Probably from the time he was 12 or 13, Jesus began training to be a carpenter. Culturally, it would have been common for him, as the oldest child, to run the family business (once he gained enough experience). He would have been responsible for serving customers, producing quality products, managing workers, paying suppliers, and earning a profit to provide for his family.
When Jesus began to teach publicly, those that heard him were amazed. They asked, “Where did this man get these things? Where did this wisdom and power come from that he even performs miracles? Isn’t this the carpenter?” (Mark 6:3)
We often focus on Jesus’ teaching and healing, and we seldom acknowledge the role that his work played in his ministry. For nearly 20 years, the better part of his life, Jesus worked as a carpenter in a small business. The Bible tells us that Jesus lived a perfect life, and his entire life’s work was his ministry, whether as a carpenter, teacher, or healer. He was a man of integrity, honesty, discipline, and excellence.
Think about all the beautiful names used to describe Jesus: Son of God, Emmanuel, Lamb of God, Good Shepherd, High Priest, Redeemer, Deliverer, King of Kings, Messiah, Prince of Peace . . . He was also called “the carpenter”. Identified by his trade, the people in his hometown knew him by the work of his hands. Jesus worked a blue collar job, sweating and hustling to provide for his family.
Let’s be honest. Many of us dread going to work. We often wish we were doing something more meaningful that would change the world. However, Jesus’ life and his “ordinary work” as a carpenter highlights the importance of work in our own lives, regardless of profession, title, and salary.
God tells us several things about work:
- Work is good. In the beginning, God created (Genesis 1:1). He worked and then rested. He called it good. Then he asked man to steward well and continue his work by naming the animals, developing the land, and taking care of creation. In the garden, work was good. After man sinned, work was still good, but it became difficult and painful.
- Work is required. Adam was commanded to work the Garden of Eden. Paul encouraged us to work with our hands so that we do not become a burden to others, and he goes on to say that enjoying the fruits of our labor is the normal way of life. Paul also issued a warning in Thessalonians 3:6-10, when he said to “keep away from other believers that choose not to work. And if you will not work, you will not eat.”
- Work is sacred. All work that honors God and fulfills his calling is sacred, and there is no job more important than another. In 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, Paul says, “There are different kinds of service but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working but the same God works all of them in all men.” We can all advance the kingdom of God by demonstrating the Gospel by example through business, work, and serving our fellow man.
- Work is ministry. Our work is a response to the calling received to serve God and man. Work is about discovering needs, meeting them, and serving other people. When we do so, we glorify and worship God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
God created all of us to work. Working in a formal ministry position is not higher or better than working in other professions. Your job is more than simply a place to make money. It is your ministry. Your work provides you with the opportunity to exercise the passions, skills, and creativity that God has placed within you to share with others.
God takes pleasure in our work, our creativity, and the authority given to us over all creation. This knowledge should profoundly affect our attitudes and actions, as we seek to glorify God at work.
There were three laborers working on the same project. A man approached and asked the first laborer, “What are you doing?” The first laborer said, “I’m making bricks.”
A while later, the second laborer replied to a similar inquiry, “I’m erecting a wall.”
The third laborer was asked the same question. With joy on his face and pride in his work, he said, “We’re building a cathedral.”*
The third laborer understood that his work was more than just a job. It was his opportunity to use his talents to glorify God.
As we continue to empower caregivers in Ethiopia through the Economic Empowerment Program, we have watched several women become entrepreneurs by roasting coffee, making jewelry, and growing and selling produce, among other things. This work enables them to care well for the orphaned and vulnerable children in their homes.
These women are filled with hope and dignity, proud of the work of their hands. They live fully aware that they are building cathedrals rather than making bricks.
*Girard J.P. and Lambert S (2007) “The Story of Knowledge: Writing Stories that Guide Organisations into the Future” The Electronic Journal of Knowledge Management Volume 5 Issue 2, pp 161-172.