“See you later, Jesus. It’s time for me to get to work!
This seems to be a common, if unconscious, description of what at least some Christians do when it’s time to do their job. The belief that Jesus is only interested in the periphery of what are commonly considered socially necessary (but morally neutral) professional activities such as repairing pipelines, making schedules, or writing computer code is endemic in the church.
“Of course,” agree these believers, “Jesus cares about my workplace as a platform for evangelism and a means by which the Spirit can work its fruit in me, but as long as my way of earning a living isn’t immoral, I don’t think Jesus cares about the job itself, it’s not like we’re going to work in heaven.
And so is the attraction in the bifurcated existence of a Christian between personal life and professional life. The personal life is the part of us that intentionally includes Jesus. From its soil grow attitudes that lead to the words “I’m sorry, please forgive me.” Professional life is the part of that same person that unwittingly neglects Jesus. From its soil grow attitudes that lead to the words “It’s not personal, it’s just business.”
For Christians to engage in this kind of bifurcated life is to seriously misinterpret the biblical connection between work and worship. Therefore, many of our discussions in theology class seek to stimulate a student’s imagination toward a biblically informed and sound understanding of human work – an understanding that displaces work in worship.
Texts such as Psalm 148 in which fire, hail, mountains and more are called to worship God reveal that all of creation (not just humans) is made to worship God. How? By living in congruence with who or what God has made them. For humans, this means engaging in cultural work. The primary instruction God gives mankind is to reflect his nature by using the resources of the earth to create families and communities that reflect his goodness. Humans are to participate with God in cultivating a civilization that reflects His nature of flowing, life-giving love (Genesis 1:26-28, 2:15, 9:17). It is their work and their worship.
When Adam and Eve rebel against God, they dislocate their work of worship. It’s like when a shoulder is partially dislocated from its socket – you can use your arm, but painfully and incompletely. So our work creates good civilizations, but ultimately we can’t make them what they were meant to be: we create cultures of death rather than life. The prophets of Israel accuse him precisely for this reason. She gave up her right to live in God’s Promised Land because of poor job performance, not just poor religious practices (eg Isaiah 58:1-4, 59:1-8). And when these prophets describe the future of the fully redeemed people of God, it is a future in which professional life flourishes. They speak of the need for architects and builders, farmers and vintners (Amos 9:14, Ezekiel 28:25-26), for legal and real estate professionals (Jeremiah 32:42-44 ), for businessmen, civic leaders, ranchers and engineers (Zechariah 8:14-17, 2:1-5, 8:1-8).
And Jesus continues this prophetic thread of indictment and affirmation of human labor. He threw away the merchants’ goods for turning the Temple into a den of thieves (Mark 11:15-17) and he celebrated Zacchaeus’ restitution and commitment to justice in his activities as a tax collector (Luke 19 :8-9). Likewise, when people turned to Jesus in repentance and obedience, they often expressed their faith through their work. Not only did Zacchaeus serve God as a righteous tax collector, but in all likelihood Nicodemus served God by seeking to be a faithful religious leader (John 3:19), the Centurion by righteous conduct in military service ( Matthew 8, Luke 3:14) and Lydia through honest work in sales (Acts 16). In their professional capacities, the abstract notion of loving God and others took concrete form.
Over time, orphanages, hospitals, symphonies, and more sprang up as Christians actively loved and served God through shifted worship work. All of this is a taste of New Jerusalem, the eternal city to come where the Lord is present with his people finally fully freed from sin to do perfectly what they were meant to do: worship God by creating a civilization flowing with the love – flowing – life-giving goodness of God (Revelation 22:1-7). So rather than saying “see you later” and leaving Jesus at the door when it’s time to go to work, how about saying “I’m coming” and jumping in his car with him.
– Reverend Shelley Kral is associate pastor at Longview EPC and assistant professor of theology at LeTourneau University.