I prepared this as part of a presentation for a Men’s Breakfast this coming weekend, even before I saw Greg’s post on the topic!
I have noticed that many people view work like a violin. For most people, the value of work, like a violin, lies in what it produces. Just as a violin is valuable because it produces music, many people consider work to be valuable because of what it produces as goods and services for society. Work that fails to produce is viewed as about as valuable as a broken violin.
Still others say that work has no value unless it is done in a God-honoring way. These people would argue that my work has no value unless I give my best effort in my work and seek to honor God in my work. If I were playing a violin, it makes no difference how good the music I play is unless it is my best and my heart is in the right place as I’m playing. The argument here is that my work is as worthless as a broken violin if it is not done with the right heart. It’s not just what is produced in my work that gives my work value but how I go about producing it. If I’m not going to produce something from a correct mindset or with correct goals of honoring God, I might as well produce nothing because such work has no value.
But the more I have reflected upon the value of work from the Bible’s point of view, the more I believe that the Bible teaches something completely different from these two commonly held perspectives. To conclude that it is what I produce in my work that gives work value or to believe that it is how I produce what I produce in my work that gives it value is to basically believe that is it I who determines the value of my work. No production means no value. Incorrect goals and heart motivation means no value. If I want my work to have value, I must produce and produce from a good heart. Which means I’m in big trouble. There are many things in this world that I cannot control that affect production and I readily admit that I do not always have a correct heart, in fact, most of the time I don’t have a correct heart. We all sometimes punch the clock simply because that’s what we have to do to put food on the table and we can’t wait to get done with the day and get home to our families. If the value of work depends upon my behavior, my production, my heart, then a vast majority of the time, my work has no value, and that’s pretty discouraging. Most of the time, I’m about as good as a broken violin.
But, as I said just a moment ago, I believe that the Bible says that it is not we who give value to our work but God our creator who endows our work with value. All the way at the beginning, in Genesis chapter two, we read that God was at work creating the heavens and the earth. The word translated as work in our english Bibles is the Hebrew word for occupation or business. God’s occupation or business for six days was the creating of the world, and on day six, one of those creations was mankind, created in God’s image, in God’s likeness, to reflect the nature and actions of God in their very being. Mankind was created as God’s representative, as his reflection on earth. It should be no surprise then that in the book of Genesis we see God the creator telling mankind, the creature made in God’s likeness, to rule over the earth just as God rules over creation, to create by being fruitful and multiplying just as God created all things, and to work just as God himself worked for six days and continues to work in upholding our world. When we as human beings work we do so as part of our calling as creatures to reflect our creator. God calls us to work because He works. When you change tires, build houses, add numbers, teach classes, medically examine people, drive a truck, whatever work you do, you are fulfilling part of the calling that God the creator gave to all of us as human beings, as those made after his likeness, to work just as He our creator works. From beginning to end, it is the fact that God has called us to work as his creatures made in his likeness that gives our work its intrinsic value. Our work has value because it is part of our calling as God’s creatures from the very beginning of human existence. Our work has value not because of what we do but because work is part of God’s calling upon us as His creatures. Each day as we roll out of bed to begin another day’s work or as we head home from work at the end of the day we are reminded by Scripture that what we do has value, not because of what we bring to it, not even because of what we produce or how we produce it, but because of the God who calls us to work, as his creatures, reflective of Him, our creator, the one who was the first to work and still works in our world even now. It is understanding the intrinsic value of work as our calling from God that causes us to carefully consider and examine what we produce and how we produce it, not the other way around.