One of the most exciting sentences ever uttered is surely this: “The kingdom of God is at hand.” Followed by the call to repent and believe, because as things stand, without the cleansing of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, we are not fit for that kingdom.
However, quite how we are to understand the ‘at hand’ presence of the kingdom after the ascension of Jesus is debated.
This is particularly relevant to the question of work. Some suggest that we should understand our work - as a public servant, entrepreneur, mother, doctor, cleaner - as related to the kingdom. When done well, and in the name of Jesus, perhaps it ‘foreshadows’ the kingdom, is a ‘foretaste’ of the kingdom, or even is a ‘bringing in’ or ‘building’ of the kingdom?
Actually, it is very difficult to find in the New Testament, any statement that connects our work with the kingdom this way.
I want to suggest an alternative way to conceive of our work within the purposes of God.
In Col 1.20, Paul writes that “through [Jesus Christ] God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross”.
This is a magnificent statement of the cosmic proportions of the reconciling work of the cross of Christ, and corresponds perfectly to the cosmic Lordship of Jesus Christ as the one in whom all things hold together, precisely because he is the one through whom and for whom all things were created in the first place.
So here’s my suggestion.
Should we understand the ‘all things’ to include not only individual human beings, but also social structures, cultural expressions, industries and economies. That certainly seems to be on view in the way that Paul expands what he means by all things in v.16. Walter Wink suggests the catalogue of visible and invisible things could be paraphrased as “seats of power, or spheres of influence … incumbents-in-office or the legitimations and sanctions that keep them there - all these social and spiritual structures of reality are stamped with [Christ’s] imprint and exist solely to serve his purposes” (Naming the Powers, loc 748 of the Kindle version - whilst I disagree with some of Wink’s conclusions, his analysis of this language seems very insightful).
And if that’s the case, then perhaps the way we can see our work is like this. By making peace through the blood of Christ’s cross, God has reconciled banking and architecture and the arts and media and transportation and plumbing and construction - and everything else - to himself. Our task as those who work in these sectors is then to take up the challenge to understand what it means for that part of ‘all things’ to live in that reconciliation, and then to play our role in that with full energy and commitment.
And enacting that divinely established reconciliation in our workplaces gives dignity, clarity of purpose and substance to all our work!