16 Dec Biblical View of Work as Calling
It is important to recognise that the Bible begins with God’s creation of the universe. He then proceeds to create humans in His creative image. We are not able to see that all legitimate work in God’s creation in which we can engage creatively can be part of God’s calling for all our lives. In what follows, I have given, in brief paragraphs, what the Scriptures say about work and how we can engage in marketplace work as part of God’s calling for us.
Our problem is that our fundamental understanding of the Bible begins only with Genesis 3 – the Fall and ends with Revelation 20 – the lake of fire. Because we leave out the first two chapters of Genesis – the present creation, and the last two chapters of Revelation – the New Creation, our understanding of God’s purpose is limited only to our salvation and sanctification and not to the many things we do in the course of our daily lives. The Bible is thus limited to being a religious book and not a reality book. I can be misunderstood at this point – our personal salvation is crucial to us, but the rest of our working lives seem to us to be only to maintain our families and giving for Christian work and charities. But is this approach sufficient ? Is it because we have inadvertently replaced the first commandment of Genesis 1:28 with the great commission of Matt. 28:18-20? Should we not see them both as one commandment to fulfil our calling in the workplace?
We work only because God wants us to be stewards of His creation; that is the substance of the first commandment. Our EU students are to do well in their studies only because they are to look after God’s creation. The fruitfulness and multiplication mentioned in Gen. 1:28 is a reference to the flourishing of the whole of creation under our stewardship. (We are kings and queens stewarding God’s creation on His behalf). Christian students should never call their subjects boring because they study God’s creation. (Their teachers could be boring!). An incident that comes to my mind in this context is my visit to Highfield in the early 1970s where I heard Dr Sterrett tell students, “If God has given you the capacity to come first and you come second, that is sin for you!” – a strange definition of sin indeed! In the same way, Christian teachers should teach their subjects with such passion that their students should come to love their subjects till the end of their lives. We should not fail to note that we humans are created in God’s image – one of the implications of this fact is that we are expected to be creative in our workplace. Psalm 8:5 (NASB) makes it clear that we are made a little lower than Elohim – God! We are to put our best abilities into our study and work.
We then proceed to God’s commandment to Adam in Genesis 2:15 (NIV–2011 edition). The word for work in Hebrew is abad and the word for taking care in Hebrew is shamar. Abad is also the word for worship (of God) and Shamar is also used to describe keeping His commandments. Not surprising that Jews found work and worship as contiguuous with each other and not contradictory to each other. The Jewish people, despite their tiny population, have made a disproportionately higher contribution. I am not saying that work is (identical to) worship; but, according to the Bible, worship is contiguous with work and not against work; therefore, there is no secular-sacred divide in the eyes of God. By using the word calling only for full-time Christian work, we are unintentionally giving the impression that Christians in other jobs are second-class citizens in God’s kingdom.
The tragedy of our rebellion against God occurs in Genesis 3; the result is that the woman will find child-bearing painful (Gen.3:16a); man will find work becoming toilsome (Gen.3:17-19). Our relationship to nature is broken only because our relationship with God is broken; advances in medical sciences to alleviate pain and increase longevity are all part of God’s purpose for His creation worked out through us.
In Exodus 19:5-6, before the tribe of Levi was separated for tabernacle work and before the family of Aaron was separated for priestly work, God adds another responsibility to us – even in the course of our work, we represent God to His creation as kings/queens and we represent creation to God in intercession as priests/priestesses. The two quotations of the Exodus passage in Revelation 1:5b,6; 5:9,10 show that salvation in Christ is not just to escape the punishment of hell but for us to perform this dual role in all legitimate work that God may assign to us in His creation.
In Genesis 3:16b, God tells the woman that she could control and manipulate her husband and he will respond by dominating her (the word desire in this verse and Gen.4:7c is the same and is used in a negative sense); a child knows instinctively how to manipulate one parent against the other; in other words, a desire to control and manipulate is the hallmark of our rebellion against God. In our workplaces, some of us have bosses whom we call control-freaks! I have come to see the Cross as the place where God chooses to lose control over His creation and allow His creatures to crucify His Son – what an amazing Sacrifice! That is why the Cross confuses the devil – through Peter, he tries to prevent Jesus from going to the cross (Matt.16:21-23), and through Judas Iscariot, he sends Jesus to the Cross (John 13:2)! Is not the workplace also part of the reconciliation that Jesus has accomplished through the Cross (Colossians 1:19,20) which we as His cross-bearing, spirit-enabled disciples work out in practical and creative ways?
I was privileged to be part of the first MTech batch of IIT, Madras. Sir C V Raman, who spoke at our convocation made a statement to this effect: ‘When you engineers and technologists leave this institute and go into the world, you will be tempted to prostitute your knowledge for the service of human greed.’ Whenever we take a forward step in knowledge, we are offered a moral choice to use that knowledge either for good or for evil. It is the Christian who considers her/his work as a calling from God, who can creatively and redemptively put that advance in knowledge to the glory of God and the flourishing of His creation.
What is the significance of the resurrection of Jesus to the workplace? Jesus rose from the dead in a remarkably different physical aspect from how He raised Lazarus from the dead. Before He called Lazarus out of the tomb, He had to have the stone at the mouth of his grave moved away and, after Lazarus is resurrected, the grave clothes had to be removed – John 11:38-44). The two physical evidences – the stone at the mouth of the grave and the grave clothes – are very different in the case of the resurrection of Jesus – the stone at the mouth of His grave was rolled away by an angel but He had already risen – Matt. 28:1-6. It was rolled away not to let Jesus out but to let us in! Peter and John who go into the tomb of Jesus find that the grave clothes are exactly in the same position – lying undisturbed where His body was and the scarf around His head was seen rolled up on a stone where His head was resting; that is why John believes that something different from Lazarus’ resurrection had taken place (John 20:3-8). The resurrected physical body of Jesus had gone through the grave clothes (without disturbing them), through the stone at the mouth of the grave and come through the walls of the upper room where the disciples were hiding! Resurrected Lazarus would die again but the resurrected Lord Jesus will not! What is the significance of the resurrection of Jesus for the workplace? The resurrection of Jesus is the inauguration of the new creation in higher physical dimensions – that is why the grave clothes, the stone at the mouth of Jesus’ tomb and the walls of the upper room could not obstruct His resurrected body – this fact cannot be established by physical experiments because we along with our universe are constrained by three physical dimensions, but mathematical physics can demonstrate this fact. In God’s new creation we will continue to be His stewards as kings and queens (Rev. 22:5). This reality of the new creation is the motivation as we struggle through the problems in the present creation; that is why Paul closes his majestic chapter on the resurrection with the statement that our labour in the Lord – which, in the first century, did NOT mean full-time Christian work – is not in vain (I Cor.15:58); this verse, as it were, is a one-verse answer the whole book of Ecclesiastes! What a wonderful way in which we are motivated to struggle through the situations in the present creation!
As you laboured through this densely concentrated article, I trust you can see our study and work, as important aspects of God’s calling on our lives
L.T. Jeyachandran hails from Tamil Nadu in South India. He has a Master of Technology (MTech) degree in Structural Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Madras (Chennai). LT is a keen student of theology and comparative religions and is also interested in the study of Indian and foreign languages.
He took early retirement from the Government in November 1993 to join a Christian organisation that is devoted to apologetics and worked in Chennai (India) and Singapore.
LT is a member of the Editorial Board of the Theology of Work Project https://www.theologyofwork.org
LT and his wife, Esther, moved back to India in September 2012 and make their home in Pune, Maharashtra. They have two children and four grandchildren. They are members of the Oldham Memorial Methodist Church in Pune.