(Note: I wrote this article and posted it on my blog before my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession was published by WestBow Press in February 2018. This critical topic was later included in the book. I invite you to check it out. This article was also published on the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog and the Coram Deo blog.)
The concepts presented below were taken from a two-hour seminar I developed as a final project for an independent study I did on the Theology of Work as a Grand Rapids Theological Seminary student in January – April 2015. This was my last class for my Master of Arts in Biblical Studies program I completed in May 2015.
I was able to give this seminar to several groups, including a lunch Bible study at work, a small group of Christian college students, and my Sunday School class. I posted six short videos from my college presentation on YouTube; the first one can be found here:
The first part of my title, “Immanuel Labor” came to me when I was working in my kitchen last September. With hammer and chisel I had to remove 132 ceramic tiles which were cemented to a concrete slab with grout that was over 20 years old, in preparation for wood laminate flooring which was being installed on the first floor of our house. What I was doing was dirty, dusty, sweaty, difficult manual labor, that which is done by hand.
While I was engaged in this activity, I came up with a clever pun – “Immanuel” labor. The word Immanuel comes from the narrative of Christ’s birth found in Matthew 1:23: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”, which means, “God with us.” We most often think about this word at Christmas-time. In this context, I had chosen to remember that God was with me at that moment as I was attempting to do this hard job for His glory – in His way and for His good purposes – in making my home a little bit nicer.
Without looking too hard, I have seen a repeated connection in Scripture between God’s presence and our work. The concept of Immanuel Labor is indeed biblical – God is truly with us in our work! God’s presence in the midst of our human work is well-grounded in God’s Word in a vast number of places. Here are some examples from the Old Testament:
- Adam and Eve – God made men and women in His image; He calls them both to be His co-workers over creation, to care for and cultivate it (Gen. 1:26-28, 2:15)
- Jacob – God was with him, enabling him to work for his father-in-law Laban with all his heart (Gen. 31:3-7, 40-42)
- Joseph – God was with him in Egypt; He gave him success in all of his work, which was a blessing to his employer (Gen. 39:2-5, 20-23)
- Moses – He asked God, “Who am I that I should go?” God replied, “I will be with you.” God’s presence was more important than Moses’ qualifications for the job (Ex. 3:10-12)
- Tabernacle – The detailed construction of the tabernacle, its components, and the priests’ attire would require a variety of skilled craftsmen. Their work would enable the priests to serve as Yahweh required so that He would dwell among them (Ex. 25:8 – 31:11)
- Solomon – David told him that God would be with him as he built the temple; this building would be the place of God’s presence for the nation of Israel (1 Chron. 28:20)
- Rebuilding the Temple – Yahweh told the leaders to be strong and to work, for He was with them (Hag. 2:4)
There are several examples found in the New Testament as well:
- Mary – Clearly God was present with her during the virgin conception and in her labor to deliver the deliverer named Immanuel; God was also with her in her dedicated, loving work as Jesus’ mother
- Jesus’ Disciples – Jesus sent His disciples to preach the gospel and expand His kingdom; He empowers them by giving the Holy Spirit to provide His presence with them in their work (Mark 16:20; John 20:21-22; Acts 1:8)
- The Great Commission – Jesus said to go and make disciples, and that He would be with them always; His presence would enable them to do this difficult task (Matt. 28:18-20)
- The Church – Every believer is a temple of the Holy Spirit; we are all “walking tabernacles” of God’s presence wherever we go, including going to work (1 Cor. 6:19)
- Paul – Paul recognized that he is what he is based on the grace of God; he worked really hard as an apostle, but it was God’s grace that was with him while he worked (1 Cor. 15:10)
The second to last bullet from 1 Cor. 6:19 hit me like a ton of bricks. Nelson, in Work Matters, states, “When we embrace the gospel and experience the new birth of regeneration, our physical bodies become indwelling places for the Holy Spirit and are temples of God . . . As a result, when we go to work every day, we bring a temple of God with us.”
Here is how I see it. Just like the tabernacle, which was a portable temple where God’s presence rested that the Israelites carried through the wilderness for 40 years until they entered the Promised Land, we too can experience the presence of God with us as we enter into the wilderness of our workplaces over a 40-year career. (Coincidence? I don’t think so!)
Nelson echoes the same: “The Holy Spirit brings the power and presence of the triune God with the believer to work every day. The Holy Spirit works in the worker through his or her vocation and permeates the workplace with the fragrance of Christ (2 Cor. 2:14-15).”
Having a good understanding of what it means to be a co-worker with God as He works through us to meet the needs of our customers, fellow employees, subordinates, and supervisors, makes all the difference in how we approach our jobs every day, no matter what job we currently have.
To see more biblical connections between God’s presence and our work, read this article.
Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, 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 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 also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.