A Biblical Theology of Work – Part 2

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40, ESV)

A Ten Commandments monument which includes the...
A Ten Commandments monument which includes the command to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus confirms that of all the commandments in God’s Law the two greatest are the ones which summarize all the others.  The commands like having no other gods besides God, no graven images, not testing Him and obeying Him can all be subsumed under “love God with all your being.”  And all the commands like not stealing or killing or lying can be subsumed under “love your neighbor as yourself.”

We have already discussed how the Cultural Mandate given us in Genesis 1:27,28 describes the nature of our work as stewards of God’s world for the sake of God’s glory and mankind’s benefit.  The Great Commandments highlight even more clearly what our motivation should be for working in this way.  We should work out of love for God and out of love for our fellow humans.  This means at least three things regarding our work:

  • In our work we love the people God loves

When I work, am I doing what I do because I love people? Do I work for someone the way I would want them to work for me?  Am I providing goods or services that meet important needs of the community I live in or the greater community of my world?  And in the place I work am I loving my co-workers, seeking to help them succeed and not just myself?  Am I a positive force at work or a destructive one?

  • In our work we love the world God loves

As I work, am I caring for the world God has put under my dominion, or am I exploiting it simply for my own good or the good of my community?  This becomes a hard question to answer at times when the survival of my community seems to necessitate such exploitation.  Asking the question should lead us to consider long-term survival in relationship to the survival of our environment.  Does God love the animals He created?  Of course.  Did He give them to us for food and other sustaining properties?  Of course.  But we must have long-term plans for caring for their survival as well as our own.  Humans are the most important creatures on God’s planet, but our lives and those of the other creatures are closely tied together.

  • In our work we love the God who loves

All the work I do I ultimately do as an homage to the God who made me and gave me the capacity to work.  I do the kind of work He loves (righteous work) and I acknowledge it is accomplished by His help.  When I work I am ultimately working for Him and out of love for Him, regardless of my most immediate human supervisor.  This gives my work dignity and moves me to work with excellence and even joy.  I am contributing in a way that honors Him.

Why I work is as important as how I work.  It many times is the difference between finding meaning in my work or not.  Many a mother or father has labored in difficult situations with joy knowing it was for their children’s sake, for their community’s sake, and for God’s sake.  Obeying the Great Commandments gives us our motivation for work.

For further reading:

Due Diligence or DO Diligence?

Sweating Outcomes (and other blog entries about work)

Lessons From the Old Testament: What is the purpose of the Law?

The Ten Commandments, In SVG
Image via Wikipedia

Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” (Exodus 19:3-6)

Why did God give Israel the Law?  In Exodus 19 we Israel being prepared by God to receive His law and to make a covenant with Him based on that law.  As we look through the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, the books of Moses, we see a lot of attention devoted to the Law and its exposition.  One might get the impression that the way to have a right relationship with Yahweh is through obedience to His commands.  But we need to make some careful observations in this regard.

If we simply think of our relationship with God like we would any relationship, it is obvious that the way two parties behave toward one another greatly determines the quality of any relationship.  If in my marriage I do not treat my spouse with respect and kindness, or if I treat others who matter to my spouse in ways that hurt them, I will not be in good relationship with my spouse.  There are “laws”, if you will, that govern our relationship.  But there is something else that is governing our relationship, and that is a promise.

When I married I made a covenant with my spouse, and she with me, to love each other under all circumstances.  This promise supercedes questions of behavior.  It does not make them irrelevant, of course.  If I want to have a happy marriage I cannot depend on the fact that we made promises to each other and then live a self-centered life disregarding how my behavior affects my spouse.  There will be times when we will fail to love one another and the promises we made will cover for that, but we need a way to know how to please each other, and that is the function of the behavioral “laws” that govern marriage.

And so it is with God.  But there is something else.  Not only must I know how to live in such a way that God is honored by my behavior, I must live in such a way that others are given a clear picture of what it means to be in relationship with God.  After all, He wants this kind of relationship with all humans.  He commissioned Israel to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation so that all peoples might see who He is and might be drawn to Him.  We are His representatives.  So keeping the Law of God enables us to make clear what His character is and what it means to live in relationship with Him.

There is yet another more subtle function of the Law.  When Israel is told that God wants to meet with them and enter into covenant, they confidently assert, “We will do everything the LORD has said.” (Exodus 19:8)  We are privy to what happens merely some days later.  When Moses is up on the mountain receiving the Law they have promised to keep, the people persuade Aaron to make an idol for worship (Exodus 32).  One design of the Law is to show us that we do not have it in us to keep God’s laws.  We desperately need His help to be obedient to His covenant with us.

So the Law shows us how to have a happy relationship with God, shows us how to represent Him to the world, and teaches us to depend on Him for ability to obey.  But there is one more function of the Law.  Because the law of God represents His knowledge of how human beings best function, the law of God becomes our prescription for personal happiness.  God knows that if I do not steal, I will be much happier.  I will be much happier if I honor my parents, love others instead of being consumed with hatred for them, remain faithful to my spouse and not yield to coveting what others have.

You and I have witnessed this over and over again.  Though it may seem that we get benefit from lying or not taking a sabbath, in the end we are harmed, not only with regard to personal prosperity and peace, but in regard to the health of our own souls.  God loves us enough to tell us what will make us most healthy and alive.  Will we trust Him and keep His laws?