Work isn’t a curse to be avoided; rather, it’s a call to be embraced. We serve a God who works (see Gen. 2:1-2). And we serve a God who calls us to work (see Gen. 1:28; 2:15). I expounded on this in a column I wrote a couple of months ago called “A theology of work.”
But this week, I want to tackle the subject of work from a different angle. Once we understand the call to work, we need to understand the power by which we’re able to work as God desires.
The motivation to work as God desires is a result of grace.
Too often, we pridefully compare ourselves with others who may not work as hard as we do. But we need to realize that the desire to work hard for God’s glory is a result of God’s grace—not our own efforts.
It’s easy for us to compare our work ethic to someone else and pride ourselves with the assumption that our motivation and desire to work hard is somehow a result of our own power.
Of course, work ethic is a virtue. The Bible calls us to work hard for God’s glory. And there are societal influences in our lives that influence how hard we think we ought to work. So, it’s true that some people have a better work ethic than others.
But we need to recognize how our motivation to work is—more than anything else—a result of God’s grace at work in our lives.
The apostle Paul has much to say about the connection between God’s grace and our work.
He writes, “For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor. 15:9-10 ESV).
Paul is writing as an apostle to a church who is struggling to recognize his authority. Swayed by false teachers, the Corinthians need to understand the authenticity of Paul’s work among them. And in these verses, Paul begins to explain the relationship between God’s grace and our work.
Paul’s work among the Corinthians is empowered by God’s work in his own life. The grace of God at work in Paul’s life is what motivates him to work hard. Rather than attributing his work ethic to himself, Paul credits God’s grace. And he says something similar in his letter to the Philippians.
He writes, “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (2:13 ESV).
In the context of this verse, Paul is encouraging the Philippian believers to recognize the effect of grace in their daily lives. Both the desire and power to live and work for God’s glory is the result of God’s grace.
I love this because it shows how my motivation to work as I’m called is dependent on God’s grace rather than myself. This realization frees me to work hard because God’s grace is greater than my strength. And this realization also humbles me because it helps me see how my motivation comes primarily from God’s grace rather than my own work ethic and background.
With this in mind, let’s look at one more passage from Paul.
He writes, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:23-24 ESV).
Paul is writing to the Colossian believers concerning master-slave relationships which can be understood as employer-employee relationships today.
This familiar passage highlights our call to work hard. But it also mentions the motivation by which we’re called to work. Paul reminds the church at Colossae to work hard and remember that an inheritance awaits them.
We have a greater motivation than a paycheck or promotion. Motivated by the grace of God, we trust in that grace to hold us as we await the return of Christ. And this grace gives us a new identity and purpose as we work hard for God’s glory, placing our hope in His kingdom rather than this world.
As followers of Christ, we’re called to grace-empowered work. And this kind of work glorifies God rather than ourselves.