Blog - Reaching Forward
How Long Will Your Work Last?Tuesday, October 28, 2008
“Only one life, ‘twill soon be past; only what's done for Christ will last.” A military man quoted those words in explaining why he quit the Air Force to enter “the ministry.” (By “the ministry,” he meant working as a paid pastor.) He wanted his life, he said, “to be an influence on others for eternity.” Looking back on his military years, he saw them as “fairly empty (vanity).” So in this man's mind, doing something for Christ apparently required him to work for a church or a Christian organization.
But there's another way to understand the words from the poem. What lasts, it says, is “what's done for Christ.” Suppose you do your everyday work (even military work) “for Christ.” Then, according to the poem, that work “will last.” Can that be true?
If the military man is right, then the daily work of most Christians is a waste of time (“vanity,” to use his word). But if the second interpretation is correct, then Christians can do their work in any legitimate occupation “for Christ”—and their work “will last.”
When Paul wrote his Colossian letter, that church included many slaves. Slaves did the work employees do today. The worked on farms, in factories, in government agencies. They worked as bookkeepers, engineers, cooks, janitors and so on. Was their work a waste of time—vanity? Apparently not. Paul told them, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord” (Col. 3:23). In other words, Paul told them they could do even their slave work “for Christ.” And—if the poem is true—then the work they did in that way would last.
The poem implies that what is done for Christ will last into eternity. In other words, forever. Into the age to come. Is that true? On the basis of Christ's work on the cross, will God save only our souls? Or will he also preserve something from our everyday work done for Christ? According to theologian Darrel Cosden, “Through our freedom in Christ, our work(s) becomes set free so that it has a genuine earthly usefulness now, but also a continued existence, like we do, in heaven” (The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work, p. 107).
And in Work in the Spirit, Miroslav Volf says that “the noble products of human ingenuity . . . will be cleansed from impurity, perfected, and transfigured to become a part of God's new creation. They will form the ‘building materials' from which (after they are transfigured) ‘the glorified world' will be made” (p. 91).
According to one estimate, 50 million evangelical Christians in the U.S. enter the world of work each week. What motivates most of them to get out of bed and go to their workplaces? Suppose all of them were convinced that their work—done for Christ—would last into eternity. What differences do you think that would make?