Acton Institute Powerblog

Workers and Laborers or Kings and Priests?

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factory-workers1When faced with work that feels more like drudgery and toil than collaborative creative service, we are often encouraged to inject our situation with meaning, rather than recognize the inherent value and purpose in the work itself.

In Economic Shalom, Acton’s Reformed primer on faith, work, and economics, John Bolt reminds us that, when enduring through these seasons, we mustn’t get too concerned about temporal circumstances or humanistic notions of meaning and destiny. “As we contemplate our calling, we will not simply consider the current job market,” he writes, “but ask ourselves first-order questions about who we are, why we are here, how God has gifted us, and how we can best serve his purposes.”

This involves reexamining what our work actually is and who it ultimately serves. But it also involves fully understanding God’s design for humanity in the broader created order. As we harness the gifts and resources that God has given us, it is crucial that we understand the source and aims of our toil, and the obligation and responsibility that comes with our authority.

Echoing Kuyper, and in contrast to the popular caricature of humanity as a plague on Mother Nature, Bolt reminds us that “humanity is the highpoint, the crown of creation, blessed and given royal authority over the rest of God’s creatures.” Though we may be doing something as basic and unglamorous as sweeping a floor, serving fast food, trading and exchanging basic goods, or wrangling children and changing diapers, God created us to be “kings and queens” in each and every task.

Over at Acton’s Oikonomia blog, Bolt expounds on this in an extended excerpt from his book:

Our calling as God’s image bearers and vice-regents in creation is repeated: We are to be kings and queens in our work. We were created for creative production, including the wonderful and mysterious joining of a man and a woman to create new life.

We Americans are not fond of royal imagery; our very identity was forged in rebellion against royal tyranny. And, we must grant that the idea of ruling over creation runs a real risk of providing an excuse for exploitation and spoliation of the natural world. In spite of this, I believe that much of the unhappiness that people have with their work results from frustration over our royal status and role. Rather than masters over our work, we are its slaves; we don’t rule over our work, it rules us. In the film Modern Times, Charlie Chaplin’s comic routine of a frantic man on an assembly line is the perfect image of this. We work to make money to consume products that are made for the purpose of providing work. Our “stuff” rules us.

The Reformed tradition speaks of a threefold office for our Lord and for his followers. The Heidelberg Catechism explains the name “Christ,” or “anointed,” with the offices of prophet, priest and king (Lord’s Day 12). The follow-up question and answer describe Christian existence in the same terms. We are called “Christians,” so the answer responds, “Because by faith I am a member of Christ and so I share in his anointing. I am anointed to confess his name, to present myself to him as a living sacrifice of thanks, to strive with a free conscience against sin and the devil in this life, and afterward to reign with Christ over all creation for eternity.”

But what did this kingly, royal office mean for humanity before the fall and the curse of Genesis 3? Let me suggest that, minimally, Adam and Eve’s royal office implied dignity and freedom for creative production; for using the manifold riches of creation to enhance human flourishing…

We were created to rule over creation now and destined for even greater ruling in eternity.

Although we tend to recoil at royal imagery — and most certainly when it applies to things we find inconvenient or ill-suited to our “passions” and “dreams” — God longs for us to realign and reorder our imaginations around his grand and loving design.

Whatever we put our hands to, whatever we endeavor — whether enjoyable or toilsome, glamorous or mundane, extravagant or humble — we are a royal priesthood. We are kings and queens in and through our work, and we mustn’t take that role lightly or begrudgingly.

“We are created in the image of God,” Bolt concludes, “and the joy of our work is found in the service of the One who made us and whose image we bear.”

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Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The City, The Christian Post, The Stream, Charisma News, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.

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