Book Review: Work and Our Labor In the Lord

Work and Our Labor In the Lord is part of the Short Studies in Biblical Theology series by Crossway. The series is designed to help readers see the whole Bible as a unified story culminating in Jesus Christ. Other topics discussed in the series include marriage, creation, the city of God, and covenant.

When God created earth and everything in it, work was built into the created order. Work and Our Labor In the Lord seeks to explore “work as it was meant to be, as it is, as it can be, and as it will be.”

The author, James Hamilton, Jr., is professor of biblical theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and preaching pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the author of other books including God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment and What is Biblical Theology?

Work has been a part of God’s good creation since before the fall—created to reflect His image and glory to the world. What are we to make of this when work today is all too often characterized by unwanted toil, pain, and futility?

Hamilton offers a great gift through this book. He explores how work fits into the big story of the Bible, revealing the glory that God intended when he gave humans work to do, the ruin that came as a result of the fall, and the redemption yet to come, offering hope for flourishing in the midst of fallen futility. There are three overarching questions which Hamilton seeks to address:

  1. What part did work play in the big story of the world through which the biblical authors interpreted their lives?
  2. What propositional truths about work did they understand to flow out of and back into that big story?
  3. Did the biblical authors understand work to symbolize something beyond mere labor?

Hamilton uses these questions to demonstrate what the biblical authors believed about work. When we know what the biblical authors believed about work, we can form our beliefs on the work as well.

I really appreciated the author’s methodical and thoughtful writing on work as reflected through the canon of Scripture:

We will begin with (1) God’s design for work in the very good creation, prior to sin. From there we will move to consider (2) what work looks like in a fallen world, (3) what work should be in the kingdom that the Lord Christ has inaugurated, and finally (4) what the Bible indicates about work in the new heaven and the new earth the Lord Jesus will bring. We will thus look at work at creation, after the fall, now that Christ has accomplished redemption, and in the restoration.

Here are some examples of his interpretation of specific texts:

The promise of the seed of the women heralds a day when justice will be satisfied, curses will be removed, and work will once again be blessed by God, unimpeded and unhindered by judgment on sin. (from the chapter on creation)

These anticipatory types of Christ – Joseph, Daniel, and Nehemiah – were imitators of God in their work, and they are examples for us, for whose instructions their stories were written. (from the chapter on the fall)

As we wait for the redemption of our lowly bodies and resurrection from the dead, Christians are to work in ways that show love for God and neighbor. So doing will enable us to live out the image and likeness of the true and living God. We are, after all, being transformed from one degree of glory to another into the image of his Son. Walking with God in this way will allow us to flourish in the midst of fallen futility. (from the chapter on redemption)

Jesus cast out Satan by going to the cross, and when he returns he will set in motion the events of the end that will culminate in the heavens and the earth becoming what God originally built them to be: a cosmic temple. In that cosmic temple, the people who belong to Jesus, who have been transformed into his image, will rule and subdue, work and keep, and no snake will ever enter that garden to speak lies to the bride of Christ. (from the chapter on restoration)

This book has received some impressive endorsements from different leaders in the faith and work movement:

“Embracing a robust theology framed in the four-chapter narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation, Jim Hamilton skillfully handles the scriptural texts, displaying how human work is a central thread in the biblical storyline… ”
Tom Nelson, author, Work Matters; Senior Pastor, Christ Community Church, Overland Park, Kansas; President, Made to Flourish

“There is no shortage of quality books on the connection between faith and work. But James Hamilton’s Work and Our Labor in the Lord is in a class all its own: a thorough, yet concise, examination of the place of work in biblical theology. This is a must-read for all Christians.”
Joe CarterEditor, The Gospel Coalition; contributor, NIV Lifehacks Bible

“This book may be short, but it is extremely rich. Hamilton is a surefooted guide to the scriptural material and provides a highly valuable and stimulating discussion of the entire sweep of the biblical theology of work.”
Gary Millar, principal, Queensland Theological College; author, Calling on the Name of the Lord

“People’s lives get turned upside down when they realize God cares intensely about their daily work. This short book walks us step by step through the big story of the Bible to show that God’s purpose for our daily labor is one of Scripture’s deepest and most important themes.”
Greg ForsterDirector, Oikonomia Network at the Center for Transformational Churches, Trinity International University; author, The Joy of Calvinism

Hamilton concludes this short book with some thoughtful reflections on what work will look like in the new Heavens and new Earth.

God built us to do something, and in the new heavens and the new earth, we will be liberated to do the work for which God fitted us when we formed us in the womb.
We can scarcely imagine it, but everything that makes work miserable here will be removed. All our sinful concerns about ourselves will be swallowed up in devotion to the one we serve…All inclination to evil will have been removed from our hearts, so we will enjoy the freedom of wanting to obey, wanting to serve, wanting to do right…Never again will we fear that our work is futile, vain, monotonous, or meaningless, because we will see clearly that the significance of our work springs from the one we serve.

The prophesied new exodus will have been completed. Our pilgrimage through the wilderness will be over. Our new and better Joshua will have conquered the land. We will enter that good land to live in God’s presence, and we will enjoy the blessings of the covenant in the world without end.

I would like to echo the endorsers’ support for this book. There is a shortage of accessible literature that takes a thoughtful and biblical approach to questions of work, and I appreciate and value Hamilton’s connection of work with the four-chapter gospel. I encourage using this book as a tool for study in small groups and Sunday School.

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