The essence of following Jesus is using our work to cooperate with heaven’s invasion of Earth.
I think of the end of 1 Corinthians 15 — the longest passage about resurrection and the age to come in the entire Bible. Fight-eight verses of dense, heady, complex, in-depth, technical, charged, explosive eschatology. And listen to Paul’s closing paragraph — this is the end of his sermon, his “practical application points”:
“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
So what Paul thinks resurrection means is that our “work” and “labor” are not in vain. They’re not all for nothing. They matter.
Of course, we read “the work of the Lord” and “labor in the Lord” and assume Paul means evangelism or missionary work. But he doesn’t say that. It’s ambiguous and unclear and open to interpretation.
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, inspiriting effect on your work in the here and now.
There’s so much we could say about this, but here are four thoughts:
1. Work is worthwhile
It needs to be said that good work is worthwhile even if it’s just for this age, with no bearing on the age to come at all.
Whatever it is you do — cooking, building, teaching, writing, mothering, project managing, beehive keeping — if you do it as an act of worship to God and an expression of love and service to humanity, that’s enough.
Work isn’t a means to an end; it is an end.
I cannot emphasize this enough. Most people don’t actually believe their work matters in the here and now. For its own sake. But its’ incredibly true.
If all you do is fill a gas tank to get somebody on the road or set up a mortgage for somebody to buy a house or sell a jacket to keep somebody warm, that matters, all by itself. And it’s enough.
2. Work is practice for eternity
Our work in this life is practice for our work in the coming life.
In one sense, what we do now matters, all by itself. We don’t need to add anything onto it or spice it up. But in another sense, it’s practice.
The philosopher Dallas Willard said this life is “training for reigning.” As cheesy as that sounds, he’s spot-on. Right now we are learning the skills we’ll need forever to God’s new world.
The Bible opens with God giving humans a vocation, a calling to rule, to look after his creation and make it flourish, and after a long, drawn-out detour through human history, the Bible ends with that vision finally coming to pass and even going forward.
So our future hope isn’t only that Jesus will rule the universe. It is, but it’s also that we’ll rule right at his side. As Paul put it, “If we endure, we will also reign with him.”
God is looking for people he can rule the world with. Right now, we are becoming those kinds of people.
Whoever you become will carry over into the next life. The saying “You can’t take it with you” may be true of stuff — your car or that sweet new pair of shoes, but it’s definitely misleading. You will take the person you become with you into God’s future. And who you become is your most valuable asset.
3. Work is eternal
Some of the good work we do will actually last into God’s new world.
I really believe that.
In Revelation 14 we read that the dead “will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”
Their deeds will follow them?
The word deeds is ergon in Greek. Usually, it’s translated “work,” but it can also be translated “occupation.”
So our work will follow us? Maybe even our occupation will follow us, past death and into the age to come.
Later, in Revelation 21, we read about the Garden city, and John writes “the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it … The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.”
This is an enigmatic statement at best, but it could mean that all good work, the accumulation of thousands of years of culture making, will somehow be brought into the made-new-Jerusalem.
But I am saying that when I envision the future, I imagine living in a home. My guess is it will have a rug or two. I imagine eating Thai food and drinking an almond milk latte and listening to Prelude from Suite No. 1 in G Major on cello and riding a bicycle and flying in an airplane and reveling in all the good, beautiful, and true things that image bearers have come up with over the millennia of human history.
It’s all the graffiti — the evil, ugly stuff that will disappear forever.
There’s a lot of human work that frankly will not survive the day of the Lord. It will not make it into God’s new world.
Stuff like …
- Exploitation of the poor
- Corrupt bureaucracy
- Opulent waste
- Damage to the environment
All this stuff will be “burned up.” And people who gave their lives to “wood, hay or straw,” the kind of work that is kindling for the fire, will have nothing to show for all their effort and energy. They'll make it “in,” but barely. And with empty pockets.
But on the flip side, Paul’s hope is that some human work will survive judgment and go on to find a place in the new creation. That somehow — and I have no idea how — all our work that is “gold, silver, costly stones,” the kind of work that matters, will follow us into the age to come. God will find a way to take it, cleanse it, and integrate it into this new world.
If that doesn’t make you want to get really good at your job, I have no clue what will.
4. Work is rewarding
Know that all good work done in this age will be rewarded in the age to come.
There is far more continuity between this age and the age to come than most of us think. There is a direct correlation between how we live now and how we will live forever. Or to be more precise, between how we rule now and how much we will rule over forever.
I think of the parable in Luke 19 about the “man of noble birth” (read, king) who went on a long journey. Before he left, he gave each of his servants a mina — a large sum d money. When he came back, he wanted an accounting for his investment.
The first servant comes up and says, “Sir, your mina has earned five more.”
And what does the king say?
“You take charge of five cities.”
Five minas, five cities.
Responsibility now, more responsibility later.
The reward for work well-done in this age isn’t a mansion and a Maserati in heaven, as if the best God can do is acquiesce to capitalism’s perversion of the American dream; its’ more work and more responsibility in God’s new world.
Over to you
Even if your work now doesn’t feel that way. Even if you’re a sanitation engineer or a gofer on a construction crew or housekeeping for a hotel or a checker at Whole Foods. Maybe you love what you do, maybe you hate it. Maybe you can change what you do, maybe you’re stuck. But either way, you can do it for a reward.
Editor's note: Excerpted from Garden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human. Copyright © 2017 by John Mark Comer. Used by permission of Zondervan.