Labour Day weekend – WORK: a biblical worldview

September 3, 2022 Randy Bushey

by Randy Bushey

So whether you eat or drink or WHATEVER YOU DO, do it all for the glory of God.  (1Cor.10:31)

Can you picture the scene? The obscure Augustinian monk, in full monastic garb, treks down the street of Wittenberg clutching a freshly-penned paper.

When he arrives at the Castle Church, he nails his document to the heavy wooden door – a sort of public bulletin board.

Martin Luther had hoped his 95 Theses – a series of observations and criticisms against the crude commercialization of the Roman Catholic Church posted over 500 years ago (October 31, 1517) – would simply evoke debate among his peers at the university in which he taught, or the monastery wherein he lived.

That did not happen.

But what did occur in the 16th century – an unstoppable seismic shift, the aftershocks of which reverberate today – was lightyears beyond what Luther intended.

He hungered for reformation. He unwittingly began a revolution.

For without Luther’s permission, his students translated the document from Latin to German, and using the power of the printing press invented only decades earlier, began to distribute copies.

This was “social media” with a vengeance! Within 2 weeks the conversation in most German pubs was about Luther’s censures of pope and church.

And within the month, the critical paper from the pen of the relatively unknown German professor was being discussed throughout the Continent.

The resulting Protestant Reformation had obvious ramifications in theology; but what is often overlooked is the impact the movement had on our contemporary understanding of politics, economics, and marriage and family.

And the Reformers changed how we think about vocational work.

As with mundane activities like eating and drinking, they saw that vocational labour (clearly included in the words or whatever you do – from 1 Corinthians 10:31) can be performed as an act of worship, to the glory of God.

Many Christians have a negative view of work, concluding that labour is a result of the curse. However, in the creation of man the Lord gave Adam meaningful work to do: physical labour in caring for the garden, and mental effort in naming the animals.

And all this was before Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God’s specific command.

Work was given as a gift from the Almighty; God is a worker, and as those created in His image, we are also workers.

Consequently, against the back-drop of the Greco-Roman value economy and thinking, Christianity introduced a paradigm shift for how Christ-followers thought, lived and worked.

Many of the early believers were peasants and slaves. Here is Paul’s direction regarding a proper attitude in their work context:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favour, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving (Colossians 3:22-24, NIV).

Consequently, a Christian worldview gave dignity to labour – that which was intellectual and also physical. And that understanding has motivated common people and the great masters, including Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Bach.

When we work with a biblical attitude, we are worshiping the Lord.

The Reformers demonstrated that all work could be done to the glory of God: sacred and secular, intellectual and physical.

As they recovered biblical authority in the lives of Christ-followers, they grew to understand what should have been obvious: Jesus (a carpenter), together with Peter, James, John (fishermen) and later the Apostle Paul (a tentmaker), all worked with their hands in physical – but necessary and therefore valuable – work.

The Reformers’ thinking – and practice – laid the groundwork for our Christian worldview on work today.

Work is more than simply having a job, being productive, or even creating personal or community wealth. It is more than paying a mortgage or bringing home a pay-cheque to feed a family.

Work is a fundamental dimension of human nature, a core expression of human existence.

It provides meaning, significance, and satisfaction in creativity, problem-solving and achieving solutions in producing a valuable result.

And work that is competently completed has value for others. And so

Luther observed: “Man does not live for himself alone…but he lives also for all men on earth”

And so the Reformers saw all work as, in some way, accomplished ultimately for the Lord, if done according to one’s ability and consistent with their calling.

Work done in that way is an act of worship.

John Calvin: “For every work performed in obedience to one’s calling, no matter how ordinary and common, is radiant—most valuable in the eyes of our Lord.”

William Tyndale: “If we look externally, there is a difference betwixt the washing of dishes and preaching the Word of God; but as touching to please God, in relation to His call, none at all.”

Takeaway: A biblical worldview on labour – recovered by Luther and his contemporaries – encourages the seeking of excellence in all work, recognizing that every follower of Christ has a vocation, a calling; our work is to be done as worship to God and performed with skill, competence and an attitude that reflects His glory.

~graphic by linusb4, freeimages.com

…expanded from a post originally written in October 2017