If you keep even half an eye on Christian publishing, then you know that gospel-centeredness is a major theme today, and especially so for publishers targeting their books at the New Calvinists. While this is undoubtedly a trend, and one that will at some point begin to slow, the point is clear: the gospel matters, and it matters to everything. There is no area of life outside the purview of the gospel. The gospel matters in the pulpit, in the home and in the family. The gospel matters at work as well.
The Gospel at Work is a new book from Greg Gilbert and Sebastian Traeger and its big idea is this: You work for the king, and this changes everything. No matter what you do, your work has value because you are doing it for the Lord and who you work for is far more important than the details of what you do. This means that there is no such thing as a meaningless job and no such thing as a job that is insignificant.
Much of the book is structured around two of the ways that we can allow our work to become sinful. Each represents an extreme. For some the temptation is idleness at work while for others the temptation is idolatry of work. Some hope to find their significance and worth in the work they do so that work becomes “the primary object of our passions, our energy, and our love. We end up worshiping our job.” But then others “can slip into being idle in our work. When we fail to see God’s purposes in our work, we don’t really care much about it. We fail to give any attention to it, or we despise it and generally neglect our responsibility to serve as if we are serving the Lord.” And, sadly, both of these extremes are celebrated in our culture.
The challenge of The Gospel at Work is to avoid those extremes, and the way to do that is to work out the implications of the gospel in what you do.“ If you are a Christian, we want to challenge you to begin 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.”
Now some of the gospel-focused books I have read fall a little bit short in actually connecting the gospel to the subject at hand. Thankfully, that is not the case here. The gospel tells us that we have a new master, a new assignment, a new confidence, and new rewards and in all of those ways it counters the temptation to make too much, or too little, of work. Let me provide an extended quote which helps show how carefully these authors have thought this through:
Because of Jesus’ work on the cross on our behalf, because he lives and reigns right now, we have identity, belonging, love, acceptance, forgiveness, adoption, justification, and reward. It is all ours for all eternity. Because that’s true, we are gloriously freed from having to pursue those things (or, rather, cheap imitations of them) through our work. Do you see? We don’t need our work to provide an identity for us. We already have an identity in Christ. We don’t need it to give us a place to belong. We already have been adopted by God because of Jesus, and we belong to his redeemed family. We don’t need work to make us loved or liked or accepted, nor do we need it to prove to ourselves that we’re worthwhile. Why? Because all of that has already been secured for us by Jesus! So where does that leave our work? What role does that leave for it to play in our lives? Simple. It leaves our work liberated from the impossible demand to provide something for us that it was never meant to provide and from the excuse that it doesn’t matter, and we are set free to live lives of joyful, heartfelt service to our King!
As the authors progress through their subject, they provide a brief, but sound, theology of work, and then progress to practical matters: choosing a career; finding that difficult balance between work, family and church; handling difficult bosses and co-workers; being a Christian boss; and sharing the gospel at work. In every case they work outward from the gospel into practical counsel and guidance.
Where the book impacted me deepest is in its discussion of success. The authors redefine success, drawing it away from money, power, influence, change, or a respectable standard of living. From a biblical perspective, success is far simpler: it is measured in faithfulness. We are not all equally talented and we do not have equal opportunities, so we need to be very, very careful not to measure ourselves against one another. That can be a fatal mistake. Instead, we are to measure success by faithfulness to God in the things he has called us to do. That was very freeing to me and very encouraging.
The Gospel at Work is a powerful and helpful book exactly because the gospel really does matter at work, just as it matters at home and in the church and everywhere else. And since we all work somewhere, sometime, this is a book we would all do well to read.