Published by Crossway, the Short Studies in Biblical Theology series seeks to “connect the resurgence of biblical theology at the academic level with everyday believers.” Each volume “takes a whole-Bible theme and traces it through Scripture.”
Work and Our Labor in the Lord, the series’ third volume, explores the theme of work throughout the whole Bible. The book is written by James M. Hamilton Jr., professor of biblical theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
1. Purpose of Work and Our Labor in the Lord
The purpose of this book is to examine how the biblical authors viewed work. By understanding what they believed about work, it will help the reader know what they should believe about it.
2. Content of Work and Our Labor in the Lord
The main body of the book is organized into four chapters.
Chapter 1 reviews God’s original design of work before sin entered the world. Hamilton examines Genesis 1-2 looking at the work of God and the commission of work God had given to Adam. Deuteronomy 28:1-16 is discussed, giving us a glimpse on God had intended for his people if they had obeyed.
Chapter 2 examines work after the fall. Hamilton looks at lessons learned from Genesis 4. We learn that work and identity were tightly knitted together. The comparison of the fruits of labor led to the first murder. Ecclesiastes reflect on the futility of work, while Proverbs teaches the reader how to work wisely. Examples of good workers in the Old Testament narratives are analyzed to close the chapter.
Chapter 3 describes work in the kingdom of God which Christ inaugurates through his work of redemption. Hamilton discusses the truths taught in Romans 12:1-2, Ephesians 4:28, 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, 1 Thessalonians 5:14, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, and James 5:4. When the redeemed work, they are expressing love to God and others.
Chapter 4 describes work in the new heaven and new earth. Hamilton reminds readers of the sobering truth that work is cut short by death. He then discusses readers God’s original intention for us. Our future includes a bodily resurrection and our participation in the restoration of people and land. We will receive inheritance, work as stewards, reign, and judge.
Hamilton concludes the book reminding readers that although the fallen world makes work miserable, we will be freed in the new heaven and earth to do the work God had originally tasked for us.
3. Commentary of Work and Our Labor in the Lord
Hamilton succeeds admirably in writing a succinct Bible study on work, looking at this topic from Genesis to Revelation. As a person who works 50 to 55 hour weeks, I was eager to read this biblical theology on work.
Hamilton neglects to examine the relationship between employer and employee in this book. Most of us are not self-employed, and our work is primarily working under the authority of another person. I would have loved to read a survey on what the book teaches about how to interact as a good master/employee, and how to conduct oneself as a slave/employee.
Hamilton also neglects to examine the role of work compared to the totality of life. Many modern readers look for a work-life balance, but this concept and life challenge is not addressed.
4. Comparison Analysis
God at Work, written by Gene Veith, is one of the most popular Christian books on the subject of work. Veith’s book is much more practical in nature. Hamilton’s is more theological.
Work Matters, written by Tom Nelson, is another recent book that looks at how our relationship with God should impact the actions and decisions we make at work. Nelson’s book, like Veith’s, addresses more practical theology.
5. Final Thoughts
Hamilton’s Work and the Our Labor in the Lord succeeds in providing a biblical theology on work, accessible to the lay reader. I wished he had addressed the relationship between employer and employee more. But otherwise, it provides a great biblical foundation that other more practical books can build on.