January 2, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Luke 2:39-40
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, [Mary and Joseph] returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
The example of Mary and Joseph reminds us of how much God values what we do. So, as you teach a class or lead a meeting or make a cabinet or write a song or design a new product, do your work in honor of God. As you make lunches for your children or drive them to school or help them with their biology homework or teach them to make good choices in their lives, know that God is with you and is pleased as you do your ordinary work for God’s purposes and glory.
This devotion is part of the series: Work in Light of Christmas.
As you will recall, before the New Year began I was writing a series of devotions on how the Christmas story impacts our understanding and practice of work. Today I’d like to add one final devotion to that series.
In the devotion for December 30, I noted that, after the first Christmas was over, both Mary and the shepherds went back to work. Mary was devoted to the care of her infant while the shepherds gave themselves to the care of their sheep. Before Mary and Joseph returned to Nazareth, their hometown, they first traveled to the temple in Jerusalem in order to participate in the purification rites required by the law of Moses (Luke 2:22) and to offer Jesus, their firstborn, to the Lord (2:22-24) with special sacrifices. Then, “when they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth” (2:39).
Luke does not talk about the work to which Mary and Joseph devoted the majority of their waking hours and energy once they returned to Nazareth. Joseph resumed his work as a carpenter-craftsman. (The Greek word used in Matthew 15:35 to describe Joseph is tekton, which means “carpenter” but also could be used for those who built things with stone and other materials besides wood. In Mark 6:3, tekton is used in a description of Jesus.) Mary no doubt focused on her work of caring for her newborn baby, feeding him, washing him, helping him to sleep, and comforting him when he cried. Joseph surely helped Mary as he could, especially as Jesus grew older.
Though Luke does not mention the work of Mary and Joseph, he does bear witness to the beneficial results of their work in the life of their son. In Luke’s turn of phrase, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him” (2:40). How did Jesus grow and become strong? Through the efforts of his parents, of course. Joseph earned money to support his family while Mary devoted herself to nurturing Jesus physically and, no doubt, in other ways as well. Joseph contributed to Jesus’s upbringing, not only by providing for his family, but also by helping Jesus grow in his moral vision and his occupational skill.
Jesus surely was privileged in extraordinary ways as the unique, divine Son of God. For example, he was “filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him” (Luke 2:40). But it would be wrong to suppose that Jesus’s wisdom was merely the result of a miraculous infusion from the Holy Spirit. Much of what he learned came from his parents, as well as from the community around them. The “ordinary” work of Mary and Joseph contributed invaluably to the growth and strengthening of Jesus, as well as to his developing wisdom. It’s quite something to imagine Jesus’s parents teaching him the written Word of God, given that he was the incarnate Word of God. But it’s surely true that they took on this task. Of course, they got help from others in their community as well as their synagogue.
In a similar way, you and I can make a difference for God through our ordinary work. Yes, we can contribute to God’s kingdom through special efforts as we go on mission trips, build homes through Habitat for Humanity, feed the hungry, seek justice for victims of racial discrimination, share the good news with our neighbors, teach Sunday School, and so forth and so on. But, for most of us, our greatest contribution to God’s work in the world will come through our ordinary work, through work we can easily take for granted or even devalue as “unspiritual.” The case of Mary and Joseph, faithfully parenting Jesus, reminds us of how much God values and uses what we do every day for God’s purposes.
So, in your work today, whether paid or unpaid, recognize how much God values what you do. As you teach a class or lead a meeting or make a cabinet or write a song, do your work in honor of God. As you make lunches for your children or drive them to school or help them with their biology homework or help them to make good choices in their lives, know that God is with you and is pleased as you do your ordinary work for God’s purposes and glory.
Are you ever tempted to devalue your ordinary work? If so, why? If not, why not?
Do you believe what you do each day matters to God as much as the work of your pastor? If so, why? If not, why not?
In what ways does your ordinary work make a difference for God?
Are you able to offer your ordinary work to God as worship? If so, what helps you? If not, what holds you back?
As you begin your work today, offer your work to the Lord.
Gracious God, thanks for the faithfulness of Mary and Joseph as they raised Jesus. Thanks for their hard work. Though it’s not mentioned in Luke, we do learn about the results of their effort. We understand just how much work it takes to raise a child well. And that’s exactly what Mary and Joseph did through their ordinary work.
Help us, dear Lord, to see our ordinary work in light of your kingdom. May we understand how what we do each day contributes to the world. May we learn to offer ourselves and our work to you. May our work bear fruit that honors you and that helps this world to be what you have intended it to be. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: What We Want for Children.
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.