Understanding Work, with a twist

Last year I had the privilege to speak at a Mid Year Conference for uni students on the doctrine of work.  You can find the complete set of talks on the talks page.

This post is an attempt to summarise my thoughts on the topic with what has become known as the ‘spaghetti fork diagram’ (See above).  This has also been simplified for the sake of this post.  So I am writing this with trepidation because I can see people commenting “But what about…”.

People, this is a summary with a point not a full blown treatment of a topic.

My two assumptions are that we define work as “bringing God’s order” and rest as “enjoying God’s order”.

  1. Creation: God starts work by bringing about the order He has created.  God creates man to work.  Work is good and mankind does not need to work to live, but because he was made to.
  2. Fall: At the reversal of the order that God has made, we see that work, like everything else is effected.  Work is now hard and more importantly, mankind needs to work to live.  Hence there is a connection between work -> food (bread) -> life -> work.
  3. Sustaining Work: Mankind’s work is now no longer about bringing God’s order, it is about sustaining the fractured order that we have.  Work is necessary for survival.  But since it is God’s fractured order that is being sustained and He is involved in sustaining it, it still brings Him glory and that is a good thing.
  4. Redeeming Work: God does not leave us in disarray.  He still seeks to achieve his good order by redeeming the broken one.  He does this through the nation of Israel, climaxing in the work of Jesus and then through the church.
  5. New Work:  This means that there is new work for mannkind to do.  Firstly, the work is “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29 NIV).  Jesus is the bread of life, and so is the way we are given new life, not by our work but his.  Secondly, we then  have an opportunity to be involved in redeeming work by making that news known.  Thirdly, this news changes the way we think about sustaining work, so the two lines are intertwined.  The diagram should be 3D and the two lines staying separate – they are still independent work, but are pulling on each other to some extent.  (NB: the diagram shows a higher frequency at one point – that is not a point, only my bad drawing).
  6. God’s Good Order:  At the end of time, at the resurrection, God will bring about his good, perfect order.  Everything He has worked towards has been fulfilled.  Is the still work in this order?  No idea. But if there is a) it will be good and fruitful and b) it will not be like our work because most of it is based on a fractured order: we won’t need a medical industry (no sickness), legal industry (no sin), etc.

Here are the take away points that often get missed when we talk about work:

  1. The most important work is:  “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29 NIV).  If there is a priority in work then this is it.
  2. Sustaining or secular work is still important because it brings glory to God by sustaining the fractured order we are in and that fractured order still brings glory to God (Cf Psalm 19:1-2).
  3. Sustaining and redeeming work are not independent parallel lines.  They effect one another.  We only know sustaining work brings glory to God is because of the revelation found in redeeming work.  Redeeming work will tell us how we can do sustaining work well. Etc.

I am sure there will be people who want to make comments and question things.  I will respond as time allows, but it would be better if you could listen to the talks for a fuller treatment.

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