August 12, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Ephesians 4:28 (NRSV)
Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.
If we were to read Ephesians 4:28 in the original Greek, we’d see a call to do good work. Our work matters because, by working, we are able to add to the goodness of the world. This is true whether you are a carpenter, a mother, a teacher, or a small business owner. When we recognize that one of the reasons we work is to do what is good, this encourages us, even if our work is relatively small and obscure. When we do good work for God, God is glorified. Our work becomes worship.
Why should you work? Beyond obvious answers like, “To earn money so I can eat,” there are deeper biblical reasons. In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we saw that we were created by God for work. We should work because that’s why we exist; at least that’s part of the reason. Today, we’ll consider another answer to the “Why work?” question.
Ephesians 4:28 says that thieves (and by obvious implication, all people) must “labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.” This translation gets the basic sense of the verse but misses key nuances. Consider, for example, the phrase “work honestly with their own hands.” The original Greek could be translated more literally, “working with their own hands that which is good [to agathon].” The Greek word agathos can mean “honestly,” as in the NRSV rendering, but this would not be the standard sense of the word. In Ephesians 2:10, God created us in Christ “for good [agathois] works.” Romans 8:28 promises, “We know that all things work together for good [agathon] for those who love God.” In Mark 10:18, Jesus says, “No one is good [agathos] – except God alone.” So, it would be a much more natural translation to say, “labor and do good work with their own hands.”
Doing honest work is a good thing, to be sure. But the worth of our work goes far beyond honesty. The more important point is that, through our work, we are able to contribute a bit of goodness to the world. Why work? Because we can do good through our work. The carpenter, the artist, the teacher, and the doctor are all doing good work. The same is true for the mother, the gardener, the accountant, and the pastor.
Now, of course some kinds of work are not good. Thievery, for example, does not add goodness to the world. Yet, when we do work that reflects God’s design for life, when our work serves others, when our work enhances community and culture, then it has value because of the goodness it contributes. Our work is good in part because what it accomplishes is good.
At this point, some of us might be tempted to discount the goodness our own work produces because it isn’t large in scope. What we do doesn’t seem to add up to much. But God is not interested so much in the quantity of our accomplishment as in its quality. Remember the story in the Gospels known as the Widow’s Mite. Though wealthy people had given large amounts to the temple, Jesus said a poor widow’s tiny gift counted as more than what the others had given because she “put in everything” (Mark 12:43-44).
The greatest testimony to the value of ordinary work comes from Jesus himself. After all, he was God in human flesh, the Word of God Incarnate. What did he do with the majority of his waking hours as an adult? He didn’t rule over nations. He didn’t command mighty armies. He didn’t build a grand temple. He didn’t even preach or heal for most of his adult life. No, Jesus worked in virtual anonymity as a craftsman in a small village in the countryside. He built tables, chairs, and walls. In human terms, what he did – didn’t add up to much. But Jesus was being faithful, honoring his Father in heaven through doing good work, even if it was relatively small in scope.
So it is with our work. What you do today might contribute goodness to thousands of lives, or it may make a very small difference to one other person, or it may be a tiny part of a giant project. Nevertheless, you work because you can do good and this matters profoundly to God. He receives the goodness of your work as worship.
In what ways does your work, whatever kind of work it might be, add to the goodness of the world?
Can you offer your work to the Lord today as an act of worship?
Today, when you begin to work, pause to offer a quick prayer to God. Tell God that you are working today for his pleasure and glory. Then, remember your prayer throughout the day.
Gracious God, again I thank you for creating me with a capacity for work. Help me, Lord, to see and value the goodness my work produces. May I offer this goodness to you, even as the widow once gave all she had to you for the temple offering. Thank you for receiving my work as worship and for delighting in it and in me. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Widow’s Mite
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.