Four Kinds of Work

In my last post, I discussed what biblical work achieves: the furtherance of God’s Kingdom, and provision for our needs. Today I want to talk about four specific categories of work that I’ve noticed and I think contribute to well-rounded work. Interestingly enough, they roughly correlate with the verse saying, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind.” (Luke 10:27) Though I’m going to explore this a little bit, I’m going to take the points “out of order.”

With All Your Soul: Creative/Productive Work

“Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'”  – Gen. 1:28

“The the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.” – Gen. 2:15

I place this one first because, ultimately, all work ought to be creative or productive in some way. That’s part of tending the earth and taking dominion. Creative work is that work in which we produce something of value, be it a book, homegrown food, handmade furniture, a musical album, etc. In this creative work, we reflect the creative character of the ultimate Creator and we seek to echo His design for the world in our own creation. We become sub-creators, to use Tolkien’s terminology. What we create and produce, we ought to use to bring glory to the Father and reflect His values.

I associate this with “soul” because in creating, we are doing exactly what God designed us to do and being exactly what He designed us to be. God created man in His own image, which means we reflect who He is (as a Creator, among other things), and He gave us dominion over the earth to “subdue” it. Adam and Eve were initially placed in a garden to tend and keep it and ensure that it continued to produce. I think we most fulfill our purpose when we create and produce.

With All Your Strength: Physical Work

“Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.” – Eph. 4:28

“…that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing.” – 1 Thess. 4:11-12

As we consider the creativity and production of tending a garden, our minds move on naturally to physical labor. Physical labor is that which busies our hands, strengthens our muscles, and brings tangible things to be. Much of the work I did over the summer was physical: grooming and saddling horses, belaying for the climbing wall, running around from place to place, setting up for events, tending a garden… To be honest, I was pretty inactive before this summer, but now I have a much greater appreciation for physical work and I miss the constant strengthening of my body through the routine work it takes to keep a camp running and keep kids safe.

Physical work is not only work that strengthens us physically and supports our overall health, but also work leading to tangible results. For example, building a house, or tending a garden, or sculpting pottery. Again, creative work, but specifically creative work that is done with one’s hands in the physical world.

With All Your Mind: Intellectual Work

“When wisdom enters your heart, and knowledge is pleasant to your soul, discretion will preserve you; understanding will keep you.” – Prov. 2:10-11

“My heart is overflowing with a good theme; I recite my composition concerning the King; my tongue is the pen of a ready writer.” – Ps. 45:1

Intellectual work is where much of my work falls. Intellectual work is that which stimulates and grows the mind, increasing knowledge for the development of wisdom and applying creativity to the intangible. Intellectual work includes writing books, composing music, studying Scripture, pursuing the sciences, engaging in debate, etc. Intellectual work is what trains us in discernment so that we might “test all things” and “hold fast what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). It’s how we ensure that we will “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks [us] for a reason for the hope that is in [us]” as we “sanctify the Lord God in [our] hearts” (1 Pet. 3:15). We cannot give a defense without understanding, which comes from God.

With intellectual work, we come to a more complex understanding of God and His word, and we can weave that into the more intangible art that we create (books, music, film, etc.; all are more-or-less tangible, but the stories and emotions within are intangible). We can make use of language and knowledge to communicate God’s character to others.

With All Your Heart: Relational Work

“‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” – Matt. 22:37-39

“True and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” – James 1:27

I’ve saved this one for last, since it tends to be the most overlooked but is actually the most important. Jesus said that “love your neighbor” was the second greatest commandment, only after loving God Himself. But we don’t always consider this when we think about what work to invest in. Relational work is work in which we impact others directly. Work in which we can directly encourage others, impact their lives, and spur them on toward Christ. This would include things like customer service, volunteer work at a shelter, helping your younger sister with her schoolwork, investing time in a friend’s life, etc.

Much of our work ought to be relational—the books we write should impact readers; the gardens we plant can feed our neighbors as well as ourselves; those things we create should point to Christ; how we work alongside others should build relationships (from the beginning, Adam wasn’t meant to work alone)—but are we making it an intentional part of our work? Or is it an afterthought? And how do we steward the relationships we’ve been entrusted with? Are we building community in the Church? Are we reaching outside of the Church to bring light to the lost?

Both at camp and at home, I’ve engaged in creative work. But camp provided a lot of physical work and didn’t leave a lot of time for intellectual work, while home has plenty of intellectual work but I’ve struggled to engage in as much physical work; in each case, I’ve felt the lack of whichever was missing. And relational work, too, is one that I often notice if I’ve been neglecting it. I think that work was intended to engage the whole person—heart, soul, mind, and strength—and though we can survive without a given element, our work will feel lopsided or incomplete if it’s not well-rounded.

A Note: As with many of my posts, this one describes the ideal. The fact is, we live in a fallen, broken world and some types of work are significantly harder for some people than others. Chronic illness or disability might make physical work highly difficult, while mental disabilities or learning handicaps might make intellectual work a challenge. This doesn’t mean these areas should be ignored altogether, but sometimes the balance has to be altered—even drastically so—in order to make it achievable. And there’s nothing wrong with adapting to be as biblical as possible within a fallen world, even if that doesn’t look like the ideal.

What are your thoughts? Which type of work do you think you engage in most? Is there one you particularly struggle with?

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