“Everything is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
This is another one of those verses I have looked at and studied before, but which I was recently given the lens to see in a new light I had not considered before. This isn’t a new interpretation of what Paul was saying, but rather an extension of its application to another area of life. This morning, I want to take a look at what the ministry of reconciliation God has given us has to do with our work.
Our culture has a complicated relationship with work. On the one hand, our Puritan heritage has invested us with a work ethic that is far beyond what you’ll find in many other parts of the world. Our economic output tends to be higher than other places. Our work week is longer. Our workday is longer. The upside of this is that we can out-produce the rest of the world by a fairly wide margin when we really get our industrial capacity ramped up. The downside is the number of folks who have become workaholics, losing themselves to their jobs, often at the expense of friends and family.
On the other hand, we hate work. We proclaim in song that “everybody’s working for the weekend.” We find any excuse we can to not go to work if we can help it. We are easily distracted at work and spend far more time than we should doing things other than the work for which we are being paid. We complain about our jobs and our bosses and our coworkers and our clients. Work is just something that gets in the way of the things we really want to do. And then on Monday morning we get up and grind out 60-80 more hours over the next five days. We live with the futility promised by God’s curse of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3.
You can perhaps see why an alien coming to make observations on our behavior would be a little confused by the whole spectacle.
This distorted and confused relationship with work may be an attribute of our culture, but it is not something we find in the Scriptures. While God is honest about the challenges we will have with work because of sin’s destructive and distorting presence in the world, when it comes to work itself, there is much less confusion in the view of the various Spirit-inspired authors. To put it rather simply: Work is a good thing.
Work is something God gave us to do in the beginning. When God created us, the very first thing He did was to give us a list of work we were to be doing as His stewards over creation. We were to be fruitful. Our job was to take creation and make more out of it than what we were initially given. We were to multiply and fill the earth. That is the rather enjoyable work of creating families and expanding our number and influence.
We were to subdue the earth. This command suggests a certain wildness to creation in the beginning that we don’t often think about. William Dembski offers an intriguing idea in his book, The End of Creation, that the Garden of Eden existed in a kind of bubble, separated from the rest of the world where the idyllic perfections of the Garden were not present. Whether or not we stayed in the Garden was up to us. We chose to leave it behind when we chose to live outside the boundaries of God’s sovereignty. But part of our creation mandate was going to be to extend the perfections of the Garden to the rest of creation.
God also gave us the work of ruling over the other creatures He had made. We were to care for them and manage their populations and name them and so on and so forth.
All of these tasks required work on our part. Work was part of our creation mandate. This means it was a good thing, not the sin-corrupted chore we so often experience it to be today. Because work was part of our creation mandate, this means that work will be part of the life lived in faithful obedience to God’s command through Christ today. In other words, work doesn’t have to be either our master or the villain from which we hide. It can be something that is life-giving and ennobling and fulfilling. In fact, it should be those things.
Yet in order to achieve such a thing, we don’t necessarily need to leave the job we are in in order to find our fulfillment in something else. Yes, we can find ourselves in a place where the work we are doing is not the thing for which God created us, but our culture’s quick leap to such a conclusion is borne on the back of an improperly romantic view of work as something other than God intended it to be. In that case we are searching for fulfillment in the work itself rather than in the God who gave us the work. As long as we are aiming for the wrong thing, we won’t ever find the fulfillment we seek.
Instead, then, what we need is to come to a more Scripturally-informed understanding of the nature of our work on this side of the Fall. We know from God’s repetition of our original mandate that the work He intends for us to do has not changed. We are still supposed to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. But what we see in the apostle Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth here is one more thing that must be added to our work in light of God’s grand redemption project that has been going on since the Fall and will continue until Christ returns.
If you are a follower of Jesus, your work (whatever it happens to be) should involve all of those other things, but it should also include this: reconciliation. In Christ, you have been given the ministry of reconciliation. You are called to be an active part of God’s efforts to reconcile all things to Himself in Christ. You can, of course, do that through things like sharing the Gospel and doing missions in various places around your community and the world. But you can also do this through the work God has called you to do at the present moment.
Instead of looking at your job as a bore or a burden, consider thinking about it through this lens: How can the work I am doing extend God’s efforts to reconcile a lost world to Himself in Christ? Whatever your job happens to be, if you are a follower of Jesus, this is something you can use it to accomplish. Through your work, you can combat the futility and misery and frustration of the Fall. As for how, be creative.
Let’s say you are a plumber. There are few things more frustrating than plumbing that is not working. By clearing clogs and stopping leaks, you are enabling someone to live with less frustration and misery. And, yes, of course, you can do that in such a way that adds to a person’s burden, but if you are a follower of Jesus, the attitude and outlook you bring to things make all the difference. If you are a teacher, you can make sure your students understand and appreciate the wonder of truth and a world that is orderly and knowable. If you are a Real Estate agent, you are helping people meet one of their most basic needs and helping them find places that can be used to build and foster relationships that lead to new salvations and discipleship. Is that guaranteed to happen? Of course not, but at the very least you have the opportunity to point them in that direction. Whatever your vocation happens to be, you can extend God’s ministry of reconciliation to the world around you in your pursuit of it.
So, as you work today, whatever the work is you happen to be doing, do it knowing that you are playing an active part in God’s work to restore this world to what He intended for it to be in the beginning. Your work matters. God can and will use it to expand His kingdom. You simply need to submit yourself to Him in Christ and do the work after the pattern of His love for you. The world will be a better place because you did.