Theology of Work - Lesson 8


In this lesson, explore the theology of work, starting with Genesis, where God created humans to work alongside Him. Work is portrayed as a relational and divine partnership to cultivate the earth and create shalom. The lesson contrasts this with the modern view of work as merely earning money. Through examples like Adam and Eve and David, work is shown as an expression of love and service. Business is discussed as a platform for meaningful work aimed at human flourishing, not just profit.

Gerry Breshears
Theology of Work
Lesson 8
Watching Now

I. Introduction to the Theology of Work

A. Importance of Understanding Theology of Work

B. Genesis and the Origin of Work

1. God’s Creation and Human Role

2. Relational Aspect of Work

II. Work in the Beginning

A. Creation and Partnership with God

1. Genesis 1:26-28 Overview

2. Genesis 2 and Human Responsibility

B. The Garden as a Place of Incomplete Creation

1. God’s Role in the Garden

2. Human Role in Cultivating the Garden

III. Definition of Work

A. Biblical Doctrine of Work

1. Gracious Expression of Creative Energy

2. Service to Others and Creation of Shalom

B. Contrast with Modern Definitions

1. American View of Work

2. Biblical View of Work

IV. Practical Examples and Applications

A. First Thessalonians 4:11-12

1. Working with Hands as an Expression of Love

2. Biblical Context of Work and Respect

B. David and Goliath - First Samuel 17

1. God’s Partnership in Human Endeavors

2. David’s Example of Faith and Action

V. Contemporary Understanding of Work

A. Luther’s Theology of Work

1. Daily Bread and God’s Provision

2. Modern Examples of Work as Service

B. Personal Reflections and Examples

1. Initial’s Perspective on Menial Work

2. Faithfulness and Joy in Various Works

VI. Business and Corporate Work

A. Purpose of Business in Society

1. Expression of God-Given Identity

2. Service to Community and Human Flourishing

B. Ethical Considerations in Business

1. Profit versus Human Flourishing

2. Christian Business Practices

VII. Choosing Work and Vocation

A. Understanding Personal Gifts and Talents

1. Image of God and Human Gifting

2. Matching Personality and Opportunities

B. Expression of Vocation

1. Personal Experiences and Roles

2. Serving Others through Vocation


The Purpose of Business

Business exists in society in order to provide a platform where people can express aspects of their God given identity through meaningful and creative work and to provide goods and services to a community to enable it to flourish.

Jeff VanDuzer

  • The theology of work involves every Christian’s vocation as a ministry, focusing on God’s creative energy expressed in service to others to create shalom, with insights into gifts, priesthood, justice, and the universal priesthood concept from the Reformation.
  • Understand God is a relational, self-giving being within the Trinity, inviting humans into a covenant partnership, unlike other religious views that see God as remote or pantheistic, and explore His intimate involvement in creation and loving nature through scripture.
  • Humans, created in God's image, make Him visible through physical embodiment, relational partnerships, and functional work, maintaining dignity and moral responsibility, even post-fall, while progressively transforming into Christ's likeness.
  • Learn how the spiritual, intellectual, emotional, physical, volitional, vocational, familial, and social dimensions of personhood contribute to human flourishing and how integrating these aspects can help address personal issues and enhance work life.
  • Learn that spiritual gifts, both traditional and practical, are divinely assigned and essential for ministry, emphasizing that any ability can become a spiritual gift when empowered by the Holy Spirit and used for God's mission.
  • Calling encompasses more than church ministry. The lesson highlights that every believer has a vocation to reflect God's presence in all aspects of life, using examples from Romans and Corinthians and insights from historical figures like Martin Luther and Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan.
  • Salvation involves immediate transformation through Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, requiring conviction, repentance, faith, and baptism, and grants forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, a new community, a mission in God's work, and the hope of eternal life.
  • Learn that work is a divine partnership with God, starting from Genesis, emphasizing relational collaboration to cultivate the earth and create shalom, contrasting with modern views of work as a means to earn money, and highlighting business as a platform for meaningful work aimed at human flourishing.
  • Biblical justice involves active righteousness through selfless acts like giving to the needy and defending the oppressed, challenging traditional views and emphasizing community well-being in alignment with God's character.
  • Explore the concept of Sabbath rest, understanding it as a spiritual practice rooted in trust, satisfaction, and relationship with God, and learn its implications for balancing work and rest in alignment with biblical teachings.

We are created in God's image and God invites us to be co-workers with him. By developing and using the spiritual gifts God has given us, the tasks we perform when we work have eternal significance in themselves. We also have opportunities to interact with our co-workers, promote justice and enjoy times of rest.

So what is God calling you to do? Is his calling only for pastors and “professional ministers” or is it something that applies to all of his people? Dr. Gerry Breshears, professor of systematic theology at Western Seminary, explores key questions such as who God is, what he has created people to be, how being the image of God affects the way we approach work, and what is the role of spiritual gifts in our job. This course will expand your vision of what work is all about, as you come to see yourself as God’s co-worker and representative.

Theology of Work 
Dr. Gerry Breshears 
Lesson Transcript


I want to do kind of a put things back together where I, I we've look through a lot of different themes, a lot of different modules, a lot of different building blocks. Now, what I want to do is we talk about the theology of work as kind of pull those back together again and try to understand what is this theology of work on many, many different things. Gosh, I have worked really hard to try to put this thing together and they're just too much. But let's get some foundational stuff in place and tie things together because this is just so, so, so important. Unless you're like the guy on the cross who goes to heaven immediately after you see Jesus as your savior, he didn't have to worry about a theology, but most of the rest of us do have to worry about that because we live with Jesus for a good while before we go to be with Him. So back to the beginning, Genesis chapter one, because that's where everything begins. The God who is speaking everything into existence in verse 26. I mean, this is familiar if you watch the modules, but let's pull it together here. Genesis 26. Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish and the birds and all that. Now I get let's just unpack this quickly. There's an us thing there. Let us make man verse 28. So God bless them and said to them, Be fruitful and multiply. What we see here is that God is making us to be workers along with him. There's a relational piece in this working work is there from the beginning? Very. First thing God does is create us so that we can work.


Now, in some of the religions God creatures, because he wants to just kind of, you know, slope back and have a glass of tea and enjoy life. But not the case here. God is also at work. This is not him creating us to be his slaves so he can chill. This is him creating us for relationship of working together. It begins right from the beginning with the garden. And it's not good for Adam to be alone. So Eve is created with him, and the two of them together are to work. Verse 28 The two of them together are to work to fill the earth, be fruitful and multiply, and then to subdue and rule the earth. In Genesis chapter two, God tells Adam and Eve is there to help him little bit later that there to care for the garden. Verse 15 to work it and take care of it. And I translates those in its worship language. It's stuff that's done together with God. You know, there's a there's a picture of a work of life that the good life is the life of leisure. I'm an old guy now. I grew up with the life of Riley. The phrase back from Guy's early days of TV back in the fifties and the life of Riley was to sit back and do nothing. I But that's not it. That's not what work is about. Work is there from the beginning, and it's a partnership thing that we do together with God and together with other people. And these people are a diverse community. When God creates a helper for Adam, he doesn't create another Adam. He doesn't create another guy. Nothing wrong with that. Of course, men work together well, but he creates a woman because man and woman together do things together that they can't do alone.


And this group of guys can't do in a group of women can't do. So what? There is that diversity coming together in a complementarity. We've talked about this back under image of God, and we work together with God to cultivate and care for the garden. Now, a thought that's interesting here is how does God do this in the garden? You know, a thing that occurred to me as I was doing some reading on this is the garden is not created complete. We think of the garden as perfect, and it is in one way, but it's not complete. Look back in the beginning of chapter two. God created. Oh, and he talks about the fact that there's rock and verse. So whereas a verse five, there is no shrub, the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plan to the field had yet sprung up because Lord God had not sent rain and there was no man to work the ground. Now God puts all kinds of plants in their seed bearing plants, food plants, all that good stuff. God puts in the garden and he puts in lots of it. But the cultivated crops are not there. And it won't be there until God supplies the rain and humans supply the work. There's a real sense in which the garden is not complete until God and man come together and work to create this place. Amazing stuff. And do it together. So the idea of work is there from the beginning. It's an US thing. It's a making everything right thing. And it's a place where God resources it. Big time. But we have to work with him to bring the fruit of it out. Now, when I think about this, the definition of work that I've suggested to you is that the biblical doctrine work is the gracious expression of the creative image, energy from the Lord for the service others to create shalom, human flourishing.


And shalom is this big, huge word where everything is in its right place, where there is room to work, where there is no fear of enemy, where there's everything is in a harmonious relationship. It's really justice and righteousness. So this whole perspective work. God's the gracious expression of the creative energy from the Lord for the service of others to create shalom is the heart and foundation of this idea of work is there from the beginning. Now, when I take that definition of work, and I put that against the contrast of what the basic American definition of work is, it's way different because in the basic American definition and I suppose other parts of the world to work is what you do to earn money so that you can do what you want to do. The basic American definition of work is work is what you do Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 or whatever, so that you can earn money, so that you can do what you really want to do. And the the phrase TGIF, thank goodness it's Friday means finally I can stop working and do what I like to do. Gosh, what an awesome biblical picture of work. I'm an old guy. I'm at that spot where I've got enough. I've got little enough hair and grin of hair and enough wrinkles that people are beginning to say, Hmm, everything about retiring and everybody knows me just laughs when I think about that. But see, retirement for many people is I finally get to stop working. Oh, and now I can do finally what I want to do. I've got enough money for a1k maybe that I can do. I can have the leisure just to kick back and, you know, play golf or go fishing or whatever it is that you like to do.


See how unbiblical, how unbiblical, how unbiblical picture work. Work is the gracious expression of creative energy from the Lord for the service of the service of others to create shalom. I work is well. Let's look at another passage. Gosh, for the Bible guys. First Thessalonians Chapter four. It I was teaching through first those signs a number of years ago and I saw this verse for the very first time and I thought, Gosh, that's what I grew up with back in Missouri. First Lessons chapter for the first, those for the person I'm looking for is in verse 11, our first verse on chapter four versus I got the right one. No, I don't have the right one. Oh oh, sorry. 11 and woman the wrong verse. Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands just as we told you so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so it not be depend on anybody. No, that sounds like Mom speaking to a little boy. Okay, Sonny. A little boy. Get up and do your work right now. Stop playing. And you know, it's not quite like that when you put this in context. It's unfortunate the way the NIV does this. I mean, it makes sense in English, but it actually misses something that's in the original. The sentence begins back in verse nine. Now about brotherly love. We don't need to write you four. You yourselves have been taught by God to love. Each other. It's an expression of love. And in fact, you do love all the brothers. And I said, We urge you brothers, to do more and more making it. It's actually a participle that continues a sentence there.


He's talking about an expression of love toward brother and neighbor and everybody. We urge you, therefore, to do more and more, making it your ambition to lead a quiet life to that shalom, to make your own business, to mind your own business, and to work with your hands. As we told you, there's the work. Work as an expression of love. Work as an expression of love for neighbor. Work is not about making money. There's nothing wrong with making money. But that's not the point of work. That's the means of doing things. The point of work is to express love to other people. And he says, Here to work with your hands. No person ICA is a Greek town and Greeks hated work. The pure life, if you had to do anything, is to be a philosopher and better yet, to do nothing. But if you can do something, live the life of the mind. And somebody had to actually like, like do a shop or gosh, had to go out and work with your hands in the dirt, eke Paul slaps him in the face just like you would many Americans, and says, Mind your own business and to work with your hands now as they remind you of God, creating Adam in the garden, work with his hands to shape the body. God very much at work here. Mind your own business. Work with your hand. Just we told you so that your day to life may win the respect of outsiders. You may not depend on anybody. And what it is is saying here that when we work, it is an expression of our love for neighbor. That's that other centered peace. I remember we talked about image of God. We talked about us making God visible through our person, through our actions, through our relationships, and making that our goals to be fully like him.


We talk about the picture of God. God is Triune. He is the self-giving, other centered, merciful, gracious God. And when we work, we're actually making invisible. In fact, to get the full context, you'd have to go clear back to the beginning of chapter four, where Paul says, Finally, Brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God. In fact, you are living now. Please in God. That's what we're doing is we're in that partnership doing the kinds of things that He does. And if God is the others centered self-giving God. And I believe that He is. I think that's the whole point of Scripture, the gracious Self-giving God. And we are his image. We are to be like him. Now, here's the thing that's amazing. If I'm right, that is what would be the most satisfying thing we can do. If my understanding of image of God is right and if my theology of God work is right, and I think they are when I do this kind of work, Genesis one and two type work, First Thessalonians Chapter four type work, that will give me the greatest satisfaction in life. It will give me the greatest happiness in this life if I do this, if I if I do the American thing, a work work is to earn money. Not satisfied. It really isn't. I mean, Jesus said it in the Sermon on the Mount Matthew, chapter six. I he said, you can't serve God and money. And he goes right into the section on worry. And what do you worry about? Food, clothing, what you eat, what you drink, what you wear, how many things you have. And if that's orientation, not satisfying anxiety, really true. If we do the God kind of work as an expression of love to others, in partnership with God and with other grace minded people, that's going to be really satisfying.


Not maybe super hard. But it can be totally satisfying deeply satisfying to the regenerate Newhart. Yet we urge to love more and more. Making it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to work with your hands in the service of others. That's basic theology of work from that perspective. Now, a couple of things I want to say here. Gosh, there's so much. There's so much. There's so much. Again, definition of work. The gracious expression of creator energy from the Lord in service of others to create shalom. It is an expression of love, bringing goodness, peace, shalom to the world. Doing it in such a way that I'm giving to the world. And if I'm the one who's receiving all the time to do that, of course, if you're on, if you're helpless or something like that. But the idea is to be an investor in the world toward human flourishing, toward human working. Why do it? Oh, gosh. There's so much I want to say. The whole thing. Back to some stuff I grew up with. One of the phrases that I grew up with was The battle is the Lord's. And if you do something, get out the way. Let God do the work. The battle is the Lord's. Boy, it sounds great. Do you ever wonder where that came from? The spoke of the story. It comes from the story of David. You have to go back to first. Samuel, 16, isn't the real work God's work, and we just need to get out of the way. We need to give our souls to prayer so God can do His work. While that picture actually comes from First Samuel, Chapter 17. And it's the story of David and this big dude called Goliath.


Oh, it's quite a story. I'm sure you familiar with the story. Oh, David comes to bring some bread to his brothers, sees the the Philistine and sees a lot of people. Terrifying. Said, Well, we just killed a guy I inherited. Yeah, right. You know? Yeah, sure. You're going to kill him, aren't you? You know, he's been killing guys like you since he was your age, you know? And, you know, this is a professional warrior. And Dave says, I can kill him. I can kill him. So I take him over to Sol. And Saul's looks at him and says, Oh, my gosh, kid, don't think you can pull it off. And David says, You know, I really think I can. Verse 34, David said, The Saul, your swords have been keeping his father's sheep. When a lion or bear came in care of sheep, I went in it and struck it, killed it, grabbed the sheep out of its mouth. When to turn on me, I seized by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant killed both the lion in the bear, the uncircumcised philistine, to be one of because he has defied the armies of our living God and killed a guy. And Saul's as well. Okay. Puts on some armor, David says. And that's not me. Get rid of the sword and the armor. Takes his sling and some rocks, and he heads off to face the Philistine. And when Goliath sees him, he just laughs and trash talks him. Sounds like modern day sports. I'll cut you. And David says, the father, You come against me, a sword and spear and javelin. But I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of armies from you Defile the day the Lord will hand you over to me and strike you down and cut your head off.


Today I will give the carcass of the Philistine army to the birds, the air. And that's where he says here in verse 47, The battle is the Lord's first. Samuel 17, verse 47, The battle is the Lord's. And what's happening? David Sling in his hand, David's going to kill this guy. If the battle was the Lord's in the way I was taught, we'd be standing back on my hill praying that God would send a heart attack to the sky. And what happens is when you see the battle is the Lord's. What David is saying is God will give me the strength to kill this enemy of the people of God. God will give me the strength to strike down this blasphemer. But David's the one who has to have the courage and the skill to go out and do the sling thing and bring this guy down. So it's that partnership with God. It sounds so spiritual to let God do the work, but in fact, the normal way God does stuff is through human means. God works wonders things, but God does wonders things in pretty ordinary ways. Notes are one of the things that just intrigues me. I is, Oh, well, Luther has a whole lot of stuff on theology work, and I ripped off quite a bit of his stuff. The Lord's Prayer quote, We pray for our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name and all that. Give us this day our daily bread. How does God give us our daily bread? Well, in some cases, he sent Manna Flakes. He did that for a few years full of people walking through the desert. But then when they got into the land, he said, Get busy and plant crops.


God does give us our daily bread, but he gives us. Gives it to us through farmers, through, Oh, I don't know what you call somebody who does the grain work. I know the bakers, the food distributors, the the retailers, the truck drivers, the people in the factory that does that. All the banking stuff that keeps the food industry in business. All the warehouse people, all the the the people in the store that stock the shelves and take my money on the way out and all that stuff. That's all. God at work through ordinary means. To answer that prayer, give us this day our daily bread. Pretty amazing stuff. I, I just very recently, just a few days ago, had cataract surgery. This guy was getting fuzzy. Not good. So I went to the hospital, and Dr. Marsh and his team in 8 minutes blasted out the lens in my eye and put a new one in. And I shortly after I got up and walked home and had some rosary. Who? Amazing. And now I see clearly. It's why it's great. Before I did that, I had people praying for my healing and God did his healing work through doctors and nurses and technicians and people made the microscopes that the guy the doctor did the surgery with through all the measuring instruments, exquisite measuring instruments to get exactly the right lens so I could see well all and that that's that's got to work. That is work in the sense I'm talking about given for the sake of human flourishing. I think of, oh, we've got a fellow here at Western end, the show Renko and the Shores from Ethiopia. Marvelous guide, Bible translator, pastor. Just amazing, amazing fellow. Wish you could meet him and assure.


Among other things, I is the custodian in our building. And. And the shower comes through in regularly. Novak ends my floor and empties the trash and does those kinds of things. I and I'm just so grateful for him and his work compared to what he could be doing if he were a U.S. citizen so he could work freely. I mean, it's menial work. And there's a side of me that thinks, you know, gosh, this is demeaning for this incredible, marvelous man of God to go around emptying trash cans and vacuuming floors and washing toilets. I dress as the initial one day and I I just said initial. I'm just so grateful. Thank you for doing this. Does it ever kind of great on you that you have to wash the toilet? He's laughed as I thought he would. No, no, no, no. It's an expression of love to the community here at Western. And see, he has a right understanding. Work is whatever you're doing, whether to washing toilets or teaching theology or ministering the sacrament or performing weddings or praying for the sick. It's all in service of others for the sake of human flourishing spiritual disciplines. When you think of spiritual disciplines, what do you think of? I think of silence and solitude and fasting and reading the Bible and all those kinds of things. And those are good. Those are good. But one of the things that Luther made a point out of that's really I really believe that fits in his whole theology of work. There is a peace to fasting, solitude, silence, all those kinds of things, but seals also the monastic disciplines. If my theology of work is right, and if my theology of gospel is right, it's not just stuff that happens in the worship service, the Sunday morning service.


It's it's whole life kind of stuff. So in the monastery, Luther pointed out, the discipline was celibacy. You don't get married. For me, the discipline is faithfulness to Cherie. And as we come up on 43 years of marriage, I'm glad to say that I have been faithful to my wife and she to me. There's a discipline to it, but there's a joy in that man. I just you know, I love my wife. Who the discipline of poverty monks took a discipline of poverty. That all Nothing. Well, our discipline is a discipline of thrift. Our discipline is a is the discipline of the plain life, of the simple life. We have things. We enjoy things. But I don't need a lot of things. In fact, what I do is I get more joy out of giving things away than I do of just using it for myself. If one or two piece of work or a prayer meditation worship isn't just something I do in the in the worship service, it's something I do in my whole life. So the spiritual disciplines come out theology of work, theology, work. It's oh, always so foundational to what we do. God works and we work. We work with him. We work for him. We He does his work in the world through that. What is the place of business? Because businesses working together. This is something I don't know a lot about. I I've worked some through some stuff by Jeff Van Duzer, who's dean of the business school up at Seattle Pacific. And I've heard him through some InterVarsity type things I've been involved in, and he does just some really good stuff. He's published a book now and the whole idea of business and we've got some other things are a little better at this.


But business is that corporate peace and what business does is it gets a corporation together of some sort. And what he says, this business exists in society in order to provide a platform where people can express aspects of their God given identity through meaningful and creative work to provide goods and services to a community to enable it to flourish. Now, let me just unpack that just a little bit. When I read most business stuff. Business is there in order to maximize return for the shareholders investment. The purpose of business is to maximize return for the shareholders. Investment, in other words, is to make money. Just like my personal life. My personal life is to make money so I can do what I want to do. What is business life? Well, business is just work as a group, and it's there. It exists in order to provide a platform where people can express their God given identity through meaningful and creative work. It's in service of others. The basic point here is that our work in a group in business is not to make money or there's nothing wrong with making money. We need to do that. But the that's that's just the means of business. That's not the purpose of business. The purpose of business is to serve human flourishing. It's the same definition as the definition of work, the gracious expression of God's creative energy in service of others to create shalom, human flourishing. That's what business is about. And boy, does it make a difference in how you do things. If your goal is to make money, whatever it takes to make money, you do it. And business can be very, very, very ruthless as we know. But a Christian business will make good product, but it won't make just any product.


You will think, what does this product do for human flourishing rather than what is most profit making? Very different things. I'm incompetent to deal with this, but there are others who are way better. And Jeff Van Duzer is one guy who's got me thinking. And I hope that you be thinking about these things too. There is no what I want to say here to finish this up. When I think of work, how do I choose my work? Or if I think of this definition of work, it's the expression of God's creative energy for the service of others. So I pick that up and what I'm doing is I'm looking at myself and I'm nothing image of God. I'm thinking of the gifting that God has given and I've gotten. Modules on those on the on the teaching here. When I look at my personality, my abilities, the places where God is empowered me, I match my personality and my gifts with opportunities in the world. And there's a real sense in which I'm not choosing but expressing my vocation. So when I look at these kinds of things, I work for a long time as a bookkeeper. I worked as a math teacher. I've got it by God's gifting. I've got a high analytic intelligence, and that works well for those kinds of things. I'm not compulsive. I'm just careful. I'm not OCD, I'm just conscientious. Well, that works with being a bookkeeper and it works with being a high precision machinist because you've got to be really careful about stuff. So I went into those kinds of things because my gifting and my personality worked, but it wasn't the deepest love. So I did, though I still do those on the side. Well, not machining, but bookkeeping and and teaching math.


But my love is in the area of pastoral work, of doing theology, and that's where I focus my life. So when people ask me, Gary, what do you do when you do what you want to do, I thought, I get to do what I want to do almost all the time and I don't. I have to grade papers and frankly, I don't enjoy that. But that's kind of the downside of a great job. I love my life and I think what an incredible privilege that my theology of work works out in a very personally rewarding way. So at the end of the day, I can say I have really had a creative expression of God's creative energy that is serving the shalom, the flourishing of human community. Now, can I do that same thing as a machinist? I think I could, because what I'm doing is not going to work to make money. I'm going to work to make parts that are in the kind of work that I did for electronics and aircraft and space industry. I was serving human flourishing in accounting and accounting for a number of different organizations. And what I'm doing is helping those things do their work. And anything I do from sweeping the floor to cleaning toilets, to teaching theology, to preaching sermons, to doing counseling, to visiting people in jail, those can all be this same deftness work, the gracious expression of the creative energy of the Lord in the service of others to create from Let's go to work.


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