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Episode 18 - Our First Great Commission as Workers


Date: October 10, 2018
Run Time: 13:02
Host: Dr. Gregory R. Perry
Guest: Dr. Vincent Bacote
From the Series: The Image of God

Program Notes

What does God's work in the Garden of Eden tell us about the value of human work? What should we being doing as God's workers? Join us as we discuss with Dr. Vincent Bacote:

  • God's work week and the value of human work
  • The difference between a job and a calling
  • How our work should reflect kingdom reality
  • Just and equitable practices in the workplace

Sponsors this Month: Center for Applied Christian Ethics and the Center for Public Justice

To help us explore the remarkable, biblical description of human identity, 4 the World welcomes Dr. Vincent Bacote to our conversation. Vince is Associate Professor of Theology at Wheaton College and the Director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics. He is also the host for our newly revised series, Building Your Theology. Vince has contributed to numerous theological works and has authored two books: The Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life published by Zondervan, and The Spirit in Public Theology: Appropriating the Legacy of Abraham Kuyper, published by Wipf & Stock. Vince resides in the Chicago area with his family.

Podcast Transcript

EPISODE 18: Our First Great Commission as Workers
Guest: Dr. Vincent Bacote

4 the World is a production of Third Millennium Ministries where we believe every Christian deserves a well-trained pastor. To study Scripture deeply or to learn more about how you can partner with us to provide Biblical Education. For the World. For Free. download our App to your phone or visit our online classroom at Thirdmill.org. And now, your host 4 the World, Dr. Greg Perry.

Welcome back to Third Millennium studios in Orlando, Florida, where we’re continuing a conversation that we started last week with Dr. Vincent Bacote, Associate Professor of Theology at Wheaton College, about the image of God.


Vince, as we closed our first session, you were starting to unpack the job description of being human. One of the things that’s unique about the Genesis account compared to the other ancient Near Eastern origin stories is its depiction of God as a worker, a gardener, a sculptor. It seems that God really doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty. Did you see that show “Dirty Jobs” with Mike Rowe? Remember that? I loved that show. What does God's work week in Genesis tell us about the value of human work?

Dr. Bacote: In that first Great Commission humans are given the task, responsibility, opportunity, to do work. And part of the reason for doing that is out of their reflection of being image bearers. And so, later when the Law is given, why is there a Sabbath? Because the Sabbath is in relationship to God resting on the seventh day, so that means there’s a rhythm to the work week, which, I think in the current time, at least in parts of the modern West — I’m not sure outside the modern West — but within the modern West there is, at least among some, such a workaholism that the virtue is to just keep working, keep working, keep working. And whether that’s Wall Street or whether it’s Silicon Valley, there’s this way to be successful. The way to get ahead is to keep working and to outwork people. And the interesting thing is, I think, for Christians, if we’re thinking about the way that we’re informed by this pattern that we have in Scripture, one, there’s the fact that God seems to think it’s a good idea for us to at least take one day, that’s a Sabbath day, a day of rest, it ought to be telling us that if God thinks this is a good idea, then probably… If we think that God has any attention at all to what we’re doing in our work lives, whether the work is a kind of grinding-it-out or manual labor type thing, or whether it’s in the executive C suite, that whole range, that this time to be set aside to recuperate, to recharge, to do other things, that this is good. And that God, if he cares about you, will take care of you without you needing to assume that, “Well, the only way that I can really live like a person who is blessed is by basically outworking other people to become successful.” So, it winds up strangely being, if we live that way, it winds up being a way that people are actually showing that they don’t trust God.

Exactly. It seems to all depend on us, then, if we’re working all the time

Dr. Bacote: Precisely.


It’s interesting because in the original context for the original audience, Hebrew slaves, their whole value to Pharaoh was a work unit, right? A cog in Pharaoh’s public works deal. And so we seem to have these two extremes of slavery on the one hand that is so demeaning and our own workaholism that is saying, “No, I’m independent from God. It all depends on me. I don’t need God.” And Sabbath breaks both of those to say no, there’s something bigger about being human. Some of our listeners maybe are wondering about the difference between a job and a calling. What does it mean to find your vocation? Is there a connection between work and this bigger notion of a vocation?

Dr. Bacote: There is a connection. I thinks it’s important particularly in light of the fact that, if you think worldwide, not everyone’s job or career is something that can be an expression of whatever your passions are, right? Or whatever, you know, this thing that really resonates with your heart. Some people, you know, the only option you have is to be what your parents are because those are the only options. In other contexts, people have the luxury of having choice. In either case, when we think about vocation, which has to do with the call of God on our lives, it’s a call in regard to the entirety of who we are, and as part of that, it includes our work life. No matter what we’re doing with our work life, God cares about that as part of what it means to be human beings in his world. And I think one of the reasons why Christians are sometimes not making the contributions they could be making to the work world is because they don’t see that connection. So, the participation that we have in the work world fits into, is designed to fit into this larger vocation, this larger calling that God has for us when it comes to how we’re supposed to live our lives in this world. So that’s, unfortunately, I think something that gets underemphasized in churches.

Yeah. Kind of minimized. I think about my church life growing up in the church and I hear people praying for missionaries, I hear them praying for seminary students, but one time I can remember being in a service and hearing special prayer for teachers at the beginning of the school year, for restaurant workers and sanitation workers, all the service providers for the service industry, and just sort of the prayers of the people going through these different jobs, doctors and medical workers, and then asking God to establish the work of their hands, and hearing people afterwards just talk about what it meant to them to have their job recognized and to realize, “Hey, God cares about this.”

Dr. Bacote: It’s true. I think a lot of people do not think that there are things that they can do for God that matter with most of the hours of the week. I remember something Richard Mouw once said. He was talking to an executive who said, “I wish that I spent most of my week doing something that really mattered to God because…” And this was a person in business, and it wasn’t a typical “spiritual vocation,” and so, that typical spiritual vocation didn’t have the same value in the eyes of God as if you’re in fulltime Christian ministry. I think what we need to recognize is that, first of all, most people aren’t in fulltime Christian ministry. And second, all of those people, what they are doing in the eyes of God, it’s all extremely important because it’s one way of our engagement with the world he’s made, and we’re working with the “stuff” of God's world in various ways that winds up not just benefiting us but benefiting others. And I thinks it’s part of the way God wants things to operate. In other words, it’s properly human.


I’m really taken by the way you talked about the original Great Commission, and if you think about, extending the borders of the garden to subdue the earth, while that’s a big job, it’s going to take all hands on deck, and everybody is engaged in that kind of work every day when we go to our jobs to add value to our communities, and to do it in a way that pleases God.

Dr. Bacote: Exactly. Exactly. Now, of course, I’m sure you’re aware there are some people, they might have… Flags might have gone up when you said “expanding the border to subdue creation,” because there are certain ways that people think about eschatology. But I think what they need to understand is that our job description as human beings is, until Christ comes, to participate in the world in ways where we are developing life in God's world as much as we can in penultimate ways, in ways that don’t fully establish the kingdom, but in ways that certainly, I believe, are reflective of kingdom reality, in little ways to perhaps some really interesting big ways, and that this is part of what it is to be involved in all of these things that don’t typically get labelled as “Christian activity.” And if you love this world enough to send a Savior who’s incarnate, in the flesh, that should tell us that God still cares about this world. If he still cares about this world, the world that he made, then this first thing that he asked us to do has much greater value than we often recognize.

Yeah. And it makes sense that Paul would then write something like he wrote to the Colossians: “Whatever you do, do it heartily as until to Lord and not just unto men.”

Dr. Bacote: Exactly.


You know, this past spring, Vince, we remembered the 50th anniversary of the sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis as an important episode of the civil rights struggle. And some of us saw again these pictures that we remember, the signs that they carried in their march: “I am a man.” And that resonates, doesn’t it, with the language of divine image bearing in Genesis related to work. So, how does the doctrine of the image of God kind of touch down for employers and maybe legislators too, regarding the importance of just and equitable practices in the workplace?

Dr. Bacote: Well, we should be asking, or those who have those kinds of responsibilities — whether they’re public policies, whether you’re the CEO, whether you’re in management, or whether you’re the person who’s key to establishing a workplace culture, whether you’re the people who are thinking about how pay works — in all of those things, you need to be asking about, “How am I dignifying the people that are here in this work environment?” If we’re thinking about humanizing people, and how this humanization ought to be characteristic of what workplace environments are like, all the way from pay to work conditions, etc., then we ought to be thinking about what are the ways for this to best work out? And of course that’s going to vary from industry to industry. It’s going to vary for a whole lot of reasons. But it needs to be one of the fundamental questions that’s being asked. And if people are just thinking it just happens, or they’re only thinking about the bottom line, then chances are they’ve left out a really important question.

Vince, it’s been really great to just begin to unpack what this means to be created in God's image, particularly with regard to whether or not God cares about our work. We’re going to talk next time, as our series continues, about whether or not maybe politics is involved. Oh no! We’re going to talk about religion and politics. You all tune in next time for 4 the World.

4 the World is a production of Third Millennium Ministries where we are reimagining biblical education for Christian leaders in a global church. Each week we bring you conversations to cultivate your curiosity about God’s word, to inform your intercessions for God's people, and to equip your efforts in God's mission for the world. Our host is Dr. Greg Perry. Our sound engineer and editor is Christopher Russell. Our web designer is Ra McLaughlin. And our director of communications is Darlene Perry. Production assistance is provided by David Zoeller and John Cook. And I’m your announcer, Cindy Sawyer. Our guest for this series is Dr. Vincent Bacote, the author of The Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life published by Zondervan, and the host of our newly revised series “Building Your Theology.”