Work pervades the Gospel of John. It starts with the work of the Messiah, who is God’s agent of the creation of the world. Christ’s work of creation pre-dates the Fall, pre-dates his incarnation in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, and pre-dates his work of redemption. He is sent by God to be the redeemer of the world precisely because he is already the co-creator of the world. His work of redemption is not a novel course of action, but a restoration of the world to the path it was always intended to take. It is a fulfillment of the creation’s promise.
Human labor is an integral part of the fulfillment of creation (Genesis 2:5). But the work humans do has become corrupted, so the redemption of work is an integral part of the Messiah’s redemption of the world. During his earthly ministry, we will see that the work Jesus does for the Father is an integral aspect of Father and Son’s love for each other. “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (John 14:10). This provides the model for redeemed human labor, which is likewise meant to nurture our love for one another as we work together in God’s good world. In addition to modeling good work, Jesus teaches about workplace topics such as calling, relationships, creativity and productivity, ethics, truth and deception, leadership, service, sacrifice and suffering, and the dignity of labor.
One of John’s chief interests is to remind people that a casual glance at Jesus will never do. Those who remain with him find his simple images opening up into an entirely new way of looking at the world. This is as true of work as it is of anything else. The Greek word for “work” (ergon) appears over twenty-five times in the Gospel, while the more general term for “doing”(poieō) occurs over one hundred times. In most cases, the words refer to Jesus’ work for the Father; but even this, it turns out, will hold promise for ordinary human employment. The key to making sense of this material is that it takes work to work out what the Gospel of John means. The meaning often lies deeper than a casual reading can uncover. Therefore, we will delve into a limited number of passages with particular meaning for work, workers, and workplaces. We will pass over passages that do not contribute essentially to our topic.