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  • Writer's picturePaul Cho

Work and Worship: Are They Different?

When my wife's friend learned that I am both an accountant and a pastor, she said, "Your husband has one boring job - accounting - and one interesting job - being a pastor." Similarly, when my neighbor found out that I work in the investment industry and am also a pastor, he seemed very confused. In his mind, investing work is related to material things, such as money, while pastoring has to do with spiritual matters, such as saving souls. He could not reconcile the two different material and spiritual worlds in his mind, which I completely understand.



We often divide our vocations and lives into holy and unholy realms. I used to believe that being a pastor was the only and most holy way to serve the Lord. However, my theological studies at Regent College taught me otherwise. Everything we do, including our work in the church and our work from Monday to Saturday, is supposed to be worship to the Lord. But how can this be?


(1) Our work is meant to be priestly service for God's world.


In the book of Genesis, we see God assigning work to Adam. Genesis 2:15 states, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” The Hebrew phrase for "to work it and keep it" is "avodah" and "shamar." These exact same Hebrew words appear in Numbers 3:7-8 to describe the work of priests. In other words, the physical act of gardening in God's creation was intended to be a priestly duty. It involved taking care of God's creation in the way that God intended. Gardening was meant to be similar to the work of priests, who were called to care for the temple as part of their spiritual work to connect people with God.


For example, in the creation account, we see that God intended His creation to flourish. God accomplishes this by subduing chaos, formlessness, and darkness, and bringing forth order, beauty, and light to the world, in which all living beings will experience God's perfect peace, the shalom. Our work is meant to serve the purpose of taking care of God's creation and bringing God's shalom to the world. This involves both physical work, such as gardening, and spiritual work, such as ministering in the temple.


(2) Our work is meant to be worship for the Lord.


Furthermore, the Hebrew word "avodah" for work can also be translated as "worship." In the book of Isaiah, the prophet speaks of the day when the whole world will worship the Lord. Isaiah 19:21 states, "And the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the LORD in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering." Here, the Hebrew word for "worship" is “avodah.” In other words, for the people of the Old Testament, work and worship were not two separate things. Instead, they were meant to be integrated into one act of worship and service for the Lord.


Also note where Isaiah mentions "worship with sacrifice." In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew word for sacrifice, "zebah," is translated into Greek as "thusia." This same Greek word appears in Romans 12:1, where the Apostle Paul urges believers to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, or "thusia." According to Paul, this is our spiritual act of worship. In other words, when Paul tells us to present our bodies as a sacrifice and worship to the Lord, he is not saying to do so only when we are at church. Instead, Paul urges us, in light of God's mercy in our lives, to give the entirety of our lives to the Lord as a living sacrifice and as worship to Him. We are called to do this whether we are in the Church, or in God's world, including the world of the marketplace.


So, what does this look like in practice? How can we work as a priest while also engaging in our work as an act of worship to the Lord? During my time at a property management company, I had a coworker who was also a good friend. He brought a strong sense of commitment and dedication to his work, always approaching it with passion, joy, and gratitude. I never heard him complain or speak poorly of anyone, even in challenging situations. He remained optimistic and encouraged others to stay positive.


Curious about his work ethic, I asked him how he managed to work like that. He replied,


“Paul, do you want to know the secret to my work ethic? My secret is that I don’t work for anyone or money. I work for God alone. At the end of the day, when I go home, I want to be able to say, ‘I gave everything for my Lord, without regret.’”

For my friend, work of property management was not about compensation, but rather a contribution to the service of the Lord and His world. He worked to worship the Lord by offering his work to Him and taking good care of the building where people could feel safe and experience God's peace (shalom).


I believe that my work as an accountant and pastor is integrated and serves one common purpose: to worship the Lord and serve God's creation. I am certain that your work does as well.

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