INFORMATIVE ARTICLE: What Does the Book of Romans Teach Us About Work?
The book of Romans is filled with deep theological truths and practical wisdom for all Christians. I have also found it to be a rich source of key passages that are essential to my theology of work.
As I have done with other books of the Bible (John, Minor Prophets, Psalms, and Ecclesiastes), I have gathered several excerpts from my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession, that highlight what the book of Romans teaches about various aspects of work. I have generally presented the topics in the order they appear in the book, but I have reordered some to flow better.
God is Present in Our Most Difficult Work
The persistent biblical connection between God’s presence and work is the main theme of my book. One of the best examples of this concept is found in the Joseph narrative, beginning in Genesis 39.
The unity of the Old Testament and New Testament is seen here, as Joseph exemplifies what Paul boldly stated in Romans 8:28, that God works all things out for his bigger purposes and for our ultimate good. During one of my darkest days, I eventually came to the same conclusion, knowing that God needed to take me out of my comfort zone by force and put me somewhere else I needed to be to better glorify Him.
God’s Presence as a Government Employee
In Romans 13:1, Paul tells believers to submit to governing authorities. He explains in Romans 13:2-7 that it is God himself who appointed them as his servants in authority over us to minister to us. Paul knows that they are under God’s authority and that God ministers to us through their ministry.
Losing and Regaining our Sense of God’s Presence
We can regain our sense of God’s presence when it is lost. Paul states, “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). He concludes at the end of this chapter in Romans 8:38-39 that absolutely nothing in this world can separate us from God’s love.
God’s Curse on Work
In my book, I unpack the foundational concept that God put a curse on work (Gen. 3:16-19). I also discuss our response to it. I explained that Adam’s sin, as well as our own sin and those we work with, has had a negative impact on work. This sad state of affairs in our workplaces that began from that very moment in the garden will continue to frustrate all of us who work through the ages everywhere people work until Jesus returns (Rom. 8:19-21, Rev 22:3).
I mention the fact that people are always going to be sinful—including you and I (Rom. 3:10.)
I apply “thorns and thistles” to a modern context. Whenever I come against one more computer outage, a disgruntled employee, an unreasonable demand, another paper jam in the copier, or discover a weakness in myself that makes my job more difficult than it needs to be, I am reminded that these trials are usually a direct result of sin. I purposefully call to mind that God will provide the grace needed to get me through it and that my character is built through suffering (Rom. 5:3-5).
Finding a Job That Fits our Purpose and Leads to Flourishing
God gives each of us talents, strengths, experiences, and successes so that we can use them to be a blessing to others, both inside and outside the walls of the church building (Rom. 12:4-8).
Regarding how we view our identity, the Apostle Paul addressed his own identity in his letters. He said that the things he did could not compare with “the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8). Who Paul was in Christ was what mattered most.
However, Paul clearly embraced God’s calling on his life. God called him to be something, not merely do something. Paul identifies himself in Romans 1:1 as “a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle of God.” He says the same thing in his other epistles (1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:1, etc.). Paul did not seek this holy calling. God gave it to him. It was Paul’s focus and motivation.
Maintaining A Balance of Work and Rest
In my book, I briefly addressed the topic of keeping the Sabbath (having a work and rest cycle).
One of my best seminary professors, Dr. Mike Wittmer adds, “Sabbath rest is essential for enjoying life, and only Christians are wholly able to keep it holy.” He acknowledges that “we are free in Christ to consider ‘one day more sacred that another’ or to consider ‘every day alike’” (Rom. 14:5).
Christians in the Profession of Arms
As someone who has had the privilege of serving my country on active duty in the U.S. Army for twenty years, I wrote about what the Bible teaches regarding those who have served in the military.
Romans 13:4 provides some supporting fires on this idea. The apostle Paul teaches that the church is to be in submission to authority. You may ask, “Even the secular Roman government authorities? Even the corrupt ones we have now?” Yes, and yes. Why?
Paul writes they are “God’s servant, for your good . . . He is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” Paul says that these authorities are God’s servants. Sometimes that means taking appropriate military action to bring order out of chaos.
The Eternal Value of Work
In Isaiah 65:20-25, the prophet describes the new heaven and the new earth. Work has not ceased. Rather it is characterized by enjoying the fruit of our labor and not toiling in vain since the curse has been lifted (Rom. 8:19-21).
A key verse in this discussion is Romans 8:21. Volf teaches that according to this and other New Testament scriptures, “the apocalyptic language of the destruction of ‘all these things’ (2 Pet. 3:11) should not be taken to imply the destruction of creation . . . Paul writes that the ‘creation itself . . . will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.’”
Harrison, in his comments regarding Romans 8:21 in the Zondervan New International Version Bible Commentary, exclaims, “How gracious of God to retain for believers the habitat they have long been accustomed to, only so changed and beautified as to harmonize with their own glorified state.”
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