technicians, etc.? Is their work valued by God?
“The significance of secular work depends upon the value of creation…”
The answer to this question greatly depends on the eternal destination of our world which is closely connected to the purpose of work. If in the final judgment our world is to be destroyed and we take up residence in a spiritual realm then our physical work is only of temporal value, what we get out of it in the here and now.
The Croatian-born Yale theologian Miroslav Volf writes that “The significance of secular work depends upon the value of creation, and the value of creation depends upon its final destination.1″
If our world is temporal the only work that has eternal value is that which produces spiritual fruit. Christians who value spiritual ministry over physical work have a temporal view of our world. But is our world temporal?
When God created our world he said it was good. Due to our rebellion we corrupted it but does that mean God would destroy what he said was good to begin with and what He created? When Peter asked Jesus what would they get by following Him, Jesus began his reply with this statement:
I assure you that when the world is made new and the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne . . . Matt 19:28a. NLT
When speaking about our future glory, Paul writes:
Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. Rom. 8:20-21. NLT
These and other scriptures indicate that God’s intent for this world is to restore and renew it, not obliterate it.
So how does this give value to what we produce through our physical work?
Let’s go back to the beginning when God gave humanity his cultural mandate.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” . . . The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. Genesis 1:28, 2:15 ESV
To be fruitful and multiply requires the development of a culture. Culture is a way of living, how we relate to one another. It can be good or bad. Good culture enables a society to flourish. I think we all know what bad culture does. Good culture ensures the provision of goods and services that provide shelter, food and clothing, creates institutions that develop and care for its citizens, infrastructure for communication, transport and travel, and arts that enhance the well-being of all. The development of good culture requires righteous people. People who use their talents and resources for the good of others.
When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan. Proverbs 29:2
Secular society values work for what it does for the individual, the status, affirmation or wealth it gives them. This leads to a hierarchy of the value of what an individual does. When asked what one does, a doctor gets the “oh wow, that’s great”, the rubbish collector gets an uncomfortable “oh”. But consider this, what would you do with all of your rubbish if it was not collected on a weekly basis? Next time you see your rubbish collector thank him for the great job he is doing. In the eyes of God he is doing work that is fulfilling the cultural mandate, no less nor more than a doctor.
Work is necessary to fulfil God’s cultural mandate and it reflects His image. God spent six days doing the work of creating our world and universe. The mandate to “work and keep” the garden came before the fall. Work is not a result of the fall although the work we do will be harder because of the fall.
Any work that you do that produces goods and services that contribute to the flourishing of society is valued by God. Be it finding a cure for cancer or dusting the furniture in your home or in an office. But does it have eternal value? Does God take what we have done through our work into eternity or does it come to nothing?
Space here does not allow for a detailed examination of this question. But consider this. The prototype for what happens in death to our bodies and what we did with our life is the resurrected Jesus. Jesus rose from the dead with a physical body and it bore the marks of what happened to him prior to his death. It was different as he walked through walls and appeared unexpectedly to others but it was the same body prior to his death though changed. So we too will be resurrected with our former bodies but changed.
And what of what Jesus did in his lifetime? What of the work he did as a carpenter, his healing of people and feeding the crowds? Jesus said that he came to establish his kingdom, and he demonstrated by his life that this included the physical realm and therefore what we do physically. What Jesus did physically had eternal value, it contributed to establishing his kingdom in part now and its full realisation in the future. Likewise what we do which fulfils God’s cultural mandate for us will contribute to the new creation, the full establishment of the Kingdom of God.*
Take heart then when you wake up on Monday and prepare to go to work, knowing that if it contributes to the flourishing of others, be it some seemingly mundane task to a great act of service, it is kingdom work that has eternal value.
*Resources for further study on this idea:
Amy L. Sherman, Kingdom Calling, Vocational stewardship for the Common Good, Inter-Varsity Press, 2011.
Darrell Cosden, The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work, Paternoster Press, 2006,
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