Theology of Work

From the Archives: The Dignity and Vanity of Labor

I’ve always preached that all honest work is God-glorifying and that the opportunity to engage in labor and reflect God’s character through it is a great privilege. Over the years, I’ve also emphasized that if you’re doing the work God wants you to do, however “secular” it may be, you shouldn’t stoop to do anything else. Even vocational ministry is a demotion if it’s not what God wants you to do.

As a pastor, these ideas were relatively easy to affirm. The logic is simple. The best thing any man can do at any time is to obey God. Therefore, if God wants him to sell soap, or make pizza, or drive truck, or mop floors, that activity is the best thing he can do. And if that work is best for him, all other work is inferior.

But when you’re post-pastoral, these principles can be a bit harder to hold with conviction—especially if you loved your pastoral work, prepared thoroughly for it for almost a decade, and still believe it’s what you do best. But sometimes even guys with seminary training and clear evidence of giftedness for ministry can find themselves facing clear direction from God to “do something else until further notice.”

And when that happens, they struggle to see meaning and purpose in the work they find to do.

So on this labor day, I’m talking to myself and to any of the rest of you who sometimes feel that your work is a bit wanting on the scale of importance, meaning and enduring value.  (It’s also a holiday, so I’m not going to work too hard at this. Please enjoy the irony.)

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From the Archives: Why Do Excellent Work?

I once heard a story—I don’t recall where—of a builder who was commissioned by his employer to build a house. The builder’s employer gave specific instructions regarding the quality of the house. He wanted it to be excellent, but the builder tried to save money and effort for himself by cutting corners. The builder knew that he could hide his below-par craftsmanship so that it wouldn’t be discovered until years later.

In the end, the house looked good, but the low quality of the building left much to be desired. When the house was completed, the employer who owned the house handed the keys to the builder, and explained that he wanted to give the house to the builder as a show of gratitude for many years of service. Of course, the builder instantly regretted his laziness and poor workmanship.

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