A Theology of Work – Part 3

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)

English: The Great Commission, at the Cathedra...
English: The Great Commission, at the Cathedral Parish of Saint Patrick in El Paso (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

For further reading:

Is There a Distinctively “Christian” Way to Be a Bus Driver?


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: Being Honest With God

We have a record of the private thoughts of saints made public in the Psalms.  And some of the things they utter to God seem blasphemous to us.  For example:

Why, LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1)

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:1,2)

All this came upon us, though we had not forgotten you; we had not been false to your covenant. Our hearts had not turned back; our feet had not strayed from your path. But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals; you covered us over with deep darkness. If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god, would not God have discovered it, since he knows the secrets of the heart? Yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression? (Psalm 44:17-24)

Job is perhaps the most blunt when he says to God, among other things,

Even if I summoned him and he responded, I do not believe he would give me a hearing. He would crush me with a storm and multiply my wounds for no reason. It is all the same; that is why I say,  ‘He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.’ (Job 9:16-17,22)

Why does God allow this kind of talk?  Is He encouraging us to say irreverent things about Him?  I would say rather that He is encouraging us not to think that we can conceal any of our thoughts from Him and that if we have a problem with Him we ought to speak it to Him.  If I have a problem with you but never let  you know it and simply allow the hurt and anger to build up inside, I will never be able to have a healthy relationship with you.  Instead, it will always be attended by bitterness and distrust.  And if I tell my concerns with you to others, I am guilty of slander.  The only way to get our relationship right is to go to you with my issues against you.  I may find out I was right or wrong.  But respect for our relationship means I will talk honestly with you.

The same is true of our relationship with God.  He does not want us to think wrong things about Him, but if we do, we need to take it to the only One who can correct our wrong viewpoint.  He already knows what we are thinking (Psalm 139).  To keep it locked inside for fear that we are going to offend God is futile.  If He is going to be offended He is offended by the thoughts He is already reading.  So take it to Him.  He is strong enough to handle anything we could think or say.  Bringing it verbally to Him is saying we care enough about our relationship with Him that we are willing to work it through to reconciliation.  This is what Job did and God commended him for this (Job 42:7). 

So free yourself up with the knowledge that God wants to hear whatever is in your heart.  Become totally honest with Him and it is like opening up your heart for God to bring His healing.

The Eternal Son Becomes a Human

I find that I am beginning to look more and more like my dad.  In some ways this disturbs me, but it is the natural order of things.  Children become like their parents.

Jesus however, has dual parentage.  As to his divine nature, he is the eternal Son of the Father and bears and has borne every facet of the image of His Father for all eternity.  He is infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.  The Holy Spirit bears this same image.  It is not a visible image but a spiritual one.  They are the supreme being of the universe, the universe’s Creator and Sustainer.

But Jesus also took on human nature in our own history, born around 5 or 6 B.C.  The eternal Father chose a woman in Israel, Mary, to be the mother of Jesus’ human nature.  The Father, we may suppose, created the equivalent of a male sperm to fertilize the ovum of Mary.  Thus, the Son of God became the Son of Man.  His human nature was without the curse placed on Adam’s descendents so that He came into the world without a sin nature.  But his biological lineage was in every other sense derived from Adam, Abraham and David (see the genealogies of Matthew and Luke).

This miraculous birth created a unique situation for God the Son.  His consciousness limited itself to what could be experienced in His human nature.  That means that just like us, as a baby he was entirely dependent on his parents for sustenance and protection.  He had to learn how to walk and talk and control his bodily eliminations.  He had to eat and exercise in order to grow strong.  He had to learn the Scriptures and the wisdom and the skills his parents taught him.  In every way he had to develop just like we did.

Why take such an approach?

It is crucial that Jesus go through everything we have to go through and pass every test, demonstrating obedience and trust in God through every situation.  Unlike our forbear, Adam, He must pass the test with flying colors if he is to be the head of a new humanity of the redeemed.  Paul makes clear in Romans 5:12-21 that Jesus did pass.  And we can see for ourselves in the Gospels the horrendous temptations and trials he went through without ever losing focus on God and His will for him.

What a Savior we have!  The writer to the Hebrews tells us that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:15,16).  Have you stumbled in sin?  You have a sympathetic high priest who knows what it is to experience temptation and is ready to represent the repentant heart before His Father.  If you want help to overcome sin in your life, He is there to procure it for you.

The Emotional Jesus – Compassion

Jesus is an emotional person.  We’re all familiar with the anger he displayed when he chased the money changers out of the temple courtyard.  We remember he wept at Lazarus’ funeral.  Is it fair to say that Jesus is just emotional because he has a human nature?  Not really.  Where do human emotions come from?  We are made in God’s image and that includes emotions.  God is an emotional God and so we are an emotional people.

But let’s focus on Jesus’ emotion of compassion briefly.  Warfield, a wonderful teacher from the early 1900′s, noted in his article “The Emotional Life of Our Lord” (you can find this in the book, The Person and Work of Christ, B.B. Warfield) that this is the emotion that is most frequently attributed to Jesus.

Jesus was often said to be moved with compassion (Mark 1:41; 6:34; Matthew 9:36; 14:14; 20:34), and because of the compassion he felt he was moved to action.  People often asked Jesus to have mercy or pity on them (Matthew 9:27; 15:22; 17:15; 20:30,31) and Jesus responded.  His pity might be aroused by an individual’s distress (Mark 1:41) or simply by the universal misery of human beings (Mark 6:34).  When he saw a widow proceeding to the burial of her only son, he stopped the funeral and raised the boy from the dead (Luke 7:13).  Even the hunger of those listening to his teaching aroused his compassion (Mark 8:2, the only place where Jesus is recorded as testifying to his own feelings of compassion).

Jesus’ compassion was also roused by the sight of the crowds and the knowledge that they had no one to shepherd them and keep them from danger (Mark 6:34).  So he began to teach them.  That same group drew pity from him because of their suffering many illnesses (Matthew 14:14) so he healed them.

Jesus didn’t only teach and command us to love one another, he did it.  As someone has noted, “He…not only required [love] but aroused it…Jesus’ significance to the [Gospel writers] does not consist in his having discovered the command of love, but in his having fulfilled it.”

Nobody loved like Jesus.  When someone asked for something from him, he gave it.  His love was not powerless to accomplish that for which his compassion was aroused.  The utmost expression of this was when Jesus came to Martha and Mary upon the death of their brother Lazarus.  Jesus wept with them over their loss, but then commanded Lazarus to come forth from the grave (John 11:17-37).

This raises a question in us much like that raised by the friends of Lazarus:  “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37).  If Jesus loves us and is so moved to pity and compassion for our distress, why doesn’t he remove all our distress?  In Lazarus’ case he told his disciples that it was for “God’s glory” that he waited until Lazarus died (John 11:4).

The higher purpose for all that Jesus does is the glory of God.  When Paul complained to God three times about the “thorn” in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:1-10) are we to suppose that Christ felt no compassion for him when he said, “My grace is sufficient for you” and did not heal him?  Do you not feel compassion for your infant who shrinks from the doctor’s needle and yet you still allow the doctor to inflict your precious child with the inoculation because you know it is for his good.

Jesus’ compassion is always roused for us in our pain and misery.  He never fails to love us, even if he does not choose to remove our pain.  But many times he is willing to remove our source of discomfort if we will but ask in faith.  Appeal to his compassion.  It is roused for you.

Oh the Deep, Deep Joy of Jesus

Jesus makes two remarkable statements in front of his disciples during their time in the upper room right before he is arrested and crucified:

“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.”  (John 17:13)

So first of all, what was it that Jesus told them so that his joy would be in them and their joy would be complete?  He said, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” (John 15:10)  One of the things that brought Jesus joy was obeying his Father’s command and the enjoyment of his Father’s love.  Do you remember ever basking in your parents’ love for you, or in the love of a friend or spouse?  But you will certainly remember being out of sorts with a parent, friend or spouse and how joyless that was.

We find great joy in the very thing that defines how God relates and what we were made for in His image — LOVE.  Love has a way of transforming the cold, damp condition of our heart into a bright and burning ember of excitement.  And in our relationship with God it is obedience that most easily awakens us to the fact of how much He loves us.

In John 17 Jesus prays for his disciples and acknowledges that they have obeyed God.  He asks the Father to keep them in unity and to protect them from their enemies.  These are the things he is praying in front of them so that they will have the full measure of his joy in them.

Though we may say that the source of Jesus’ joy was his obedience to the Father, there is another passage that gives us another perspective.

“At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said…” (Luke 10:21).  What follows is a voicing of joyful worship on Jesus’ lips.  From the perspective of our responsibility, obedience brings joy as we bask in the Father’s love for us.  From the standpoint of God’s inner working in our lives, it is the Holy Spirit who is the source of our joy and causes us to erupt in worship.

Just as Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit and walking in obedience to the Father, so we too can be full of the Holy Spirit and walk in obedience, and so experience the deep, deep joy of Jesus in all its fullness.  This is what Jesus wants for us.  This is his legacy to us.

When you come to him today, ask him to teach you his joy.

The Astonished Jesus

It is hard to define the emotion of surprise.  It is the feeling one gets when something unexpected happens, either of a happy sort or unhappy.  It catches one off-guard and one has to scramble a bit mentally to put everything together and interpret what just happened.  It can be a very pleasant feeling, or very unpleasant, of course.

We see several places in Jesus’ life and ministry where he registered a pleasant surprise or astonishment.  When he is asked by a centurion to heal his servant, the centurion remarks that Jesus does not need to visit his home to accomplish this but only speak the word and it will be done (Matthew 8:5-13).  Jesus registers astonishment at this man’s faith, saying it exceeds anyone he has met among the Jews.  Here is, as someone has noted, a man “whose background and circumstances ought to have made it difficult for him to have faith, a man whose occupation prized ferocity and the ability to rely on oneself, a man whose background was paganism” (Zeisler), and yet this non-Jew who had likely converted to Judaism, recognizes the power and authority of Jesus to command healing.

In contrast to this, we see Jesus amazed at a lack of faith among his hometown residents.  In Mark 1:1-6 we have the account of how Jesus preached in Nazareth and all his former neighbors could do was murmur about his family connections.  It says he could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them, and that he was “amazed at their lack of faith.”

Jesus was also surprised in a disappointed way with the disciples he met walking on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection.  Though there is not terminology of surprise in Luke 24:25,26, Jesus sounds surprised, saying, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”

The question we have to ask of ourselves is, “In what way is Jesus surprised about me?”  Does my faith surprise him or my lack of faith?  Of course, at this point in his life, Jesus is not caught by surprise.  During his earthly ministry he had willingly given up the right to access his infinite knowledge.  He knew only those things he perceived, had learned, or had been given through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Now, of course, none of those limitations apply.  He has shown us how to live by the Spirit.  But he is still looking for faith.

“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)