Blog - Mirroring God

Work: God's and Ours

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Why work? The question has several answers, some on target and some off. Bottom line: we work because God is a worker—and he made us in his image. So working becomes one of the main ways we reflect God’s likeness in the world.

But that raises a question. What is the relationship between God’s work and human work? Our having been made in God’s likeness did not turn us into mini-gods. Nor does that likeness put our work on a par with his work. How, then, does our work fit in with God’s own work?

Simple stories often reveal the clearest insights. All four Gospels tell of Jesus turning five loaves and two fish into a meal for 5,000 men, plus women and children. Matthew and Luke include the account of Jesus multiplying seven loaves and a few fish for another hungry crowd. Jesus did this for the physical well-being of the people. Without food, they might "collapse on the way” (Matt. 16:32; Mk. 8:3). Both stories shine light on the relationship between divine work and human work.

Jesus, of course, did the divine work. His multiplying the bread and fish amounted to an act of creation. The disciples could not do that work. Once the massive food supply was on hand, Jesus could have performed another miracle to transfer individual servings into those thousands of hands. But he chose not to do that. Instead, as Matthew puts it, "he gave them [all those freshly made loaves and fish] to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people” (Matt. 14:19). Jesus put the results of his work into their hands.

The work of the disciples, then, did not duplicate God’s work. Instead, their work extended what Jesus had accomplished by making it available to the people who needed it.

Those stories echo the pattern set at the creation. God worked to make everything—including his human creature. Into the garden he had planted, God placed Adam, with instructions "to work it and take care of it” (Gen. 2:15). Presumably the God who created the garden could also have tended it. But he honored the human creature with a kind of partnership (yes, it’s a "limited” partnership) in doing significant work with what his supernatural work supplied.

The same arrangement shows up in redemption. God did the saving work in what he accomplished in Jesus on the cross and in the empty tomb. He then put into our hands the work of extending the good news to others.

So in those multiplied meals, in creation, and in redemption, the relationship between God’s work and ours comes into focus. God entrusts the results of his work into our care. What he has put into our hands we then pass along for the benefit of others. This pattern can transform the way you see and do your everyday work.

If you have a job, consider it a gift the Creator worked to place in your hands and under your stewardship. You also have certain God-given abilities that make you able to do your job. Do you work somewhere in the chain that stretches from farm to supermarket? God’s work causes the food plants and animals to grow. Your work helps put groceries within people’s reach. Do you work as a computer programmer? God’s work provides the silicon. Your work turns the chips into tools others can work with to serve still others in countless ways.

You may labor in transportation, law, government, homemaking, education, retail, manufacturing, communication, childcare, medicine or any number of other fields. But why do you work? Jesus’ first disciples modeled a major reason when they distributed those meals. Take what God has put into your hands and extend it to others for their good.

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