It is no secret that for most people, including Christians, work comprises a significant portion of our life. Over the past few years, it is safe to say that I spend more time working every day than I do sleeping, or eating, or anything else that I can think of. The good news is that work is not antithetical to loving and serving God. Matter of fact, Protestants for centuries have viewed work as a very important part of lifestyle worship. Let’s face it: Anyone can attend a church service, drink coffee, listen to a message, and sing a few songs. But how many of us really worship in our work? How many of us even know how to do this or what it would look like?
In response to these questions, I came across some really helpful material written centuries ago by Martin Luther. In the passage below, Luther addresses the Christian who works and the motive with which he/she should work. Granted, this is only one select passage in Luther’s writings (I may post more over the next few days). Yet, it is powerful and quite convicting if you as a Christian are working with the temporal mindset that it is up to you and you alone to provide for yourself (and your family). Luther writes:
We are not to understand from this that God forbids us to work. Man must and ought to work, ascribing his sustenance and the fulness of his house, however, not to his own labor but solely to the goodness and blessing of God. For where men ascribe these things to their own labor, there covetousness and anxiety quickly arise … He does not say, “The Lord builds the house, so no one need labor at it.” He does say, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Psalms 127:1a). This is as if he were to say: Man must work, but that work is in vain if it stands alone and thinks it can sustain itself. Work cannot do this; God must do it. Therefore work in such a manner that your labor is not in vain. Your labor is in vain when you worry, and rely on your own efforts to sustain yourself. God will that man should work, and without work He will give him nothing. Conversely, God will not give him anything because of his labor, but solely out of His own goodness and blessing.
Luther affirms that work is good, but work done without an eye toward God’s hand of provision in and through our work is not. As with any particular behavior or set of behaviors in Christianity, motive counts. You can get all of your ducks in a row externally but completely miss the mark. This phrase “miss the mark” is what the word “sin” means in the original Greek.
We work because, as children of God and partners with Christ, it is one of the wonderful ways that God has given us to cultivate the earth (both literally and metaphorically), share God’s love with those we help in and through our occupation, and honor God. Essentially, Luther is encouraging Christians to work with trust. As you work hard, do so in such a manner that you see God’s providing hand through the work.
Daddy God is provider. Your work not only keeps you busy, but is the way through which God often provides as well as the means through which He will touch people’s lives. Work with all of your heart while remembering that he clothes the grass of the field and feeds the sparrows.
*Above excerpt taken from Luther’s “Exposition of Psalms 127” in Luther’s Works, Volume 45, edited by Walther I. Brandt, 1962.
2 thoughts on “Martin Luther and the Motive With Which Christians Should Work”
Thank you for sharing this passage, I certainly needed it right now in my work. I try to keep everything afloat through my own strength, but He sustains it all.
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Scott, I need to send you some stuff that I read from time to time regarding vocation. It is amazing. Luther was set on convincing the people he lectured to and preached to that all work under the sun, so long as it is not sinful, can be done as worship and is extremely important to God just as priestly work was/is.