The Hebrew word “avodah (ah-vod-ah)”is translated in the English Bible for both work & worship. A better English translation when referring to work is service. God Receives Work as Worship Done Unto Him. Put simply – Work is worship. The similarity between the two clarifies that in God’s eyes our work is worship in that it is not done for our own benefit, but rather as an offering to Him. This means the workplace is God’s place. We are to interact with God and talk about God in our workplace just as we do at church or at home. The workplace is a place of worship where we may express the compassion of Christ in word and deed.
In building a theology of work we need to begin with God’s Word and God’s words. The Hebrew word avodah is central to understanding God’s view of work and worship. This noun עבדה(avodah), occurs 145 times, making this word group a substantial theme in the Old Testament. The root verb עבד (avad) occurs 289 times in the Bible, mostly in the qal form. This is does not include the substantive form, עבד(eved), which occurs an additional 780 times in the Old Testament. The עבד word group is translated throughout the English Old Testament in three main ways:
1. Avad (עבד) is most often translated as “service,” where one submits oneself to another. Examples of this are as a slave to a master (Exodus 21:6), a subject to a king (2 Samuel 16:19), or even a son to his father (Malachi 3:17). One such use of “service” is found in 1 Kings 12, King Rehoboam is asked by the people of Israel to lighten the taxes his father Solomon had placed upon them. If he lowered the taxes the people then promised to serve (avad) him as king.
2. Avad (עבד) may be translated as “worship,” referring to the worship of YHWH (Joshua 24:14; Ezekiel 20:40) or the worship of idols (Exodus 20:5; Joshua 23:7; Psalm 97:7;). When He calls Moses to lead His people out of Egypt, God gives Moses this promise: “When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship [avad] God on this mountain” (Exodus 3:12).
3. Avad (עבד) is also translated as “work” or “common labor.” This word refers to vocations both “secular” (Exodus 5:18; Ezekiel 29:18) and “sacred” (Exodus 13:5; Numbers 3:8; Joshua 22:27), both paid (Genesis 29:27) and unpaid (Jeremiah 22:13). In Exodus 34:21, God speaking about the Sabbath says: “Six days you shall labor [avad], but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.”
Os Hillman in his study on work in the Gospels points out “…that of Jesus’ 132 public appearances in the New Testament, 122 were in the workplace. Of the 52 parables Jesus told, 45 had a workplace context. Jesus never addressed the sacred and secular divide because such a divide never existed in Jewish thinking. The Jews understood that everything they did in work and in the synagogue was to be done to God’s glory. This is why quality is so important to Jewish workers. They are not working solely for themselves, but also as worship to God.
Rabbi Ira F. Stone clarifies this when he writes; The Hebrew word for service, “avodah”, is the same word we use for both work and worship. This is not an accident… the true obligation is not merely to worship in words, but to do the difficult work of service.
The workplace is the place where our limitations, our fears and our egoism are revealed to us. It is the place where our true sinful self is surfaces. Thus it is the place where people are most open to meeting God. We wish to strive to both teach and model for people how prayer and worship must occur as naturally and frequently within the office, the classroom, the factory, is key to living life as God created and called us to live.