The Gospel at Work: How the Gospel Gives New Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs (Updated and Expanded Edition) by Sebastian Traeger and Greg D. Gilbert. Zondervan. 192 pages. 2018
I read the original 2014 edition of this book twice, including once with colleagues at work in a Faith and Work Book Club, and was excited to see this new updated and expanded edition. The book is written by a marketplace leader (Sebastian) and a ministry leader (Greg). In this book they help us to better understand what it means for Christians to be faithful workers, serving King Jesus in a secular world. Their hope is that the book will help some Christians to see more clearly why God has given them work to do and how they might be thinking about work in sinful ways. They hope that the book will help some Christians forsake both idolatry and idleness in favor of a more biblical way of thinking about work as service to King Jesus. At the end of each chapter, they provide several questions and Scripture passages for the reader to study that will help you to further reflect on and think about the ideas in that chapter. From experience, I know that this is an excellent book to read and discuss in a group.
The authors write that one of our greatest needs in the church is an understanding of how daily work according to God’s Word ties in with God’s ultimate purpose in the world. God’s intention from the beginning was for human beings to work. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command and rebelled against him, work stopped being purely a reaping of God’s abundance. Work is necessary, work is hard, and work is even dangerous. For all that, however, it’s still clear that God cares deeply about how we think about and relate to our jobs. The authors tell us that our jobs are one of the primary ways God intends to make us more like Jesus.
The big idea in the book is:
“No matter what you do, your job has inherent purpose and meaning because you are doing it ultimately for the King. Who you work for is more important than what you do. No matter what you are doing, you are doing it to glorify Jesus.”
The authors tell us that if we keep that one big idea in mind, it will change the way we think about our work and engage in our work.
The book addresses two errors we can fall into in our work: making our work an idol or being idle in our work. Some people worship their jobs, making them an idol. An idol is something that you desire more than you desire Jesus. The authors tell us that if our pursuit of joy, satisfaction, and meaning centers on “what you do” and “what you are accomplishing,” you’ll find nothing but emptiness at the end of that road.
On the other hand, some of us under-identify with our work. We care too little about it and find ourselves being idle in our work. Knowing that you work for King Jesus and not for other people changes the way you approach your job.
The authors helpfully cover a few specific applications:
- How to choose a job. The authors tell us that if God doesn’t give you an opportunity to do a certain thing, then he’s not calling you to do that thing, at least not now.
- How to balance work, church and family. The authors tell us that God has given us a number of assignments in our lives. We are not to be idle or idolatrous in them, but to pursue faithfulness and fruitfulness in each.
- How to handle difficult bosses and coworkers. They tell us that the hardest thing about our jobs can be the people with whom we’re expected to work. A gospel-centered perspective on our work changes the way we think about our boss, as well as the way we think of our coworkers.
- What it means to be a Christian boss. The authors tell us that Godly leaders serve others, looking out for them and working for their good.
- How to share the Gospel at work. Some of the suggestions offered in this section may not work in your particular context, especially if you are the leader of the team.
- The value of full-time ministry vs. a job in the marketplace. The authors helpfully tell us that the value of our work isn’t finally found at all in the particular thing we do; it’s found in the fact that whatever we do, we do it for our King. Doing the work your King has given you to do—and doing it well.
- Calling to a particular job. Most of us want to know what God has called us to do vocationally. The authors tell us however that if we are looking for that one big thing to name as your calling or if you think you’ve already found it, you’re adopting an idea that the Bible never uses. They go on to state that calling is not one thing in your life; it’s everything in your life, at any given moment. You are, right now, where He has called you to be. That calling may change, but for now, this is where the King has placed you.
The authors tell us that God uses ordinary people in ordinary circumstances to do his extraordinary kingdom work. We should have no idolatry nor idleness in our work. Instead, we aim to be faithful to the King, who put us where we are. Our success is defined simply by giving our all for King Jesus.
The book concludes with three helpful appendices:
Appendix 1: Five Practices to Help You Live Out the Gospel at Work
Appendix 2: A Biblical Theology of Work
Appendix 3: How to Leverage Your Job for the Nations