Work by the book

"Work by the book" Continued...

Issue: "Warrior class," Aug. 28, 2010

I looked at two of the studies now available online. The study of Colossians notes, concerning chapter 3's admonition to exchange our old, lying selves for new ones, that "it is proper and necessary for a business to make a profit, or for a nonprofit organization to create added value. But if the desire for profit becomes boundless, compulsive, excessive, and narrowed to the quest for personal gain, then sin has taken hold."

This study at times exhibits an arch sense of humor: "Lying can result from promoting the company's prospects or the product's benefits inaccurately. . . . Christian workers who refuse to employ deception (whether by rejecting misleading advertising copy or balking at glorified Ponzi schemes) may find themselves making some enemies as the price of their honesty. But it also is possible that some co-workers will develop a new openness to Jesus' way when the Securities and Exchange Commission knocks on the office door."

Pointed questions minimize a potential Sunday school flavor: "It is likely that every workplace has people whose on- and off-hours actions make for juicy stories. It is not lying, is it, to repeat the stories? It is likely that every workplace has unfair policies, bad bosses, non-functional processes, and poor channels of communication. It is not slander, is it, to complain about those grievances?"

Well, "Paul's exhortation is to live differently even in fallen workplaces. Putting to death the earthly nature and putting on Christ means directly confronting people who have wronged us instead of gossiping about them behind their back (Matthew 18:15-17). It means working to correct inequities in the workplace and forgiving those that do occur."

The study also critiques a "shallow way" of doing everything in the name of Jesus (3:17). "The shallow way is to incorporate some Christian signs and gestures into our workplace, like a Bible verse posted on our cubicle or a Christian bumper sticker on our truck. Gestures like this can be meaningful, but in and of themselves, they do not constitute a Christ-centered work-life. A deeper way to understand Paul's challenge is to pray specifically for the work we are in the midst of doing: 'God, please show me how to respect both the plaintiff and the defendant in the language I use in this brief.'"

Another completed Theology of Work study takes on the book that even John Calvin did not preach about: Revelation. The commentary on chapter 4 notes that "God is praised precisely as creator of all things. The visible world is not an afterthought, or a mere prelude to heaven, but an expression of God's glory, and the basis upon which his creatures may praise him. This again is foundational for a proper understanding of work. If the world is simply an illusion separating us from the real life of heaven, work in the world will necessarily be seen as more or less a complete waste of time. If, by contrast, the world is the good creation of God, the prospects for meaningful work become more hopeful."

The study accurately shows how positives taken too far become idols: "If the world system were a self-evident cesspool, the temptation for Christians to fall to its allures would be small. It is precisely the genuine benefits of technological advance and extensive trading networks that constitute the danger. Babylon promises all the glories of Eden, without the intrusive presence of God. It slowly but inexorably twists the good gifts of God-economic interchange, agricultural abundance, diligent craftsmanship-into the service of false gods."

The commentary opposes "a vision of 'heaven' consisting of nothing more than clouds, harps, and white robes." The new earth to come has some relation to the old: "God created humans to exercise dominion over the earth, which entails creativity. Would it be sensible for such a God to then turn and regard work done in faith as useless, and cast it aside? On balance, it seems far more likely that he would raise it up and perfect all that is done for his glory."

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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