The Image of God at Work (Part 3)
At any social gathering when we ask, “What do you do?” everyone knows what we mean. Work is intrinsic to man because we bear the image of God. Bearing His image allows us to know Him and to reflect His moral character, especially in responsibilities and relationships. This gives us the ability and desire to create, innovate, design, solve problems, improve products, and increase efficiency. Through the image of God we discover utility and abandon futility.
Working biblically is a reflection of the image of God. How so? We must go back to creation. Six times God’s handiwork is called “good.” Then, a seventh time the text tells us, “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). Notice three inseparable observations: first, God’s work produced good; second, it was for others; third, it was not from lack. (He has no lack!) Do you work from lack? Is it your hunger that urges you to work? “A worker’s appetite works for him, for his hunger urges him on” (Prov 16:26). This is working from lack. Biblical work does good for others—not merely filling my lack.
Jesus worked for the good of others. Immediately before He healed a man on the Sabbath, Jesus spoke this didactic foreword: “So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matt 12:12). At the time considered least likely for people to be working, what qualified as lawful work? Doing good for others.
Work is a direct corollary of the image of God—not the curse. We should see all life as a platform for work because God has cast work into the world as a testimony to Himself. This is manifest in the life of God’s redeemed, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph 2:10). According to this verse, good works are the reason that we were created anew in Christ Jesus. These good works “God prepared beforehand”: these are predestined good works. Predestination is a package, and good works are part of it!
Moreover, church leadership was given to equip believers to work, namely, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12). Believers’ good works are God-wrought works that we work as His workmanship! God is before them and at work in them, “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). Believer, God is at work in you to work!
Furthermore, the dichotomy between “secular” work and “kingdom” work is false. For believers, all work is kingdom work. While working in a mortgage company as a new believer, I came to realize a few things about my job. First, I was functioning under God-given authority (Rom 13:1-2; 1 Pet 2:13-18) within the parameters of my supervisors and best practices. Second, whether I was shuffling information or shuffling stuff; whether I was selling widget A or widget B—the elements of work, in a sense, don’t matter. This doesn’t diminish any kind of work—it should remind us never to locate our identity or significance in our work. Are you handling million-dollar contracts or toilet plungers? May all the born again be reminded again of our identity: in Christ. Human significance is defined through work only when significance is measured by the rudimentary elements of a job. All work has dignity because of its source and purpose, which are found in God. If you’re a Willy Loman because you’re the low man on the totem pole, or you’re down and out because “they don’t appreciate you”—may I say that you are idolatrously seeking your identity in your work.
Now a definition will begin to be formulated: As a reflection of the image of God, work is the lifelong context of carrying out good works, within God’s parameters, for the good of others. What are some practical ways to reflect the image of God at work?
Fear the Lord. — Work with integrity. “Only” God sees all that you do. Do you cut corners? “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much” (Luke 16:10). Faithfulness in a very little thing is the true test of your faithfulness!
Know that there is dignity and beauty in all honorable work. — Strive for excellence in everything, knowing that your work is before the face of God. “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Col 3:23-24). Sometimes tasks at work can seem futile, but this gracious command reminds us that serving the Lord Christ is never futile.
Don’t complain. — “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Phil 2:14-15). The non-complaining believer has a bright testimony at work!
Work diligently. — Sloth degrades. Proverbs has much to say about the sluggard. “He also who is slack in his work is brother to him who destroys” (Prov 18:9). I once worked with a man who professed to be a believer, but from all appearances, it was his daily goal to work as little as possible. He would come in early, clock in early, sit down and read old quietist authors (i.e., those who taught that sanctification is passive). Wrong view of God, wrong view of work.
Do you have a believing or unbelieving perspective of work? Do you have to work or have work to do? Believers have work to do—both on the clock and off. “We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4). As the original Worker, God has imprinted His creatures with His image to “work the works” of God.
Whitney Oxford is a graduate of The Expositors Seminary and serves as a lay leader at Grace Immanuel Bible Church in Jupiter, FL.