(Note: This is the fourth article in a series of excerpts from my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession, that highlight some of the key biblical principles from the theology of work that come out of a specific book or genre. I invite you to read the previous articles on what the book of Ecclesiastes, the Psalms, and the Minor Prophets have to teach us about work.)
The Gospel of John contains many references to work in its many forms. It shows us how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are workers themselves, supporting the idea that work is intrinsically valuable because it is something that God does. John also shows us how God works with us, in us, and through us. This illustrates my concept of Immanuel labor, the connection between God’s presence and human work. In John, we also learn how to allow God to work through us effectively by abiding in Christ. Finally, John sheds some light on how we are called to relate to the world in which we work, to be separate from it, but to live purposefully in it.
The triune God is a worker
The apostle John acknowledges the work of each member of the trinity. He emphasizes that God the Father is a worker. Jesus (referring to His Father) said that God is always at work (John 5:17). Later, Jesus said, “It is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work” (John 14:10).
Let us now look briefly at Jesus the worker. John 1:1-3 paints a vivid portrait of Jesus being present prior to and at creation, alluding to Gen. 1:1. “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”
In John 4:34, Jesus said that His food, that which gave Him nourishment and satisfaction, was to do God’s will and to finish the work that His Father had called Him to do.
In John 5:17, in the account of Jesus healing a lame man at Bethesda, He stated that His Father was always working and that He also was working. Jesus explained in John 5:19 that He does that which He sees the Father doing.
Jesus continued in John 5:36, stating that the work He was doing was because God the Father had given it to Jesus to finish. In John 17:4, Jesus stated in His prayer in the garden that He completed the work that the Father gave Him to do. The work Jesus finished was primarily the work of revelation and redemption.
Not only did Jesus faithfully complete the work the Father gave Him to do, but He also gave His disciples an example of how to be a servant to all by washing the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17).
Lastly, Jesus sent His disciples to preach the gospel and expand His kingdom. He empowered them by giving the Holy Spirit to provide His presence with them in their work (John 20:21-22).
I will expand on the work of the Holy Spirit in this next section.
God is present with us in our work
The triune God works, which gives work value. God is also present with His people as they do the work that God calls them to do. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit works with, in, and through us.
Throughout Scripture, and particularly in John, we learn that it is the third person of the trinity that indwells believers in order to empower them to do their ordinary tasks in a supernatural way.
In John 14:17, Jesus told His disciples that the Father would give the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, who “lives with you and will be in you.” His constant presence and His still, small voice would teach and remind them of what Jesus said (John 14:26).
The Holy Spirit would also be the one to guide them in the truth (John 16:13). Since Jesus was physically about to leave His disciples, He wanted to assure them they would have the very presence of His Father and Himself with them at all times so that they could know Him, follow Him, and remain faithful to fulfill their calling.
Remaining connected to Christ brings results in our work
Jesus’s parable of the vine and the branches in John 15 indicates how we can remain in God’s presence at work so that we can consistently bear holy fruit to the glory of the Gardener.
Knowing that I have been called by God to be a coworker with Him in whatever task He has placed in front of me and to integrate my faith at work, at church, and at home motivates me toward holy behaviors and attitudes. When by faith and obedience I continually abide in Jesus Christ (John 15:1-8) and am filled with His Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18), I can be fully confident that God will work through me to love my neighbor and bring Him glory with maximum results.
How do we relate to the world where we work?
In John, there is a key passage that gives us an idea of how we are to relate to this world.
Jesus prayed for His disciples in John 17:14-19. He asked God the Father to protect, teach, and lead His disciples. Jesus acknowledged that they (and we) are not of this world, but they (and we) are being sent out into the world. Why? We are sent so that the world can see Jesus.
Amy Sherman, in her book, Kingdom Calling teaches, “We are the ‘called out’ people of God for sure. But we have been ‘called out’ to be ‘sent back’! We are sent back as viral agents of the King to partner in his redemptive mission in the world.” Amen!
I trust these excerpts from my book will inspire you to take a closer look at these selected passages from the Gospel of John. I am hoping that you will see them in a new light, and will understand these truths better so that you can work in the world while abiding in His presence.
About the author:
Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.