A New Philosophy of Work

When it comes to work and action there are two motivations which are fundamental. The first is to honor God and the second is to survive. For believers, the call to honor God is preeminent, and personal survival comes second. However, for non-believers, the main goal is to survive, and for many, to thrive.

God gave a solution to survival when he placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They were to share the emotional, physical and spiritual intimacy of their bond; and they were to work the garden in order to produce the food they needed to survive. So, at a basic level, if we have a mate and if we have ground that produces crops and that has drinking water, we can survive and perpetuate the human race. And if we were not concerned about reproducing, we could presumably survive even without a mate.

Nowadays, most people do not raise their own food or even have access to ground that grows crops. And many would not know how to cultivate the earth, even if they were given the chance. It’s kind of incredible, but it’s the reality of how far we have moved from God’s initial design. So, instead of looking to the earth, we have to secure our food for survival by other means.

In addition, people desire lots more stuff these days. In fact, here is a partial list of things I have heard people say they “need” to survive: coffee, phone, pets, books, money, home, car, two sinks in the bathroom, electricity, more shoes, sushi, gun, family, friends, clothing, evening news, the mall, a job, children, beer, and the list goes on. It is fascinating to compare what God says we need, verses what we think we need. Jesus reminded us of simplicity when he said not to worry about what we will eat, drink or wear. Think about that…only three items: food, drink and clothing. See more details about this in Matthew 6:25-34, which is a beautiful call to re-prioritize our lives, if necessary, and to stop worrying.

Therefore, because most people no longer directly depend upon their own garden to produce all of their food, and because we now need much more than even the ground can produce, we need to mention the two most common modern-day methods of survival: Trading and Specialization.

Trading Sandals

Let’s say I am living thousands of years ago and I enjoy walking. Therefore, I set upon the task of making some sandals for myself. After I do so, my friend sees them and asks me to also make some for him. Which I do. In the Bible, Jesus admonished us to give freely. Therefore, I could give my friend the sandals for free. But what if I say to my friend, “No way will I give these to you for free. But I will trade. How about making me dinner in exchange?” And there we see how trading came about. When people stopped sharing on their own accord, trading was the next logical step.

Of course, we still trade in the modern world, even though most people do not grow their own food or make their own sandals. Trade for many of us means trading our time, at our jobs, for a paycheck. Then with this money, we buy food. To that end, we each need to find at least one thing we have to offer, for which others are willing to trade. For example, if I know how to play the guitar, I might land a job performing in a restaurant.

Specialized Careers

Have you ever asked a child, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Beyond just daydreaming about the future, or instructing youth, there is another very subtle message in that question. The implication is that you can pick one thing, or maybe two, but not many.

To make my point, imagine a child answering, “I want to be a doctor on Monday, a farmer on Tuesday, a teacher on Wednesday, an athlete on Thursday, a chef on Friday and a driver on Saturday.” We would probably chuckle and pat them on the head.

But can you imagine a recent college graduate actually trying to work that weekly schedule? It would be nearly impossible, and the reason is because our society almost always rewards specialization. And the reason for that is two-fold. The first is economy of scale; which means that if you produce enough of something (let’s say sandals), over time you will figure out ways to do so quicker, thereby saving on operational costs. And that means that the price of the sandals will be less. The second reason that specialization is valuable is that people have an instinct to want to get a good deal on any trade, and that usually means trading with experts/specialists.

The notion of a life-long specialty, or focus, is partly why we use the word “career,” instead of just saying “job.” And for many, “career” also implies financial progress. Meaning, many people want to raise their trading prices over time (which for most folks means getting salary increases). Even so, whether we say job or career, we are talking about work. And not to deviate too much, but on a lighthearted note, I saw a sign recently, that I keep thinking about. It said, “I used to think I wanted a career. Turns out I just wanted a paycheck.” Whether you want a paycheck, a job, a vocation, a calling or a career, the four faces can help you to evaluate your work options.


Not everyone can specialize. Some people get bored or they just need way more variety in their lives. They also might have so many interests, that they can’t pick one thing they want to do most of the time. We might call them generalists. Well, the good news is that it’s possible to survive even if you are not a specialist, but a generalist. It’s just might be harder, and you might not make as much money.

Firstly, even for generalists, they will need to discover one or two things that have a revenue stream. That means, two ways you can trade and therefore make money. Secondly, a generalist needs to save time in the week for their non-paying hobbies and interests. Sometimes a hobby becomes a way to trade and sometimes not.

Two Careers

I once heard that in ancient Jewish culture, boys were instructed to select two careers: one which they could do with their heads and one with their hands. We see that in the case of Paul who was both a scholar (mind) and a tentmaker (hands).

In light of the four faces, we see that there are actually four kinds of careers: those that can be done with the mind (Eagle), the hands (Lion), the heart (Human) and the shoulders (Ox). Therefore, career coaching for young people should include identifying their two primary faces, and then encouraging them to pursue a career for each. That way, they would have a backup source of income in case they ever need one.

How Believers Prioritize Honoring God, Even Above Self Survival

  1. Glorifying God: The Bible says that whatever we do, we should seek to glorify God in it. (1 Corinthians 10:31) That includes any and all jobs we will ever have, and is the start and end of how we view work. 
  2. Giving Instead of Receiving: The Bible says freely you have received, so freely give. However, the world around us is based on the ideas of getting and acquiring. Even the notion of survival requires us to get food. So, I am not saying we should work for free or give away all our money (although Jesus once said that…). But what I am saying is best represented by a Churchill quote: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Meaning, we may need to fairly trade in order to get money in order to survive. But the main focus of our lives should be more about giving, and less about taking. Another way I heard this explained was that Christians should be producers, and not just consumers. This is related to Maslow’s “self-transcendence.” 
  3. Trusting God: The Bible says God takes care of us just as he adorns the flowers and feeds the birds. Therefore, our provision ultimately comes not from our wise trading or even our hard work, but from God. He cares for us, as his children. To that end, we should apply ourselves with our gifts, to whatever work God puts in front of us. Then we trust God to provide our needs.

Excerpted from The Four Faces, pp. 76, 80-81, ©2016.

© 2019, Alignment Life

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