None of God’s business? The spiritual significance of our daily work

None of Gods business

Can you do a little mental arithmetic? Assuming you live to your early 60s, how many hours will you have spent at work? Now, do a similar exercise. Think about how many hours each week you spend on overtly ‘Christian’ activities, time at church in worship, at Bible study and in prayer groups, time at leadership meetings, teaching kids, or working with youth.

If you were to work 50 hours each week, then you would have spent about 100,000 hours at work by the end of your working life. If you were to spend (say) an average of ten hours a week in ‘Christian ministry’, then, over that same 40-year period, you would have spent 20,000 hours. In summary: 100,000 hours at work; one fifth of that time in so called ‘Christian work’.

Not in vain?

Park those numbers for a moment and consider the words of the apostle Paul: ‘Therefore my dear brothers let nothing move you. Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain’ (1 Corinthians 15.58).

What is meant here by ‘the work of the Lord’? What is the ‘labour in the Lord’ that is not ‘in vain’? Does that refer to overtly ‘Christian work’? Many would say yes. Paul means the work of evangelism, discipling and building churches. But, if that were true, then for those of us who have day jobs in the secular world, what about the 100,000 hours we spend at work? Do they represent some sort of spiritual limbo land, just an infill between Sundays, a means of supporting our families, a necessary evil? In terms of value, is it all a second-best use of time for the Christian or, worse still, something ultimately meaningless, of no eternal value, time and effort spent in vain?

The Bible’s answer to those questions is a resounding no! Paul says: ‘Always give yourself to the work of the Lord’. Note the word ‘always’! That includes the 100,000 hours at work, not just the 20,000 hours spent in ‘Christian service’.

Divided loyalties?

But how can I work for the Lord when I am paid to make money for my business, or to serve the good of the public in government? If I need to concentrate 100% on the technical detail of my task, or on the people I am paid to help, then how can I be working for the Lord at the same time?

What meaning does my work have in the context of eternity? The equipment I repair, the report I write, the structures I build, the meetings I attend, what value do they have in God’s eyes?

These issues are not always addressed in our churches. When I first became a Christian, the only sermons I ever heard about work were along the lines of ‘don’t fiddle your expense accounts and tax returns and don’t steal pencils form the office’!

While some churches may not seem to have daily work on their priority list, God certainly does. The Bible makes very clear that our daily work is of great interest to him. It does have eternal significance, and it certainly does not have to be ‘in vain’.

Meaningful activity

So, what transforms our daily work into meaningful spiritual activity? The answer of the Bible is twofold. Firstly, it is because of why we do our work (our motives), and, secondly, how we do our work.

‘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 3.23,24, NIV).

Notice that three times Paul underlines the same crucial point: ‘working for the Lord’; ‘you will receive an inheritance from him’ (note that our daily work leads to eternal reward); and ‘it is the LORD Christ you are serving’. Notice also the same all- encompassing scope of this command: ‘Whatever you do’; an interesting tie-in with the ‘always’ of 1 Corinthians 15.58.

This has several implications.

* It means seeing my job as a calling from God, not just a career that meets my personal goals. We are not to waste hours wondering what our calling is. Surely we are to get on with our job and serve the Lord where we are! If he wants us to do something else he will make that very clear in his time. Seeing our work as a calling is transformational.

* It means being accountable to God. I make it my aim to please him. I can’t please everybody, so if I work to please Christ it simplifies life a lot.

* It means we give it our best in terms of ideas, energy, and creativity.

* It means our primary motivation is not to earn money and accumulate wealth, not to promote our own prestige and boost our own ego. Rather, it is to serve God in and through our daily work.

In the same letter, Paul urges us: ‘Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the Name of the Lord Jesus’ (Colossians 3.17). Notice again the reference to all our activity, the secular and the spiritual.

To do our work ‘in his name’ means being consistent with his character and bringing honour to the Name of Christ. It means we work honestly, faithfully and with integrity; it also means that we aim to build quality relationships.

Working relationships

Most of the sermons, books and articles about work seem to me to be focused on either ethics or evangelism, but I’ve found that building relationships with people is often the biggest test for the Christian. After all, the Bible makes clear (e.g. 1 John) that we are fooling ourselves if we think we can have a good relationship with God when we can’t build relationships with other people.

Relationships at work raise many challenges for us: how we exercise authority; how we respond to authority; how we handle conflict. In these areas our professed faith is tested every day. But, every time we face a work situation where we seek to respond in a way that honours the name of Jesus, then our work is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer. In becoming an act of service to the Lord himself, it becomes something of eternal significance, part of our worship of God and not ‘in vain’.

God is at work

But our work is of eternal significance not only because of what we do, why we do it and how we do it — there is a bigger picture — it is of eternal significance because of what God is doing. He is at work also.

He is at work in us. As our commitment to do our work for the Lord is tested, so we learn to rely on God and so we grow. At work we have to deal with long hours, pressure, difficult people, difficult customers, failure when things don’t turn out well. It is in the pressure cooker of work, in the rough and tumble of life, that God moulds us into the people he wants us to be. it is in those 100,000 hours (as well as in the home, of course) that much of God’s work of sanctifying us takes place, a work that is of eternal value.

He may also be at work in the lives of those we work with and that is always exciting to experience. Further, he may choose to work through us in bringing someone to faith or helping them along the road in some way.

When our work is ‘for the Lord’ and when we recognise God at work in and through us, and in the lives of others, then we can be confident that our labour is in fact ‘labour in the Lord’. It has a divine purpose and will have a fruitful outcome. It will not be ‘in vain’.

Graham Hooper is a consultant and former senior executive with a global Infrastructure company. He recently recorded four talks on the theme ‘Tested faith in the workplace’ for the LICC. To listen to these talks, visit

His book Undivided – closing the faith-life gap was published by IVP in April 2013 (

(This article was first published in the May 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057)

St. Helen’s Bishopsgate Preaching Matters: William Taylor on Work

Here is the newest instalment of the video series from St. Helen’s Bishopsgate designed specifically to ‘equip, encourage and inspire those who teach God’s word.’

‘In this month’s Preaching Matters William Taylor helps us think about Genesis 1-3, particularly it’s application to work.’

How has this helped you as you teach God’s word?

Every good endeavour (book review)


EVERY GOOD ENDEAVOUR Every good endeavor
Connecting your work to God’s plan for the world
By Timothy Keller
Hodder & Stoughton. 286 pages. £12.99
ISBN 978 1 444 702 590

How is the Christian to live out his faith at work? In the Middle Ages, religious callings — monks, nuns, friars, the priesthood — were regarded as the really spiritual option. Everyone else had to make do with an ordinary job, which made them distinctly second-rate in religious terms. One of the great benefits of the Reformation was to eradicate this secular/religious divide and recognise the inherent value of all kinds of work, to be carried out in a godly manner as to Christ.

We are in grave danger of losing this biblical perspective on work. The idea that to be a preacher is inherently more pleasing to God than to sweep roads is entirely unbiblical, but sadly prevalent among evangelicals today. Calls for everyone who is able to do so to give up ‘secular’ work and go into some form of full-time gospel work reinforce this distorted understanding. The suggestion that ‘secular’ work is good merely to pay the bills (and support gospel workers) is seriously sub-biblical.

Valued for its own sake

Thankfully, Tim Keller has written a book to present a more biblical view of work. He argues persuasively that work, as a creation mandate for humanity, is to be valued for its own sake, as ordained by God for all. Whether it is preaching the gospel or plastering ceilings, work is good. Keller explores carefully, from the Scriptures, how this is so and explains how Christians, with a biblical understanding of the world, may be able to bring this understanding to bear upon their work-life. At the same time, Keller argues, we are not to find our identity in work, for this is simply to make an idol of it. We are more than just the work we do.

Perhaps inevitably, given the make-up of his own congregation, Keller tends to focus on people involved in business or in the pursuit of high culture. He does not entirely neglect those who have little or no say in what they do but simply have to obey their superiors in menial tasks. But, more does need to be said about the drudgery and powerlessness of such work. Many people will never have the ability to make any significant difference to the way in which the firm for which they work operates and for them, some parts of this book will seem idealistic.

Deconstructing jobs

Nevertheless, Keller rightly deconstructs the contemporary fixation with jobs that bring in plenty of cash, plenty of kudos or plenty of cool. The Christian who loads a dishwasher umpteen times a day for a living will understand through this book that their work is of no less value in God’s sight than that of the most influential businessman or the most cutting-edge of artists.

This is a book for our times. Maybe it will help us recover the more healthy, and biblical, attitude to work which the Reformers rediscovered and which we seem, to our great loss, to have largely forgotten.

Robert Strivens, 
Principal, London Theological Seminary

This article was first published in the February 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057


The Bible and Our Daily Work: Work and personal property (Pt 7)

At the beginning of the 20th century the German social historian Max Weber published The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. He was trying to explain why, at that time, in many societies those with the top jobs were predominantly from a Protestant background.

Whether you can connect the Reformation of the 16th century easily with the rise of capitalism, mainly in the 19th century, is a matter of conjecture. But it is certainly true that as Reformation leaders like Luther and Calvin taught the Scriptures a new spirit of industriousness and an enthusiasm for daily work was generated. The question raised by Weber’s thesis is not so much to do with work as what we do with the fruits of our labours. Jesus had much to say about money and the use of wealth, e.g. Matthew 6.24; Luke 12.13-21.

The Creator’s Property
Scripture teaches that the one who creates is the one who owns. Work establishes property.
Thus God is called the ‘Possessor’ of heaven and earth, Genesis 14.19, 22.
See also for example Psalm 24.1; Psalm 50.9-12.
Many of Jesus’ parables concerning the Second Coming speak in terms of an owner of property returning and those to whom he entrusted it having to give an account, e.g. Mark 13.32-36.

Already we therefore see that a Christian’s attitude to property ought to be different from that of others. We are merely stewards of things which actually belong to God.

The legitimacy of personal property
In the context of everything ultimately belonging to God, the Bible goes on to teach the legitimacy of personal property. Under God, some things legitimately belong to us.
God is the worker who made the world and therefore owns it. We are made in God’s image, Genesis 1.26, 27, and therefore man too has a certain right to the things he has made.
The Decalogue with its commandments not to steal and not to covet what belongs to others makes the legitimacy of personal property explicit, Exodus 20.15, 17; Deuteronomy 5.19, 21.
The New Testament makes the same point, Ephesians 4.28.
But the Bible also emphasises that personal property is only legitimate if its has been obtained in a legitimate way i.e., justly. Paying people low wages because they are too weak to stand up to a master will bring God’s wrath, James 5.1-6

The dangers of personal property
Within a limited sphere wealth brings both freedom and security. Thus material wealth often goes hand in hand with forgetting God, Deuteronomy 8.10-18. This is what has happened in the prosperous Western world.
Thinking ourselves as having no need of God, fallen human nature sees itself as free to indulge its sinful desires. Thus the love of money becomes a root of all kinds of evil, 1 Timothy 6.10.
When we replace God by the love of wealth and material things, not only do we worship the creature rather than the Creator, Romans 1.25, but we plunge ourselves into destruction, 1 Timothy 6.9.

The responsibilities of personal property
The gift of personal wealth carries with it at least two responsibilities.

First, as we enjoy the material things that God has given us to enjoy we have a responsibility to thank him and love him for his kindness to us, 1 Timothy 4.4, 5.

Second, as God has prospered us we have a responsibility to use our wealth to help others. The apostle Paul tells us to use our money to be rich in good works, 1 Timothy 6.18. The apostle John tells us that practical love towards others through giving is a mark of true conversion, 1 John 3.14-18.

This series on ‘The Bible and Our Daily Work’ is taken from a sermon series given by Dr. John Benton at Chertsey Street Baptist Church in 2012.

Part 1 in the series is ‘Work and Creation
Part 2 in the series is ‘Work and the Fall
Part 3 in the series is ‘Male and Female in the context of Work
Part 4 in the series is ‘Work and Rest
Part 5 in the series is ‘Work and our Attitudes
Part 6 in the series is ‘Work and Ambition

A related post ‘7 Tips on handling stress in the work place’ can be found here.

The Bible and Our Daily Work: Work and ambition (Pt 6)

Is it wrong to seek promotion and advancement at work? Is it right to have ambitions? Christian people can be faced with decisions in their business or professional careers where such questions are pertinent.

In 1 Thessalonians 4.11, 12 the apostle Paul sets out some basic ambitions connected with our work which should characterise all Christians. Not to desire these goals is to be astray. We are to eagerly seek to achieve at least three things:

To work
The context of that work is to be a quiet life – but the great ambition, if we are physically and mentally able, must be to work, v11.
Note again that there is no disparagement of manual labour in the NT. Paul commends working ‘with our hands.’
Leisure is not intrinsically better than work. It should not be our ambition to be on perpetual holiday. This is what the world so often aims for. Laziness is condemned throughout the Bible, Proverbs 12.24; Titus 1.12.
The Christian is to desire to be useful, productive and to make a contribution to the common good. This is the so-called ‘Protestant work ethic.’ God made us to work and we can find a degree of fulfilment and satisfaction in our work. As Christians our work becomes an act of worship, Colossians 3.23.

Through our industry to win the respect of unconverted people
The background to Paul’s remarks in v12 is in v9, 10. Some of the Thessalonian Christians were so zealous in their love for brothers and sisters in Christ that some people were taking advantage of that and had given up work and were living on hand-outs from the church, cf. Titus 3.14. Such behaviour brought the name of the Lord Jesus into disrepute.
We need to add that ‘success’ at work is not the only way to win respect. It may be that ordinary people will be directed to Christ by the way our faith enables us to cope with crises or drudgery or other difficulties, Philippians 4.12, 13.

Through our work to be dependent on nobody
In v12 Paul commands the Thessalonians to aim at earning their own keep. The New Testament is keen to help those in real need but it will not allow an able-bodied Christian to become content to live from other people’s charity.
Our first ambition should be to support ourselves. This takes priority over whether or not we like the job, 2 Thessalonians 3.11-14.

God has given us all some set of abilities. If those abilities cannot find an outlet we become frustrated. It is therefore good to have ambition to use our potentials to the full, Ecclesiastes 9.10. But this must be in the context of seeking a contented godly life, 1 Thessalonians 4.11;1 Timothy 6.6. With this in mind here are six indications of when our ambitions have goner too far.

  • When our ambitions are greater than our abilitiesScripture commands us to have a proper estimate of ourselves, Romans 12.3
  • When we are prepared to compromise Christian principles to get promotionThe ‘end justifying the means’ is never God’s way, Psalm 23.3
  • When promotion is pursued for self-exaltationAmbition is not condemned but selfish ambition is always condemned, Philippians 2.3
  • When ambitions are pursued out of the love of moneyJesus told us that we cannot serve both God and money, Matthew 76.24; Hebrews 13.5;
  • When ambitions are pursued out of envy and discontentThe spirit of the world is that ‘the grass is always greener,’ James 3.14-16
  • When ambition is pursued at the expense of our responsibilities to othersWe are to put the needs of others before our own, Philippians 2.4; Ephesians 5.25
  • When ambition is pursued to the neglect of the needs of God’s kingdomLocal churches are a priority. We are to seek God’s glory Matthew 6.33; 1 Corinthians 10.31

‘Right ambition consists not so much in wishing to be promoted, but in wishing to deserve promotion’ Matthew Henry

This series on ‘The Bible and Our Daily Work’ is taken from a sermon series given by Dr. John Benton at Chertsey Street Baptist Church in 2012.

Part 1 in the series is ‘Work and Creation
Part 2 in the series is ‘Work and the Fall
Part 3 in the series is ‘Male and Female in the context of Work
Part 4 in the series is ‘Work and Rest
Part 5 in the series is ‘Work and our Attitudes

A related post ‘7 Tips on handling stress in the work place’ can be found here.

The Bible and Our Daily Work: Work and our attitudes (Pt 5)

Here we consider the broad sweep of the New Testament teaching concerning our daily work. We do so under two headings and find that the teaching focuses around the Lord Jesus Christ.

For work to be legitimate it must fulfil two criteria. A). The job itself must not entail violating God’s law, e.g. that of a thief Ephesians 4.28. B). The context of the job must not violate God’s law, e.g., a locksmith (legitimate) who makes keys for thieves (illegitimate) etc. The Lord Jesus was the ‘son’ of a carpenter Matthew 13.55, and up until the age of about 30 years old worked at that trade himself, Mark 6.3. This teaches us three important lessons.

  • Legitimate labour, of whatever form, is never to be despisedJesus not only worked as a carpenter / builder in Nazareth he was prepared to do the work of a slave, washing the disciples feet, John 13.1-17. If God incarnate engaged in the lowest menial tasks he has stamped heavenly dignity upon such work.
  • It is possible to maintain the closest communion with God in the toil of everyday workJesus did ordinary daily work with its humdrum routines and difficult customers. He faced all the same difficulties and temptations that we do, Hebrews 4.15. And yet within the carpenter’s shop he grew in favour with God and man, Luke 2.52. His spiritual growth as a human being did not take place during years of solitude and desert contemplation. It took place in the midst of daily work. It is a mistake to use the demands of our work as an excuse for failure to grow spiritually.
  • By his life we see that work is the normal God-ordained means of meeting our needsIf anyone had the right to be exempt from work, if the world ever owed anyone a living, it was Jesus the world’s creator, Colossians 1.16. But he wanted to set us an example, so he worked. He who multiplied the loaves and fishes for the crowds never seems to have done that to provide for himself or his family. He went to work.

Thus we find the apostle Paul is stern with those who refuse to work, 2 Thessalonians 3.6-10.

THE ATTITUDES AND MOTIVATION WHICH ARE TO GOVERN OUR WORK There are a number of New Testament passages which address the subject of daily work, Colossians 3.22-4.1; 1 Thessalonians 4.11, 12; 1 Peter 2.18-25 etc. We will sketch the main considerations which should govern the Christian’s attitude to work from Ephesians 6.5-9.

  • The Yoke of ChristIn v5 Paul speaks of ‘earthly masters’ and so implies that we have a heavenly master for all our daily work. He makes this explicit in v9. When you became a Christian you voluntarily took upon yourself Christ’s ‘yoke’ taking him as your master, Matthew 11.28-30. He is your master at work. This means there is no sacred/secular divide. Secular work is full-time service for Christ.
  • The Love of ChristYour heavenly master is Christ who has died for you and who loves you, Ephesians 5.25. If he has given himself like that for us then we feel motivated to do our best even with the worst jobs once we see them as done for Jesus. Unlike the world the Christian has reason to be enthusiastic about even the lowest jobs. Our motive is not first of all money, it is serving Christ, v5-7.
  • The Eye of ChristBecause of our sinful nature there is a temptation to do only the minimum amount of work required. But the Christian can be saved from this as he/she realises the we live forever in Christ’s presence v6.
  • The Throne of ChristWe are working for Christ in that all legitimate work which the Christian does is pleasing to Christ and will be rewarded by him at judgement day, v8. This is true whatever our status. Especially we will be rewarded for the times when we have suffered unjustly because we are conscious of God and his ways, 1 Peter 2.18-20.

We conclude there can be no right relationship to work without a right relationship to Jesus and there is no right relationship to Jesus if it does not issue in a right attitude to work.

This series on ‘The Bible and Our Daily Work’ is taken from a sermon series given by Dr. John Benton at Chertsey Street Baptist Church in 2012.

Part 1 in the series is ‘Work and Creation
Part 2 in the series is ‘Work and the Fall
Part 3 in the series is ‘Male and Female in the context of Work
Part 4 in the series is ‘Work and Rest

A related post ‘7 Tips on handling stress in the work place’ can be found here.

The Bible and Our Daily Work: Work and Rest (Pt 4)

Overwork destroys joy. It leaves no room for wholesome fun or stillness. When we never stop to relax or reflect we tend to lose perspective. Overwork can lead to burn-out.

Genesis 1 and 2 tell of God spreading out his work of creation over 6 discrete days. But why did this take a period of time at all? He is God, he could have created it all in an instant had he chosen to do so.

It seems that God used this timescale specifically to teach us that we need rest. God himself does not require rest. His strength is inexhaustible. But he thus gives us, made in his image, Genesis 1.26, 27, a pattern of work and rest to copy.

God made us to work. But he also indicates that rest is essential for us as finite creatures.

In Genesis we find that as God makes the world two basic rhythms of work and rest are established.

  1. In Genesis 1 we find a daily cycle of work and rest with evening and morning, Genesis 1.5; 1.8; 1.13; 1.19; 1.23; 1.31 (cf. John 9.4). God appears to work during the day but cease in the evening until the next morning.
  2. In Genesis 2 we find a weekly cycle of work and rest established. The pattern is of six days work followed by a day of rest, Genesis 2.1-3.

In Genesis 2.1-3, Moses draws attention to the special nature of the 7th day in several ways. First, although 2.1-3 belongs with Genesis 1 there is nevertheless a break from the ‘And God said…’ pattern introducing the previous 6 days. Second, the day is emphasized in a way the other days are not. Each is mentioned only once, 1.5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31. The phrase ‘the seventh day’ is repeated three times in 2.2-3. What is more the Hebrew phrase occurs in three separate sentences each composed of 7 words. Third, though the word ‘Sabbath’ is not here, yet the word for ‘rest’ used in this verses is virtually the same word (Shabbath compared with Shabath). Fourthly, God is said to ‘bless’ the seventh day. Implied is the thought that those who so rest from labour one day in 7 will be blessed. Fifthly, we are told God ‘made it holy,’ a day set apart for God. Sixthly, the ‘evening and morning’ formula is abandoned for the 7th day (hinting at God’s salvation provision of an eternal Sabbath in Christ?).

There are those who try to deny that the day of rest is a creation ordinance, arguing that it was first revealed at Sinai, that it was for the Israelites only and was part of the ceremonial law which is now gone in Christ. But as we see from the wording, to deny a reference to the Sabbath in Genesis 2.2, 3 would be to be pedantic in the extreme. Furthermore, Moses specifically explains in the 10 commandments that the Sabbath is does go back to creation, Exodus 20.11. So to try to restrict the one in 7 day of rest to it being solely the covenant sign of the Mosaic covenant with Israel won’t wash.

The 4th commandment is part of the moral law. It is wrong to try to make people work 7 days a week.

The great emphasis of the NT is on the spiritual rest of salvation to be found in the Lord Jesus as we cease from relying on our works to put us right with God and trust in Christ alone, Matthew 11.28-29. Believing in Christ opens for us the prospect of heavenly rest, the eternal Sabbath which still remains for the people of God, Hebrews 4.9, 10; Revelation 14.12, 13. In this sense it is true that Christ brings to fulfilment the rest pictured in the Sabbath.

But to say that because we already enjoy something of this spiritual rest we no longer require the physical rest of one day off in seven would be as ridiculous as saying that because Christ and the church fulfil the true meaning of marriage, we no longer require marriage between men and women.

  • The Lord Jesus, while rejecting the man-made rules of the Pharisees concerning the Sabbath, confirmed that confirmed the pattern of one day of rest in 7 as a good gift of God for mankind and declared its place within the sphere of his Messianic Lordship, Mark 2.27, 28.
  • As Lord of the Sabbath he encouraged the first Christians to meet together on the first day of the week rather than the last through his resurrection appearances and the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost which was a Sunday, John 20.1, 19; Acts 2.1.
  • No other day, except the first day of the week, is singled out for special mention in the NT showing it had special significance for Christians, Matthew 28.1; Mark 16.2; Luke 24.1; John 20.1; Acts 20.7.
  • Paul’s words of  apparent ‘indifference’ towards ‘special days’  Romans 14.5,6 and ‘a Sabbath day’ Colossians 2.17, occur against a Jewish influence in the church and should not be generalised. Paul himself saw ‘every first day of the week’ was special, 1 Corinthians 16.2. And the apostle John certainly thought Sunday was special, calling it ‘the Lord’s day,’ Revelation 1.10.

This series on ‘The Bible and Our Daily Work’ is taken from a sermon series given by Dr. John Benton at Chertsey Street Baptist Church in 2012.

Part 1 in the series is ‘Work and Creation
Part 2 in the series is ‘Work and the Fall
Part 3 in the series is ‘Male and Female in the context of Work

A related post ‘7 Tips on handling stress in the work place’ can be found here.