Set free to work differently

Caught up in the demands of our work

Many people feel that they work like slaves. We live in a time where the demands set by our jobs make us feel that we are caught up in circumstances that ask too much from us. Our careers predominate out lives. There are control measures that force us to work more productively. Supervisors insist that we work harder. Success is pursued! For some people work is no longer pleasant; others only work because they need to keep body and soul together.

The worst is that our jobs actually take up the biggest part of our time. Many people are busy with some form of work for most of their time awake. There is little time left for our families or communities – or even something like worship.

The question is whether it is possible to experience our jobs differently. Can we be set free to enjoy our jobs? Is there a way to view our jobs so that we would find it meaningful again?

The revolution that really sets free

There are many movements that pay attention to people’s working conditions. Trade unions promise a revolution for the working class. Some organisations sell their services to mentor people so that they can work even harder but at least feel content. All these institutions have a place in our society. But, there is another voice that needs to be heard. There is a story of a revolution that really sets free …

500 years ago, a revolution started in Germany when Martin Luther nailed new ideas about religion and the impact thereof on a person’s life, to a church door in Wittenburg. Others quickly joined the movement. People like Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin also discovered something of true freedom. The crux of their conviction was that the living God is also a gracious God. God sets people free and gives a new perspective on life through Jesus Christ. This new perspective and freedom change everything – also one’s experience of one’s job and labour.

We do not belong to our jobs or our employers. We belong to God. We are set free to serve God with joy, also in the way we toil.

Called to new experience of work

One of the important ideas of the Reformation is that there are no jobs that are more holy or worthy than others. The Reformers had a very important idea about life – all people are CALLED and set free to serve God everywhere and in all manners. Our common everyday job is just as important as the job of a most holy priest. The Reformation brought a revolution in thought on work: It brings together work and religion in the correct way. Our jobs are not a religion that demands everything from us. Our religion (and therefore Christ) also sets our jobs free so that even in the humdrum of our work we can be busy serving the living God in distinctive ways. John Calvin said that work is a way to show thankfulness for the new life we have in Jesus Christ. Work thus becomes part of our religion, and is not a religion on its own. Work is a way to serve God and other people. That is why we can perceive it as a calling.

It has important consequences:
• All jobs are worthy and holy.
• We may not look down upon labourers who do a humble sort of job. In the same way we may not treat people who have power and money like idols.
• What we do everyday, is good for God. It is important in God’s eyes and has worth for him.
• Our work alone does not bring joy in life. This only happens when we understand it as part of God’s care and blessing.

The Heidelberg Catechism (125) explains a part of Jesus’ prayer as follows: “Give us this day our daily bread. This means: Do take care of all our physical needs so that we come to know that you are the only source of everything good, and that neither our work and worry nor your gifts can do us any good without your blessing.”

• If God works where we work and through us, our working place falls under God’s rules of love and justness and to “do unto others as we do unto ourselves”.
The labour revolution of the Reformation is that our work can really set us free to live like children of God and to serve God joyfully in everything we do.

Salt of the earth

This sort of freedom is explained by the thought that we should be salt of the earth. During one of his well know sermons, Jesus encouraged his followers to be “salt of the earth” (Matthew 5 verse 13). We can also apply this to our working lives. People, who are set free to work differently, have a positive influence on their colleagues and make a positive change to everything. Let us look at a few outcomes of people who are called to be salt of the earth:
• Seek justness and fairness in the working place. The thought of justness has always been one of the strong arguments of the Reformation. It also brings about justness in the working place.
• Servitude. The Reformation teaches us that we serve God and our neighbour in everything. Also in the manner in which we work.
• Work is not a religion that can demand everything from us. We are also called to use our work to make life better for others. We view our jobs from the perspective of a great movement that makes everything better and more beautiful.
• We pay special attention to those who suffer and are the least. Work is a way to change the destiny of people. Work also helps us to pay attention to the need of other people in all sorts of ways.

The Heidelberg Catechism (111) says: “That I do whatever I can for my neighbour’s good, that I treat others as I would like them to treat me, and that I work faithfully so that I may share with those in need.”

Work joyfully

After 500 years, we can look back and see that the Reformation also had a great impact on the labour world. However, the most important thing is to be open once again for something of the true freedom that it brings. We do not belong to our work. We belong to God. God calls us to serve him in everything, also in our labour. This happens where we are salt of the earth, and where we act justly and fairly – so that life can flourish.

Questions for discussion:

(1) Many people experience that the circumstances and demands of their jobs actually have negative consequences for their religion and relationship with God. How can the insights of the Reformation, that set us free to work differently, help such people?
(2) Discuss ways in which we can discover that our jobs are in fact a calling to serve God and our neighbour. Be very practical.

Prof Nelus Niemandt

Share this post