Working Heartily for God

By Owen Smitherman '23

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24 (ESV)

I recently heard a fellow believer speak about his approach to work at a top-tier graduate school. To determine whether he is being faithful in his efforts, he asks himself how he would feel if he were to submit this paper or that assignment to God. Frequently, this thought experiment leaves him dissatisfied at the quality of his work.

This mindset was not new or surprising to me. Indeed, I knew many people in undergrad who approached their work in a similar manner. “It’s for God, so it needs to be good.” Or maybe, “I know that I should get a 4.0 if I really tried hard, so anything less is the result of sinful laziness and sloth.”

Moreover, such an attitude is not wholly unconnected from God’s Word. As Paul writes to the church in Colossae, our work is ultimately for the Lord, not for men. We work for God.

However, I think that this mindset can be dangerous for Christians in two ways. First, it can lead us to spend a massive amount of time on our work. But we have a limited amount of time each day. And we do more than formal “work” in this world. We have other biblical obligations, e.g., serving family and friends, spreading the gospel, encouraging others within the community of the church. Especially as students in a high-pressure environment like Harvard Law School, we should be careful not to let our work obligations swallow the time we need to spend on service and evangelism. From my personal experience, this happens all the time in Christian circles.

Second, it is not clear that the quality of our work is God’s highest priority. I submit that the objective or purpose of our work is far more important. Returning to Colossians 3, Paul does say that we should work “heartily.” But more than that, Paul distinguishes between working for God and working for men. That is, God cares about the orientation of our heart, not so much the results of our outlining.

But how do we ensure that we are working for God, not for man? I believe that the answer is connected to my first point above. By cabining the amount of time we spend in the library, and by devoting ourselves to the whole mission of the church, we can mold our hearts to serve God and work for Him.

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