The sound of the rainforest drew me out of my sleep. It was actually a synthetic sound coming from an app on my smartphone. It’s supposed to slowly wake you up so that you don’t crash out of your sleep cycle into the daily grind. More gradual, less tired supposedly. At 5:20 a.m., I was always tired. I don’t how I survived that year without drinking coffee. I’d scrounge a quick bite to eat then zombie walk into the shower and get ready in the dark as my family continued their sleep.
Off to work. Eight hours of monotony. I answered phone calls and fixed broken technology. I repeated stock phrases thirty plus times a day. I’d try to make connections with people I never saw. I had worked in that kind of call center environment for eleven years.
For the first few years, I struggled finding value in my seemingly mundane tasks. If I’m honest, I loathed going to work a lot of days. I know I’m not alone because life in a call center creates camaraderie, and I’ve talked to countless people who share these feelings in and out of my industry. But then something clicked for me — something that gave me meaning in the mundane daily grind.
The gospel starts from the very first pages of the Scripture. That truth changes the way you and I work in the marketplace and worship in the mundane of everyday life.
Most churches talk very little about work. They start their gospel presentation with the fall: “We are rotten to the core and in need of redemption” (Gen 3). If they do touch Genesis 1 and 2, it’s usually to discuss creation and evolution. We treat “in the beginning” as if Jesus wasn’t around yet. We function as modalists.
Paul tells a different story,
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. – Colossians 1:16
John tells the same story,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5
This thread of Christological creation isn’t some gnostic truth. Paul elsewhere says we were “chose . . . in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4) and John calls Jesus, “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8 KJV). Matthew reports Jesus’s words, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt 25:34). Peter says, Jesus “was foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1 Pt 1:20). Paul admonishes the Corinthians, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’” (2 Cor 4:6).
From the first words of Scripture “In the beginning, God” to the final curse of Revelation, the Holy Spirit shines a spotlight on the work of Jesus Christ. He isn’t hidden. And finding Jesus in the beginning completely transforms our understanding of the original creative mandate and propels our purpose in working.
Working with Purpose
First, Scripture teaches Jesus actively works from before the foundation of the world and in the world now. He is choosing, creating, and founding. He is holding all things together. He is advocating for us on his throne. When he creates man, it’s no surprise he says, “‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion . . . . ’ And God said to ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion’” (Gen 1:26, 28). Part of our createdness, built in the very fabric of who we are as humans made in God’s image, is the necessity of dominion and work.
God works. We work. Jesus creates. We create. We are sub-creators to his divine creative masterpiece, but we still image God when we work. We have intrinsic value in our work because it’s connected with who God made us to be. Part of Adam’s task was tending the garden and naming animals. Talk about mundane and routine, but, before the fall, Adam obeyed God and worked as his ambassador and found meaning in doing so. When we work in the workplace, we are also obeying this creative instinct to image God. Jesus Christ is the perfect image of God and the prototype of glorified humanity. We see that image clearly when we follow his lead in working.
Second, Scripture teaches this image of God is found in every human equally. In The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis says,
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. . . . There are no ordinary people.
This fundamentally changes the way we work and the way we treat others who we work with and who may do jobs we might be tempted to turn our nose down at.
Each of those people when working and doing their job with excellence are, even if dimly, reflecting the original image of God. They are not ordinary. They are humans who were made very good. For those who lay hold of the promises found in Jesus Christ and believe, this image is even more visible (“transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another,” as Paul says). We should appreciate and encourage those who work skillfully. We should remind each other we are a picture of Jesus Christ who works. He has been working from the beginning and will not stop working until he’s brought us all the way home.
Fourth, Scripture teaches our work now images of the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. As noted earlier, the Holy Spirit inspired many allusions and direct references to creation and many of these directly point us to our spiritual redemption. The image of light and darkness is found throughout the Gospel of John. John also talks about the new birth (John 3). Paul in 2 Corinthians 4 compares God’s original divine fiat with his raising us from death to life. He says, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’” (2 Cor 4:6). As we work, we must not forget Christ’s work for us. It’s a daily gospel reminder in the daily grind of our work.
Fifth, Scripture teaches we please God. Jesus’s ministry starts with his baptism and God the Father proclaiming, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17). When regenerated by the Spirit, chosen by the Father, and redeemed by Jesus, we are united to Jesus Christ. All the promises and blessings found in him are ours. Jesus pleases the Father and so we please the Father. A robust understanding of common grace, also, suggests when we work well and create excellently it pleases him in as far we reflect his image well. This work isn’t salvific in any way, but it’s valuable nonetheless.
One of my favorite quotes comes from the movie Chariots of Fire. Eric Liddell, an Olympic runner, says, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.” Meditate on that truth when your alarm wakes you up in the morning or when you repeat the same task for the hundredth time at your job remind yourself: “God delights in me when I work.” Feel his pleasure. Repeat, “When I ______, I feel his pleasure.” That’s not an insignificant truth.
Finally, Scripture teaches work will not always be laborious. Before the fall, the creation didn’t war against us as we created, tended, and worked. After the fall, God curses the ground and work becomes difficult. Paul says, “the whole creation has been groaning” as it waits for its full redemption (Rom 8:22). We are waiting for the new heavens and new earth—when God will makes all things right. We will be glorified and the earth will be redeemed from its sorrows. The reality of our ultimate rest in Jesus Christ doesn’t remove work. Jesus redeems work. The end of the story is an earthy ending. We live on the new earth in his eternal kingdom and worship God in all we do (Matt 5:5, 25:34).
We struggle now in the daily grind of the dirty now and now, but we look forward to the redeemed not yet of the new creation. So work well now. Struggle. Labor. Toil. Create. Do it all with excellence, purpose, and hope. But find rest in Jesus Christ in the not yet, while eagerly longing for the redemption of our bodies and this world. He will return and he will make all things new.
Mathew B. Sims is the Editor-in-Chief at Exercise.com and has authored, edited, and contributed to several books including A Household Gospel, We Believe: Creeds, Confessions, & Catechisms for Worship, A Guide for Advent, Make, Mature, Multiply, and A Guide for Holy Week. Mathew, LeAnn (his wife), and his daughters Claire, Maddy, and Adele live in Taylors, SC at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains with their Airdale Terrier. They attend Downtown Presbyterian Church (PCA). Visit MathewBryanSims.com!