Americans will celebrate work today by taking a day off work. What we will do instead: 150 million Americans will eat a hamburger, while 109 million will eat a hot dog. Forty percent of us will eat barbeque chicken; 37 percent will eat steak; 32 percent will eat ribs. Tomorrow, we’ll be back at work again.
In honor of today’s holiday, let’s look at work through the prisms of culture versus Scripture. Consider three options:
One: Work for what you get because you work.
For many, work is a means to an end. We put in the hours to pay for what we do after hours. Our labor is purely transactional—work performed for money and benefits received.
Christians can approach work in the same way, serving God so God will serve us. Like the ancient Greeks, we can sacrifice to God to receive what we want in return. The more we do for him on earth, the more he will do for us on earth and in heaven—or so we think.
Two: Work because we are what we do.
A surveyor spoke to hundreds of people at a busy intersection, asking each the question, “Who are you?” Each person responded with what he or she did for a living: “I’m a doctor” or “I’m a teacher” or “I’m a pastor.” In our work-centered culture (Americans work almost 25 percent more hours than Europeans), we are measured by what we do and how well we do it.
Christians can view their work in the same way. Many pastors base their self-esteem on the affirmation of their people and numerical success of their church. Christians in any calling can define themselves by that calling.
Three: Partner with God for his glory and our good.
In this view, our calling is a privilege: we are working with the God of the universe to advance his Kingdom and to benefit his creation. We do what we can and he does what only he can. Noah built the ark, and God closed the door (Genesis 7:16). Moses “stretched out his hand” over the Red Sea, and God parted its waters (Exodus 14:21). The early church served God and each other, and “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
If you work only for what you get, you can never get enough to give your life significance. If you confuse your work with your identity, you limit your experience of God’s transforming love and unconditional grace.
But if you partner with the King of kings, you work because he loves you, not so he will. You work for his glory and our good. And one day you will hear the most joyful words in eternity: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).
This article originally appeared on the Denison Forum and was republished with permission.