14—20 January 2008
Issue No. 3
“What is work?” This question is likely to generate some common responses such as the following:
· Work gives me an identity.
· Work gives me a salary for survival.
· Work gives me a sense of security.
· Work gives me a sense of independence.
Thus, the focus of work to achieve purposes or expectations governs one’s view of working and work can be defined as “purposeful activity.” The focus, however, does not consider the moral and spiritual framework of understanding the dynamics of work. To Paul Stevens, this framework is essential as it provides a work ethic which he defines as a “cluster of beliefs” to evaluate these three areas:
· Why people work,
· What kind of work one should do,
· How one should go about his or her work.
Stevens develops and presents the “Trinitarian Work Ethic” in the article and he is adamant that it must be based on the authoritative source of the Scripture. He contrasts the “Trinitarian Work Ethic” with three other positions or beliefs on the activity of work (p. 15):
· The Protestant work ethic believes that people must work to authenticate their salvation.
· The Confucian work ethic believes that people should work to honour and not shame the family name.
· Work is seen as a means of atonement according to the traditional Catholic teaching.
He begins with a brief description of “work” in the Old Testament and concludes that God mandates work, work is a means of communion with the Creator and rest is a companion of work. An interesting question for the reader to grapple with is one related to man’s work as God’s earth caretaker: “Was the world made for human beings or human beings made for the world?” (p. 15).
In the study of the New Testament, he concludes that the activity of “work” is used as a metaphor for ministry. It also seems to indicate that there is
“no single instance in the New Testament of a person being called to be a religious
professional – the professional ministry as a career” nor “a single instance in the
New Testament of a person being called to a societal occupation (p. 16).”
That is, there is no “clergy-laity” work divide because both are “doing the Lord’s work” in the church and the world [marketplace]. To him, I Corinthians 15:58 should be applied to the “work of the ministry” and “work in the marketplace.”
The brief survey of the “Trinitarian” perspective on “why believers or people should work” in the Old and New Testaments concludes with this affirmation,
A Trinitarian perspective is transformative. Godly work is Father-work (creational and
covenantal), Son-work (as furthering the Kingdom of God and Spirit-work (expressing
the empowering presence of God through giftedness and ethical action (p. 17).
The “transformative” nature of the Trinitarian perspective should provoke another quest for answer to the question, “How then shall we work?” The answer is the triad theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Love (p. 17) because “they are what makes the Christian worker ‘tick’ ’’ according to Stevens citing the Apostle Paul,
We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers.
We continually remember before our God and Father your work
produced by faith, your labour prompted by love and your endurance inspired by
hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (l Thessalonians 1: 2-3).
Stevens gives an extensive discussion on the meaning of “working in faith,” “working in love” and “working in hope” using Scriptures and related sources on pages 17-20. He also draws life implications to illustrate how a person’s view of the Trinity can impact his or her work,
Thus a Christian man who lives in this confidence toward God knows
all things, can do all things, ventures everything that needs to be done,
and does everything gladly and willingly, not that he may gain merits and good works,
but because it is a pleasure for him to please God in doing these things.
(p. 17, citing Martin Luther’s “Treatise on Good Works”).
The article though not a recent publication does provide an avenue to ponder on the definition and significance of work, vocation and ministry for Christians. In the light of rapid changes in the workplace or marketplace, Stevens’ contributions will also encourage Christians to search further the state and the stake of working in the age of globalization and to seek wisdom to “survive” in the globalized marketplace. Knowledge of a theology of the marketplace may be the beginning of that wisdom.
*Professor Paul Stevens will be teaching “VOCATION, WORK AND MINISTRY” and “MARKETPLACE THEOLOGY: TOWARD MEANING, ETHICS & SPIRITUALITY FOR THE WORLD OF ENTERPRISE” from Feb 12 to Feb 22, 2008.
For more information visit this link, http://bgst.edu.sg/courses/pdf/2008-stevens.pdf
Dr Ng Peh Cheng Reviews “Towards a Trinitarian Work Ethic” by Paul R Stevens (1998), Vocatio, 1(1), 2, 15-20
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