Working Model God Works and So Must We — Striving to Be His Image
Working Model God Works and So Must We — Striving to Be His Image
Work: we do so much of it. And we need to do it. We have to eat, we have bills to pay, and so we must work. Yet at the same time we all long to give our lives to something significant, something meaningful — something truly worthwhile. And sometimes we begin to wonder whether all this work isn't really a distraction from more important matters: whether we shouldn't really be following Jesus in doing "ministry" for the kingdom rather than working for ourselves.
We're all called to follow Christ, that's the certainty of purpose with which Christians begin every day. We're called to be "conformed to His likeness", to "follow in His footsteps", to "walk as He did". While that may sound very fine, it begins to be complicated when we think of the sort of life that Jesus lived. The little of Jesus' life that the Gospel writers bring to us is largely the period of His public ministry. Those three intense years were characterised by many things, but not least, an enormous amount of proclamation and teaching, and very little in the way of earning a living or working a regular job.
Now for the few in our society who live a life of proclamation, in which money is given for their needs rather than paid for services rendered, this likeness seems not overly hard to bear, nor this path too hard to tread. However, for most of the Christian population for whom explicit direct proclamation is something that must be fitted in around other responsibilities like balancing a set of books, or building a wall, and for whom earning a living is the reality before most others — that likeness seems far less attainable.
There are various ways to live with this tension. The path often taken in our Christian culture today is to live vicariously — to earn money by working, and support someone else to "live a life of proclamation without the concern to earn money". In one sense supporting such people is a fine thing to do, and should be commended. But in another sense, for those for whom this is the day-to-day reality of their lives, this is profoundly unsatisfying. Who wants to live their Christian life supporting someone else to do the things Christ commanded us to do? Who wants to live a life of obedience at one degree remove?
So what of everyday 9 to 5 work? What value can be put on it? Is it as dignified a task as word-based proclamation ministry, or is it somehow second-class? How are Christians to see their lives, if their lives do not immediately seem to reflect the particulars of the manner of Jesus' life?
Perhaps we should reconsider what it is to which we are called. Romans 8:29 gives us an expression of God's purpose for our lives, and it is quite specific: "For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be: conformed to the image of His Son." A superficial reading might lead to someone muttering: "See, I am supposed to do exactly the things He did." But that would be to miss something deeper going on. It's not by chance that the Bible writers chose the words they did, and that most profound calling to echo Christ's image is a calling with a long history and a percentage of obvious visible content something like an iceberg. Our calling is to be conformed to the image of Christ, as He is Himself the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15) to be therefore conformed to the image of the invisible God ... and in that moment we begin to hear the distant notes of an old song, long played, seldom practised.
When God created humanity He did so with a certain shape and purpose: to be the image of the invisible God (Gen. 1:27). Jesus came and lived and died and rose as the perfect revelation of that image. All Christians are now called to echo the image by being conformed to Christ. This is not a call to something new, but rather to something old, a call not to discover some new way to be human, but rather to re-discover the purpose for which we were originally created, and that purpose was never historically constricted to word proclamation.
Our original created purpose was to exercise dominion over God's creation; to extend the boundaries of the Garden of Eden such that God's very good order might be found in fullness throughout all creation (Gen. 1:26-31, 2:8). It was a calling to bring God's rule to bear in every aspect of the creation.
Now obviously one way to bring God's rule to bear is to speak His words after Him, but it is also the case that God's rule extends to more than just our ears and the knowledge that may be garnered by them. We had in those days dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air and every living thing that moves on the earth. Now whatever it means to have dominion over the fish of the sea, it surely doesn't primarily mean preaching to them.
How does one have dominion in the modern world? A first step is to call people to repent of their failure to exercise their God-given dominion, to trust in Jesus as a propitiation for that disobedience, and to teach them once again what it means to be human after the image of Christ, who is the image of God. Every other step is to bear that image well wherever you find yourself.
What might it mean to bear the image for an accountant? Well presumably, it means that God's rule of truth will prevail, also God's rule in order. If an accountant is exercising dominion well, then the financial records will be true, ordered and done in such a way that people thank God for such a good accountant. What might it mean for a police officer? God is a God of justice and mercy. It is therefore incumbent upon a Christian police officer to see that these dual strands of God's character are expressed in their work. If a police officer is imaging God, those who feel the protection, justice and mercy of his hand should be feeling something of the protection, justice and mercy of God Himself, reflected, represented and echoed in the manner and priorities of that image of God in uniform.
What might it mean for a doctor or psychologist? God is a God of healing. Jesus was moved with compassion when He looked upon the plight of the lost and outcast. Thus to be a doctor or psychologist in the image of God must mean to strive for healing in those fields. It will mean a mastery of the discipline as best it may be mastered, such that people are healed in body and mind to the fullest extent we can attain. What does it mean for a plumber, a carpenter, or a builder? A warm house with good plumbing makes an enormous difference to public health, so that is a start. But we may go further. When God creates He does so in beautiful ways, and functional ways, to be the image of God will be to reflect those qualities also. And if God does value beauty, which He certainly does (Eccles. 3:11), then to be His image is to strive for this also, in our architecture, our gardens, our art, our music.
Music is a particularly fascinating subject. God is a god of order Who calls for singing and music from His people, and if there is to be any content to passages like Zephaniah 3:17, then in some sense God Himself sings. To bear the image of God will mean that some Christians will be musicians, striving to bring that beauty, order, and joy to their music, to echo, to image their God as He creates music and Himself delights in song.
This responsibility to be God's image in the world in everything we do extends to anything we may do. Almost any career path we may take can and should be redeemed to reflect God's character and priorities within it. And this is not some lesser task to word proclamation; this is something of what it means to have the rule of God, the Kingdom of God, expressed on earth as in heaven and to fulfil both our created purpose and the purpose for which we have been redeemed.
The body of Christ, as it expresses the Kingdom of God in the world, needs every organ operating in accordance with God's image. Our trades-people, our white collar workers, our defence personnel, our government officials and judiciary, as well as our word proclamation ministries, all need to be obedient to the calling to be the image of Christ who is the image of God. As the body of Christ, we must do that which we have been called to do: glorify God and enjoy Him.
So Christian workers should take heart — whether you are in an office, raising children, or driving a truck. You have a particular task to fulfill exactly where you are, be the image of God where you are, bring God's dominion to bear on what you do, those you know, and all that you can influence and affect. You are of the body of Christ and the mouth should not say to the hand: "I don't need you." On the contrary, words are just words until someone hears them and puts them into practice.
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