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Chapter 6: Work's Instrumental Value


IN THIS CHAPTER, you will discover:

·   The five purposes of work.

·   How God provides for us through a web of workers.

AS A RESULT, you will be able to:

·   See the instrumental value in work.

·   Discover your job to be a vital link in God's chain of workers.

Work's Instrumental Value

Key Scripture: "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law" (Rom. 13:8).

Brian and Fran had been married only two years. Recently discharged from the military, Brian was now attending night classes at the community college. His new job, along with Fran's at the insurance company, provided enough income for meeting their regular monthly commitments. In fact, if they budgeted their salaries, they had enough for a little savings and some extra to give to a missionary family that their church supported.

The only hindrance to their idyllic life was Brian's job. He drove a delivery truck for the Johnson Linen Company, which provided a number of services to businesses such as restaurants and motels. But they also stopped at private homes to pick up and deliver baby diapers. The diaper service was the least favorite part of Brian's day. In fact, he disliked it so much that he had considered finding employment elsewhere. But Brian had been without work for two months before finding this job.

One day as Brian was reading his devotions, he came across this verse: "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). As he mulled over the Scripture that morning, Brian began to think about his job. He made a mental list:

·   God provided my job through a set of unusual circumstances.

·   I'm able to provide for my family.

·   I'm able to go back to school.

·   We're able to give to missions.

·   I'm providing a valuable service, especially to new mothers.

This one verse shed a whole new light on Brian's work - and life. From then on, every time he delivered a bundle of fresh, clean diapers, he considered what a blessing they would be to that particular family. "This job is a gift from God!" Brian reminded himself daily. He had discovered that work has broad instrumental value as a means to several ends.

The Purposes of Work

In addition to its intrinsic value, everyday work has instrumental value. Work fulfills at least five important purposes:

We Meet Our Own Needs. "For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: If a man will not work, he shall not eat" (2 Thess. 3:10). While there are those in society who rival the biblical "sluggard" and refuse to work, most people, including Christians, have no problem with this purpose of work. Often it is their only reason for working. Sometimes a problem arises, however, when a person fails to differentiate between need and greed.

We Meet Our Family's Needs. "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Tim. 5:8). Providing for the family is one of the main reasons that people work. Because it is such a common reason, however, many people fail to see it as God-given.

We Earn Money to Give to Others. "He must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need" (Eph. 4:28). Earning money to share with others is a discipline and a privilege taught in Scripture. This is done in many ways - through the tithe, outright giving to individuals, supporting ministries, giving anonymously to individuals or families, and supporting worthwhile organizations. Of all the reasons for work, generosity is probably the most neglected.

We Serve People. "When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. Do you understand what I have done for you?" (John 13:12). God desires to meet human needs through His people. We show our love to others through the goods and services we provide in the workplace. Every item we produce and every service we render should be done with integrity and excellence.

We Worship and Serve Jesus. "Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men" (Eph. 6:7). The only way to love God is to do what He asks out of a sincere desire to please Him. Consequently, we must go to work convinced that our job is serving God's purposes and pleasing to Him. Then we can give the results back to Him with thankful hearts.

Our Daily Bread

Sometimes it is difficult to realize how seemingly insignificant jobs fit into God's overall purposes and plans. Perhaps they would become more tangible if you think of something you enjoy and then think of all the occupations that have contributed to its production. For example, consider the bowl of corn flakes you had this morning. God used an extensive system of workers to provide this simple breakfast - the most obvious being the farmers, the grain millers, the truck drivers, and the grocery store employees. But also consider the technician who installed the store's refrigeration units or the mechanic who serviced the delivery truck or the commodities trader who purchased the grain for the cereal manufacturer, and so on.

This vast system is akin to a food web in nature in which every participant is interdependent upon all the other members. "But in fact, God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body" (1 Cor. 12:18-20). Therefore, when you bow your head and thank God for your daily bread, remember that yours is no "small" blessing. His provision has come to you through a vast human chain.

Once you begin to map out the workers in your food web, you can appreciate the practical occupations that are responsible for your daily bread. However, some jobs seem to have no practical purpose at all. Some Christians might fail to see how a career in art or music might be valid when neither seems to serve a "useful" purpose. They dismiss such work as pointless, forgetting that some work honors God and contributes to the quality of life in an abstract and indirect way.

Music can bring joy "the music of the strings makes you glad" (Ps. 45:8) or be a means to praise the Lord" extol him with music and song" (Ps. 95:2). Great composers such as Bach and Handel used their gifts to exalt the Lord. God has also demonstrated His love for art by creating a colorful world with beautiful sunsets, rainbows, and flowers. Artists such as Michelangelo and da Vinci celebrated God's majesty with their works. Since God Himself is an artist and a craftsman, He awards great dignity to creative work and the creative worker.

The Two Great Commandments

When asked by a prominent Pharisee, " Which is the greatest commandment in the Law? Jesus replied, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself’ " (Matt. 22:36-39). Jesus wants Christian workers to concentrate on these two commandments since the purpose of work flows out of them. Consequently, our work contributes to what God wants done in the world.

When we view our careers as fulfilling the two Great Commandments, we will see a connection between our jobs and God’'s divine purposes. We truly love God and our neighbor when we perform our jobs with a Christlike attitude. The opposite is also true. When we fail to see a connection, we show an unChristlike attitude at work. These contrasting attitudes are illustrated by the following acrostics:

A Christlike Attitude

Asks the Holy Spirit for guidance (John 16:13).

Trusts God for strength for each day (Ps. 91:2).

Terminates envy, malice, and greed (Gal. 5:25-26).

Intercedes in prayer for coworkers (Eph. 6:18).

Turns the other cheek when offended (Luke 11:4).

Utilizes time efficiently (Ps. 119:59-60).

Decides early what kind of day it will be (Ps. 118:24).

Extols God's greatness (Ps. 44:8).

An UnChristlike Attitude—

Approves injustice to others (Acts 8:1).

Tears down another's reputation (Prov. 17:20).

Thinks of ways to avoid work (Prov. 6:6).

Impresses coworkers with accomplishments (2 Tim. 3:6).

Twists figures or reports to suit oneself (Ps. 62:10).

Undermines the boss's authority (2 Sam. 15:4).

Destroys unity within the company (Prov. 6:14).

Exasperates coworkers with constant arguing (Prov. 17:19).

Our attitudes, whether Christlike or unChristlike, affect our work. C.S. Lewis went so far as to say that a man demonstrated an attitude of love for his neighbor when he turned out an excellent product. Think of the product or service that you perform as you read the couplets below:

A cobbler loves his neighbor when he makes the best of shoes.

Likewise, a good reporter who reports just truthful news.

A doctor at the clinic serves with skillful, loving hands.

An ambassador serves citizens who live in foreign lands.

A teacher loves his students by teaching them to read.

Volunteers in city slums reach out to those in need.

A beautician loves her clients as she cuts and combs their hair.

A construction worker's product is the road she built with care.

A locksmith loves his neighbors when he makes them feel secure. 

Likewise, an ecologist, when she keeps the water pure.

A policeman loves his neighbors by protecting them from crime.

A nursing home attendant loves those grown old with time.

A mother who stays home to wash floors and pots and lids,

In doing these shows love to her husband and her kids.

Was your career mentioned? If not, how would you show an attitude of love to your neighbors through the work that you do?

Life Applications:

A. Is your job something God wants done? Explain.      

B. How does your work and the products or services you provide, meet the needs of others? (Since you may have to think quite broadly, read the following examples first.)

"Transportation safety is so important to people today. I work as a bookkeeper for a company that manufactures traffic lights. Therefore, I am participating in an extension of God's work."

"As an inspector of cloth in a cotton mill, I am part of the process that produces cloth that will eventually be made into clothing. I'm helping to fulfill a basic need; therefore, God is pleased."

"God wants to promote health for people. As a nurse, I'm part of a system that provides health care for people. I think God is pleased by that."

C. In what ways can you make your skills and interests available free of charge to others who have needs? (Read the following examples first.)

"I'm a writer for a public relations firm. I could write a brochure for an organization that works with the poor."

"I'm an electrician. If I could raise a small amount of money for travel, I could assist in a construction project for a mission agency overseas."

D. Do you know people who are destitute and need food and shelter? How can you help them?

E. Do you know of an organization or an individual involved in some aspect of Christian ministry or missions that needs financial assistance? How can you help?

F. Before your next meal, think of all the occupations and people God used to provide that food farmers, truck drivers, grocers, etc. Did you include insurance agents? Manufacturers of milking machines? Aluminum miners? Cowboys? Civil engineers? Truck manufacturers? Building contractors? Electricians? Lumberjacks? Makers of plastic containers?

Continue this as a game with your children. Have them look through magazines to find as many different kinds of work as they can. Remind them that all work is a gift from God.


Test your knowledge on this chapter by taking the quiz at the end of chapter 8.   

Take the quiz

Quiz Instructions

Please see the Review Questions at the end of Chapter 8.

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