In the second talk, the Problem of Work, from the Work As Worship series we saw in Genesis 3 that our good God given work has been cursed with pain and frustration as a result of humanity's decision to be like God in deciding what is good and evil and ruling their own lives. Another consequence of humanity's rebellion against God is that we can end up worshipping our work as we find in Romans 1, which is to centre our lives around what we do. But the problem with worshipping our work is that it leads to workaholism to prove our value and identity in the world. So the pain we experience in work is not only due to the work environment but it is also self inflicted by making work the ultimate thing in life, rather than just a good thing that God has given to us. How we respond to our good yet sin cursed work, is one of two ways: idleness or idolatry.
Idleness - under-identifying the goodness of work
One way we respond to cursed work is idleness – to avoid work or do the bare minimum required to get through the day. If you have a tendency to lean towards idleness, it is not just because you are just lazy, but ultimately you are under-identify the goodness of work, you are failing to see God’s purposes for work in the following ways:
- Work is totally frustrating
Sometime we can let our frustrations control us, infect our hearts with bitterness and anger and blind us to see the inherent goodness and God's aim for our work.
- Work is divorced from my Christian discipleship
Or another reason why we might slack off in work is that we might wrongly believe that our work simply doesn't matter to God, that our real and valuable work is what we do in church.
Idolatry - over-identifying the goodness of work
It is very easy to make work an idol because our culture pushes us to find our identity in our jobs, but ultimately it is because we over-identify the goodness of work - we turn work, which is a good thing into a God thing in the following ways:
- Work is primarily my source for identity and status
We justify our value and worth by our work performance and accomplishments.
- Work is primarily about making a difference in the world
This is unsuspecting because there is something profoundly right about a desire to make a difference in the world. However, that desire can also elevate itself into idolatry, when God and his purposes are squeezed out of the picture. “Changing the world” can be elevated into idolatry, when we justify our neglect to care for others and ourselves because we are doing something good.
Click here to listen to how we can overcome the tendency towards idleness or idolatry in the Problem of Work talk.
For further reading on idolatry, I have provided the following additional resources from a mix of Christian and non-Christian sources.
David Powlison is a faculty member of CCEF (Christian Counselling & Educational Foundation). His seminal article has been widely influential and gives some great insights into idolatry.
Linds Redding, a New Zealand based art director who worked at BBDO and Saatchi & Saatchi died at aged 52 from cancer. Before his passing Linds wrote an essay about the ad business. His essay address the existential problem at the centre of anyone's career: can you be fulfilled as a human being through work? Linda concludes the answer is "no", saying: "It turns out it was just advertising. There is no higher calling."
I took a lot of insights on the idleness in work and the idolatry of work from Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert's book. I highly recommend this book to read further on the problem of idleness and idolatry and also understand how the gospel can transform our work. The link to the Gospel At Work website also provides additional audio and video resources from past Gospel At Work conferences.
I hope you find these extra resources helpful. I will be posting more additional resources connected to each talk in our Work As Worship series. Here is the link to the previous post in the series:
You are welcome to join us this Sunday as we explore the Redemption of Work. We'd love to meet you!
Pastor Michael Nhieu