Work. This is a word that we all know well. Everyone must work in some capacity in order to make a living and provide for their family. Many spend an entire lifetime trying to figure out the perfect fit for their career. For most people in the workforce, they spend the majority of their working career in a job that is not glamorous, but pays well enough to cover their financial needs. Yet does work have to be so hard? Why can we not all work in a job that we love and enjoy doing? One word comes to mind to answer that question, namely sin. Before sin came into the world, work was not hard, or at least not as hard as it is now. What does all of this mean for work many of us do on a daily basis? This is what pastor Bryan Chapell discusses in his new book Grace at Work: Redeeming The Grind & The Glory of Your Job (Crossway, 2022).
Oftentimes this truth about work is misunderstood. We tend to think that because work is hard that it came into the world after the fall. Yet we see in Genesis 1:28 that the Lord blesses Adam and Eve and gives them this command: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (ESV). This command to work comes before sin. It is only when Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that the curse of sin makes everything more difficult: “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread…” (Genesis 3:17-19, ESV).
In the book Chapell guides the reader through eleven aspects of work that are important in the life of the Christian. For the believer, work is more than simply a way to earn a living, it is one of the main ways we worship the Lord. For sake of brevity, we will interact with four of the aspects of work discussed in the book: dignity, purpose, balance, and witness.
This aspect of work is crucial for a biblical understanding of how we are to relate to our work. Many people spend the majority of their working career doing the same thing over and over, grinding out the work week while living for the weekend. This view of work does not see the dignity of work. We mistakenly hold the assumption that our worth is found in what we do, and if that job is menial we wrongly assume that we have no inherent value. To rightly understand the dignity of work we must understand the order of work. Chapell unpacks this in a section titled “Label Before Labor”. He shows from Genesis 1:26-28 that mankind was first made in the image of God (vs. 26-27) before we were given our vocation (vs. 28). Understanding this is a game changer, because it reminds us that we do not have to earn our status before God.
It is important to remember that all of our work, so long as it is honest and God honoring work, has a purpose. God is the creator and sustainer of the world. In him all things hold together by the word of his power (see Col 1:17 and Heb 1:3). One of the ways that God works in the world is through human means. When we pray Jesus’ prayer that the Lord give us our daily bread could supernaturally provide manna for us like he did the Israelites in the desert. Yet most likely we will go to the grocery store and buy food. In that one simple errand, the Lord utilizes the abilities of others to provide for us. He uses our company to provide a job for us and our ability to work and earn a living. He then uses the farmer to group the crop, the packing and shipping company to get it to the store, and the workers at the grocery store to shelve and sell the product. Each one of those people did work with purpose, even if they were unaware. As followers of Jesus our call is to everything for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Others may not work with the same purpose as we do, but God has a purpose for their work nonetheless.
Balance is one of the most important aspects of our work. We are all familiar with the term workaholic, someone who is addicted to their work and rarely takes a break. This is an unhealthy relationship to work. Yet the opposite is also unhealthy, namely slothfulness. Both are traps that we can fall into regarding our work. Some are wired toward working too much, and others are wired toward working too little. The biblical model for work is balance of both. There is a time to work, and a time to rest in leisure. When we work we reflect the image of God and bring glory to him. When we rest, specifically when we sleep we are reminded that we are not God. As we rest and take time away from our work, God is still working. He alone is in control.
Another way that our work is different as followers of Jesus, is that our work is a witness for the Lord. Our primary goal in our work is not to be an evangelist. We are hired to perform certain tasks and fulfill a certain function for our company. Yet as we do our work as unto the Lord, we can point others to Jesus (see Colossians 3:23). Too often, Christians are known for being like the rest of society and not distinct. We are called, however, to be different and one way we can display Christ is by doing our jobs well for the glory of God. As we do that, as we let our lights shine, we will have the opportunity to display the goodness of God to the world (see Matthew 5:16).
One aspect of the book that was particularly helpful in figuring out one’s usefulness regarding their work is applying what Chapell calls the George Bailey test. For those that do not know who George Bailey is, he is the main character in the movie It’s A Wonderful Life. In the pivotal scene in the movie George is depressed about his current life situation and wishes that he had never been born. He is then granted the opportunity to see what life in his town would have been like if his wish were true. What George sees is appalling to him when he thinks about how his life truly affects the lives of others in his town for good. In the same way, we should consider the ways we affect the lives of others through our work.
Grace At Work is an excellent resource for the church. Many times the church gives the false impression that the only work that counts is church work (i.e. preaching, missions, evangelism, etc.). Yet, as Chapell exhorts, all our work counts if done unto the Lord for his glory. Not everyone is called to be a preacher, pastor, church staff, or missionary. The work that we do outside the walls of the church is just as important, because we are witness to the world of God’s goodness through our work. If every Christian only worked in the church or in jobs where they were surrounded only by other Christians, then who would share Jesus with non-believers? While distinct from the calling to preach or to serve as a missionary, each follower of Jesus is called to work for the glory of God and the good of others. Grace At Work is a wonderful reminder of that calling.
Editor’s Note: This resource was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Zach Kendrick is the editor of Reading For The Glory.
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