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13 June 2014

How does the Gospel Transform Work?

Sarah Jane Marshall Sarah-Jane Marshall LICC Work Forum
Whole Life Discipleship LICC Blog

Before Easter we began a short series looking at a Theology of Work. In ‘We All Have Work to Do’ we learnt about the different frontlines we each have and then followed this with an Overview of Whole-Life Discipleship. We then asked ‘What is Work?’ and ‘What’s Wrong with Work?’ But thankfully the story doesn’t end there! So today we pick up our theme again by asking ‘How does the Gospel Transform Work?’

James is in his mid-twenties. After an injury prevented him from pursuing a professional sporting career, he took a job at a large firm selling photocopiers to businesses. As a tall, good-looking bloke, great at chatting to new people, James soon realised he could almost double his salary through what he made in commission. The job wasn’t so bad after all! Then James and his girlfriend came to know Jesus and it turned their world upside down. It changed the way they spent their time and money, changed their attitude to sex and marriage, and led to them joining a church family. So, what difference do you think it made to James’ work?

The gospel is the good news about what Jesus Christ has done to reconcile men and women to God. Despite our turning away (which we explored in the last blog) God did not give up on us. Through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and his rising again which defeated death and sin, all people have been offered forgiveness and a new start with God. This is the truth that James came to know personally. But it’s not just a future focussed promise – a golden ticket into heaven that we keep safe in our back pocket until we die. No - the consequences of our salvation ripple out into all aspects of our life.

Through the Bible, we don’t just know our individual final destiny, but we also know something of the new creation that is promised. The Book of Revelation assures us that when we one day share in the reign of Christ, we will see the curse of work finally lifted (22:3) and see the fulfilment of our best endeavours and dreams realised and celebrated (21:24-26). Yes we have a future hope that is firm and secure, but we also have an invitation to live life now in the light of these promises.

Jesus taught us to pray ‘your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ (Matthew 6:10). So as we seek God’s kingdom to come on earth, we are invited to be signposts to God’s grand plan to restore all creation. This great privilege of joining in with God’s bigger restoration plan means we are able to discover a renewed sense of purpose by seeing our tasks as part of our God-given vocation. It’s not just priests, bishops, monks and nuns that do the work of God on earth, but rather every good endeavour can make the world more like God intends it to be.

So is James’ work selling photocopiers a godly vocation? Well, are the products and services that he is offering good for society? Do they help people flourish? Yes! James sells top quality photocopiers that enable hundreds of businesses and organisations to function. So James decided he could stay in his job and see it as something he did for the Lord.

James recognised that God had called him to his workplace as a context in which he was to work out his calling to be a disciple of Jesus. This gave the work a new dignity as he was now doing it for his ultimate boss in heaven. With such a sense of vocation, we should each be compelled to pursue our work with excellence, working ‘with all [our] heart, as working for the Lord’ (Colossians 3:23) and seeing our work as part of God’s bigger redemption story.

As the gospel is both realistic about human sinfulness and divine grace (including the ‘common grace’ given to all people) it frees us to celebrate the often excellent contributions made by our non-Christian colleagues and face the fact that even our best efforts will at times be flawed. Christians shouldn’t expect necessarily to be ‘the best’ in every sphere, nor should we feel we have to withdraw into a parallel sub-culture. Instead, the gospel allows us to operate faithfully in the places we find ourselves as we seek to have a positive impact on the culture around us.

So James didn’t suddenly expect divine favour from God to enable him to out-sell all of his colleagues without putting any effort in! Instead, James saw that his workplace was an arena where he could partner with God. James prays as he walks through the door of each client meeting, asking God that he might present himself well and speak clearly. He thanks God when he is able to achieve good sales and reminds himself of his identity as a precious child of God when sales are slow. James is rightly motivated to earn a good wage to save for his upcoming wedding, and to give money to the church, but deep down knows that his identity is not dependent on his sales figures.

So did the gospel make a difference to James’ work? In his own words, “When you know that your work can be done with and for the creator of the universe … well, that changes everything!”

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