The Differences Between the “Two Ways to View Work”

Work | Posted by: Editors

By Matthew Hodges, Director of City Outreach

On Tuesday, I posted on the “Two Ways to View Work.” Today, we’ll round off that topic with some further commentary on the various differences between the “success ethic” (American Dream worldview) and the “sanctification ethic” (biblical worldview) of work, and along the way, we’ll consider some of the ways a consistent, biblical worldview of work should apply to one’s everyday work life.

In my earlier post, I defined the “success ethic” view of work as one that sees a job as a means to attaining the “good life,” a life of having all the material possessions, leisure, and financial security that most of us all want. Now, material possessions, a desire for some occasional leisure, and financial security aren’t bad things in and of themselves. But, for those who live by the “success ethic” (American Dream worldview), we can see how their work ethic is linked to their theology in the following four categories:

First, those who live under a “success ethic” must know that their view of work is linked to their view of God. Under this work ethic, one’s ultimate allegiance is to material things, personal accomplishments and attainments—i.e., the “good life”—not God. They will chase after, and will be defined by, but will never be totally satisfied with their social position, toys, networks, living conditions, savings in the bank, clothes, gadgets, awards and accolades.

Second, it is also linked to their view of man. Under a “success ethic” of work, one sees himself as a basically good person, free to make their own choices and decisions in life in order to gain whatever personal pleasures they could possibly want in life.

The third category is death, which, like the others will be linked to one’s worldview perspective on work. For those who live under a “success ethic,” they simply don’t have death on their radar screen; instead, they just have in mind the next thing they want to accomplish, or the next idol they want to possess.

Finally, the fourth category is the afterlife. What does the person who operates under the “success ethic” worldview think of the afterlife? Well, not a lot, but they act as if they could never be kept out of heaven, even though they’ll admit they’ve made some “slap on the wrist” kinds of mistakes in life. They’ll insist that they’ve simply been living the “good life” (eat, drink, and be merry!), or that they didn’t know that God exists, and that we are accountable to him.

The bottom line for the “success ethic” (American Dream worldview) worker is that they’ll work hard in order to enjoy personal satisfaction in this life—no matter the cost to family and work relationships. And, if they fail to find happiness this way, it can be a very despairing view of life and work.

Now, you may be thinking, “That’s the way I work, so what’s wrong with that view of work?”

Think of “worldview” as the lens by which we make sense of the world. The problem with the “success ethic” (American Dream worldview) of work is that it essentially operates through a lens that’s distorted and cracked. The crack in the lens originates from the four categories being essentially self-centered. As I hinted at above, the “success ethic” (American Dream worldview) of work does not guarantee success, but for many, it may produce temporary success. But the reality is that this particular work ethic is trying to sell a bag of goods that it ultimately cannot deliver. This work ethic cannot produce joy, relational peace, satisfaction, and peace with the living God. In the end, the “success ethic” of work will fail everyone whose lives are built upon it.

In Luke 12, Jesus teaches the Parable of the Rich Fool to two brothers who were arguing over the proper distribution of their inheritance. In the parable, the rich man is the one who was living by the “success ethic” (American Dream worldview) of work and life, thinking little if at all about the brevity of life. After he had amassed a great amount of wealth, he expects to be able to rest in a life of endless pleasure and leisure from then on—that is, until God bursts through his thoughts of retirement and declares to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (12:20).

Thankfully, there is another way to work.

Let’s consider each of the above-mentioned categories now from a “sanctification ethic” (biblical worldview) of work.

First, under the “sanctification ethic” (biblical worldview) of work, one’s relationship with God is properly understood. Our Lord God is the creator of heaven and earth, and he is the sovereign ruler and sustainer of all things, and able to accomplish all of his purposes. We’re called to work in light of this biblical view of God, his nature and his character.

Second, a biblical worldview helps us to work for the glory of God because it provides us with a biblical understanding of man. Man is created in the image of God in order to show and demonstrate God’s greatness in his creation in every area and sphere of our lives. Because man is corrupt in the heart by sin, we must understand that apart from God’s gracious work of salvation through faith in Christ alone, man is unable to show God’s greatness in any consistent way on his own.

Third, a biblical worldview of death will shape our thoughts of work, knowing that Jesus Christ perfectly showed the greatness of God through his perfect life and sacrificial death on the cross. Jesus laid down his life as the price to pay for our sins. His death makes it possible for us to live in Christ and do all things to the glory of God, and it gives us hope for eternal life.

So finally, fourth, a biblical worldview of work when we consider the afterlife would be that Jesus Christ’s death satisfied the wrath of God, and, therefore, anyone who believes in Christ can be immediately justified, and will one day be glorified—never to face the eternal wrath of God.

And what does this mean for the “sanctification ethic” (biblical worldview) worker? It means that they can now work hard—whether they get paid or not—in order to bring honor and glory to the living God. As mentioned above, the American Dream worldview has a crack in its lens, rendering work under that view as ultimately lacking. But, such a distorted view can be replaced by a biblical worldview of work that is seen through the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The work of Christ to live a perfect life, die on the cross for sin, and be raised from the grave is the game-changer between these two ethics of work.

The biblical work ethic is centered on God (not the self) being honored, while the “success ethic” is centered on the self (not God) being honored. The biblical work ethic has eternity in view, while the “success ethic” is shortsighted.

The only thing that changed my work ethic, from the way I worked in my early years to the way I work today is Jesus Christ, his perfect life, death, and resurrection—and the knowledge that I should live and work for the glory of God. I’m still growing in this area of my life, as I hope to honor and glorify my Master in heaven by obeying earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, or being a people-pleaser, but by working with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord (Col 3:22).

So, friends, work hard in every area of life. Don’t chase after fool’s gold. But rather, work and chase after the glory of God.

Image Credit: Work, Life Signs.

Two Ways to View Work

Work | Posted by: Editors

By Matthew Hodges, Director of City Outreach

Editor’s Note: What does a biblical worldview have to say about work? In this brief series, Matthew Hodges will consider the two ways one can view work. Matthew serves FBC Durham on staff as the Director of City Outreach, and leads our biannual Jobs for Life program.

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Matthew Hodges, Director of City Outreach

Let me start off with a couple of brief lessons I learned early on in my working life. The first lesson I learned was that there are nuances to work. Work is not simply doing a job, getting paid, and that’s all there is to it. When I was a kid, I had a small-time job with my brother doing some yard work around the neighborhood. Since I was the younger brother on the job, that meant that I had lighter duties. At the time, that setup sounded good to me. I thought to myself, “I don’t have to do much and I get paid!” But I soon learned that my smaller responsibilities meant that I would be getting less cash on payday than my older brother. That job helped prepare me for the many nuances that come with working on a job, and has now been a helpful lesson learned for many years.

The second key lesson I quickly learned about work came from a regrettable experience I had not long after I graduated from high school. After graduation, I began working for a local Toys “R” Us store as a full-time stocking and receiving clerk. I was excited about this job, mainly because it meant more money than my lawn mowing days with my brother. No longer did I have to work for a measly $5 cutting grass! With my new job, I thought I had moved on up in the world like George Jefferson, and was now making a sweet $6.10 an hour!

During my time at Toys “R” Us, I tried time and again to share the gospel with my co-workers. But, looking back, my work ethic was so poor that I was simply denying the gospel that I was trying to proclaim. When I was hired, I remember sharing passionately with management that I wouldn’t be able to work on Sundays because of my commitment to church. Then, unfortunately, after being on the job a little over a year, I disrespectfully disagreed with my assistant manager on one occasion. Because of my insubordination, I was fired immediately when I arrived for work the next day. The lesson I learned from my Toys “R” Us experience is that the way I work matters, especially if I want to glorify God in all that I do.

Growing up, my parents modeled a strong work ethic for me both inside and outside of the home, and I knew right from wrong, but apparently a solid biblical worldview had not won over in my heart by the time of my firing. Looking back, that’s the reason why I cut grass as a kid so I might have $5 extra in my pocket, only doing the bare minimum to get the job done. And, that’s why I worked at Toys “R” Us with a verbal proclamation of the gospel, but a heart of selfishness—doing just enough work to get by until it was time to clock-out. I wasn’t concerned about doing either job for the glory of God. Even though I didn’t know it at the time, I worked under a shortsighted “success ethic” (or American Dream) sort of worldview.

This “success ethic” view of work sees a job as simply a means to attaining the “good life.” And the good life, according to Leland Ryken, is having “plenty of clothes, nice cars, expensive entertainment and vacations, and maximum opportunities for one’s family” (Redeeming the Time, 48). In short, I never really connected my work to my new life in Jesus Christ and the coming day of judgment spoken of in Scripture (see Rom 2:5–11; 1 Cor 3:12–15).

Every day, men and women around the world do a myriad of all kinds of activities in which they get paid, or don’t get paid. People everywhere are working. And, they either work from a “success ethic” (American Dream worldview) or they work from a “sanctification ethic” (biblical worldview). The “sanctification ethic” views work as a vocation or calling to follow and be done in service to others, and ultimately, for the glory of God.

Ryken states in his excellent book on work, Redeeming the Time: A Christian Approach to Work and Leisure,

“Obviously this view of work renders every task of intrinsic value and integrates every legitimate vocation or task with a Christian’s spiritual life. It makes every job consequential by claiming it as the arena for glorifying God, and it provides a way for workers to serve God not only within their work in the world but by that work” (104).

This view, therefore, can be summed up by Paul’s command in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

One’s work ethic is influenced by their view of God, man, death, and the afterlife. The quality and quantity of one’s work is linked, therefore, to their theology. In a couple of days, I’ll finish off this two-part blog post with some further commentary on the differences between these two ways to view work, and we’ll also consider some applications for life.