The Idol of Calling

the meaning of work Sep 23, 2019

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. (Genesis 11:1-8)

In this three week series, I am making the case that the core reason why so many people are discontent at work is that they have an unbiblical view of the meaning of work, falling on one of two extreme ends of this spectrum:

Last week, we saw how Scripture disqualifies the far left end of the spectrum. Today, we will wrestle with the opposite end and the temptation I think the majority of us are most familiar with: expecting far too much meaning from our work.

In our modern Western culture, we have elevated work and calling to idol status, expecting the magical right career to provide us with cosmic self-worth and satisfaction. Whereas previous generations may have looked to family, church, or country for meaning, we look to the institution of work, our LinkedIn profiles, and how we answer the inevitable introductory question, “What do you do?”

If a particular job isn’t providing the near immediate sense of self-worth and happiness we expect, we make a change, hopping from job to job, only to be disappointed time and time again.

Why do we continue to fail to find this elusive cosmic-level happiness in our work? Because while God didn’t design work to provide no meaning in our lives, He also didn’t design it to provide ultimate meaning.

Today’s Scripture is a great case in point. We’re told in Genesis that the Babylonians built their tower, not as a means of worshipping God, but as a means of worshipping themselves. In Genesis 11:4, we hear the Babylonian workers say, “Come, let us build…a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves.”

It wasn’t enough for the Babylonians to work for the joy of work itself. They were expecting their work to provide them with something God never designed work to provide: ultimate meaning, significance, and happiness. Sound familiar? It should. This is the mantra of our modern age.

In his graciousness, God brought the Babylonians’ work to a halt. And while he is unlikely to come down physically into your office to do the same today, he has made clear in his Word that our quest for ultimate meaning in our work is a fool’s errand.

So, God’s Word clearly tells us that we shouldn’t expect too little meaning or too much meaning from our work. But does the Bible have anything to say about how to move to the middle of this spectrum? As we will see next week, it most certainly does, in the person of Jesus Christ.


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