Apply yourself to two types of work
A number of years ago I worked two part-time jobs. One was for a small furniture manufacturer, the other for the Taxation Institute of Australia. I found it really difficult to juggle two jobs—I felt I was never on top of either one. Although both jobs were in accounting, it always involved a big mental shift going from one to the other.
As Christians at work we face a similar challenge, because God gives us two types of work to do: creation work, and the work of the Lord. We need to keep trying to do both well.
Creation work is the work that God gave us in Genesis—to look after the world (Gen 1:28) and to work the garden (Gen 2:15).
After the Fall, work became hard toil and a matter of survival. In Genesis 3, God told Adam, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread”. In other words, Adam would now need to work the soil in order to feed himself. And, of course, we’re in the same boat. Work also became existentially frustrating after the Fall. We work hard only to die and return to the dust (Gen 3:19b).
Renewed motivation to work
In the New Testament our creation work continues, but now with renewed motivation as we work for the Lord (Col 3:23).
Creation work is also an expression of our love for other people: in not being a burden to others (1 Thess 2:9), in caring for our families (1 Tim 5:8) and the poor (Eph 4:28), in supporting paid gospel workers (Gal 6:6), and for the good order of society (Rom 13:6-7).
Jesus is so concerned that you take your creation work seriously that he hints of possible judgement for ‘slackers’ (Col 3:25) and instructs his apostle to exclude from fellowship those who will not work (2 Thess 3:6).
The work of the Lord
But there’s another work that Jesus instructs his people to do. It’s “the work of the Lord” and it’s found in 1 Corinthians 15:
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain. (1 Cor 15:58)
In the Old Testament this phrase was used to describe the special work in God’s temple (see Numbers 8:11 and 1 Chronicles 26:30). Here in this New Testament passage, “the work of the Lord” is the work of evangelism and edification. I say this because, just a few verses later in 1 Corinthians 16:10, Paul uses this phrase again in relation to the ministry of his offsider Timothy as well as to his own ministry:
When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am.
Not in vain
In 1 Corinthians 15:58, the motivation to do “the work of the Lord” is that it’s “not in vain”. The context of 1 Corinthians 15 is that as people hear the gospel and persevere in it, they will share in the glorious resurrection in the age to come. What a contrast to the existential bleakness of Genesis 3:19! We no longer work only to return to dust; we now look forward to a glorious, eternal future.
Two types of work
So we have two types of work that we are to apply ourselves to: creation work, and the work of the Lord. Some of us might struggle with staying motivated to do our creation work; others might struggle to apply energy to the work of sharing Jesus with the people we work with and building up the Christians we know. It is a challenge to balance between these two types of work, and going from one to the other—but rest assured, Jesus wants us to be working at both.
Which type of work do you think you need to work harder at—creation work or the work of the Lord? How might you go about redressing the balance this week?
Photo by Rodolfo Quirós: https://www.pexels.com/photo/selective-focus-photography-cement-2219024/
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