In this periodic series, we’ve been exploring the phases of man’s relationship to work through time—work in the sense of one’s labor in general, job, or vocation. In this final installment, we will look at how this understanding of work throughout every phase of man’s existence affects the way in which we work in the present. Previous installments include:
- Work is Not a Dirty Word, about how man was created to work.
- No TED Talks in Eden, about what happened to work after man’s fall into sin.
- Productivity & The Gospel (Part 1): Is It Legalistic?, addressing an objection to speaking of the gospel and the need to be productive in the same breath.
- Productivity & The Gospel (Part 2): It’s About Good Works, on the correct understanding of works after one is saved by grace alone.
- Will We Work in Heaven?, on the place of work for the believer in the eternal state.
I want to tie a neat little bow on this series on work and show how it all comes together to affect our attitude toward work in the present. To summarize, there are essentially four phases of man’s relationship to work:
- Work in the Garden – Work was enjoyable, untainted by sin and the Curse
- Work After the Fall – Work became difficult, frustrating, and laborious
- Work and the Gospel – This is the present relationship to work for believers in Christ. Work is still difficult because of the Curse, but it is more meaningful because we do it to glorify God.
- Work and the Eternal State – The laborious, cursed aspects of work are done away with. Now work is done with pure pleasure and in the presence of and for the glory of the Great Worker Himself.
Those four phases are not merely trivia. Just as knowing your past and having a vision for where you’re future is essential for leading a meaningful life in the present, so understanding God’s purpose for work from creation to eternity shapes how we view (and do!) our work today.
Base on what we’ve covered in this series I want to leave you with three ways a robust, biblical understanding of work affects how you work right now: Work is good, work will be rewarded, and work is the reward.
Work is Good
I’ve tried to emphasize this over and over throughout this series—work is a good thing. Work is not a dirty word. God designed work to be an enjoyable, worshipful, and meaningful experience for mankind. We were made in His image. He is a working God. And we were made to be working creatures.
Certainly, work is now tainted by the curse. But the joy and meaningfulness of work have not been entirely obliterated. Every person can still taste the pleasure and purpose of work now and again. But it is Christians alone who enjoy the best relationship to work, even in this sin-cursed world.
Those who by faith are now reconciled to God in Christ Jesus have a new relationship to work. It is still hard, for the curse has not been lifted even for believers, but the ultimate meaning of work has been restored for believers! Christians can work in a way that is pleasing to the Lord (Romans 8:8). Our work is an opportunity to work unto God; to glorify Him with our labors (Colossians 3:23–24).
But the positive things about work are not limited to this present life. The really good stuff comes later.
Work Will Be Rewarded
Knowing that we will work in heaven actually adds a new shade of importance to the work we do in this present life. 1 Corinthians 15:58 says, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Not only will there be work in Heaven, but our work in this present life will be rewarded in Heaven.
The reward for being productive in our work in this life is an eternal reward in the life to come. Romans 14 and 2 Corinthians 5 both talk about the judgment seat of Christ, or the “Bema seat judgment” (Romans 14:10–12; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 22:12). This is the eschatological event wherein God judges believers, not as to whether or not they will enter Heaven (salvation is secured by Christ’s merit and sacrifice on our behalf and taken hold of by faith—justification), but the Bema Seat is a judgment unto reward for our faithfulness. Paul plainly presents this reward as the motivation to run the race of the Christian life with endurance (1 Corinthians 9:4–27; 2 Timothy 2:5; 4:6–8).
It is with this understanding of reward for righteous deeds that Colossians 3:23–24 makes the following connection to work, “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.” The fact that our good works will be rewarded adds significance to our work now, it adds permanence to our labors, and it adds motivation to our productivity.
We aren’t just being faithful in our work to earn a paycheck, please an earthly boss, or get a promotion, we are laboring to receive an eternal treasure. Present earthly work performed faithfully unto God yields eternal rewards.
But what is this heavenly reward for which we labor?
Work is the Reward
In the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25, the three servants are entrusted with varying amounts of money to steward while their master is away. Upon the master’s return, he discovers that two of them have made a decent return on that money while the other has simply buried it and gained the master nothing. I wrote about the stewardship side of this parable in It’s Not Your Treasure to Bury, but I want to draw your attention to the reward promised to the faithful stewards.
The point of the parable is that our Lord expects His stewards (that’s us if you didn’t know) to make a good return on the lives he has entrusted us with. But what is the reward for hard-working faithful stewards? Turns out, it’s more work!
In Matthew 25:21 Jesus goes on to explain the master’s response to the faithful servants, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” In the parable, the reward for faithfulness in the discharge of responsibilities was more responsibility! The faithful ones are not rewarded with an all-expenses-paid cruise to the lovely island of Crete, they are rewarded with more to manage, more work.
Likewise in 1 Corinthians 6:2–3 the apostle speaks of saints “judging angels”. Many commentators and several English Bible translations reveal that this is likely a reference to ruling over the angels—management. And it is clear from Revelation 20:4 that during Christ’s 1,000 reign believers will rule alongside Him, “And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.”
We know what a great honor it is for our bosses in this life to recognize our hard work and reward us with a promotion. Certainly, it means, more responsibility and more work, but it is an honor to us. Similarly, our Master will reward our hard work in this life with more rewarding and satisfying labors in the world to come. And it will be work in a sinless, uncursed new Earth, laboring for the best boss of all, our Lord and Savior.
And what greater joy could we imagine than worshipping and serving our Lord with gladness on a New Earth for all eternity?
There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him;Revelation 22:3