Jesus Did a Regular Job, Just Like You

Marcus Nodder | January 3rd 2019

‘Only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last’. The famous words of CT Studd who gave up everything for overseas mission and headed off on the slow boat to China. But what if instead you’re on the train to the office or hospital or school staff room, or in the van going to the construction site or warehouse, or on the bus to the supermarket checkout job, or in the car dropping the kids off at school? You too have only one life. Do you ever feel you’re wasting it? Do you ever feel that if you were really keen as a Christian, you’d be working for a church or overseas as a missionary? Where does regular work fit into God’s purposes? 

When Jesus began his three year public teaching ministry at the age of about 30, people in his home town made a fascinating comment, recorded in Mark 6:3. They said, ‘Is not this the carpenter?’ We don’t know much about those first 30 years, but we do know this – Jesus did a regular job. He worked as a carpenter. For years. And that’s worth reflecting on. The following five points the Bible makes about work will be familiar, but we may not often think and imagine how they must have shaped Jesus’ experience of work.  

Work is a gift 

The concept of work first appears in the Bible in Genesis 2:15: ‘The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it’. Work was part of the original good creation, before the Fall. Work is a good thing. A good gift. Work was part of how humanity was to rule the world under God. God had told humanity in Genesis 1:28 to rule over the world, and that rule was exercised in part through the work of having families, procreating, and working the ground. 

Making work work

Making work work

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Eight studies showing God's perspective on work, whether at home, at an office or in a factory.

The way God set up the world, work was required for things to function. God gives us our daily bread, but nothing is going to pop up in the toaster in the morning without the hard work of the farmer, the baker, the truck driver, and the team at the local supermarket. Work was part of what we were created to do – whether the work of the home, bringing up kids, or work outside the home; whether paid or unpaid. 

So as long as our work is not illegal or immoral, it can be part of how we serve God as his people, redeemed through Christ. It’s not as if your only service of the Lord is what you do on Sundays at church. Your daily work is service too. My grandmother had a sign over her kitchen which read, ‘Divine service is conducted here daily’. And it’s not as if you can only serve God in the ‘caring professions’. Society needs plumbers and bankers just as much as nurses and teachers. Colossians 3:24 tells Christian slaves ‘you are serving the Lord Christ’. 

And so when the Son of God became man, he got a regular job. That’s making quite a statement about the value and dignity of work. The first Adam was a gardener, the last Adam a carpenter. Both were manual labourers. Was Jesus just treading water for those 15 (or however many) years? Could his time have been better spent? No, he was fulfilling all righteousness. Living the perfect life. Serving the Lord. Working for him. 

And that will have meant he worked hard, was conscientious, didn’t do a shoddy job. You can bet his tables and chairs were well-made. Shame none of them survived. Would be quite something to have an original chair made in the Galilean workship, with the initials ‘JC’ engraved on the chair leg. 

Work is not God 

The first of the Ten Commandments says ‘You shall have no other gods besides me’. There’s only one God, and work is not it. The Lord alone is God. Anything else we put in that centre circle in our life will function as our god. We mustn’t do that. We mustn’t let a good thing become a God thing. That’s idolatry. ‘Keep yourselves from idols’ 1 John 5:21 says. 

Work is not meant to be what we look to for our ultimate security and identity and meaning and glory. And that is one reason a good work-life balance is so important. We need rest. And it’s a statement that there’s more to life than work.

Jesus did his job as a carpenter, served his Father in it, earned money to support himself and the wider family. But work was not his god. In his work he wasn’t driven by love of money, trying to get as rich as possible. Or by the desire for security, trying to prove himself or fulfil his potential. He wasn’t driven by envy and competitiveness, trying to be better than everyone else. He was driven by love of the Father and a desire to serve him. 

Work is a grind 

In Genesis 3, work falls under God’s judgement on sin. The work of the home, bearing and raising kids, and the work of the ground, both become painful. Death also enters the world, creating a sense of futility in work. 

"Imagine how he would have behaved in his carpenter’s workshop. Being kind, loving, patient, self-controlled."

In Genesis 4 we have the first example of envy, hatred, and violence at work. Cain kills Abel in the workplace – in the field. In Genesis 31 Jacob sums up his 20 year long work experience with Laban as ‘by day the heat consumed me, and the cold by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes…you have changed my wages ten times’. Harsh work conditions, and unfair treatment by his employer. 

In Genesis 39 we have the first case of sexual harassment in the workplace. The boss’ wife tries to seduce Joseph. He resists her. She makes a false accusation. He’s subject to unfair dismissal; and wrongfully imprisoned. No union or HR department to defend him. 
Work is really hard for many people today: poorly paid, boring, awful conditions. Think of the sewer workers in India, cleaning out sewers by hand, without protective gear; for a pittance; exploited; many fatalities. Many of them are Christian. And even in ‘good jobs’ you have pressure and frustration. And you have to deal with the sins of the heart spilling over into workplace relationships – coveting, envy, slander, gossip, pride, selfish ambition. It makes work a grind. 

That would have been true for Jesus as well. He would have had to deal with difficult customers, perhaps an unreasonable boss, or envious co-workers, long hours, tiredness, things going wrong, pressure of orders and too much work. He would have needed to rely on his heavenly Father in prayer, and to persevere – as do we. 

Work is a godliness challenge

Colossian 3:22-4:1 tells Christian slaves how to behave in their work: to obey the boss, work with integrity, be conscientious, put your heart into it. Galatians 5 famously lists the fruit of the Spirit. Being Christian at work means displaying this fruit in the workplace. That should be our ambition at work - to be godly. And repenting of our sin when we’re not. 

And so for Jesus. Imagine how he would have behaved in his carpenter’s workshop. Being kind, loving, patient, self-controlled. Not flying off the handle when things went wrong. Not blaming others. Not gossiping or grumbling. Not flirting.  

Work is a gospel opportunity 

And finally, work is a gospel opportunity – an opportunity to get the gospel out to others. Titus 2:10 tells slaves to be godly at work ‘so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive’. Our lives at work will either support or undermine the gospel. But living the life and being known as a Christian is not enough. In the end people need to hear the message about Jesus. And if not through us, then through whom? And so in Colossians 4:3 Paul prays ‘that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ’. It is a good workplace prayer. That at appropriate times and places, God would open a door for the message, and we would walk through it. 

Don’t you think that Jesus would made the most of every opportunity to talk to colleagues and customers about his heavenly Father and their spiritual needs? Surely the sort of conversation he had with the woman at the well in John 4 didn’t just suddenly begin when he started his public ministry. Surely this was how he operated throughout his working life too, out of love for others. 

So if we want a model of being Christian at work, we could do a lot worse than look to Jesus, the Son of God, the Saviour, the Lord - and the carpenter.

Marcus Nodder is the author of Making Work Work, eight studies for individuals or groups showing God's perspective on work, whether at home, at an office or in a factory.

Marcus Nodder

Marcus Nodder is senior pastor of St Peter's Barge, a floating church in London's Canary Wharf which reaches out to workers in the financial district. He worked in banking before training for Christian ministry at Oak Hill College. He is married to Lina and has four children, and is the author of What happens when I die?

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