A new thought occurred to me yesterday. I realized that the term “Immanuel labor”, has a variety of meanings and implications to me. There is nothing that is radically new here. It is just packaged a little differently.
I have written about the origin of this unique phrase which seems to summarize my theology of work in one of my first articles I posted on my blog in September 2015. It is much more than a great pun on “manual labor”! In this article, I highlighted several connections between God’s presence and human work that I found in both the OT and the NT. (This article was later reposted on the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog in November 2016.)
What I kept seeing throughout Scripture was this same pattern. Whenever there was an important job to be done, God promised that His presence would be with His chosen servant. God worked with and through this individual as His co-worker, providing the strength, skill, and motivation needed. God’s presence was with Adam and Eve, for example, as God called them to be His coworkers to manage His creation as His image bearers. Jacob, Joseph, and Moses also illustrate this concept quite clearly. There are many other examples, which I have documented in detail in chapters 5 and 6 of my book.
In addition to this biblical use of the term, which focuses on the deliberate connection between God’s presence and human work, I also see several other significant shades of meaning:
- Divine meaning. This indicates the actual work that the triune God did as revealed in the Bible and still does today. God is a worker. He sustains His creation, draws people to Himself, and causes His children to grow in their faith and become like Christ.
- Contemporary meaning. This puts the spotlight on God continuing to work through Christ-followers now. The OT and NT saints were not just superstars who were meant to inspire us to do great things as they did. These narratives reveal God’s attributes, which never change. They demonstrate how God works with and through every one of His children. There are jobs that God wants done in this world. He calls and empowers ordinary workers to do this work in His presence every day.
- Personal meaning. When I sense God’s presence at my job, I am experiencing Immanuel labor. This is a normal occurrence for me. I was taught early in my Christian life to walk with God, abide in Christ, and be filled with the Spirit. As I work for Him, with Him, and let Him work through me as His coworker, I am applying what Paul commanded in Col. 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men . . . It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”
I am hoping that this discussion will stimulate some thinking. My vision is that in the not too distant future, many faith and work leaders and pastors will embrace this concept of Immanuel labor, and will begin to talk and write about it themselves.
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.