The Gospel at Work [Book Review]
June 5, 2014 8 Comments
The average person will spend over 90,000 hours of their life working. 90,000 hours! To put that in perspective, it would basically be like clocking in today and working non-stop for just over 10 years before clocking back out.
Not only does our vocation consume a significant amount of our time, it is also part of our identity. One of the first questions I always get asked when I meet someone new is: “What do you do for a living?” For better or worse, we are associated with the work that we do.
Many people tend to compartmentalize their lives. There’s a Work compartment, Family compartment, Friends compartment, Hobby compartment, and so on. We do our best to keep the different areas from overlapping.
However, for Christians, there is one compartment that should pour over into all the others–or rather be the foundation for everything else: our faith in Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul writes, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” According to this, everything we do throughout a given day should be based on the gospel and done to bring glory to God and not ourselves.
With that in mind, Christians must ask themselves: “How does my faith impact the way I do my job?” To help answer this question, Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert wrote The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to our Jobs. In this great little book, Traeger and Gilbert address the two main problems that everyone faces when it comes to work and then show how the gospel transforms our purpose and motivation for every aspect of our vocation. They close the book with practical application as it relates to choosing a job, managing people, sharing the gospel, and defining success.
Two Distortions of Work
Modern day idolatry is much more sophisticated than ancient idolatry. We don’t worship little statues anymore, instead we tend to worship more abstract things, which can even our jobs. As Traeger and Gilbert put it, “For many people today, their passion is their job and all of the things their job can provide for them–money, status, identity, pleasure, and purpose. Our jobs capture our hearts and our devotion. We give ourselves to them day in and day out. They become the primary object of our passions, our energy, and our love. We may not be willing to admit it, but we worship our jobs” (pg 24).
How do we know if our job has become an idol? The account of the rich young ruler in Luke 18:18-29 shows us clearly that an idol is anything that keeps you from pursuing Jesus because you desire it more than Him. So we know our job has become an idol when it becomes the focus in our pursuit of joy and identity. Traeger and Gilbert describe three common ways people make their jobs an idol in Chapter 1 followed by an explanation of why work is a terrible God. As many career-focused individuals have found out, while it is good to excel at work and want to be promoted, to base our ultimate meaning on that only ends in emptiness and dissatisfaction. Our purpose and joy can only be found in one place: Jesus Christ.
The second common distortion of work is idleness. In contrast to an idolatrous view of work, idleness occurs when “we underidentity with our work. We care too little about it” (pg 34). For Christians, the most common way to be slip into idleness is to fail to see God’s purpose behind our work. We think that since we aren’t a pastor or missionary, our job doesn’t really matter to God, so we do enough to get by so we can support those doing “real ministry.” Of course this is ridiculous: God has each person in his or her job for a reason. In fact, the workplace is one of the best mission fields on the planet!
Another way idleness manifests itself is in the “everybody’s working for the weekend” mindset, viewing work as a necessary evil that helps fund your hobbies and fun. Traeger and Gilbert offer three ways to identify a tendency for idleness in Chapter 2. To help combat idleness, they also challenge readers to remember that their work really does matter to God: “He created us to work, and even though Adam’s sin has ensured that our work will be shot through with frustration, God still plans to use our jobs to bring Himself glory and to do good in and through our lives” (pg 40).
How the Gospel Transforms Work
How can you remedy these two distortions of work? One of the distinctives of the believer is that his/her life has been completely changed and transformed by the gospel (see Romans 12:1-2). In order to combat idolatry and idleness, we must let the gospel loose from it’s compartment and let it flow into every area of your life, including your job. One way to do this, according to Traeger and Gilbert, is by “connecting the reality of what God has done for you in Christ to your job, thinking carefully about how this applies to and changes the way you think about your work” (pg 45). This gets to the heart of The Gospel at Work. The authors want us to understand that, because of the gospel, we have a new Master (King Jesus), a new assignment (loving God and loving others), a new confidence (Christ’s approval), and new rewards (eternal life and inheritance with Christ). The gospel combats idolatry by showing us our ultimate joy, identity, and approval are found in Jesus Christ and that everything else, while it may be good, will fall short of completely satisfying us. The gospel combats idleness by giving our work a higher purpose beyond just earning a paycheck. The gospel frees us to work well! The rest of Chapter 3 outlines six ways that working for Jesus gives us freedom in our jobs.
The Gospel at Work is a great read for any believer in the workplace, whether you are an intern, recent graduate, or blue/white/no collar employee (so if you know a recent college graduate, bless them with a copy of this book). Chapters 5-10 are especially practical since they offer answers to important questions like “How should I choose a job?” (Chapter 5), “How do I balance, work, church, and family?” (Chapter 6), and “How can I share the gospel at work?” (Chapter 9). This book is especially useful when it is paired with Timothy Keller’s Every Good Endeavor which goes into more detail on specific areas of application and work-as-ministry.
Traeger and Gilbert conclude the book by giving us a new definition for success in our work: “What makes you a success is being able to stand before King Jesus one day and say, ‘Lord, where you deployed me I served well. I gave it my all. I worked at it with all my heart because I was working for you, not for human master.’ When that becomes your goal, it is enormously freeing because you no longer have to define success on the world’s terms; you define it on Jesus’ terms” (pg 146).
May that be true for each of us during the 90,000 hours we spend on the clock.
Lawson’s Rating: V out of V
Learn It. Love It. Live It.
SEE ALSO: Work, Ministry, and the Gospel