Work is an important and under-emphasized topic in many Christian circles.
Timothy Keller does a great job in “Every God Endeavor” giving a solid biblical understanding of work. As a college minister, I have students going into many different types of work when they graduate. This book will serve as a valuable tool to help teach vocation as a part of God’s mission in the world.
As with most Timothy Keller books, I had a ton of highlights. Here are 10 of the major points of the book to cheek out. (The numbers after the quotes are the kindle locations.)
1. God’s work is an model for our work.
God worked for the sheer joy of it. Work could not have a more exalted inauguration. 366God is Creator of the world, and our work mirrors his creative work. 2207
2. Work was part of paradise, so it is GOOD!
The fact that God put work in paradise is startling to us because we so often think of work as a necessary evil or even punishment. 391
“There is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot” (Ecclesiastes 3:22). Yes, work is our inescapable “lot,” and so satisfaction in that realm is essential to a satisfactory life. 1304
3. Work itself is cursed, along with the rest of the world.
Work is not itself a curse, but it now lies with all other aspects of human life under the curse of sin… Part of the curse of work in a fallen world is its frequent fruitlessness. 1030, 1033“So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Ecclesiastes 2:17…That is, while many workers are frustrated by unconsummated skills and unfulfilled aspirations, many others experience no satisfaction or fulfillment in their work even when they have realized their aspirations and become successful. 1129, 1132
Whether quickly or slowly, all the results of our toil will be wiped away by history. 1182
Work can even isolate us from one another. “There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. ‘For whom am I toiling,’ he asked, ‘and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?’ This too is meaningless—a miserable business!” (Ecclesiastes 4:7–8). This man is “alone”—without friends or family—as a result of his work. 1230
4. Work is how we cultivate the world.
God left creation with deep untapped potential for cultivation that people were to unlock through their labor. 379
Whenever we bring order out of chaos, whenever we draw out creative potential, whenever we elaborate and “unfold” creation beyond where it was when we found it, we are following God’s pattern of creative cultural development. 669
The difference between [a wilderness] and culture is simply, work. 886
5. Work is valuable, but must not become an idol.
According to the Bible, we don’t merely need the money from work to survive; we need the work itself to survive and live fully human lives. 410
If you make any work the purpose of your life—even if that work is church ministry—you create an idol that rivals God. 441
6. All types of upright work have dignity.
Work has dignity because it is something that God does and because we do it in God’s place, as his representatives. We learn not only that work has dignity in itself, but also that all kinds of work have dignity. 544
All work has dignity because it reflects God’s image in us, and also because the material creation we are called to care for is good. 571
Christians do not have to do direct ministry or nonprofit charitable work in order to love others through their jobs. 927
7. Our vocation is a calling, not just a job.
Our daily work can be a calling only if it is reconceived as God’s assignment to serve others. And that is exactly how the Bible teaches us to view work. 755
8. God uses our work to provide for our needs and the needs of others.
Luther writes: “God could easily give you grain and fruit without your plowing and planting, but he does not want to do so.” 807
Imagine that everyone quits working, right now! What happens? Civilized life quickly melts away. Food vanishes from the shelves, gas dries up at the pumps, streets are no longer patrolled, and fires burn themselves out. Communication and transportation services end, utilities go dead. Those who survive at all are soon huddled around campfires, sleeping in caves, clothed in raw animal hides. 883
9. Over-work and under-work lead to trouble.
If we begin to work as if we were serving the Lord, we will be freed from both overwork and underwork. 2609
Fools fold their hands and ruin themselves. Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind. Ecclesiastes 4:5–6…Tranquility without toil will not bring us satisfaction; neither will toil without tranquility. There will be both toil and tranquility. 1308, 1314Resting, or practicing Sabbath, is also a way to help us get perspective on our work and put it in its proper place. Often we can’t see our work properly until we get some distance from it and reimmerse ourselves in other activities. 2855Overwork or underwork violates that nature and leads to breakdown. To rest is actually a way to enjoy and honor the goodness of God’s creation and our own. To violate the rhythm of work and rest (in either direction) leads to chaos in our life and in the world around us. Sabbath is therefore a celebration of our design. 2874Sabbath is therefore a declaration of our freedom. It means you are not a slave—not to your culture’s expectations, your family’s hopes, your medical school’s demands, not even to your own insecurities. 2882“Zeal” is the translation of a Greek word meaning a combination of urgency and diligence. It is possible to be frenetic—to be urgent without focus and discipline. It is possible to be plodding, or diligent without a sense of urgency. But God’s charge means that you are to be both urgent and disciplined. 2831
10. The gospel motivates Christians to approach work differently than the world.
Without an understanding of the gospel, we will be either naïvely utopian or cynically disillusioned. 1928
The more serious danger associated with an under-emphasis on work as the vehicle of God’s providence is that it leads Christians to undervalue the good work done by nonbelievers. 2226
Love, then, occupies a supreme place in the Christian imagination. As Jesus says, to be fully human boils down to loving God and loving our neighbor. 2497
If not for the Christian view of the individual, for example, the philosophy of human rights to which we subscribe today would never have emerged… Christianity held that all human beings are made in the image of God and therefore have an inviolable right to be treated with honor and love, regardless of whether they culturally, morally, and personally appeal to or offend us. 2522, 2523
Abraham Kuyper, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: mine… Understanding common grace is key to our humility and appreciation of God’s sovereignty. 2973, 301