Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Significance of Work

I’ve been asked to give some thoughts on the theology of marketplace ministry. Apparently, some are experiencing a level of frustration balancing marketplace work (whether in education or business) with ministry work. I will share my thoughts in two blog posts. In this first post, we will identify the significance of work for a Christian. In the second we explore the implications for marketplace ministry. I hope to stimulate your thinking in these areas and do not presume to write as an authority in these areas.

”In the beginning there was work.” So begins the first chapter of Tim Keller’s book, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God. He continues,

The Bible begins talking about work as soon as it begins talking about anything- that is how important and basic it is. The author of the book of Genesis describes God’s creation of the world as work. … And then he shows us human beings working in paradise. This view of work – connected with divine, orderly creation and human purpose – is distinct among the great faiths and belief systems of the world.

Tim Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God, p 33

So, work is not the result of mankind’s rebellion, but part of humanity’s original design. The fall of man brought pain, frustration, and fatigue but work remains good.

When I was in high school in the late 60s, young people who wanted to grow in their walk with Christ were routinely encouraged to go into “full-time Christian service.” It seemed like that was the inevitable career path for someone maturing in Christ. People who went into the ministry had a “calling”; others just went to work.

In order to find significance in all kinds of work, we need to extend the idea of “calling” to include all Christians. Os Guinness, in The Call, defines calling as follows:

Calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion, dynamism, and direction lived out as a response to his summons and service. 

Os Guinness, The Call:Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life, p 29

Guinness distinguishes between our primary calling and our secondary calling:

Our primary calling as followers of Christ is by him, to him, and for him. First and foremost we are called to Someone (God), not to something (such as motherhood, politics, or teaching) or to somewhere (such as the inner city or Outer Mongolia)

Our secondary calling, considering who God is as sovereign, is that everyone, everywhere, and in everything should think, speak, live and act entirely for him. We can therefore properly say as a matter of secondary calling that we are called to homemaking or to the practice of law or to art history.   -Guinness, p. 31

This sense of secondary calling relates all kinds of work to our primary calling to God in Christ. This makes all kinds of work significant for a Christian to glorify God and serve our neighbor.

The book of Ecclesiastes makes it clear that this side of the fall, all work will be toilsome and frustrating but acknowledges that God gives mankind the ability to find joy in our labor (Ecclesiastes 2:24,25). Whatever our hands find to do should be done with all our might (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Paul makes it clear that “whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him Colossians 3:17 ESV). So in the midst of the frustration of work in a fallen world, believers are to joyfully and thankfully fulfill their work responsibilities. We may find in God’s providence that our work is boring and tedious yet we should still do it “heartily, as to the Lord and not for men (Colossians 2:23). This is what Guinness refers to in his book as living for the audience of One. My parents’ generation was often glad just to have a job that put food on the table. We do not always have the luxury in the fallen world to have work that gives us pleasure. Even jobs we enjoy will have aspects that are tedious. One’s attitude toward our secondary calling (the work we have) flows out of our primary calling so that even menial tasks are done for the glory of God and the good of our neighbor.

Guinness notes,

William Tyndale wrote that, if our desire is to please God, pouring water, washing clothes, cobbling shoes, and preaching the Word “is all one.” … Perkins’s A Treatise of the Vocations of Callings of Men provides a typical Reformation summary: “the action of a shepherd in keeping sheep, performed as I have said in his kind, is as good a work before God as is the action of a judge in giving a sentence, or of a magistrate in ruling, or a minister in preaching. – Guinness, p. 34

Much more could be said (and has been) but we can conclude that the Christian perspective on the significance of work is that:

  1. Work is part of God’s original design for humanity.
  2. The fall brought toil and frustration to work but did not diminish the significance of work.
  3. Understanding work in light of our primary and secondary calling enables us to engage in all types of work for the glory of God and the good of our neighbor.

In addition to the books cited above, I would recommend:


Reflections on the Radius Debate


Fulfilling Marketplace Ministry

1 Comment

  1. Michelle Atwell

    Great article. Looking forward to part 2. I am participating in the Lausanne Global Workforce Conference in June which is emphasizing mobilizing market place Christians for ministry. A website that you may find interesting if you haven’t heard of it is:

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