When Nehemiah was building the wall around Jerusalem, a short statement is recorded, which should speak volumes to us about the value of work.
Next to them the Tekoites made repairs; but their nobles did not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord. (Nehemiah 3:5 NKJV)
I once lead a discipleship training school for a missionary training organization. On one occasion, we accepted a student from a foreign country who had been a spiritual leader in the church there. In his culture, he did not serve others, they served him.
We built a two-hour work duty into our daily schedule. When there was a prayer meeting or teaching session, our foreign student was one of the first to arrive. When it came to work duties, he was difficult to find. One Saturday, we had a work day where I labored with the students on a very dirty job. Coming back from the work detail, this student looked into my dusty face and said, “very practical Christianity.” When he said this, I thought to myself, he is finally starting to get it. I had been teaching in the school about having a servant’s heart, with very little response from him. It’s not so much what we say that counts, but what we do. Christianity is more readily caught than taught.
God rebukes the Tekoite nobles. The commentator Matthew Henry says that “they would not come under the discipline of being obliged to perform this service. They thought that the dignity and liberty of their rank exempted them from getting their hands dirty and serving God.”
The action of the Tekoites makes it evident they believed specific tasks had more value than others. Our work has value because God has called us to do it, and we are a person of value doing it. Yes, satisfaction comes from completing a task and doing it well, but that is a separate issue from value. God places no more importance on the CEO of a company than a maintenance worker, if they are both doing their jobs for him. We should not seek to get value from our work but to bring value to it.
In my discipleship training school, changing roles from a leader to one who did manual labor did not change my value. I took on a different role but my value was constant. We are valuable because we are made in the image of God and bought with a price. On that work day, I brought value to that job. I didn’t derive my value or the lack thereof from it.
The Tekoites were operating in the ways of the world, which says you have worth according to what you do. God does not see big or little people; he sees people. He majors on why we do what we do, not what we do. Whatever task God has called you to do, it has great value if you are doing it for him. Such will free us from the bondage of the Tekoite nobles, who look to people rather than God for their acceptance.
It never devalues you to do what God has called you to do.