The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs

The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs

by Sebastian Traeger, Greg D. Gilbert

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Find God’s vision for your job.

Reclaim God’s vision for your life.

Many Christians fall victim to one of two main problems when it comes to work: either they are idle in their work, or they have made an idol of it. Both of these mindsets are deadly misunderstandings of how God intends for us


Find God’s vision for your job.

Reclaim God’s vision for your life.

Many Christians fall victim to one of two main problems when it comes to work: either they are idle in their work, or they have made an idol of it. Both of these mindsets are deadly misunderstandings of how God intends for us to think about our employment.

In The Gospel at Work, Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert unpack the powerful ways in which the gospel can transform how we do what we do, releasing us from the cultural pressures of both an all-consuming devotion and a punch-in, punch-out mentality—in order to find the freedom of a work ethic rooted in serving Christ.

You’ll find answers to some of the tough questions that Christians in the workplace often ask:

  • What factors should matter most in choosing a job?
  • What gospel principles should shape my thinking about how to treat my boss, my co-workers, and my employees?
  • Is full-time Christian work more valuable than my job?
  • Is it okay to be motivated by money?
  • How do you prioritize—or balance—work, family and church responsibilities?

Solidly grounded in the gospel, The Gospel at Work confronts both our idleness at work and our idolatry of work with a challenge of its own—to remember that whom we work for is infinitely more important than what we do.

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Read an Excerpt

The Gospel at Work

how working for King Jesus gives purpose and meaning to our jobs

By James Sebastian Traeger, Gregory D. Gilbert


Copyright © 2013 James Sebastian Traeger and Gregory D. Gilbert
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-310-51397-1



I (Seb) remember the first time I realized that work had become an idol for me. The moment came just after a high point in my professional career path. A friend and I had started a company, and for the last few years we had poured ourselves—heart, soul, and body—into it, and the company had done well. Five years into the venture, for all kinds of reasons, we decided the time had come to sell the company. The group to which we ended up selling had pursued us for several years, but our answer had always been, "No thanks." This time, however, the time seemed right. Over the next few months, we went through a surreal experience of negotiating the sale. When the last phase—the "Lawyers Talking to Accountants" phase—was done, it was time to close the deal.

I still remember the closing. I was in Anaheim, California, when my business partner called from Washington, DC, to give me the play-by-play of the signing. He read through the documents once more. I asked a few questions about some details, and then he signed and faxed off the papers. The ownership of our company was transferred to someone else, and a not-insignificant chunk of change to us.

It was a great day! It was also the beginning of a new era in my life. God was about to teach me something new about myself and about the way I approached my work. Once the dust had settled from the sale, I was faced with a new reality: I had to find something else to do. Eager, optimistic, and excited to see where God would lead me in my professional life, I started looking around for fresh opportunities.

I looked for a long time. A really long time. Doors closed. Applications were rejected. Phone calls were ignored. E-mails were "lost." At the end of several months of searching, I was running out of ideas. I trusted that God was leading me somewhere, but it was to a place I had never anticipated or desired. He had led me to unemployment, and right along with it to hopelessness and a profound and utterly unfamiliar sense of self-doubt. My emotions had plummeted from the top of the world to a place of despair in just a few months. My hopes, which had been so high during the sale of my company, were now ruined. My faith in God was barely limping along.

How did this happen? Why did I experience such a profound shift of my emotions and hopes? Why was my faith shaken so deeply? Looking back, I can see why. My hopes had not been rooted in God; they had been rooted in my circumstances—in my professional success and in my ability to control the future. Work had become an idol to me. My sense of well-being—my very identity as a person—was wrapped up in my professional success. Once that was gone, I was devastated. My god had been ripped out from under me. And I fell hard.


What does it mean when we say that a person has made work an idol? Does it simply mean he or she works too hard? Is it idolatrous to enjoy what we do, to find pleasure in our work? How about enjoying what we do a lot? Is it wrong to want to leave our mark on the world, to "put a dent in the universe" (as Steve Jobs once put it)? These can all be perfectly good motivations for our work, and none of them is necessarily wrong. The trouble starts when our pursuit of enjoyment or influence or status in our work begins to make our work the source of ultimate satisfaction or meaning for us. When that happens, our work has become our god.

The Bible tells us that our hearts are desperately prone to worshiping idols. We are worshipers by our very nature as human beings. We will find something to bow before, something to give our lives and our devotion to. We will worship something. We will center our lives around something.

Our compulsion to worship is not a bad thing! God made us for worship. Worship is a very good thing as long as the object of our worship is worthy of our worship. So what is the right object for our worship? Only God himself. Jesus once said, "Worship the Lord your God and serve him only" (Luke 4:8, emphasis added). Our worship should be reserved for God. He alone should command our highest devotion, and it should be around him that we center and organize our lives. When that pride of place goes to anything or anyone else, we have bowed our knees to an idol.

In the Old Testament, idols were just like you'd picture them—the little golden statues that Indiana Jones swiped from the Temple of Doom. Of course, they weren't always golden, and they weren't always small. People worshiped these physical objects because they believed they somehow represented real gods, spiritual beings with power to meet their needs. People performed all kinds of worshipful acts toward their idols, casting riches at their feet, clothing them in the finest clothes, even physically bowing down to them. They organized their lives around their devotion to the gods these idols represented.

We tend not to be quite so crass in our idolatry today. Typically, we don't have little golden statues to venerate, nor do we gather at temples to lavish gifts on those statues. We've become more sophisticated in our idolatry, but our tendency to worship things other than God is just as strong as ever. For many people today, their passion is their job and all of the things their job can provide for them—money, status, identity, pleasure, and purpose. Our jobs capture our hearts and our devotion. We give ourselves to them day in and day out. They become the primary object of our passions, our energy, and our love. We may not be willing to admit it, but we worship our jobs.

Luke 18:18–29 helps us better understand what it means to let something become an idol for us. A rich ruler comes to Jesus to learn what is required of him to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him, and the man excitedly says that this is exactly what his life has always looked like! But then Jesus probes the one area of his life that the young man wants to keep for himself. "You still lack one thing," Jesus says. "Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." The Bible says that when the young man heard this "he became very sad, because he was very wealthy." Jesus thus revealed the man's idol—his love for money and the security and status it provided to him. His idol kept him from following Jesus.

Do you see the point of this story? It gives us one of the clearest and simplest pictures of idolatry in the entire Bible. An idol is something that you desire more than you desire Jesus.


It's easy to make your job an idol. Our culture drives us to be successful, but success is typically defined in specific ways. Think about the conversations you have when you meet someone new. One of the first questions you likely ask is, "What do you do?" At this point, the pressure is on to convince the other person that what we do is important and that we are good at it. The social cues around us push us to find our identity in our jobs—in the things we do.

Idolizing your work, however, is more than just a bad idea; it's a deadly spiritual danger. If your pursuit of joy, satisfaction, and meaning centers on "what you do" and "what you are accomplishing," you'll find nothing but emptiness at the end of that road. Deep and lasting satisfaction can only be found when our worship is directed at the one who alone deserves it—Jesus Christ.

Our jobs become idols when we overidentify with them. Our work becomes the primary consumer of our time, our attention, and our passions, as well as the primary means for measuring our happiness and our dissatisfaction in life. So what are some of the warning signs that this is happening? Here are some of the most common ways we idolize our jobs. See if any of these describe you.

1. Your work is the primary source of your satisfaction. It is all too easy to look for fulfillment from your work, finding your ultimate purpose in job performance and success in the workplace. For some, this kind of idolatry takes the subtle form of insisting they will do only what they were "made to do" and refusing to do—or do well—anything less than what they are passionate about. For others, this can take the form of a constant, grinding frustration—a sense that their work is not completely fulfilling. For others, it's the opposite—a deep-seated self-satisfaction in what they have already accomplished.

What about you? Does success at work fill a big need in your life? Do you find your mood radically shifting as your professional stock goes up and down? Our jobs can never provide the kind of satisfaction and fulfillment we're demanding of them. They simply were not intended to bear these expectations. So it shouldn't surprise us when the satisfaction we experience through our work fades or fails to sustain us.

It's like a child riding his scooter. He can ride it around the driveway well enough, but then he gets angry when the scooter doesn't fly. We may find it humorous or amusing, but the little boy grows increasingly frustrated and angry, kicking the scooter and shouting at it. Of course, the problem is simple: scooters aren't designed to fly. The child is confused about the purpose of the scooter—it's not supposed to fly! It's meant to be ridden. If the child had appropriate expectations for his scooter, he'd enjoy it more.

The same is true of our jobs. If we have appropriate expectations for our jobs, we will likely find ourselves enjoying them more. Our jobs were never intended to carry the weight of providing us with ultimate, lasting satisfaction. And when we try to make them carry that freight, we will find ourselves quickly disappointed.

2. Your work is all about being the best so you can make a name for yourself. Your job can become an idol when you place an undue emphasis on the pursuit of excellence. Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong with working hard and doing your work well. In fact, that's something God requires of us! The problem is in our desire to be recognized as being good at something. This can easily become an idol. We want to look good. We want people to take notice of us and praise us for our abilities. We want them to value us and ultimately ... to glorify us.

This expression of workplace idolatry often leads to a perpetually competitive mind-set. Mentally, we're always keeping score. "Am I as good as those guys?" "How do my accomplishments stack up against that person?" Some competition can be healthy, driving us to reach a little further and work a little harder. However, this becomes disastrous when our desire to be at the top begins to rule our hearts. Even when we succeed, the idolatry of success can leave us feeling like it's just not good enough—an unrelenting perfectionism. And if we don't succeed, the idolatry of success can lead to soul-destroying discouragement or grim resignation.

3. Your work becomes primarily about making a difference in the world. Another way our work becomes an idol is when we think that the ultimate purpose of our work is to bring some benefit to the people around us. There is something profoundly right about a desire to make a difference in the world around us. However, that desire can also elevate itself into idolatry if we believe that the value of our work is ultimately determined by its impact on the world.

When our desire to have an impact takes priority, it is possible that God and his purposes will be squeezed out of the picture. This expression of idolatry fills us with pride, as we take credit for the things our work is accomplishing instead of recognizing these achievements as gifts from God. Making a difference or working to "change the world" can also lead us to neglect other God-given responsibilities. We justify our neglect because we are doing something good—serving others. Then if our efforts don't produce the results we want to see, we get discouraged and angry; we become frustrated and think our work was simply a waste of time.

Every form of idolatry—every act of worshiping something that is not worthy of our worship— will bear bitter fruit in our lives. Good and godly desires can quickly be transformed into idols, producing covetousness, comparison, dissatisfaction, and unrelenting competitiveness. Idolatry is the classic bait and switch. Idols promise fulfillment, but they never provide it. We are left with increasing dissatisfaction and unfulfilled longing.


God tells us that nothing in this world is worthy of our worship except Jesus. Everything else, including our jobs, will fail to satisfy in this life and will be useless for the next one.

Why is that? Why can't we find deep and lasting satisfaction in our jobs? Why don't they bring about the fulfillment we so often convince ourselves they will? The answer is that our hearts will always grasp for more. If you give yourself to the idol of work, you'll find it is an impossible taskmaster, a slave driver that can never be completely satisfied. It will always disappoint us and let us down. It will never finally grant the satisfaction it promises.

I remember the first time I (Seb) recognized this truth. As a freshman at Princeton University, I was walking across campus one day and realized I'd achieved the one driving goal of all the work I'd done throughout high school: I was a student at an Ivy League school! In that same moment, though, I also realized I wasn't satisfied. Why not? Because I realized high school had simply been a stepping-stone to Princeton, and now Princeton had become a stepping-stone to some other goal. Princeton had seemed like the goal, but it really wasn't. I still wasn't satisfied. I wanted more.

Thinking about all this, I started asking myself a simple question: What's next?

• So here I am at the fancy college; great, what's next?

• A great job right out of college; check, what's next?

The logic of idolatry is clear in my thinking. There will always be a next step, always something more for me to attain. Working for myself and my own fulfillment will always end in dissatisfaction.

• Started and successfully built a great company; all right, what's next?

• Huge home and vacation house; got 'em, what's next?

• Produced a Hollywood movie; what's next?

• Bought a baseball team and can treat it like my fantasy team; yea, what's next?

• Richer than Bill Gates—$40 billion in the bank and $40 billion given to charities; what's next?

The problem became astonishingly clear: at every step along the way I was looking forward to the next thing, something that might finally fulfill that promise of satisfaction for me. But I couldn't find it.

It's not just the fact that our hearts will always grasp for "What's next?" though; it's also the bracing fact that the Bible tells us our work is cursed! When human beings rebelled against God and plunged the world into sin, our labor became back-breakingly difficult, and its fruits hard-won and fleeting. We only make matters worse when we fail to recognize that reality and start seeking ultimate, lasting satisfaction in our work.

Here's the fundamental problem with letting our work become an idol: There is always more that can be done, more that can be achieved. There is always a "What's next?" to pursue. We can always improve our work just a little more. We can always help more people, make the city a little bit better. We can always make our work a little more efficient and a little easier. The goalposts keep moving, and satisfaction proves elusive.


The bottom line truth of all this is that this world is simply not worth living for. Oh, it claims to be! And it makes all kinds of promises about the good it can give us if we just burn our lives out in its service. But only God himself is truly worth living for. Only he can bring ultimate, lasting satisfaction.

So what about you? How have you been looking too much for happiness, joy, fulfillment, or purpose in your job? Have you found yourself wanting the good your job promises more than you've desired Jesus? Have you made your work an idol? If so, the solution is simple, though not easy: You need to repent! You need to turn from that futile and wrong way of thinking, recognize your idolatry of work for what it is, and refocus your mind on working as an act of worship to God. When you do that, you'll find to your great joy that the goalposts suddenly stop moving. That's because once you ground your life and joy and satisfaction in God, there is no "What's next?"

Why not? Because there is no need for anything more.


Excerpted from The Gospel at Work by James Sebastian Traeger, Gregory D. Gilbert. Copyright © 2013 James Sebastian Traeger and Gregory D. Gilbert. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
This book is a great primer on putting our work in the perspective of our lives and God’s kingdom. Written by two ordinary Christian men who have lived the ups and downs of life and work, Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert have given deep thought, purpose, and context to the subject of work. An easy, instructional, and edifying read. -- Bob Doll, , chief equity strategist at Nuveen Asset Management

“You work for the King, and that changes everything!” That is the basic argument for this much-needed, superbly written work on work. Our job is necessary, and it is also an opportunity to glorify God and advance the gospel. Thank you Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert, for writing a book that is long overdue. -- Daniel L. Akin, , president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, North Carolina

The best advice I could give anyone is to read The Gospel at Work. It’s more than a book about finding purpose and meaning in our jobs; it’s a book about how to have success in life. Sebastian and Greg have done a masterful job of providing practical guidance on a question we’ve all asked at one time or another: “What is the point of work in a Christian’s life?” If you want to be successful in life and really enjoy the work you do, embrace the principles found here. This book is filled with countless gems of wisdom! -- Gloria S. Nelund, , chairman and CEO of Trilinc Global

The ideas in this book are not a theory for the authors but the reality in which they live. One writes as a businessman, the other as a pastor. Both wrestle faithfully with what the Bible teaches about our work, showing us the exciting possibilities when we see our world through God’s eyes. -- J. D. Greear, Ph.D., , pastor of the Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham, North Caroline, and author of Stop Asking Jesus into Yo

Imagine sitting down with someone for a deeply wise, biblically faithful, and intensely practical conversation about your workplace and work. You’ll find that here. Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert combine real-world practicality and theological fidelity in this immensely pastoral book. After finishing it, I looked up and said to my wife, “Every Christian should read this book.” -- Jonathan Leeman, , editorial director of 9Marks and author of The Church and the Surprising Offense of God's Love

Everyone knows that work is both necessary and hard. But what about its meaning? Some think of work as merely a distraction from ministry; others, as a necessary evil to provide for higher ends; others still, a place where ultimate purpose and identity can be found. In this book you will find two careful and experienced guides---brothers whose wisdom and teaching I deeply respect---who know not only the right questions to ask but also where to find the life-giving answers. -- Justin Taylor, , managing editor of The ESV Study Bible and coauthor of The Final Days of Jesus

The Gospel at Work is a book by practitioners for practitioners. The combined business and pastoral perspectives of the authors make this a real “how to” narrative. Clearly defining our purposes for working while answering many of our key questions about our careers, Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert point us to a freedom that can only be provided by Christ. -- Lou Giuliano, , former chairman, CEO, and president of ITT Industries and cofounder of Workforce Ministries

I read every word of this book and loved it. I want to make this a basic staple in my discipling and get lots of copies. This provocative and practical book asks and answers the right questions in the right way. It will even help you know how to better pray---privately and publicly. Two of my favorite people have now produced one of my favorite books. -- Mark Dever, , pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC, and president of 9Marks

The Gospel at Work is a field guide for anyone who wants to seriously consider how to give glory to God through his or her job. Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert answer a series of questions about how faith and work intersect with sound biblical answers. You’ll be more equipped to live out the gospel in your career after reading this book. -- Dr. O. S. Hawkins, , president and CEO of Guidestone Financial Resources

Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert understand that one way we reflect our Creator is by being creative right where we are with the talents he has given us. In doing so, we fulfill our God-given privilege to beautify our various stations for his glory---giving this world an imperfect preview of the beautification that will one day be a universal actuality when Jesus returns to finish what he started. Read this book. It will make you think and set you free. -- Tullian Tchividjian, , pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and author of One-Way Love

Meet the Author

Sebastian Traeger has spent years starting and building various businesses. He has co-founded, a real estate technology company;, a crowd-funding site for causes;, a software and services company for Christian organizations; and Silas Partners, a web-consulting firm. He also helped start Village Phone, a telecommunications company in El Salvador and worked as a management consultant at Dean and Company. He graduated in 1996 with a B.A. in Politics from Princeton University where he also played on the Baseball team and managed a few on-campus businesses. Sebastian serves as an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C and is on the Board of Guidestone Financial Resources of the SBC. He and his wife, Nikki, have three children and love living just 6 blocks from the US Capitol.

Greg Gilbert is Senior Pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the author of What Is the Gospel?, What is the Mission of the Church?, and Preach: Theology Meets Practice. Previously, Greg served as an assistant pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and as Director of Theological Research to the President of Southern Seminary in Louisville. He earned his MDiv from Southern Seminary in 2006 and his B.A. in History from Yale University in 1999. Greg lives in Louisville with his wife, Moriah, and their three children, Justin, Jack, and Juliet.

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