#190 – “Leading Faithfully” Basics – First Things – Kingdom

ESSENCE:  The first step on the ancient path from the “as usuals” of business as usual, work as usual, and faith as usual to “a better way” is RENEW, and the first step of RENEW is reordering disordered priorities to “Keep First Things First”. If a faithful leader or an organization is committed to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33), it is necessary to understand the Bible from a “Kingdom” perspective.  Understanding “Kingdom” requires looking at a BIGGER Gospel than has often been proclaimed by those who look to the Bible as their source of faith and guidance.  Many faith-driven leaders are operating out of a narrow and incomplete vision of God’s story–missing the beginning and end of a grand four-part narrative (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration).  Because the purpose and relevance of humanity, work and business are found in Creation and Restoration, we do not believe a leader can lead an organization with faithful integrity through business a better way without understanding and embracing a BIGGER Gospel.  If you don’t know where you came from, why you are here, why Jesus redeemed you, or where you are going, it is hard to make sense of where you are and what you should be doing.

“Leading Faithfully” Basics is about going back and re-examining the basics of leading faithfully through business a better way–business in alignment with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities. You can find more “Leading Faithfully” Basics posts at Integrous | “Leading Faithfully” Basics (integriosity.com)

We have examined business as usual, work as usual and faith as usual and considered the problems they can create, and the missed opportunities to which they can lead, for organizations, faithful leaders and the creation (particularly humans) they touch.

We are now diving deeper into an alternative to “as usuals”–a “better way” we call leading faithfully with faithful integrity through business a better way.  The first step on the ancient path to that “better way” is RENEW, and the first step of RENEW is “Keep First Things First” by reordering disordered priorities.  In this post we will look at the “First Thing” of Kingdom.

Warning:  This is a very long post because this is a very BIG (and important) topic.  We hope you take the time to get to the bottom–it just might rock your understanding of work and business (and what you were made for).

Keep First Things First–Kingdom

Integriosity and faithful integrity are about aligning the purpose, values and culture of an organization with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities. A key element of the RENEW step of Integriosity is re-ordering disordered priorities, because business as usual — business in “the way of the world” or, more precisely, according to “the kingdom of this world”–generally puts “second things first”.

In looking at Biblical principles for work and business, it is important to go back to first principles by asking what the Bible tells us are the keys to everything else. And then we have to “Keep First Things First” by pursuing those first principles and not the “everything else”! Four key principles are captured by the word Integriosity. The key Biblical principles that form the foundation of Integriosity are embedded in the word itself–Integrity (and its components Righteousness and Kingdom) and Generosity (and its components Love and Humility).

The second “Integrity Priority” captured by Integriosity is Kingdom and the Bible tells us it one of the first things we should “seek”. If a leader or an organization is committed to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33), it is necessary to understand the Bible from a “Kingdom” perspective. In our experience, many faithful leaders are operating out of a narrow and incomplete vision of God’s story. But it is not their fault. Many churches and religious leaders have presented (and continue to present) a Biblical message that truncates the narrative of the Bible, leaving out the beginning and the end of God’s story.

Kingdom–A Bigger Gospel

Understanding Kingdom requires looking at a BIGGER Gospel than has often been proclaimed by those who look to the Bible as their source of faith and guidance. The difference is often referred to as a “Four-Part Gospel” (or a “Gospel of the Kingdom”) versus a “Two-Part Gospel” (or a “Gospel of Atonement”).

• Four-Part Gospel (“Gospel of the Kingdom”)

• When you think about the grand Biblical narrative, it can be divided into four key parts: (1) Creation; (2) Fall; (3) Redemption (through Jesus); and (4) Restoration (of God’s Kingdom on earth). (Theologian N.T. Wright would add a fifth chapter called “Israel” between Fall and Redemption.)

• A Four-Part Gospel is focused:

• On community as well as on the individual.

• On connecting the Great Commission (i.e., go and make disciples) and the Great Commandments (i.e., Love God and love your neighbor) to the Creation Mandate (also called the Cultural Mandate) in Genesis 1:28: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”

• It is the broader story of God’s love for the world and His eternal project of cultivation and restoration to which we are invited and commanded to participate.

• Two-Part Gospel (“Gospel of Atonement”)

• We believe many churches and religious leaders have emphasized the middle two parts of the Biblical narrative in presenting “the Gospel”: (2) Fall and (3) Redemption (through Jesus). At the risk of oversimplification, this is presented as some variation of “You are a sinner and Jesus came to save you.”

• A Two-Part Gospel is focused:

• More on the individual (and their salvation) than on the community.

• On the Great Commission and/or the Great Commandments.

• In his book The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard wrote: “History has brought us to the point where the Christian message is thought to be essentially concerned only with how to deal with sin: with wrongdoing or wrong-being and its effects. Life, our actual existence, is not included in what is now presented as the heart of the Christian message, or it is included only marginally.” Willard identifies two forms of what he calls a “Gospel of Sin Management” (and I am calling a “Two-Part Gospel”)

• A Gospel of the right (correct beliefs) which emphasizes Evangelism

• A Gospel of the left (correct actions) which emphasizes a Social Gospel of serving the less fortunate

You may be asking “This is a very interesting theological observation (or not), but why is it relevant to leading an organization with faithful integrity through business a better way?” We believe it is not only relevant but essential for two key reasons.

First, by ignoring Creation, a Two-Part Gospel does not tell you WHY you are here, HOW you were made, or WHAT work (and business) and relationships represent in God’s design. By ignoring God’s Restoration plan for His Kingdom on earth, a Two-Part Gospel does not tell you the whole story of WHY Jesus redeemed you, WHAT you are supposed to do after being redeemed and HOW work (and business) is relevant in God’s plan. If you don’t know where you came from or where you are going, it is hard to make sense of where you are and what you should be doing.  R. Albert Mohler observed:

Every worldview has a theory of origins, and how we understand our origins will influence the way we think about human identity and purpose and where history is headed.

Second, while a Two-Part Gospel of Evangelism and a Social Gospel are each “good”, they are not enough to explain WHY work and business have intrinsic value in God’s Kingdom–they can get a leader over the Sunday/Monday Gap but are not enough to get a leader across the Sacred/Secular Gap. With a Two-Part Gospel of Evangelism, it is hard to see how work (or business) can have faithful integrity unless it is explicitly evangelistic. With a Two-Part Social Gospel, it is hard to see how work (or business) can have faithful integrity unless it is “doing good” for the less fortunate.  In his book Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright offers a scathing critique of these narrow views of the Gospel:

It’s no good falling back into the tired old split-level world where some people believe in evangelism in terms of saving souls for a timeless eternity and other people believe in mission in terms of working for justice, peace, and hope in the present world. That great divide has nothing to do with Jesus and the New Testament and everything to do with the silent enslavement of many Christians (both conservative and radical) to the Platonic ideology of the Enlightenment.

In short, a leader can’t lead an organization with faithful integrity without understanding and embracing a BIGGER Gospel. In fact, a narrow Two-Part Gospel is an example of the Placebo we call The “Save or Give” Pill, which can divert a leader down the Side Roads of Monetizing or Cosmeticizing.

Lessons from Creation–Why Are We Here

In order to understand WHERE we came from and WHY we are here, it is necessary to look at Genesis. In fact, it is impossible to understand God’s purpose for work or business without looking at Genesis! We believe there are two key lessons from Genesis about WHY we are here:

God Cares About the World: When God had finished creating everything, Genesis tells us: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) That is not just humans–it is “everything that he had made“–it is forests and oceans and land and plants and animals and humans. God cares about material things because He created them and He declared it all “very good”.

• We Are the Stewards of Creation: God didn’t just plop all of creation here without direction or purpose for His greatest creation–humans. In Genesis 1:28, God gave what is often called the Creation Mandate (what some also refer to as the Cultural Mandate):

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)

The Creation Mandate

We are not just another species of animal created to co-exist alongside all others. We are different, and we were given a COMMANDMENT about our purpose on earth. The Creation Mandate tells us the the WHO, WHAT, WHERE and HOW of that purpose:

WHO: We are to “have dominion”. Although that term sounds ominous and, on its face, seems to hold the potential to justify abusing the earth and its creation, theologians (which I do not claim to be) seem to be pretty confident that the term means “stewardship”. We are to care for God’s creation as its STEWARDS.

• WHAT: In our role as Stewards, we are to CREATE LIFE–“be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it”. Again, theologians tell us that this includes creating life sustaining and life affirming PRODUCTS and CULTURE. God placed us here to subdue and bring order to the world. We are to cultivate nature to enable it to flourish.

• WHERE: In our role as Stewards, we have GLOBAL RESPONSIBILITY–it is the “the earth”.

• HOW: We were created in the image of God, which means we are to Steward with authority and leadership in that image–the image of a God who declared all of His creation “very good”. In God’s image, we have creativity and productivity that is to be used to CULTIVATE God’s creation in order to enable flourishing. Our cultivation of nature glorifies God, because it uses His raw materials (including us) and His design and mandate.

As we have said many time, we are not theologians. The late Tim Keller was one of the best. In his book Every Good Endeavor, Keller says that with the Creation Mandate, God was “commissioning workers to carry on his work“. Keller goes on to explain:

The word “subdue” indicates that, though all God had made was good, it was still to a great degree undeveloped. God left creation with deep untapped potential for cultivation that people were to unlock through their labor. . . . We are called to stand in for God here in the world, exercising stewardship over the rest of creation in his place as his vice-regents. 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. This is a major part of what we were created to be.

Why does all this theology matter to a leader wanting to lead their organization with faithful integrity? Because the Creation Mandate is critical to understanding God’s purpose for humanity, which defines the purpose of work, which in turn defines the purpose of a group of humans working together in an organization. In short, we do not believe a leader can lead an organization with faithful integrity without understanding and embracing the lessons of Genesis through a BIGGER Gospel.

Lessons from Creation–Imago Dei

Who we are is summed up in one Latin phrase with huge implications–Imago Dei–“Image of God”. Unlike every other element and creature of God’s creation, God created humans in His image:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

Understanding that every human being is created in the image of God has important implications for work and business. What are the characteristics of God–the characteristics of every human–that we learn from Creation?

• Relational. God is a relational being. Genesis 1:26 says (emphasis added) “Let us make man in OUR image, after OUR likeness.” And then in Genesis 2:18, after creating Adam, God said “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” That means we are relational beings, and it also means God cares about relationships. If relationships are core to who we are, then they need to be core to how we work and core to the priorities of any organization of humans. In post #164 (The Brokenness of Business As Usual), we looked at the various types of work relationships that were broken by the Fall: God/Human, Human/Human, Human/Creation, Human/Work.

• Creative and Productive. God is creative and productive, and He derives fulfillment and joy from His creation. He created the heavens and the earth and everything in it, sat back and declared the finished product “very good”. But He also enjoyed the process of creation, taking the time to appreciate each stage as “good”. That means creativity and productivity are central to OUR humanity. But it also means that we need to be able to derive joy and fulfillment from the process and fruit of our efforts. Remember, business as usual creates work cultures and environments that, more often than not, leave people feeling disengaged and disconnected from an activity meant to bring fulfillment and flourishing. We also suggested in earlier posts that only 10% of workers are effectively mobilized–experiencing an essential part of their humanity through their work–their expression of creativity and productivity. The remaining 90% are experiencing varying levels of dehumanization.

• Sacred. God cares about all of creation, including material things, because He made it. But humans are special–we are the only things created in Gods image. I believe that makes every single human sacred and entitled to be treated with the same dignity (not more for the CEO and less for the receptionist). Remember, a key characteristic of business as usual is that it devalues human dignity. When profit is the primary end of a business, people become a means–tools of production.

Without going back to Creation, we can’t understand Who We Are, and more importantly, we can’t understand Who Other People Are. It is only when we understand the implications of God creating humans in His image that we can begin to understand God’s purpose for work and business. We can’t say this enough times—people are more “fully human” when engaged in meaningful work that unleashes their God-given productivity and creativity in a culture of Shalom built on Biblical principles of relationships, community and human dignity. To say it once again, we do not believe a leader can lead an organization with faithful integrity without understanding and embracing a BIGGER Gospel.

Lessons from Creation–Work is Good

It seems some otherwise Biblically-literate people mistakenly believe work is a curse that was imposed on humans because of the Fall (in our experience, they think of the Fall and God telling Adam that the ground would be cursed). Certainly, many people who have never read the Bible believe that their work is a curse to be limited by “Work-Life Balance” and finally eliminated through retirement. Nothing could be further from the truth!

God created work before the Fall.

In Genesis 2:15, we learn “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Just as God creatively and productively worked to create all things, as God’s image-bearers it is in our very nature to be creative and productive workers. Through the Creation Mandate, God commands us to work to steward and cultivate His creation. In the words of Tim Keller in Every Good Endeavor:

The book of Genesis leaves us with a striking truth—work was part of paradise. . . . Again, the contrast with other religions and cultures could not be sharper. Work did not come in after a golden age of leisure. It was part of God’s perfect design for human life, because we were made in God’s image, and part of his glory and happiness is that he works, as does the Son of God.

Work was created as an essential part of the life of a creative and productive humanity.

People are more “fully human” when engaged in meaningful work that unleashes their God-given productivity and creativity in a culture of Shalom built on Biblical principles of relationships, community and human dignity. Looking again to Pastor Keller for theological insight:

Work is as much a basic human need as food, beauty, rest, friendship, prayer, and sexuality; it is not simply medicine but food for our soul. Without meaningful work we sense significant inner loss and emptiness. People who are cut off from work because of physical or other reasons quickly discover how much they need work to thrive emotionally, physically, and spiritually. . . . The loss of work is deeply disturbing because we were designed for it. This realization injects a deeper and far more positive meaning into the common view that people work in order to survive. According to the Bible, we don’t merely need the money from work to survive; we need the work itself to survive and live fully human lives.

The Deceptions of “Work-Life Balance” and “Retirement”

Our cultural obsession with finding “Work-Life Balance” is perhaps the best indicator that work has ceased to be the blessing God intended and has become a Burden. We no longer view work as part of our life–part of the rhythm of life. Because it has become all-consuming and spiritually unfulfilling, we see it as something that keeps us from life–an oppositional force. The deception of “Work-Life Balance” demonizes work and prevents us from being fully human:

It makes us see work as an obstacle to life.

It leads us to despise work.

It gets ingrained through cultural phrases like “live to work” vs “work to live”, “TGIF” and “Monday morning blues”.

Is it any wonder that people long to “retire” and spend their remaining years as far from God’s life-giving gift of work as possible. Seeing work as opposed to life leads to the idolization of “retirement” as:

A freedom from work.

A well-earned ability to “live” and stop “working”

Here is an illustration of the the common cultural view of work in the context of life and faith, compared to what we believe is a Biblical view of work in the context of life and faith.

   

Work is part of life. In fact, what we learn in Genesis is that work is necessary to live fully and be fully human. Our goal should be “life balance”. “Live to work” and “work to live” are both wrong–we were designed to “live more fully through work”. In 1942, Dorothy Sayers wrote in her essay “Why Work?“:

Work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God.

We believe the reason people are obsessed with “Work-Life Balance” and “retirement” is because the work we are escaping barely resembles the work God designed to bring us life. We are escaping work as usual, which is a by-product of business as usual. That helps explain why many people actually do turn to creative and productive activities in “retirement” that fit a broader Biblical concept of work, but they do not think of it as work–BUT IT IS! To put “work” into perspective, we believe it helps to define work in a way that has nothing to do with earning money–separate provision from productivity.

Work is the creation of goods or the provision of services that are of value to another human being or to a community.

Work “building for God’s Kingdom” is work that adds or restores truth, beauty or goodness to the world, thereby increasing the flourishing of God’s creation and the beauty of His Kingdom.

We believe this makes it easier to see why “retirement” to a golf course actually takes away an important part of our humanity.

Work is where we spend most of our waking hours, and it has moved far from its original design in Genesis as something good. I think that is “dehumanizing”.  A leader can’t lead an organization with faithful integrity without understanding and embracing a BIGGER Gospel with a full understanding of the importance of work to the humanity of those they lead.

Lessons from Creation–Work is Necessary

If you ask the average person, whether or not Biblically-literate, whether “work” is necessary, the answer is almost certainly going to be “YES”. But they probably mean “necessary” in the sense of:

A “necessary” evil

“Necessary” to pay the mortgage

“Necessary” to put food on the table

“Necessary” to avoid getting fired

“Necessary” until I win Powerball

If you ask the average Biblically-literate person whether God created Eden to need our “work”, there is a good chance the answer will be “NO”. Some people will reach that conclusion because they mistakenly believe work is a curse that was imposed on humans because of the Fall. Others who understand that “work” is good may not realize the genius in God’s creation–it is perfect in its imperfection.

God’s Creation Was Designed To Need Our Work.

Could God have created a world that didn’t need us to do anything but pick fruit and eat it? Of course. (If He did, he might have declared about His creation “it is perfect” rather than “it is very good”.)

But Genesis shows us that God’s creation needs our work in order to flourish, and we need our work in order to flourish as humans. Amazingly, Genesis 2:5 tells us:

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground.

Nothing was growing because God had not yet created humans to “work the ground”. The world was actually created to need our creativity and productivity in order to flourish. Again, let’s again look to Tim Keller in his book Every Good Endeavor for theological insight. Keller ties this back to the Creation Mandate:

In Genesis chapter 1, verse 28 he tells human beings to “fill the earth and subdue it.” The word “subdue” indicates that, though all God had made was good, it was still to a great degree undeveloped. God left creation with deep untapped potential for cultivation that people were to unlock through their labor. 27 In Genesis chapter 2, verse 15 (ESV) he puts human beings into the garden to “work it and keep it.” The implication is that, while God works for us as our Provider, we also work for him. Indeed, he works through us.

How we understand our origins will influence the way we think about human identity and purpose and where history is headed. (R. Albert Mohler)

Where We Are Going–A Restored City

This may be one of our most theologically controversial posts, but it is also one of the most important. It is important because our understanding of “where we are going someday” profoundly affects “how we act today”. At the risk of oversimplifying, there are basically two Biblical views of heaven (and what happens to earth):

Rapture. People going to heaven are whisked off to an ethereal heaven and the earth burns up (no need to get into theological debates regarding: whether there is a hell; if there a hell, who goes there and who goes to heaven; and if there is a hell, whether it is eternal).

Restoration. Heaven is here on earth in a restored Kingdom that unites God’s dimension with our earthly dimension.

We believe in the Restoration option. It is a perfect realization of the Creation Mandate for Restoration to come as a gleaming city rather than just the beautiful garden where it all started. The “very good” garden creation that left plenty of room for our creative and productive cultivation will finally be perfected as a refined city on a hill.  We highly recommend N.T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church for a discussion of the two views of heaven, their genesis, as well as an explanation of what we actually learn from the Bible. Here are a few excerpts:

Traditionally, of course, we suppose that Christianity teaches about a heaven above, to which the saved or blessed go, and a hell below, for the wicked and impenitent.

It comes as something of a shock, in fact, when people are told what is in fact the case: that there is very little in the Bible about “going to heaven when you die” and not a lot about a postmortem hell either. The medieval pictures of heaven and hell, boosted though not created by Dante’s classic work, have exercised a huge influence on Western Christian imagination.

But the language of heaven in the New Testament doesn’t work that way. “God’s kingdom” in the preaching of Jesus refers not to postmortem destiny, not to our escape from this world into another one, but to God’s sovereign rule coming “on earth as it is in heaven.” The roots of the misunderstanding go very deep, not least into the residual Platonism that has infected whole swaths of Christian thinking and has misled people into supposing that Christians are meant to devalue this present world and our present bodies and regard them as shabby or shameful.

Heaven, in the Bible, is not a future destiny but the other, hidden, dimension of our ordinary life—God’s dimension, if you like. God made heaven and earth; at the last he will remake both and join them together forever. And when we come to the picture of the actual end in Revelation 21–22, we find not ransomed souls making their way to a disembodied heaven but rather the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth, uniting the two in a lasting embrace.

You might ask, “This is interesting, but how could it possibly matter to how I lead my organization?” Let’s borrow once more from N.T. Wright:

What we say about death and resurrection gives shape and color to everything else.

What we believe about where we are going someday profoundly impacts how we act today. The Restoration understanding of heaven we learn from Revelation gives forward-looking purpose and relevance to the underlying importance of work we can only learn from Genesis. They are the book-ends. Work is where we spend most of our waking hours, and it has a greater purpose than just “to pay the bills”. A leader can’t lead an organization with faithful integrity without understanding and embracing a BIGGER Gospel with a full understanding of the necessity of work in God’s design of His creation and the relevance of work in God’s restoration plan.

Where We Are Going–We Have a Role

While the last section about a Restoration view of heaven vs. a Rapture view of heaven may be one of the most theologically controversial posts, this may be one of the most exciting. Our understanding of “where we are going someday” profoundly affects “how we act today”. How do these two views of heaven impact how we act today:

Rapture. If people going to heaven are whisked off to an ethereal heaven and the earth burns up, what we do on earth doesn’t matter much in the long run (assuming you belief in salvation by faith rather than works)–it is all going away and, ultimately, our efforts to improve the world are in vain.

Restoration. If heaven is here on earth in a restored Kingdom that unites God’s dimension with our earthly dimension, then things get exciting because what we do here may last into eternity. 1 Corinthians 15:58 tells us “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

For a beautiful picture of what the Restoration view means, let us again turn to N.T. Wright, who describes the implications of the Restoration option as follows:

What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether. They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.

Work matters! Business matters! Organizations matter! We have the opportunity to beautify the world through the way in which we work and the way in which we conduct business and lead organizations. Every decision has the potential to move God’s Kingdom a little closer to God’s perfect Restoration.

What we believe about where we are going someday profoundly impacts how we act today. The Restoration understanding of heaven we learn from Revelation gives forward-looking purpose to the underlying importance of work we can only learn from Genesis. They are the book-ends.

We have been looking at a BIGGER Gospel because a first principle in the Bible (and one of our “Integrity Priorities”) is to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). That makes it critical to understand God’s kingdom, which requires looking at the nature of the kingdom that the Bible tells us is coming and the implications of that nature for what we do today. Work is where we spend most of our waking hours, and it has a greater purpose than just “to pay the bills”. A leader can’t lead an organization with faithful integrity without understanding and embracing the relevance of work in God’s restoration plan.

Role of Work, Business and Redemption

It is time to put together the lessons from Genesis and Revelation to see God’s purpose for work and business and an even greater purpose for Redemption through Jesus. We believe the purpose of work and business is to humanize people, beautify the world and glorify God, and a purpose of Redemption is to free and equip us to co-labor with God toward those purposes.

The Biblical Role of Work and Business

We Need Work and Organizations To Be “Fully Human”. God created work as something “good” before the Fall, and God put us into the Garden to “work and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15). Humans were created in the image of a creative and productive God who displayed His “working nature” by creating for six days (and then resting), which means work is essential to our humanity in reflecting that nature. Being “fully human” requires having an opportunity to reflect God’s image and reveal His Kingdom in all of life, including our work. Being made in the image of God also means that we were created to reflect the relational character of God displayed in Genesis, including in our work. Organizations (including businesses) are platforms that facilitate humans working together in relationship.

Work and Organizations Have Intrinsic Kingdom Value. Work has intrinsic value in God’s Kingdom simply because it allows us to reflect our humanity, and it is necessary to being “fully human”, apart from the product of that work. WHO you are while working matters as much as (and even more than) WHAT you are producing, because it is an opportunity to reflect your humanity as an image-bearer of God.

We learned in Genesis 2:5 that the product of our work has intrinsic Kingdom value because the world was created to “need” our cultivation in order to flourish. God built potential into the world and then commanded and equipped us to unleash it. The product of our work also has intrinsic Kingdom value because it is the way we fulfill the Creation Mandate in Genesis 1:28 to: “Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea, and the birds of the air, and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

We do that by taking the raw materials God created and applying our image-bearing creativity and productivity to produce new things that bring and promote flourishing, including by allowing the development of culture and society. Organizations (including businesses) have intrinsic Kingdom value because they create the platform and the opportunity for humans to come together in relationship to express and fulfill their humanity through work by producing and promoting flourishing and “building for the Kingdom” in ways that could not be accomplished by people working alone.

Work and Organizations Can Glorify God. Because work is a key way we are meant to reflect God’s image in the world and organizations are merely groups of people working together, work and organizations can glorify God in what they do and how they do it, if it is done in alignment with Biblical principles and priorities, including the pursuit of flourishing. Of course, 1 Corinthians 10:31 instructs that all we do should be done for the glory of God.

A Bigger Purpose of Redemption

Redemption through Jesus is commonly seen as all about forgiveness of sins and “salvation”–getting to heaven. However, looking at the Bible through the lens of a BIGGER Kingdom Gospel reveals another exciting aspect and purpose of Redemption–to restore our humanity by restoring our relationship with God so that we can “get back in the game” of “building for the Kingdom”.

Humans were given work and the Creation Mandate before the Fall, but we are not able to understand or engage fully in that mission without Redemption and the Holy Spirit. Leaning again on the eloquent words of theologian N.T. Wright from his book Surprised by Hope:

In the new creation the ancient human mandate to look after the garden is dramatically reaffirmed . . . . The resurrection of Jesus is the reaffirmation of the goodness of creation, and the gift of the Spirit is there to make us the fully human beings we were supposed to be, precisely so that we can fulfill that mandate at last.

We summarize and express these BIGGER purposes of work and business–these ways in which to live out faithful integrity–as being threefold:

Humanize: God created work as a good thing and created people to work. People are more “fully human” and able to flourish when engaged in meaningful work that unleashes their God-given productivity and creativity and creates economic prosperity in a culture of Shalom built on Biblical principles of relationships, community, human dignity and flourishing.

Beautify: God created a world that flourishes through our productivity and creativity and then commanded us to be instruments of its flourishing. An organization adds to the beauty of the world and assists in God’s restorative plan for His Kingdom by creating opportunities, economic prosperity, goods and services, and by meeting needs, solving problems and “repairing” the world, in ways that help families and communities to flourish and by extending its culture of Shalom to all people it touches. In the process, the work of the organization takes on deeper meaning for its own people.

Glorify: If people are called to glorify God in all they do and “love their neighbor”, then organizations must exist to do the same. An organization does so principally through serving people–by providing opportunities for individuals to express aspects of their God-given identities in creative and meaningful work, by providing opportunities, goods and services, and by solving problems and “repairing” the world, in ways that enable families and communities to flourish and by creating a culture of Shalom conducive to the flourishing of all people it touches.

PERSONAL NOTE (from PM):  I did not think or care about theology or the relevance of the Bible to my life until 2003 at the age of 42.  Initially, the Gospel I learned about was an evangelical Two-Part Gospel.  It was my friend Dr. John Seel who, several years later, introduced me to the idea of the Four-Part Gospel and the Creation Mandate after John’s close friend James Hunter launched his book To Change the World at the 2010 New Canaan Society national retreat.  It was like a spotlight (not just a lightbulb) went off in my head.  That spotlight only got brighter when I heard NT Wright speak at the New Canaan Society’s national retreat in 2013 (you can watch this talk below), bringing life to the implications for my life (and for work and business) of God’s plan of Restoration.   Thank you John, James and Tom for how God used you to open my eyes to His BIGGER Gospel.

N.T. Wright at the 2013 New Canaan Society Washington Weekend

Copyright © 2023 Integrous LLC.  Integriosity is a registered Service Mark of Integrous LLC.

Photo Credit: Original photo by Judith Prins on Unsplash
(photo edited and cropped)