This Theological Foundations statement defines some major themes we have come to recognize in common as important enough to urge others to consider as they reflect on the meaning of work from a biblical perspective.
General Theological Position
The primary source and final and guiding authority for our theology of work is the Bible. This includes an attempt to understand its overall teaching and insights from our close examination of each book of the Bible.
Theology of Work
I. The Work of God – Father, Son and Spirit
Our theology of work is developed in the light of a biblical understanding of the work of God, the Holy Trinity of the Father, the almighty maker of heaven and earth; our Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, who came down from heaven for our salvation; and the Holy Spirit, the giver of life:
- Creating and sustaining all that is and commissioning humans, made in the image of God, to care for, cultivate and rule over creation through their work.
- Redeeming humanity and the rest of creation, including the world of work, from sin and its destructive consequences through the work of the incarnate Son’s life, death and resurrection.
- Bringing all things on earth and in heaven together as one redeemed and transformed new creation in Christ.
This understanding of God’s work (both what God does and how God does it) has led us to explore the meaning of human work in the light of these four major themes: Creation, Fall, Redemption, New Creation.
- God’s original creation is pronounced good and work is given to human beings, male and female, to co-operate as partners under God’s authority in the fulfilment of God’s purposes for creation.
- God’s work is different from ours. God created everything that is, including us, out of nothing. Any creating we do depends on using what God has already given us. Nevertheless, as human beings made in the image of God, the example of God at work has much to teach us about how God intends us to approach our work.
- Human beings can experience satisfaction and find meaning through doing good and creative work in partnership with God. Through work God cultivates our personal development and spiritual growth.
- Work has intrinsic worth and also finds fulfilment in the service of others and as an act of worship to God.
- Work connects people for mutual benefit. We help to sustain life, build community and learn to love our neighbours through the manner and output of our work.
- People are called by God to work to the degree they are able, based on their abilities and the gifts of God they receive.
- There is no hierarchy in calling – missionaries, plumbers, parents, educators, business people and people in every legitimate occupation can all serve God through their work.
- Work includes many different aspects of life through which we actively live out our vocation as Christians, including both paid and unpaid work, work at home, in the community and the marketplace. Also a healthy balance of activity and rest.
- The consequences of the rebellion of Adam and Eve are experienced everywhere through disruption in our relationships with God, other people and the rest of creation, and this includes our daily work.
- The Fall into sin has not destroyed the intrinsic value of work, but it has so radically distorted the world of work that work is often experienced as toil, futility, and a struggle for survival in a way that is deprived of much sense of fulfilment and meaning and is hard to connect with service to God. Even those doing good work often experience hardship and still struggle to produce good results. Many people so struggle to survive that it is difficult to find good and creative work that enables them to thrive.
- Our own sin, as a result of the Fall, causes us to work for our own purposes in ways that are not God-glorifying and contributes to the world’s brokenness.
- Because of sin some reject work and some idolize work.
- Because of the Fall we need to confess humbly our own personal guilt at work and shameful complicity in sinful structures and oppressive and divisive circumstances. We face many struggles, hard choices and dilemmas that compel us to live and work trusting in the forgiveness and grace of God.
- Christ came to redeem the world, including the world of work.
- Christians, empowered by the Holy Spirit, are called to be partners or co-workers with God putting things to right in all spheres of life.
- Workers and workplaces desperately require the redemption of Christ’s saving work. Through our work and the way we do it Christians are witnesses to Jesus Christ as the way, the truth and the life.
- Christians are called to engage in creative, redemptive and healing work, as well as work that seeks to restrain and counter the spread of evil. The gospel transforms us and can transform all areas of life. We seek to challenge the evil aspects of the prevailing culture and live as signs and agents of the Kingdom of God.
- We don’t expect to totally transform our workplaces through our own efforts. Only God can do that. We encourage biblical realism that expects to make a difference and nurtures hope with God’s help, while also seeking to avoid the sort of naïve optimism that promotes false dreams and the sort of fatalistic pessimism that promotes despair.
- Relationships built with non-Christians in the course of our work provide us with opportunities to bear witness to God’s love and grace and to share our faith.
- The life, death, resurrection and return of Jesus mean that the mixture of fulfilment and frustration that are currently our experience in the workplace is not the way this story ends.
- Although driven by the vision of an alternative redeemed reality, our call is to live and work and lead with humility, recognising our own sin and limitations and God’s love for all humanity.
V. New Creation
- God initiates his coming new creation in the midst of the present world order, and he does this in part through the work we do for him day by day.
- In God’s new creation our present struggles with work will be vanquished by Jesus’ reign, so that we can experience the productive fruits of our work.
- God's new creation includes rest from the toil and injustice that marks so much of labor in the present world.
- Our present work gains significance and hope when we catch a glimpse of God’s future. In anticipation, the Bible calls us to "be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:58).
- In accordance with God's promise, we are not looking forward to a disembodied existence, but to resurrection in the "new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3:13) and where all frustrating and futile work will be replaced by fulfilling and God-glorifying work (Isaiah 65:17-23).