What Does the Book of Romans Teach us About Work?

(Note: This article was published on the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog and the Coram Deo blog.)

The book of Romans is filled with deep theological truths and practical wisdom for all Christians.  I have also found it to be a rich source of key passages that are essential to my theology of work.

As I have done with other books of the Bible (John, Minor Prophets, Psalms, and Ecclesiastes), I have gathered several excerpts from my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession that highlight what the book of Romans teaches us about various aspects of work.  I have generally presented the topics in the order they appear in the book, but I have reordered some to flow better.

God is present in our most difficult work

The persistent biblical connection between God’s presence and work is the main theme of my book.  One of the best examples of this concept is found in the Joseph narrative, beginning in Gen. 39

The unity of the OT and NT is seen here, as Joseph exemplifies what Paul boldly stated in Rom. 8:28, that God works all things out for His bigger purposes and for our ultimate good.  During one of my darkest days, I eventually came to the same conclusion, knowing that God needed to take me out of my comfort zone by force and put me somewhere else I needed to be to better glorify Him.

God’s presence as a government employee

In Rom. 13:1, Paul tells believers to submit to governing authorities.  He explains in Rom. 13:2-7 that it is God Himself who appointed them as His servants in authority over us to minister to us.  Paul knows that they are under God’s authority and that God ministers to us through their ministry.

Losing and regaining our sense of God’s presence

I taught how to regain our sense of God’s presence when it is lost.  Paul states, “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).  He concludes at the end of this chapter in Rom. 8:38-39 that absolutely nothing in this world can separate us from God’s love.

God’s curse on work

In my book, I unpack the foundational concept that God put a curse on work (see Gen. 3:16-19).  I also discuss our response to it.  I explained that that Adam’s sin, as well as our own sin and those we work with has had a negative impact on work.  This sad state of affairs in our workplaces that began from that very moment in the garden will continue to frustrate all of us who work through the ages everywhere people work until Jesus returns.  (See Rom. 8:19-21 and Rev 22:3.)  

I mention the fact that people are always going to be sinful (including you and I).  (See Rom. 3:10.)

I apply “thorns and thistles” to a modern context.  Whenever I come against one more computer outage, a disgruntled employee, an unreasonable demand, another paper jam in the copier, or discover a weakness in myself that makes my job more difficult than it needs to be, I am reminded that these trials are usually a direct result of sin.  I purposefully call to mind that God will provide the grace needed to get me through it and that my character is built through suffering (Rom. 5:3-5).

Finding a job that fits our purpose and leads to flourishing

God gives each of us talents, strengths, experiences, and successes so that we can use them to be a blessing to others, both inside and outside the walls of the church building. (See Rom. 12:4-8.)

Regarding how we view our identity, the Apostle Paul addressed his own identity in his letters.  He said that who he was and the things he did could not compare with “the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8).  Who Paul was in Christ was what mattered most.

However, Paul clearly embraced God’s calling on his life.  God called him to be something, not merely do something.  Paul identifies himself in Rom. 1:1 as “a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle of God.”  He says the same thing in his other epistles (1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:1, etc.)  Paul did not seek this holy calling.  God gave it to him.  It was Paul’s focus and motivation.

In my book, I briefly addressed the topic of keeping the Sabbath (having a work and rest cycle). 

One of my best seminary professors, Dr. Mike Wittmer adds, “Sabbath rest is essential for enjoying life, and only Christians are wholly able to keep it holy.”  He acknowledges that “we are free in Christ to consider ‘one day more sacred that another’ or to consider ‘every day alike’ (Rom. 14:5).

Christians in the profession of arms

As someone who has had the privilege of serving my country on active duty in the U.S. Army for twenty years, I wrote about what the Bible taught, regarding those who have served in the military.

Romans 13:4 provides some supporting fires on this idea.  The apostle Paul teaches that the church is to be in submission to authority.  You may ask, “Even the secular Roman government authorities?  Even the corrupt ones we have now?”  Yes, and yes.  Why?  

Paul writes they are “God’s servant, for your good … He is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”  Paul says that these authorities are God’s servants. Sometimes that means taking appropriate military action to bring order out of chaos.

The eternal value of work

In Isa. 65:20-25, the prophet describes the new heaven and the new earth.  Work has not ceased. Rather it is characterized by enjoying the fruit of our labor and not toiling in vain since the curse has been lifted (cf. Rom. 8:19-21).  

A key verse in this discussion is Rom. 8:21.  Volf teaches that according to this and other NT scriptures, “the apocalyptic language of the destruction of ‘all these things’ (2 Peter 3:11) should not be taken to imply the destruction of creation. . . Paul writes that the ‘creation itself . . . will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.’”

Harrison, in his comments regarding Rom. 8:21 in the Zondervan New International Version Bible Commentary, exclaims, “How gracious of God to retain for believers the habitat they have long been accustomed to, only so changed and beautified as to harmonize with their own glorified state.” 

Closing thoughts

It should be no surprise to anyone who has read and studied the book of Romans to find that it is a great repository of practical theology, as well as deep systematic theology.  It masterfully presents a clear picture to the church a unified and thorough presentation of eternal truths that will set the Christ-follower free to walk in faith and obedience, through the power of the Holy Spirit.  These biblical principles enable us to boldly live out our faith at home, at work, and in our communities.

About the author:

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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 ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ 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 minister. He served 20 years on active duty and now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. He has written 160 articles on faith and work topics on this blog since 2015. More than 70 articles have been posted or published 140 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

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