Why Work? (Part 1)

Why go to work, Monday after Monday? The tried and true trifecta of money, sex, and power has been a powerful motivator for generations of modern workers. But many workers eventually come to find that their money rarely buys security, their sex rarely leads to love, and their power rarely produces relationships.

Disillusioned with the broken promises of the modern workplace, many postmodern professionals now long for jobs that will not give them things but an identity. In search of self-actualization, these young graduates yearn for jobs that will give them a sense of ultimate meaning, purpose, and belonging. When we place these lofty expectations on Monday morning, the quest for money, sex, and power suddenly seems downright modest.

If the modern purpose of work was to grasp something, the postmodern reason is to become something.

While many Christians have fully bought into these modern and postmodern visions, others have attempted to formulate their own uniquely Christian reasons to go to work on Monday. In his book God at Work, David Miller outlines four popular reasons Christians give for their work. The first group argues that Christians should go to work in order to express their faith in word and in deed. The second, emphasizing ethics, insists Christians should go to work to do good things in the world. The third argues that Christians should go to work so that they can experience and fulfill God’s calling in their life. And the fourth group insists Christians should go to work to be enriched and transformed by God in a wide variety of ways.

In Scripture, we find both a qualified yes and a qualified no to every one of these reasons. While Scripture affirms our desire for abundance (money), love (sex), and relationship (power), these desires must never become the highest—or,  worse, the only reason why we go to work.

Likewise, Scripture seems to affirm the postmodern dissatisfaction with money, sex, and power, as well as the desire for something more meaningful. Yet Scripture never claims that the self will never find its ultimate purpose and delight in the workplace. In fact, it often promises that work will, more often than not, be difficult, frustrating, and boring.

Finally, one can find ample Scriptural evidence to support the purposes of expression, ethics, experience, and enrichment in the workplace. Those who love God and neighbor should share the gospel in word and in deed, they should strive to do good things, they should strive to follow God’s unique calling in our lives, and they should go to work ready to be enriched by God. But each of the four approaches to work that Miller outlines feel too narrow to comprehend the complexity of our working lives and the complexity of the biblical pictures of work. Can our reason for work really be reduced to the act of evangelism or the performance of good deeds? Do we go to work simply to experience or be enriched by God? Surely we want to affirm these four approaches, but can we be content to reduce the purpose of work to any one?

Each of these modern, postmodern, and Christian reasons for work seem to run up against the limits of both experience and Scripture. We can say yes—but only to a point.

What is a Scriptural motivation for work, and what does it mean? Check back tomorrow for part 2 of this article.

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