A few years ago my best friend was asked by a co-worker, “You’re paid by the hour, so why do you put so much effort into working efficiently?” That still seems like a question worth asking. Why do we work so hard?
In fact, why do we work at all? For many people, the answer is uncomplicated: to get by, or maybe even to “get ahead.” Such answers come from people across the board, from struggling single parents to affluent boardroom executives. They have in common the idea that our purpose for working is “mammon.” However, as people being continually reshaped by the Spirit, we know that there’s more to our work than earning money. We do not serve mammon. We demonstrate our faith in God in all that we do, including our work.
God worked. In the beginning, God created. And as the crowning jewel of his work, God created humans in his image. Then God placed them in the Garden of Eden to “work it and take care of it” (Gen. 2:15). From the beginning, work is threaded throughout God’s story. Scripture recounts the skilled Israelite workers who built the tabernacle and the temple. It tells us that Peter was a fisherman, Paul a tentmaker, Lydia a dealer in purple cloth. (Know any carpenters?) Being created in God’s image inherently makes us workers; it has been breathed into us. Recognizing that, we do our work for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).
Our daily work is a high calling. Work brings us joy because we have been wonderfully made in God’s image as creators. An effect of faithful, diligent work is that we imprint on the working world around us part of God’s redemption plan, an echo of the righteousness of his original, perfect creation. Living out our faith at work is more than simply chatting at the water cooler about last Sunday’s worship service. As employees, it means we are on time and dependable. We listen to coworkers and employees because they are God’s imagebearers along with us. We admit to mistakes, give recognition to those who deserve it, and speak up for people who are treated unjustly. This work ethic stands out as “something different.”
Several years ago, the company I work for in Grand Rapids, Mich., which designs and manufactures retail packaging, was pursuing opportunities to expand out of state. One market they wanted to tap into was California, a tough market with lots of competition. Three prospective customers from the Los Angeles area responded that they’d heard about the “West Michigan work ethic” but hadn’t experienced it until they worked with us. The integrity our company’s people demonstrated set us apart from our California-based competitors.
We are achingly aware, however, that this world is broken—work and all. We struggle with unemployment from lack of jobs. We face barriers to employment such as physical and mental disabilities or a criminal record. We encounter rude customers, inept suppliers, harsh employers, lazy employees, or intolerable officemates. “By the sweat of your brow will you eat your food” (Gen. 3:19), we read in God’s Word, “For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun” (Eccles. 9:9). But the places where we work are square inches over which Christ is sovereign, and in such circumstances we live out our faith in perseverance and hope.
So how did my friend answer her co-worker’s question? She said, “While it’s true that I work for this company, ultimately I work for God, and he deserves nothing less than my very best.”
Reformed Matters: Why Work Hard?
- What does it mean to work for “mammon”? Is that why you work?
- What’s the connection between being created in God’s image and working? How are those related? Does that make a difference in the way we view our work and do our work (paid and/or volunteer)?
- How does working for the glory of God affect what we do? Would that mean, for instance, that there are certain types of employment we should not accept? What might those be?
- What are some ways in which sin has affected the workplace in general and your own work in particular?
- How can God’s kingdom be expanded through our work? What are specific ways we might better serve our Lord in our jobs? How might we help and support each other in the work we do?
About the Author
Marc Meyer has done paid work for almost 30 years, beginning with a paper route as an early teen. He attends Neland Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.