So, what do you do?”
How many times have we asked or been asked this seemingly benign question during introductions with someone new? Usually referring to our profession or career, this question reveals the subconscious assumption that who we are is inextricably determined by what we do.
Work is a good thing. God gave us work in the garden, and it was one of the institutions that remained after the Fall, albeit with more sweat involved (Gen. 3:17-19). In fact, the Bible makes clear that “in all toil there is profit” (Prov. 14:23, ESV), cautions that “if anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thess. 3:10), and warns bluntly that “if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).
Surely providing for the family is honorable, and that requires working to acquire wealth. After all, God Himself reminds us that “it is He who gives you power to get wealth” (Deut. 8:18), and He encourages His servants to grow their talents (Matt. 25:26, 27).
Ought not the Bible-believing Christian to pursue work and wealth for the glory of God? Clearly, yes. But is it possible that what we call “work” today is something else entirely?
Workism and Worship
In a 2019 article in The Atlantic the term “workism” was coined. It is defined as “the belief that employment is not only necessary for economic production but is also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life purpose.”1 Identity and life purpose are things often considered under the purview of religion. Can it be that many in Western society are looking to work to supply what ought to be provided by faith? In fact, that same article argues this very point. “In the past century, the American conception of work has shifted from jobs to careers to callings—from necessity to status to meaning.”2
“Perhaps long hours are part of an arms race for status and income among the moneyed elite. Or maybe the logic here isn’t economic at all. It’s emotional—even spiritual. The best-educated and highest-earning Americans, who can have whatever they want, have chosen the office for the same reason that devout Christians attend church on Sundays: It’s where they feel most themselves.”3
Is it any wonder that many of the most lionized heroes of modern society today are the high-octane, hard-charging, always-working executives, entrepreneurs, leaders, and business moguls? They are held up as paragons of success; their hustle is the benchmark of how hard one should work; and their wealth is the envious aspiration of many.
It’s evident that these values permeate the culture when people as young as high school or middle school ages proudly declare how busy they are with school assignments, music lessons, sports, and a myriad of other extracurricular activities. Apparently “busyness” is a virtue, a badge of honor to display like a patch on our Pathfinder sash.
Or is this no different than a modernized golden calf?
We all worship something, and human nature is prone to worship that from which we derive our identity.
Do many of us live in a world, even those of us blessed to work in “ministry” positions, in which the Protestant work ethic is supplanted with the religion of workism and the gospel is substituted by the American dream? In which the mere activity of being busy for God is worshipped in place of God?
The Idolatry of Laodicea
Laodiceans are “rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing” (Rev. 3:17, KJV). Can it be that many people feel no need of identity or life purpose from the Eternal Source because they are too busy trying to find fulfillment through their professional and material pursuits? Can it be that the hustle and bustle of being busy has crowded out the quiet knocking of Jesus at the door?
Work is a God-given blessing and should be undertaken for His glory and the advancement of His kingdom, but when abused, it is a poor substitute for a deity—one no less fickle and capricious than the pagan gods of old. “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:23, 24).
The Sabbath: The Intersection of Work, Rest, and Worship
At the heart of the three angels’ messages is a call to worship our Creator (Rev. 14:7)—a distinct reminder of the Sabbath.
Integral to the Sabbath commandment is six days of labor, so true Sabbathkeeping requires meaningful work. But the Sabbath is the escape valve one day each week, providing temperance from our work and reminding us who is truly worthy of our worship. It recalibrates the relationship of work within the context of how it was given to humans and its purpose from the hand of a benevolent Creator. Most of all, it reminds us of the source of our true identity—sons and daughters of God—first by creation and again through redemption.
In a world worshipping at the altar of workism, this message is needed more than ever. The three angels’ messages and the truth of the Sabbath speaks to the very need of Laodicea and the world around us. It is the reminder that work doesn’t define who we are; it’s merely the service we render to the One who does. “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).