Jesus’ Work Ethic

Faithfulness for the long haul


How do you feel when the alarm clock goes off and it is time to go to work? Do you spring out of bed, ready for a new day? Or, do you slam that obnoxious alarm and beg for “just five more minutes, please!”

Let’s be honest. Even if you love your job, it can sometimes be difficult to find the motivation to get out there and do it … again … and again.

We are focusing on faith and work this month on the blog. How does our faith inform our work? How does our faith motivate and animate our work? I’d like to approach this topic by looking at Jesus’ work as it is presented in the Gospel of Matthew. Full disclosure: I’ve got Matthew on my mind right now because both the Revised Common Lectionary and the Narrative Lectionary are working from Matthew this year and I have been studying this particular Gospel a lot lately.

Here are five things that I notice about how faith intersected with Jesus’ work that might help us to think about our own work:

1. Jesus had a sense of calling

When Jesus came up from the baptism waters, God spoke over him, “This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus’ work was grounded in his identity as a beloved child of God (Matthew 3). When he was led into the wilderness by the Spirit, he was able to withstand the testing because he stayed anchored in God’s Word and his sense of purpose (Matthew 4).

What was Jesus’ purpose? We see that made clear in chapter four when Jesus sets up his headquarters in Capernaum and begins preaching the core message: “Repent! The Kingdom of Heaven has come near.” I like to translate this, “See with new eyes, the Kingdom of Heaven (God’s dream for the world) has come near you.” 

Then, he articulates his mission when he sends out his disciples in Matthew 10. The job description was to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons, and bring peace and hospitality wherever you go.

Jesus spent his whole life doing these things as a demonstration of what it looks like to have God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven (part of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6). Ultimately, he demonstrated this by giving up his own life at the hands of his accusers rather than retaliating in violence. His calling was so strong he was willing to die for it.

2. Jesus didn’t do it alone

Our society tends to value the Lone Ranger or Super Hero leader who gets the job done by their own true grit. Not Jesus. He knew he needed help. This was a big job. The first thing Jesus did was to recruit a team (chapter 4). He called four fishermen on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. He called a tax-collector. Eventually he had a large group of men and women from all walks of life that followed him, learned from him, and shared the workload with him.

3. More salt and light, less sizzle and lightning

Not only does our society value the super hero, we also love a winner. We love to place the beautiful, rich, and powerful on a pedestal. We love the sizzle and the lightning that comes with spectacular performers.

Jesus presented a different work ethic for his purpose. We see it spelled out in Matthew 5:1-16. He said blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the hungry and thirsty, the merciful, the pure-hearts, the peacemakers, the persecuted. The people who fit this description are not the ones who sizzle or flash like lightning. They are the down-and-outers; the “least likely to succeed” crowd.

Jesus looked at this crowd and said, “Blessed are you … you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.” 

Sizzle fades. 

Lightning burns bright, but is gone as soon as it appears. 

Salt is simple, but lasting. It makes food taste good and it preserves freshness. 

The light of the world is the energy of the sun that gives warmth and light day after day.

Jesus’ work ethic is about faithfulness for the long haul. Every life counts. Every act of kindness matters, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant it may be. Faith-filled work is the work of salt and light in common places for the common people.

4. It’s about generosity, not fairness

Our society is fixated on fairness. We often think, “If you work hard, you should get paid. If you don’t work, you don’t deserve anything.” 

Jesus told a parable in Matthew 20 that turned that kind of thinking on its head. He told about a landowner that hired day laborers at different times throughout the day to work in his fields. At the end of the day he paid all of them the same thing: one day’s wage. The ones who worked all day were outraged: “That’s not fair!”

The landowner looked at the outraged workers and said, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous? (Matthew 20:15)” 

Jesus’ work ethic teaches us an important lesson: God is generous. God’s love is not reserved for those who work hard enough or run far enough or jump high enough to earn it. God’s love is a free gift for all people. Jesus’ job, and ours, is to make sure that the people who don’t know that they are loved by God and worthy of God’s love get the message by the way that we treat them.

5. Passing the torch

Finally, the way Jesus approached his work shows us that it was not about him. Jesus didn’t do what he did so that everyone would worship him and think he was awesome. Jesus lived, taught, died, and rose again so that the world might know that God’s love is for everyone and that everyone matters. 

Jesus proved that this was not about him by giving the work away. After he rose from the dead he invited his disciples to meet with him one last time on a mountain in Galilee. He sent them on a mission to continue his work throughout the world. He promised them that as they did the work he would always be with them (Matthew 28).

Think about these things as you go to your place of work this week. Look at the people around you: the people to whom you report; the people with whom you work; the people you serve with what you do. 

All of them matter. 

All of them are beloved children of God. 

The thing you do–whether it be a service you do or a widget you make–is contributing to their life. As you embody the beatitudes and follow the example of Jesus, you will be a pinch of salt and a ray of light in their lives.

See! The Kingdom of Heaven has come near … through your faith and work.

  • Rev. Dr. Steve Thomason

    Rev. Dr. Steve Thomason’s passion and purpose intersect in the areas of theology, spiritual formation, and art. Mixing a lifelong love of drawing, illustrating, and animating with degrees from Wheaton College, Bethel Seminary, and Luther Seminary, Steve has done everything from owning and operating his own art studio to pastoring an 8,000 member congregation.

    In addition to his faculty position at Luther Seminary, Steve has developed and maintains A Cartoonist’s Guide to the Bible. He is also the author of several books, including The Visual Preacher: Proclaiming an Embodied Word (Fortress Press, 2022), A Cartoonist’s Guide to John (Vibble Books, 2022), A Cartoonist’s Guide to Luke (Vibble Books, 2021), A Cartoonist’s Guide to Mark (Vibble Books), and A Cartoonist’s Guide to Matthew (Vibble Books, 2019).

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