“If you’re a city planner, there is a New Jerusalem, If you’re a lawyer there will be a time of perfect righteousness and justice. The way we view the not yet will inevitably impact the way we respond in the here and now.” -Tim Keller
For the past few months, I’ve written on the importance of vocation and why it matters to reconsider what we do in light of what we believe. I want to conclude this series in the next week, but first I want to point out something that I think many of us familiar with the Scriptures miss.
A few years ago I was hanging out with some quilting ladies at The Hills Church (a much wilder experience than you might think) and they were telling me about what they’ve done over the years. Every week a couple of dozen ladies sit down and make blankets for the under-priviledged. They give their quilts to the mentally handicapped, the orphans, kids in the cancer wards, basically anyone who needs to keep warm. And after hearing their stories this is what I told them.
Work is Meaningless
If you’ve never read the book of Ecclesiastes, I highly recommend it. It’s not a real pick me up book, (in fact Rabbi’s used to ask people to wash their hands after they read it) but it is incredibly honest. One of the more interesting things about Ecclesiasties is how it portrays work.
Because it doesn’t seem to think to highly about anything we do with our lives. One Old Testament Scholar, Tremper Longman believes that Ecclesiasties is written in a literary form of “fictional autobiography.”
Basically what that means is that Ecclesiastes is like a parody (it’s like the Colbert Report of the Old Testament) it’s setting up the most honest way of talking about the world, but just because it’s honest doesn’t mean it tells the whole truth. Because Ecclesiasties has a pretty dark view of work.
It knows that work, no matter how great we think our job is, can never really deliver on it’s promises.
I don’t know about you, but my work keeps me up at night worrying about what I’m missing out on, Jesus seems to be able to sleep through storms. I don’t know about you but my work can easily turn into idolatry.
My ambition can seduce me into thinking that I’m working for my family and friends, when really it’s tricking me into neglecting them. Because no matter what we do, and no matter how well we do it, eventually all work is in vain…no matter how well you build the house eventually entropy sets in, no matter how well you cook or paint or create eventually it will pass…From the perspective of eternity it seems like all labor is meaningless.
Work can be very, very vain.
And anyone who’s ever lived knows that Ecclesiastes is of course right, but it isn’t telling the whole truth.
Ends and Means
It is no accident that Jesus in his first sermon he ever preaches, starts by quoting the prophetic vision of Jubilee and then suggests that this is what he is doing in the world. Jesus is bringing in of the Kingdom, involves work. Jesus sees a Kingdom of God that informs our work. A Christian definition of work will take into account where history is going in God’s hands. So In 1st Corinthians 15, Paul gives us the longest treatise on the resurrection in the whole Bible. It’s one of my favorite chapters in all of Scripture. It’s about the world being set right, everything is how it should be, death is no longer a factor. But Paul chooses to end this chapter in a strange way. He says:
“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
Which is kind of a strange way to end this chapter isn’t it? He ends by talking about our work. If the resurrection is about going to another place in the sky, than this doesn’t make sense. But if it is something else, sometime about this world being renewed, than that changes everything. Because what you do here and now matters.
So back to those quilting ladies…this is what I told them. I told them what they did would matter forever. The resurrection means that every quilt they made is going to have echoes into eternity. Look at one of my favorite quotes from N.T. Wright about our work in relation to the resurrection:
“You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that is about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on a fire…You are-strange as it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself-accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude and kindness, every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course ever prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world-all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. That is the logic of the mission of God.”
Did you catch that? The things we do with our life will find their way, through the resurrecting power of God, into forever.
Your work is important, not just because you can contribute to church, but because you get to partner with God! The resurrection of the world means that some of the best ministries, don’t have the word ministry in them!
There’s not some work that is spiritual and some work that is earthly, there is only work that partners with God, and work that refuses to.
So take heart plumbers and musicians, take heart teachers and doctors, take heart electricians and carpenters.
Because your Labor is in the Lord, and your work is not in Vain.