Not just for ourselves

Second installment of lessons from my study on the biblical understanding of work.

image via unsplash.com (CC0 Public Domain)

In my previous post, I shared that we were created to work, yet that when we become disconnected from God, our work becomes toil instead.

In this post, I’ll cover the understanding that our work cannot just be for ourselves, but should be for the glory of God and the good of others.

Not just for ourselves.

In the book of Genesis, we read how the people came together and decided to make bricks, mortar, so that they might build a city. Considering that civilization would become the norm, this doesn’t seem like the worst of ideas.

However, we learn that the reason behind their decision to build was that they wanted to make a name for themselves (Genesis 11.4). Moreover, they wanted to build a tower, stretching to the heavens.

Rather than get into what would be a lively discussion on God’s decision to scatter them, suffice it to say that because of their arrogant pride, God did, and their tower was left unfinished.

As we saw in the story of Adam and Eve, it is when we are so motivated by our pride and selfishness that we get scattered and our plans fail.

In short, when we are in life just for ourselves, we run the risk of living scattered lives with nothing much to show for our work.

For as we read in the Psalm 127.1, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain”(NIV).

For the glory of God.

In that regard, the Bible says that whatever we do, we ought to do so for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10.31).

Relatedly, Jesus told a story about a Master who gave each of his slaves certain amounts of money. Two invested the sums they were given, while the other buried theirs. When the Master returned, he commended the two who had invested the money to and for his benefit, while condemning the slave who hadn’t.

It’s a complicated story, but the point I want to draw out is that Jesus teaches that what we’ve been given from our Master is to be used for the Master’s benefit — the Master’s glory.

I understand that it might not be easy, but one way to find satisfaction in your work is to ask yourself, “How does this glorify God?”

One way is to think of it as making money in order to provide for your family and have some left to help others (as I’ll talk about in the next section).

Or maybe find like-minded individuals to start a prayer group or a study group.

Cuss less. Gossip less. Complain less.

That’s glorifying God.

And when we intentionally seek ways to glorify God in our work, we find greater satisfaction than any amount spent on just the material rewards.

For the good of others.

Finally, rather than working for the good of ourselves, or even just for the glory of God, we should also work for the good of others.

In Ephesians 4.28, the Bible tells people that they ought to work, “doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need”(NIV).

In Greek, the word is agathon, which is translated “good”, or “useful”, yet also “beneficial”. Paul contrasts this with a thief, who only takes what benefits themselves, telling us instead to be those who give what we can to benefit others.

Yes, part of our work is to provide for our needs and that of our family. However, the ultimate end of our work should be that we have somehow benefited someone else.

In the ministry, a good portion of my job is to be of some benefit to others. Yet if you’re in a job that you can’t directly do this, it can still be of benefit.

One way is to live on a budget. To plan your finances in a way by which you can create a surplus to share for the good of others. Or to save a portion of your shopping cart to buy pasta or peanut butter for your local food pantry. Or simply spending part of your day off finding a way to share some of your time volunteering at such.

Moreover, while at work, you can be the person who asks people how they are and actually listen. Or if they’re struggling, you can help teach them something or just encourage them.

In sum

Our work does serve to provide for ourselves and families. But that shouldn’t be its end. Instead, our work ought to begin with the intent that we do so to God’s glory, not our own. And that work ought to include the intent of finding some way to be beneficial to others. Either directly or indirectly.

May God bless the work of your hands, with a surplus to show your neighbors love in a tangible way. For God’s glory alone.

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