This article is part of the Help! series.
Fulfilling Our Mission
Most Christians spend their working lives hoping that God will find some way to use their labor for his priorities. They pray that he will provide some real connection between their daily grind and the eternal glory of his purposes. But they need help to know the connection between Sunday’s worship and Monday’s work.
An old word that may help is vocation. In our culture, we often use the word vocation virtually the same way that we use the word occupation. But these words are really quite different in what they emphasize. Our occupation is what occupies us as we make a living. The word vocation originates in a word for “calling” and refers to what God has called us to do to fulfill his mission in our lives.
As Christians, we need to understand that our occupation actually has a vocation in it. God calls us to use our gifts, talents, and resources for his kingdom’s purposes. His calling is what gives dignity to our jobs—even the hard and frustrating ones. God intends to show aspects of his goodness and glory to others by the work we do during the week, as well as by the worship we offer on Sunday.
Label before Labor
One of the important observations about the dignity we carry into any workplace comes from the earliest portions of Genesis where humanity receives its label before its labor gets defined. In other words, before our first parents are told what to do (Gen. 1:28), they are told who they are in God’s eyes. Genesis 1:26–27 says:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . . ” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
God created humanity in his own image. We are intended to mirror him, reflecting his character and care. Of course, being made in God’s image doesn’t mean that we are God. When we talk about children being the spitting image of their father, we’re not saying that they are the same as their father. But, when you see them, you’re reminded of their father. In the same way, when people observe our work in the world, they should be reminded of our Heavenly Father, especially his character and care.
Value before Achievement
This truth that we get our label before we are assigned our labor is one of the Bible’s earliest explanations of the gospel. When you truly grasp the profound beauty of being valued by God before you have done work for God—treasured for who you are, not for what you have accomplished—then your life will never be the same. You begin to live in the freedom and power of knowing that God is for you not because of what you provide for him, but because of what he provides for you in Christ. God’s love and mercy are never based upon what you do but on his grace toward you. Faith in this provision is the basis of the Christian life and the fuel for a fulfilling work life.
Value beyond Work
Being created in God’s image has many applications for how we regard ourselves and others. All the identity issues we have with our jobs, basing our significance on performance, position, or remuneration are countered. We can still appreciate the blessings of our work, but we are not basing our value on how a boss, company, or constituency values us. We know that our value is already fixed through the identity and significance God grants. Now the success we most value we measure by how well we reflect God’s character and care, even in difficult or disdained professions.
Because God intends for every person to mirror him, our vocation should be understood as helping others better know and express the One whose image they bear so that God is better known and loved.
How can we do that?
Christian employers look at their employees and ask, How can we best provide for their welfare? Are they receiving appropriate benefits? Are they paid a fair wage for their work? Employers treat their workers as image bearers of God so that he is reflected in their lives, labors, products, and practices. Responsibilities of increasing shareholder value or company market share are pursued in the context of the employer’s vocation of mirroring God’s image so that others may increasingly know and share his character and care.
If you’re an employee, you treat your coworkers—even the difficult ones—with dignity and respect, remembering that God’s love and grace toward you are not based on your actions. You also do whatever you can to help others flourish in their vocations rather than focusing solely on your own advancement and success. Those created in God’s image grow to understand his character by our service and sacrifice.
Mission at Work
Through our labor, we are continuing God’s work in the world. Our jobs extend the glory and goodness of God, even amidst the thorns and weeds, sweat and pain of a fallen world (Gen. 3:16–19). This is God’s mission for each of us.
Our work is certainly meant to provide resources for our families, opportunities for Christian witness, and, yes, funds for the ministry and mission of the church. But these are not the only purposes of our work; and, they are not always the most important purposes.
Our work itself is an instrument of God’s grace, pushing back the corruptions of the fall through the influence of God’s character and care that we embody—even in the most pressured, difficult, secular, frustrating, and demoralizing workplaces. When God said to our first parents, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28), he wasn’t just commanding them to be prolific. Each subsequent person was to be an image bearer of God who would take his reflection to all corners of our world and all the situations of our lives. God’s glory was to flourish and fill the earth through human existence and endeavor.
The mission of our work did not fade after the fall that dimmed God’s glory in the world but made our vocation more apparent and urgent. So, praise God if you are working in a place where every day is fulfilling, your gifts are being fully employed, and your peers are a joy. But, even if not, God’s intends for your endeavors to press his character and care into the spaces of the world where you work. God is mowing down the weeds of this world through the glories and the grind of our jobs.
Dignity in Practices and Products
We represent Jesus in all we do. His character and righteousness are represented in our integrity. His justice is seen in our fairness. We don’t show favoritism, and we don’t ride the people we don’t like because we are representing Jesus’s love for all. Our practices on the job—with customers and with competitors—shine Christ’s character even where no word can be spoken for him.
God’s love and mercy are never based upon what you do but on his grace toward you.
Christ’s care should also be reflected in our products. We are, in essence, saying about the things we produce, whether we are on the assembly line or are a company owner, “I stamp the name of Jesus on this product.” As Christians, our mission is to put Christ’s name on everything we make.
A Christian’s determination of the appropriateness of what our work produces or requires should not simply be left to cultural whims or popular opinion. Instead, Christians are obligated to search God’s word as to whether our work and our products glorify him.
Work as Worship
As we examine our jobs with these perspectives, we begin to recognize that God is giving all persons in all professions the opportunity to fit our work into his present and future purposes. When we have that perspective, we realize that our work is not just about us but about how we are glorifying God. Our work is not so much ennobled by the tasks we do or the skills we exercise, as by the purpose God accomplishes through us. The nineteenth-century poet Gerard Manley Hopkins explained, “To lift up hands in prayer gives God glory, but a man with a dung fork in his hand or a woman with a slop pail gives him glory, too. He is so great that all things give him glory if you mean that they should.”
That’s the message—our work is a channel of God’s grace. By work we both receive and dispense the blessings of our Lord.
When we use God’s gifts in the calling he gives us, we fulfill his purposes. The tasks may be magnificent or mundane according to the world’s accounting or our own estimation, but faithful labor cannot fail to reflect and advance the goodness of God. We walk on holy ground whenever we do honest work with God’s purposes in mind. All work that reflects his character and care is our Monday worship—and the privilege of our vocation.
Bryan Chapell is the author of Grace at Work: Redeeming the Grind and the Glory of Your Job.
Popular Articles in This Series
If you have struggled with this doctrine, you are not alone. Even Jonathan Edwards once wrestled with it before he became fully satisfied with it.
We won’t love God’s word until he helps us to do it. And the beautiful thing is that he will.
Losing your temper means you’ve placed anger in the saddle and you are now galloping along at its command.
When you’re more concerned for your child than for their impact on you, then you’re in the right frame of mind to help them. How do you do that?