THEOLOGY OF WORK

The first few years after I left YWAM full-time, I felt the work that I was not doing in the church or YWAM was a waste of my time and of no value, because I was not working for the Lord. This was my thinking. Luckily through Holy Spirit, Bible, books, seminars, and long talks with many people, I have worked out my “Theology of work”. Now I know, as Paul puts it in Colossians 3:23 (NIV) “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (emphasis is mine).

Even though it stands very clear here in the bible, for some reason it was not what I heard in church. There the emphasis was on worship and ministry/missions. Which of course are very important things, but as I discovered, they are only part of God’s dream for me, or maybe I should say His dream for His creation.
In the first pages of the Bible, we read how God created mankind in His image. Genesis 1:27 “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

He created us with a purpose

Genesis 1:28 “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”. And Genesis 2:15 “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”. Read also Psalm 8:5-8.

From these and other passages we understand that God created us to take care of what He has created for us, but not just take care of it also to work it. Which I understand is to develop it. As Tim Mackie from The Bible Project said “…that also includes growing families then, which become neighbourhoods. And then they create communities where people are going to work and take care of each other and build businesses and cities that will expand to new places and so on.” (From their video “Image of God”).

In Hebrews, the word “Avodah” is both used for “work” and “worship”. “Six days you shall work (avodah).” – Exodus 34:21
“Then man goes out to his work (avodah), to his labor until evening.” – Psalm 104:23 “This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship (avodah) me.” – Exodus 8:1 “But as for me and my household, we will serve (avodah) the Lord.” – Joshua 24:15

This was an eye-opener for me. My worship is not just in church on Sunday morning, but also Monday-Friday at work. To take care of and develop what God has given me (ie. us) is just like singing “How Great Thou Art” in church. For me, as a computer programmer where I work, it’s not only a question of making money to support my family but also a way to avodah God and use the gifts He has given me. The programs I make help others do their jobs faster and easier, part of developing and growing our community.

As Rabbi Michael Strassfeld puts it “Work is not only a necessary part of life, it is a form of service to the world, to the rest of humanity, and to God. We are meant to be of service, to be partners with God in the ongoing creation of the world.” (From “A Book of Life”)

When we look at the list of people of faith in Hebrews 11. Almost all of them are working people, shepherds, servants, political leaders, farmers, etc. And we only hear about hours or days of their life. It makes me think about, what are they doing the rest of the time? Abraham lived 175 years, there are 11 chapters in Genesis about him, which are highlights from his life. We can imagine, from the stories, that he must have been a good businessman, shepherd, community leader, and military leader. Daily doing what needs to be done and doing so avodah God.

The same with Israel, they were a nation of workers, not monks, and God wanted them to be an example to other nations. How to live in unity & peace, working, creating together, and prospering (Shalom) and avodah God. The law that God gave them was not to be a burden, but a blessing, so they would know how to live together.

Psalms 67:1-2 “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us, so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.”
And in the same way, we as Christian are also to worship and serve God through our work, and the way we live our day-to-day life. Matt 5:16 “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
Titus 2:7 “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity,”
The great thing is God wants to help us, just like He did for Bezalel.

In Exodus 31:3 & 35:31 tells of how God fills Bezalel son of Uri with His Spirit to do artistic work.

God has given us His Spirit and “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” Gal. 5:22-23a
I found in my life both at home and at work, these are very important qualities.

The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC) has made a great series they call “6M People” (https://licc.org.uk/ourresources/6m-people/). How the fruit of the Spirit is lived out in people’s lives at work and home.

My theology of work? I’ve found out that it boils down to what Scot McKnight calls “The Jesus Creed” – “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God. The Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself.” – Mark 12:29-31.

If I can really live this out and others with me, what a world it would be.

MARK STEWART

Born and raised in the USA, came to Denmark in 1977 at age 19 to take a Discipleship Training School (DTS) & School Of Evangelism (SOE), met a Danish girl, and got married in 1979. Now we have three grown-up kids and five grandkids. After my SOE, I worked full-time for Youth with a Mission (YWAM) for three and a half years. Since 1989 I have worked for a labor union in their IT-department. Been on the YWAM Denmark board for 20 years, King’s Kids leader for 11 years, guest teacher on DTSs in Denmark, India & Nepal.

References & Resources:

https://tifwe.org/avodah-a-life-of-work-worship-and-service/

https://bibleproject.com/explore/video/image-of-god/