The post began as a sort of problem. Well, not so much a problem really, but what appeared to be conflicting desires of mine. I was given the opportunity to give a short devotional at an event, and I really wanted to do two things in it: First, I wanted to begin with an excerpt from Jonathan Edwards regarding the immutable and infinite happiness of God in himself, and from that I wanted to transition to the topic of work, since that topic has been much on my mind lately. The excerpt that I wanted to use comes from Edwards’s The End for Which God Created the World. It goes as follows:
Because it is evident, by both Scripture and reason, that God is infinitely, eternally, unchangeably, and independently glorious and happy: that he cannot be profited by or receive anything from the creature; or be the subject of any sufferings or diminution of his glory and felicity from any other being. The notion of God creating the world, in order to receive anything properly from the creature, is not only contrary to the nature of God, but inconsistent with the notion of creation; which implies a being receiving its existence and all that belongs to it out of nothing. And this implies the most perfect, absolute, and universal derivation and dependence. Now, if the creature receives its ALL from God, entirely and perfectly, how is it possible that it should have anything to add to God, to make him any respect more than he was before, and so the Creator become dependent on the creature?
Initially, my thought was that I was going to have to abandon one of the things that I wanted to speak on: I was either going to have to focus my devotion on the independent happiness of God, spring-boarded from the Edwards quote and drop the topic of work, or I was going to have to forget the Edwards quote (and, really, are you even allowed to begin a devotion from something outside of the Bible?) and focus on work.
Yet, the more I thought on it, the more I came to realize that the doctrine on the unchanging and independent happiness of God espoused by Edwards (and the Bible) is actually not unrelated to our work, but that it in fact has everything to do with work. A key part stood out:
It is evident … that God is infinitely, eternally, unchangeably, and independently glorious and happy: that he cannot be profited by or receive anything from the creature. … The notion of God creating the world in order to receive anything properly from the creature, is not only contrary to the nature of God, but inconsistent with the notion of creation.
Understanding this—that God is unchangeably and independently happy, that he is not in any way profited by his creatures—has profound implications for why we do what we do. This is especially so since all of us have a tendency to revert to our natural view of things. When it comes to work, we believe (if we believe in God or a god) that how we work and the things that we work on have a direct correlation with the feelings of God. If we do good work, God is happy; if we do bad work, God is unhappy—making God’s emotions out to ebb-and-flow as our human emotions do. Yet God is not this way. He is fully pleased with his Triune Self, and he has been so since eternity past and will be so into eternity future.
Our standing in Christ is not based on our works but on his Work.
Also, if we are in Christ, God is no more pleased with us when we work well than when we work poorly. The reason for this is because God the Father is fully pleased in the person and work of his Son, and if we’re in Christ that pleasure that is found in Christ is reckoned to us. Our good works and deeds will no more commend us in the sight of God than our lack of them, for our standing in Christ is not based on our works but on his Work.
Our Motivation behind Our Good Works
Knowing then that God is infinitely happy in himself and that, because of Christ, we are pleasing in God’s sight—both apart from our works—what then is our motivation to work? What should then drive us to do the things that we know we ought to do?
We know the biblical answer: we do the things that we do so that we might glorify God. Though we know that, it sometimes seems remote as if the meaning of glorify were unknown to us.
If we think on the term glorify, its construction is kind of misleading. Generally when we add “ify” on the end of something in English, it means that we make something that isn’t something into something. So, for example, when we magnify something, we make something that isn’t big big, and when we falsify something, we make something that isn’t false false. However, when we glorify God, we are not making God glorious. God is already glorious. And when we glorify God we are not adding to his glory, because he is already infinitely glorious. How then are we to understand how we glorify God and how that relates to our work?
John Piper’s famous remake of the Westminster’s “Chief End of Man” clause is a good starting point. Piper says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.” What this means practically is that we glorify God by enjoying him in the things that we do. When we work, we do our work in such a way that we enjoy God while doing it. How then does this look in our daily occupations? Let me suggest a couple of ways:
1. We glorify God by enjoying him in our work by working as he works. In the beginning, God created man in his image. A part of his image that he imparts to mankind is the ability to bring order to things, to, if you will, bring something out of nothing. Of course, no man can truly bring something out of nothing, however we are creative beings. If we are a landscaper, we glorify God by creating something beautiful out of the chaos that is natural plant growth. If work in an office, we can bring order to it by creating ways to be more productive in it.
Regardless of what we do, we can be creative in it. And the way that we glorify God in the process is by recognizing that we are acting like him in our work and are thereby (though sometimes poor) reflections of him. To give an analogy, we are like mirrors reflecting the brightness and the glory of the sun. As mirrors we do not increase the sun’s brightness or magnify its beauty, they however participate in that brightness and beauty by reflecting it. In our work, if we are enjoying our reflecting of God and are seeking to reflect him in the most unadulterated way possible, we are glorifying God in it.
2. We glorify God by working as Christ worked. When Jesus Christ came in the flesh, humanity received the greatest example of how to work to the glory of God. Everything that Christ did was for the sole purpose of glorifying the Father. Now that we have Christ and his example, we know precisely how to glorify God in our work: We love God with all of being in our work (cf. Matt. 22:37); we love our co-workers and our customers as we love ourselves (cf. Matt. 22:39); we love and work with those whom world rejects (cf. Matt. 9:10); we work for the benefit of the poor (Matt. 25:31-40). Just as being creative and bringing order to things reflects the glory of the Creator, so loving God and loving our neighbors in our work reflects the glory of Christ.
Of course this isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a solid starting point for us in how we see our day-to-day activities.
But to get back to motivation, our motivation should be the glory of God and our participation in it, but what motivates us to glorify God? Matt Perman in his book, What’s Best Next, puts it this way:
The notion that we must obey God in order to be accepted by him results in less moral action, not more, because it results in less love for God. Conversely, realizing that we are wholly and completely accepted by God apart from our works through faith in Christ results in massive and radical action for good because it results in great love and joy for God. As Jesus said, “He who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47), whereas those who are forgiven much, love much (Luke 7:41-43).
In other words, the Gospel is our motivation—the realization that we have been forgiven a debt that we could never repay and have been given an inheritance that we could never have deserved—this Gospel fuels our love for God and our desire to see him glorified in our lives.
I hope this brief look at our happy Creator and our participation in his glory will help you (as it has helped me) in your day-to-day work.
The End for Which God Created the World by Jonathan Edwards in The Works of Jonathan Edwards
What’s Best Next by Matt Perman