What Story Do You Tell Yourself About Work?

What story do you tell yourself about work? What story are the people around you telling about work? Does your work matter? If so, why?

For some, work is just a necessary evil to be endured. Retirement is their dream, when they can do whatever they want and just enjoy life. But only the very fortunate are actually happy and fulfilled by their work.

For others, work is a a core part of who they are. If they don’t have their ideal job yet, they are either chasing it, day dreaming about it, or depressed by it.

Each of these common stories is imbalanced. They contain elements of truth, but distorted or over-emphasized.

The creation story in Genesis 1–2 gives us a better story about our work—a true story. It avoids the pitfalls of attributing too much significance or too little significance to our work. Genesis 1–2 takes us back to the beginning, for work and also for humanity itself.

After all, how can we put the meaning of work in perspective without understanding the meaning of life?

First, notice the difference between the purpose given to birds and the purpose given to humanity. God gives birds and sea creatures a simple job: be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. When God creates humanity, he repeats this same mandate. But he goes further, adding a command to subdue and rule the earth (Genesis 1:28). Cultivating and caring for creation is a mark of humanity that sets us apart from the birds and the beasts.

This responsibility and authority is not arbitrary—God places humanity in charge precisely because he made humanity in his image. While God’s character can be glimpsed in everything he has made, men and women represent God in a unique way, the way sons and daughters resemble their father. We show ourselves to be image-bearers when we operate in the role God has given us, and work is one of the most important ways we do that.

“Work has dignity because it is something that Goes does and because we do it in God’s place, as his representatives.”~ Timothy Keller (Every Good Endeavor)

Even menial, manual labor is a way to bear God’s image. God makes this connection explicit, because the same Hebrew words used for ordinary, human work are used throughout Genesis 1–2 to describe the work of God—Asah: to make (1:7); Bara’: to create (1:21); Melakah: work (2:2). Furthermore, we see God plant a garden in the Old Testament (Genesis 2:8) and work as a craftsman in the New Testament (Mark 6:3). So farmers or sanitation workers bear God’s image in their work just as much as preachers and CEOs.

This is the better story about our work. We have been called to labor mentally, physically, and emotionally for the good of creation. Our work is meant to bring about greater flourishing for plants, pets, and especially people. And as we do all of this, we represent God in the world, which glorifies him. All of this gives work incredible value and significance.

At the same time, this story about work should also practically shape our work. While most jobs contribute to the greater good in some way, there are exceptions. Some jobs are destructive, immoral, or exploitative—which is opposed to the purpose God gave our work. In rare cases the job is inherently wrong, like prostitution or drug dealing. More often, the problem lies in the common practices of your company or industry, like apps and social media companies harvesting user data and selling it to the highest bidder. If you find yourself in such a career, it is time to reconnect your work with its true story—which probably means find a new job.

Connecting our work to God’s image and presence also teaches us how to work. Selfish work does not represent God well. Mediocre or lazy work does not represent God well. Our work should be diligent, selfless, excellent, and honest because that is what God is like. Exploiting the poor with promises of get rich quick by gambling is ungodly. Taking credit for the work of others to earn a promotion is ungodly. Making customers jump through hoops to return an unsatisfactory product to improve the bottom line is ungodly.

Wherever you are, whatever work God has given you to do, be encouraged. Your work is a tremendous opportunity. God has given you the privilege and the responsibility of working as his representative.

Work heartily. Work creatively. Work with honor and wisdom. Work in such a way as to bring good to the world and to bring glory to God.

Ben Whiting




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