My Big Fat Greek Definition of Work

By February 11, 2013 culture 2 Comments

greeksBy nature, I’m a dreamer. I could read and ponder my days away, staring into the skies and scribbling in journals to process the many thoughts that rattle about in my heart, soul, and mind.

What I am by nature has also been influenced by nurture. I would name many influences—Jesus, family, friends, education, society, and so on.

Greek philosophers would not have made the list. But after reading Part 1 of Timothy Keller’s Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work for The High Calling book club, I have discovered they deserve a spot.

Keller says the “Greeks understood that life in the world required work, but they believed that not all work was created equal. Work that used the mind rather than the body was nobler, less beastly. The highest form of work was the most cognitive and least manual.” (46)

Although I hadn’t thought of laboring work as less noble or more beastly, I certainly haven’t been drawn to it. And because I am more contemplative than active, I find that to be better.

As a Christ-follower, however, my big fat Greek definition of work needs more of Him and less of Aristotle. And Keller’s book shows that God’s definition of work is so much more beautiful than mine (or the one offered by the Greeks).

Certainly the work that I am wired for (thinking and writing) has a place—but so too does physical labor. Through both the mental and the physical “we share in doing the things that God has done in creation—bringing order out of chaos, creatively building a civilization out of the material of physical and human nature, caring for all that God has made.” (48) Here are a few more statements from Part 1 that I’m chewing on:

Rest, and the things you do as you rest, are good and life-giving in and of themselves. (40)

The work-obsessed mind . . . tends to look at everything in terms of efficiency, value, and speed. (41)

Overwork is often a grim attempt to get our lifetime’s worth of work out of the way early, so we can put our work behind us (42–43)

“Secular” work has no less dignity and nobility than the “sacred” work of ministry. (52)

[Work] is rearranging the raw material of God’s creation in such a way that it helps the world in general, and people in particular, thrive and flourish. (59)

Many modern people seek a kind of salvation—self-esteem and self-worth—from career success. (73)

Since we already have in Christ the things other people work for—salvation, self-worth, a good conscience, and peace—now we may work simply to love God and our neighbors. (73)

The way we define work is gravely important, seeing as work takes up the bulk of our days (and lives). I don’t want to work for the wrong reasons or for a lesser pursuit than what God intends. So I am asking myself this question and asking God to unfold the answer that will define my work in a way that aligns with His definition:

“How, with my existing abilities and opportunities, can I be of greatest service to other people, knowing what I do of God’s will and of human need?” (67)

What’s your definition of work? Has it satisfied? What lingering questions haunt you in your career and daily work? I’d love to hear.

Grab a book, dig in, and visit every Monday for another round of discussion. Next week: Part 2, Chapters 5–8.

Quotations: Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2012).

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