Introduction to the Book of Matthew
Work is an essential component of God's kingdom. Matthew, the tax collector-turned-apostle, recounts Jesus’ actions and teachings to show us how God intends us to live and work in his new kingdom. As followers of Jesus Christ, we live in two worlds. We stand with one foot in the human world, where our work may be subject to unspoken expectations that may or not be in accordance with God’s ways. At the same time, as Christians we are subjects of God's kingdom, committed to his values and expectations. In telling the story of Jesus, Matthew shows us how to navigate the human world using God’s compass. In doing so, he constantly points us toward the world’s true identity as the “kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew uses “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God” interchangeably; see Matthew 19:23-24). This kingdom “has come” to earth, even though it has not yet become completely realized here. Until it comes to completion, Jesus’ followers are to live and work according to God’s call as “resident aliens” in this present world.
To guide us in this way of life and work, Jesus discusses workplace matters such as leadership and authority, power and influence, fair and unfair business practices, truth and deception, treatment of workers, conflict resolution, wealth and the necessities of life, workplace relationships, investing and saving, rest, and working in organizations with policies and practices that are at odds with biblical norms.
Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1989).
At the beginning of his earthly ministry, Jesus announces that “the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17). When we read “kingdom of heaven,” we may think of harps, clouds, and angel choirs, but Jesus is clear that the kingdom of heaven refers to God’s rule on earth. The kingdom of heaven “has come near.” It has come here to this world.
The workplace consequences of living in God’s kingdom are profound. Kingdoms are concerned with governance, economics, agriculture, production, justice, defense—issues we see in most workplaces. Jesus’ teachings, as recorded by Matthew, speak directly to our life at work. In the Sermon on the Mount, he inducts his followers into the values, ethics, and practices of this new kingdom. In the Lord’s Prayer, he instructs them to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10). The Gospel of Matthew concludes as Jesus commissions his followers to go to work throughout the world because he has received “all authority in heaven and on earth” and will be present with them in their work on earth (Matthew 28:19-20). Matthew is clear that this kingdom is not fully realized on earth as we know it, but will reach completion when we see “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30). Meanwhile, we turn our backs on the old ways of work, so that the new way of the kingdom of heaven is made visible in us as we live. Even now, we work according to its values and practices.