Your Job Matters to God

By April 5, 2016Archive

EMM-Your_Job_Matters_to_God-OlneyAt Valley Community Church, our mission is “to make gospel-centered disciples for the glory of God.” It is a very helpful mouthful, stressing that our number one priority is discipleship, which we’ve come to define in this way: “Imitating Jesus Christ by giving away the gospel and one’s very life to others that they might become more like Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Basically, discipleship is apprenticeship to Jesus through relationships. And we add that discipleship is the primary vocation of every member of the church, and that we aim for a discipleship culture rather than a mere discipleship process. Here’s a fuller explanation and a super cool chart:

All of that is great. Really, I could talk about it all day (cue the congregation nodding their heads vigorously). Seeing people grow up in the church and love Jesus as adults, helping plant new comGroups (small groups) form that are dedicated to serving their neighborhood, hearing about older empty-nesters mentoring new moms at the Well (our Ministry to Women), witnessing a family come to Christ because their child with special needs was cared for on a Saturday, having dinner with two of our missionaries serving in South Africa or the Middle East and hearing their story, drinking IPA’s, playing Spikeball, or reading Bonhoeffer with a group of men in a Foxhole (our Ministry to Men), watching interns become pastors…I love this stuff. It is true discipleship, and it is crucial. But having the privileged perspective that I do as Discipleship Pastor, I’m beginning to notice that what used to look like a crack in the concrete is actually a gaping chasm in our understanding of discipleship. How does all of this in any way touch what most of us do 40 (let’s be honest, 60) hours a week? In other words, what does discipleship have to do with nursing, teaching, poring over spreadsheets, writing code, painting homes, fighting fires, serving tables, or whatever else we do to pay our outrageous Bay Area rent or mortgage?

Now let’s not get off on the wrong track: striking up a conversation with your coworker and getting to the gospel or inviting them to church is essential to making disciples. comGroups are the core engine of discipleship at VCC and being invested in one, listening to and speaking the truth in love to members of the group, is discipleship. But that’s not all discipleship is. God does not entrust us with our various jobs just so we can keep the world afloat while He rescues more souls. Honestly, if that was the only reason God created everything, wouldn’t creation itself be a bit excessive? Is God so narrow minded that he only cares about saving souls? Are we really prepared to give Him only one (or two) days a week? Perhaps this is partially why some of us are reticent to share the gospel in the first place: it just seems irrelevant to real people’s real concerns like their boss, their projects at home or at work, their kids, or their cost of living. So, what does discipleship have to do with those things? To find the answer, we need to go back: way back.

What we find in the first pages of the Bible (Genesis 1) is a very strange God who is making human beings His co-workers or apprentices in His creation project. He fashions human beings, both men and women, in His own image (which was staggering because “the image of God” was a term only used for kings during biblical times) and charges them to continue the good work of creation that He began. Unlike other ancient texts where the universe is created out of divine violence, the book of Genesis pictures God as an unrivaled King whose mere word accomplishes creation and whose Spirit brings both order and beauty out of the chaos. God then breathes His Spirit into humans (Genesis 2) and endows them with His own authority. They are to subdue the wilderness beyond, extending the beauty and security of the garden to the ends of the earth, filling it with God’s presence by having lots of little image-bearing children. Neighborhoods without crime, industry without injury, politics without corruption, children without rebellion, love without betrayal. All things considered, humanity had a pretty sweet career path lined up. But of course, everything went wrong.

God’s law, summed up by Jesus as the commands to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself, is the revelation of how God intended human beings to live (Matthew 22:37-40). Jesus’ disciple Paul summarized it even more succinctly when he said that love is the fulfillment of the law, a love which he described as long-suffering and kind, not arrogant, rude or selfish…you know the verse if you’ve been to a wedding (Galatians 5:14; Romans 13:10; 1 Corinthians 13:4-7). So when we zoom out and look at the whole story, it becomes apparent that God set up all the powers of the earth (people, governments, corporations, customs, you name it) to operate in a certain way: the Way of Love. God’s creation (of which we are called to continue by creating cultures) is designed to flourish when people, individually and corporately, exist to selflessly love and serve other people. In other words, God’s purposes, summarized in the law, are humanizing (I believe this is partially why secular humanism, though logically baseless, still feels so compelling to western people). God is love, and He loves humans more than anything because they bear His image—they are His kids! But, again, everything went wrong.

We live in a world where the powers: people, governments, corporations, customs, etc. are broken (or fallen). They don’t work the way they are designed to because they fail to love, and therefore fail to properly bear God’s image. They walk as enemies rather than children of God. People use and abuse one another; governments exploit their citizens while companies exploit their employees and their customers. No matter how hard we try, whatever we create eventually becomes destructive. Our babies become statistics; the land of the free becomes the home of human trafficking, gross incarceration rates, and racial injustice. My home here at the end of the earth, the Silicon Valley, created the wonderful world of the internet…and also addicted the world to pornography. None of this is a new phenomenon. Even the “holy, righteous, and good” law of Israel, given to promote love of neighbor, became an instrument of exclusion and death (Romans 7:12; 2 Corinthians 3:6)! Only the Spirit brings life.

And that brings us to Jesus, the true Image Bearer of God who came to breathe the Spirit of life and love into human beings and get the creation project back on track. Jesus, filled with the Spirit, obeyed God’s law in humanity’s place by loving God and His neighbors—even His enemies—unto death. Paul writes that through His death and resurrection, Jesus “disarmed” all the rebellious powers (represented in Caiaphas the Jewish High Priest and Pilate the Roman governor) by exposing them as hostile to God and exploitative of the innocent—even murdering the spotless Son of God. People, governments, companies, customs and the like should now be put on high alert: Jesus Christ, crucified, risen, and ascended, is Lord (not them). That is the central message of the New Testament. But what does that mean practically? It means that the powers must return to their original humanizing purpose to love and serve human beings. Individuals are to become obedient to this gospel from the heart, sacrificially serving others regardless of whether they are your spouse or your worst enemy—that’s what it means to be great in this new Way of Jesus, this “Kingdom of God.” And that means governments, corporations, and all other institutions (even churches!) must use their power to elevate people, not vice versa. This is surely part of why we call this Message, that Jesus is Lord, the Good News.

Do you see how much your work matters to God? If you are a high ranking politician, your job is to serve the people because Jesus is Lord. As a business owner, your job is to serve your clients and your employees because Jesus is Lord. Paul and Peter bestowed upon slaves unthinkable dignity, reminding them that they work ultimately for Jesus so they ought to work heartily even under abusive masters (Colossians 3:23; 1 Peter 2:18)! How much more then should we work joyfully and zealously as servers, interns, students, doctors, parents, or construction workers? And here’s the thing, the organization you work for works for Jesus as well. If they’ve forgotten that (as many have—serving people is becoming less than a given all the time) and have become inefficient at best or dehumanizing at worst, it’s your task to continue to faithfully work for Jesus: love your boss, your coworkers, and your competitors (yes, your competitors), and do really good work. Serve the patient, not the hospital. Don’t give up on that crucial bill that will help the poor even when the political system is rigged against you. Take less profit to make a toy that is safer. Tell the truth in the commercial. Get the story right even though it may affect readership. Don’t settle for lazy or dishonest art. Fix the pothole on your day off. Serve people. One of two things will happen: God will graciously and painfully begin to change the culture around you, or you will follow your Master in getting the boot. But you can’t lose. Jesus already won by losing. He is Lord.

So, what does this have to do with discipleship? Well, remember, God created us as His apprentices—as His disciples—in His project of creating a world that serves human beings to the glory of God. In other words, humans are created to love as He first loved us. As we make disciples of Jesus Christ, we are therefore helping to restore people to their original purpose as apprentices of God! How cool is that? Additionally, as we teach skills and best practices to others while courageously impacting our work culture, we are creating (or restoring) people and organizations that will actually accomplish God’s will to serve people, all while opening up crucial gospel conversations along the way. Might some of our work somehow live on into God’s New Creation that Christian’s eagerly await? What is the long term goal of all of our cultural labors? Who knows? But with God, we know it’s going to be good and full of surprises. It is as though we are all being allowed to paint a tiny part of a glorious portrait that our Dad is working on and that we will one day get to see unveiled.

Genesis 1-3 was not written to be a battleground regarding human origins, but a lush garden of fruitful insights into the human condition and our ultimate destiny as royal beings—above animals but below God (Psalm 8:5-6). The shadowy figure of Adam is meant to point us to Jesus, the Substance, or the “Second Adam” in Paul’s terms, who is getting the human project on track and filling the earth with Spirit-filled image bearers through help of His bride, the Church (the second Eve?). There is great drama and importance to the work of making disciples and we dare not minimize it, either by reducing it to either joining the church or changing the culture.

I know many questions flow from this: What about this job or that industry? What about our highly mobile society? How are “good works” of charity and our good work in business, law, medicine, etc. related? What might New Testament authors have said about bioethics or capitalism? These are great questions deserving of thoughtful reflection, which is the major task of theologians, pastors, and church members in various fields. My aim is only to provide a framework and starting point for those who have always considered their work as somehow separate from or not very meaningful to God’s mission. That is clearly not the case. We have good news for all people: your job matters to God!

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Resources for further exploration:

“The Image of God,” an animated explanation from the guys at the Bible Project:

Why Business Matters to God, a wonderful talk from Jeff Van Duzer, the Dean of the School of Business and Economics at Seattle Pacific University:

Two titans in their respective fields of theology and entrepreneurship, N.T. Wright and Peter Thiel modeling the type of conversation that ought to be happening more often:

Tim Keller’s groundbreaking and accessible work on connecting God’s work and your work:

Dane Olney

Author Dane Olney

Dane Olney is joyfully married to his high school sweetheart Brittany and they have a son named Levi. He is the Discipleship Pastor of VCC and is pursuing an MDiv in Christian Ethics from Fuller Theological Seminary.

More posts by Dane Olney

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