Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. (Ephesians 6:5-8)
Here is a fascinating application of God’s perspective on work. Fascinating because it is addressed to someone who has no choice in the work he or she does because he or she is owned by another human being. Nevertheless, there is an understanding that the slave can do legitimate work for this master and so fulfill the Cultural Mandate. We may suppose that if the master were asking the slave to do something contrary to the will of God that this would not be fulfilling the Cultural Mandate, which requires that we work under God’s authority to better the world.
But assuming that the master has the slave doing legitimate work, the slave is to do so with sincerity of heart, being motivated out of love for God and for one’s fellow man in accord with the Great Commandments. He or she is not to do it begrudgingly, simply to avert the master’s anger, but is to do it as serving the Master, the Lord God, who is the ultimate rewarder of good work.
Though it is not clearly stated in this passage, we may assume from what Paul says elsewhere (Titus 2:9,10) that he is also concerned that the way a slave works in subjection to his or her master is a reflection of the gospel and its transformative power. The Great Commission is always a factor in how and why we work.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
This passage has been dubbed The Great Commission. Jesus has commanded his church to complete the work of making disciples that he began. If the Cultural Mandate (“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”) gives us the nature of our work as stewards of the King doing His work at His direction, and if the Greatest Commandments (“Love the Lord your God; love your neighbor as yourself.”) give us our motive for working for God, then the Great Commission gives us our goal in our work.
It should be obvious that the Great Commission gives us our goal for all aspects of our lives. But as we apply it to work it leads to these conclusions:
The greatest good my work can accomplish is to help lead someone to Christ
This is not to say that the only work I should do is be an evangelist. As we have already seen, doing our work as a grocer, a police officer, a seamstress, or any other profession that is morally acceptable brings credit to God and benefit to mankind. When we do our work as if working for God (which we really are) we show the beauty of God’s love for humanity and draw people to His goodness. By participating in this honorable cultural mandate we gain respect that aids us when we speak the words of the gospel. It is one way of showing that we practice what we preach…the love of God.
The good of contributing to our world by helping flourish is a worthy goal in and of itself. But an even greater goal is to help someone flourish spiritually with their Creator. So though our work is done as part of our subduing the earth, it is also done with an eye to securing converts to the faith. This, after all, is clearly God’s greatest desire for all His people.
There are some believers whose main work should be helping lead someone to Christ
There is a place for “full time service” to the Lord. Even though all of us are in full time service to the Lord if we are Christians, some of us have gifts of leadership and equipping that can be more fully devoted to the task of preparing God’s people to accomplish the Great Commission if we are financially supported by other believers (1 Timothy 5:17). It is strategically wise to install some as pastors and evangelists in order to give them more freedom to equip the church for this task.
Following whatever vocational calling we have in accord with our gifts and talents and desires will give each of us unique insights into life and how to reach others for Christ. Someone who speaks the language of accounting might be better able to reach a fellow accountant. Someone who has experienced the unique strain of an emergency medical technician might be better able to reach a fellow EMT. Someone who herds sheep might be more in tune to God’s spiritual shepherding of people. Everything we know and do can contribute to our effectiveness as individuals and as the church combined for drawing our world to the Savior.
“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)
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.
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
It has been referred to as the Cultural Mandate. It is a requirement from God of all human beings that we reproduce ourselves in order to fill the earth and subdue it. God built a planet we call Earth capable of sustaining many billions of people and He wants us, commands us, to rule over it in a way that in fact does sustain us. This requires work, effort on our part, to successfully accomplish the utilization of Earth’s resources in a way that pleases God and brings life to Earth’s population — us.
Before Adam and Eve disobeyed God (Genesis 3) God gave them work to do (Genesis 2) that included taking care of the Garden of Eden (2:15) and understanding and overseeing the animals of this area (2:19,20). This responsibility did not cease after man’s rebellion, but became fraught with frustration as the ground began to work against man’s best efforts to grow food. In the process human beings developed systems for raising livestock, growing food, producing music and forging tools (Genesis 4), all of which were necessary for our health and development as divine-image replicators.
In contrast to the pagan notions of man’s responsibilities, God did not create us to be His slaves and do all His dirty work. He made us to be presidents to His chief executive role, vice-regents to His kingly rule, and managers for His owner-operated business. There are at least three implications to this Cultural Mandate:
We are workers under divine appointment
We are not independent contractors. The work we are called to do is or should be determined by God. We are responsible for knowing what kind of work would be acceptable to Him in faithfully caring for His world and each other. We may say that providing prostitution, or drugs, or control over other people is providing a service, but it is not the kind of service God says helps His world thrive. And of course, He knows best what will make us thrive. Our work must be of the kind that furthers the honor of God and the welfare of mankind. This is His world and we are asked to share in making it livable.
We are stewards of God’s green earth
A steward is someone who takes care of someone else’s property. His or her responsibility is not to own it but to develop it for the sake of the owner. It just so happens in this case that the owner, God, has made us partners in the ownership, but nevertheless, He is the principle owner. So our work must serve to develop and utilize, not exploit for ourselves, the world He has given us. This means we must use arts and technology wisely and lovingly to reflect the character of God and benefit our race (see Lessons from the Old Testament: Arts and Technology). It must certainly mean that we do not so exploit our world that we make it less habitable or reduce its quality of livability.
The more of us there are, the more work that needs to be done
We were made to care for each other the way God cares for us. So as we multiply we need to create better systems for caring for each others’ needs for food, shelter, beauty, clothing and protection. Our goal cannot be personal wealth but public weal, the prosperity and well-being that we can secure for all people. And though it might be argued that capitalism is the best system in a fallen world for such public weal, sinners always find a way to take personal advantage of even the best systems to the detriment of others, and those who submit to God look for ways no matter the system to help others thrive.
Are you a plumber? You are helping me and our whole culture thrive. Do you grow food, deliver and sell food, make clothes, sell insurance, pave roads, build buildings, serve in government, paint pictures, make music, heal, administer funds, advocate for lawbreakers, develop community laws, cut hair, raise livestock, put out fires or any number of other “professions”? You are working as God’s appointees to tend His world and people in ways that make it possible for us to fill the earth. You are so cool, because the part that you play combined with the part that I play and all of us play makes possible a relatively peaceful and prosperous life. We are caring for each other under God’s wise direction, and that’s what makes the world go round.