Culture At Large

Why working for the common good isn’t enough

John Van Sloten

There’s a lot of talk in faith/work circles about the idea of working for the common good - for the good of your neighbor, city, company, classmate, family member, environment and world.

It’s a good idea and an integral part of a balanced vocational worldview. But I think it falls short. And it’s not all that work is meant to be. In fact, sometimes it gets in the way.

Sometimes working for the common good is an impediment to what is work’s primary purpose: a real-time knowing and experience of God. Sometimes working for the common good becomes a works-based means of vocational salvation. And life with God becomes something that’s based on what we do for God as opposed to who we are before Him.

I’m not saying that Christians shouldn’t be doing stuff or that our faith shouldn’t materially change our world. What I’m saying is that all of our good works must be born out of a more gracious starting point, from a place where we intimately know and experience the person of God. This can take place on the job, through those amazing, just-right, this-is-what-I’m-made-for, caught-up-in-the-flow vocational moments.

Work must first be a gratitude-based response to a grace-filled encounter with our co-working God. It must be a place where we experience the presence of, are swept away by the creativity of, are enthralled by the beauty of, are humbled by the service of and are blown away by the mind of ... God.

Sometimes working for the common good is an impediment to what is work’s primary purpose: a real-time knowing and experience of God.

There are two parts to the great commandment, right?

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus said it in that order. Love God first, with all you’ve got, and then work for the common good.

Not that they're mutually exclusive. They're not. They're symbiotic, mutually fulfilling and interdependent. Love of God shapes and informs love of neighbor. You can't fully love your neighbor (or yourself) unless you're in a loving relationship with God. You won’t know why and when and how to work for the common good unless you’re doing it out of a real-time experience of the love of God - out of an understanding of His just-in-time, moral, thoughtful and creative presence (at work; not just before or after work).

Over the past few years I’ve preached on many different vocations. I’ve learned from an auto mechanic,emergency room doctor, electrician, investment banker, Wal-Mart greeter, engineer, firefighter, accountant, forensic psychologist, city mayor, parent, carpenter, glass blower, Olympic swimmer, Olympic hockey player, emergency response helicopter pilot, geophysicist, hydrologist, nephrologist, biomechanics professor, epigenetics researcher, residential landlord, molecular biologist, particle physicist and photographer.

As I’ve engaged those who work in all of these different vocations, I’ve come to realize that each person is a kind of parable - an embodied story through which God reveals Himself. The God-imaging activity of work has again and again proven itself to be iconic (something that we can look through to see God). An accountant reveals God’s bottom line and reconciling heart. A geophysicist shows me God’s ancient unseen ways. A firefighter reflects His risk-taking, urgent passion to save. And a forensic psychologist reminds me of how the Spirit convicts of sin.

The sermon research process has been amazing. People who have never before connected their vocational passion to their faith are now doing exactly that. Their response? “This changes everything!”

And it should. If heaven on earth is going to be a place where we know God perfectly, in all we do, then shouldn’t our vocations be filled with foretastes of that eventuality?

Topics: Culture At Large, Business & Economics, Workplace