Created in his image and likeness, God gives us an assignment. “The Lord God took man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15) Many people look on work as a curse resulting from the fall, but work was ordained before the fall, so work is a part of God’s divine plan for us. Our purpose is to take care of creation until God is “all in all.” (1 Cor. 15:28)
Lester DeKoster, in his book, Work, the Meaning of Your Life, defines work as “the form in which we make ourselves useful to others and thus to God.” He explains, “Culture and civilization don’t just happen. They are made to happen and keep happening by work—by God, the Holy Spirit, through our work.” He poses the question of what would happen if everyone quit working and answers, “Civilized life quickly melts away. Food vanishes from the store shelves, gas pumps dry up, streets are no longer patrolled, and fires burn themselves out. Communication and transportation services end and utilities go dead. Those who survive at all are soon huddled around camp fires, sleeping in tents and clothed in rags. The difference between barbarism and culture is, simply, work. As seeds multiply themselves into harvest, so work flowers into civilization.”
DeKoster supports his view of work by relying on the Parable of the Sheep and Goats. (Matthew 25:311-46) While this parable is usually considered to be about the universal judgment of all people taking into account how they have loved and served others, DeKoster contends that Jesus is talking not only about specific people who are in need, but also about providing food, drink, clothing, shelter, healthcare and other needs to society [creation] at large. This involves all the basic occupations that make up civilization. Farming, transportation, grocery stores, restaurants, public utilities, drilling, pipe-laying, plumbing, textiles, retailing, construction, medical services, health insurance, social services, education, communications, etc. He says, “The fabric of civilization, like all fabrics is made up of countless tiny threads—each thread, the work of someone.”
All work that contributes to the production of goods and services for others, unless it is immoral, is part of God’s plan for creation. As the parable says, our reward (inheriting the kingdom) was prepared for us “since the creation of the world.” Thus, work has always been a part of God’s plan and his intention for his creation. What surprises people in the parable is that in working at providing the basic necessities for others they are serving God himself.
Like the people in the parable, most us may be surprised that in doing our work we, too, are serving God. In working as an attorney for a large corporation for most of my career, I did not consider early on that my work was serving God, but it was indeed a “thread in the larger fabric of civilization” arising out of God’s creation. Even my summer jobs in high school and college of serving on a road asphalt crew and a laborer in a cement plant were “threads” making up the larger fabric of God’s creation.
Every day we have the opportunity to be the Father’s present-day incarnation by reflecting his love, integrity and service to the people and circumstances we encounter in our work, and move the civilization arising out of God’s creation forward until he is “all in all.” This is our mission.