Rescuing Work from Futility
The redemption of our work as worship is one of the great blessings of our life in Christ, made possible because of Jesus’ work on the cross.
As the new administration takes shape, high-ranking, Senate-confirmed presidential appointees will take their place in the various Cabinet departments. These individuals will build teams around them who will also “serve at the pleasure of the President” to carry out President Biden’s agenda.
In the coming months, the previous administration’s appointees will watch as much of their work is revised, reprioritized, and even dismantled. The reasoning behind these new initiatives will appear in op-ed pieces and on the Sunday talk shows. Ironically, those who served in the Trump administration will know how those in the Obama administration must have felt four years ago.
This is a harsh reality for those who serve in government. One of the consequences of elections is that the victors can set the agenda and define what it means to “Make America Great Again.” In all making, there is also unmaking.
Those serving in government as career civil servants may have a different experience. For years they are told to work in one direction only to be told by a new administration to start in another. What one administration says is valuable, the next may say is insufficient, even harmful.
The analogy of building sandcastles seems fitting. Except, in this case, the appointees are directing the career officials to build the new sandcastle on top of the previous sandcastles, year after year.
For everyone involved, this is rightly frustrating. Some might even say that the constant cycle of building, destruction, rebuilding, destruction, and rebuilding is even futile. How can anyone persevere, let alone take joy in their work?
The Apostle Paul understood this important question when he wrote to those living in Colossae,
Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. (Colossians 3:23-25)
These thoughts appear in Ephesians and 1 Peter as well because many of Paul and Peter’s audience were indentured servants on the wrong side of a vocational power differential.
What the Apostle wanted them to know was that as those redeemed by Christ, their work was an offering to the Lord. In other words, their work was redeemed from futility because God received it as worship!
No matter which end of the power differential you find yourself, in Christ there is no futility of work. There is only the worship of the Carpenter who came to serve His Father and us. Jesus came to set us free from futility and to redeem our work.
In this passage, Paul even includes a good word for any new administration’s appointees; especially in how to treat those whom they are about to ask to redo all their work of previous years,
Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. (Colossians 4:1)
For appointees who are Christians, it is important to remember that it is not only their work, but the work of career officials as well which is meant to be offered and received as worship. The redemption of our work as worship is one of the great blessings of our life in Christ, made possible because of Jesus’ work on the cross,
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile (work) to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace (work) by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)
May the Lord bless you as you serve Him by serving in government.
Rev. Michael Langer is the Associate Director for D.C. Ministry and the host of the Faithful Presence podcast.