What is a biblical theology of work and how can we impart that understanding to the next generation of Jesus’s followers?
Garden City, a recent book by pastor and author John Mark Comer provides a concise, thoughtful, and accessible resource to address those important questions.
The book is divided into three parts: Work, Rest, and The Garden City.
The first section, which is the longest in the book, provides an overview of a biblical theology of work. Echoing (and admittedly borrowing from) the work of other Christian authors like Tim Keller and Tom Nelson, Comer persuasively presents the concept of work as part of God’s good creation. Comer communicates in compelling ways the truth that every aspect of life, including our work, is sacred. He looks ahead to the New Jerusalem, envisioned by the prophet John in the book of Revelation. Comer points out that while the New Jerusalem is full of features reminiscent of the Garden of Eden, “It’s not a garden anymore; it’s a Garden-like city.” So, we glorify God as we work in this world, partnering with him as we carry out the cultural mandate given in Genesis 1. As Comer describes it:
. . . to take all the raw materials that are spread out in front of you, to work it, to take care of it, to rule, to subdue, to wrestle, to fight, to explore, and to take the creation project forward as an act of service and worship to the God who made you.
Comer also points out in this section the parallel between the cultural mandate and the Great Commission in Matthew 28.
As followers of Jesus we have a dual vocation. Not one, but two callings.
The original calling – to rule over the earth. To make culture.
And a new calling – to make disciples.
Using the example of someone working in Information Technology (IT), Comer lays out how this dual vocation looks in everyday life:
If you’re the IT guy, when you go to work on Monday morning, you have not one, but two callings. First, you’re called to be a really good IT guy. To make your company’s computer systems sing. In doing so, you’re working for Eden all over again. Well done.
But you’re also called to make disciples. To tell people about your Rabbi Jesus. And to live in such a way that people ask questions, not just about IT, but about life, meaning, purpose, joy, peace, community, hope, why you’re a little bit different. And through that, hopefully you get to invite people to become disciples of Jesus, and follow him into his work of culture making.
In a very practical chapter in this section entitled “The unearthing of a calling,” Comer gives actionable advice on how people can both discover and live out their individual callings to glorify God through their work.
The second section on Rest is a short but deep exploration of what Comer calls God’s “holy time” – the Sabbath. Illuminating the differences between the Sabbath commandments found in Exodus and Deuteronomy, he shows how the principle of God-glorifying rest roots itself in the concepts of both Creation (Exodus) and Redemption (Deuteronomy). We found his practical examples of how his family practices Sabbath especially intriguing and encouraging.
The final section of the book explores how a proper eschatology (or doctrine of last things) should affect our present lives. He writes:
What I’m getting at is all this eschatology, all this talk about the future, about resurrection and the age to come, should have a tectonic, pivotal, inspiring effect on our work in the here and now.
In all, Garden City is a fantastic introduction and exploration of the biblical theology of work and rest, and we highly recommend the book . However, a couple of caveats are in order.
- First, while Comer’s writing is rich in theology, it is presented in short, pithy, often fragmented prose that may be off-putting to some readers. It’s a style that might appeal more to younger readers, and the audiobook version, read by the author, might be a better way for some to take in the contents of the book.
- Second, those serving in, or appreciative of, military occupations may bristle at a couple of instances in the book where the author expresses a personal conviction that “any job in the military where killing is the explicit goal” would not be a God-honoring vocation.
If you are interested in the content of Garden City, but can’t take the time to read the entire book, you might want to check out a 30-minute message by the author that presents some of the core concepts from the book (linked below).
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Genesis 1:26 (NIV)
Let’s think deeply this week about the nobility of work God has entrusted to us, as described in this verse from the first chapter of the Scriptures.