One Christian's Perspective on Work:
A Personal Testimony
Prof. Stephen Long
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
University of California, Santa Barbara
A talk presented to Faculty and Staff Christian Forum
February 29, 1996
One of the areas of my life that I have found most difficult to place
in God's hands has been my work, especially since becoming a faculty member
here at UCSB. This has led me to study and seek wisdom to understand the
Christian view of work and its application in my life. Since we are called
to glorify God in whatever we do, our work must also be excellent. In this
reflection, I will present my current understanding of work and excellence
and address the questions: can Christian faculty serve the Lord through
work alone? Can one find a balance between the demands of work, home, and
First, to begin to set the stage, I would like to share a few verses that
partially describe the biblical perspective on work.
- Col. 3:17 "and whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it
all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through
- Col. 3:23 "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as
working for the Lord, not for men."
- Eph 6:8 "Serve wholeheartedly as if you were serving the Lord,
From these verses we can make two important observations.
1. Work is set aside for the Lord. While most of us must work to support
ourselves and our families, work goes beyond providing just physical sustenance.
It provides an opportunity for us to bring glory to God.
2. The type of work is not specified. That is, secular work is sanctified
when we serve the Lord. All work can become full-time Christian work if
our motivation is to serve the Lord. Given the choice, we should seek work
in which we can best use the gifts or talents that God has given us. Remember
the parable of the talents. If we do not have the choice, then we should
seek to serve with integrity and to bring glory to God through our labors
whatever they may be.
Are you good at Languages? Then serve God through your talent.
Do you enjoy science? Be a scientist with a Theistic world view and dedicated
to serving the Lord.
Can you write? Then use your gift to be an excellent writer who brings
glory to God.
Working as faculty on a secular campus puts us right in the middle of a
potential mission field. We do not have to feel that our work is less glorifying
to God because it is secular if we have been called by God to our labors.
As a Christian, I know that my work should be in service to the Lord, flowing
out of my deepening relationship with him.
In addition, if we are responsible to students or staff as a supervisor,
we also have a responsibility to treat our employees and students with righteousness
- Col. 4:1. "Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and
fair, because you know that you also have a master in heaven."
Clearly, work is one area where we can serve the Lord, but does our responsibility
to bring glory to God end with our work? Or do we have other responsibilities
that are on the same level?
- "Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds
and praise your father in heaven." (Matt. 5:16).
- "Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer
your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - which is your
spiritual worship." (Rom 12:1)
Certainly, work is a part of this, but these verses and many others seem
to speak of a life that brings glory to God not only through work but through
a service to the Lord that extends over all of our life: demonstrating an
excellence of character, commitment to personal relationships, and by demonstrating
integrity in our interactions with others. In short, the call to serve
the Lord requires a life where faith and career and faith and relationships
are integrated, not isolated.
Having described some aspects of a biblical view of work, let's consider
the application to the university. In particular, I would like to reflect
on work as a faculty member at a research university that is avidly seeking
external recognition of its excellence. What does being excellent mean
to the Christian? Do we direct our efforts to maximize the recognition
of excellence or should we strive to lead excellent lives in a broader sense?
This naturally leads to two interpretations of excellence. 
1. Excellence is defined as being better than others - superiority - the
competitive model. Verification of this excellence comes from comparison
between people, things, or institutions using some external standard.
2. Being of the highest quality. Exceptionally good. Here, the standard
is still external, but is non-competitive.
I would say that the first definition is predominantly secular and the second
is closer to the biblical perspective.
- Phil. 4:8: "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,
if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think
about these things."
Also, recall that 1 Cor 12 which speaks of the many parts of the body, of
spiritual gifts, is followed by 1 Cor 13, the famous love chapter, which
is introduced by "and now I will show you the most excellent way."
These verses do not speak of being better than everyone else, but to seeking
an integrated excellence in one's life as defined by God's standards, not
those of men.
So, there is an inherent tension for the Christian, working for an institution
that measures its value in terms of opinion surveys of university deans
and presidents or corporation executives. Excellence of this kind is a
competitive measure, and the work most highly valued is that which brings
the greatest public recognition followed closely by that which brings the
most money. Excellence in teaching or mentoring students is expected, but
not highly rewarded.
The secular competition or sports model of excellence also applies to the
search for research funding. Funding of research is highly competitive in
today's economic climate, with many excellent university research groups
often in direct competition against each other for a limited supply of funds.
Being the first and the best, of highest quality, are required to sustain
stable funding. Can we honestly hope to achieve or sustain this condition?
There are problems with attempting to achieve the number one position or
stay in that position. It involves absolute commitment of effort, for how
else can you remain on the top? Its sort of like you are constantly training
for the Olympics. How do you ever know when you have done enough? There
is always a program that is running out of funding soon, or another research
group hot on your heels. This relentless pursuit leads to dissatisfaction
with high quality work and to exclusion of other important aspects of our
There is a principle of available effort that applies to the pursuit of
excellence . In general, our available effort gets spread between the
various activities that we commit ourselves to pursue. At the university,
the possibilities are almost unlimited, but include research, teaching,
departmental and university service, and service to the professional community.
At home, this might include your relationship with your wife, children,
family and friends. At church, it might include serving in a ministry,
as a teacher, or possibly a deacon or elder, and edification of your fellow
believers. Also, we all are called to be heralds of the gospel to those
around us. As Christians, we have many responsibilities. We can possibly
increase the available effort somewhat by working more efficiently, being
smarter, or better organized, or hiring more students or assistants, but
eventually we reach the limits of our energy or our need for sleep.
So, how can we cope with all the demands? We are forced to establish priorities
and make choices on how we are to best spend our time so that we can be
excellent in the most important areas of our life. If we focus our effort
on remaining number one in research alone, a nearly infinite task, we are
likely to observe other areas at work or in our lives that are anything
but excellent. The Christian should be careful not to sacrifice relationships
for ambition. People are more important than things. We must establish
a balance in life to best serve the Lord.
It must be clear that we can neither neglect our work, as we are working
unto the Lord, not unto men, nor become one-dimensional perfectionists at
the expense of the rest of our responsibilities. We must never use our
Christianity as a rationalization for poor quality work. Also, we should
never use our work as an excuse for neglecting our relationships with family,
friends, and students.
Do we see our students as people whom we can inspire, whom we can teach
how to learn and create new ideas? Do we see the classroom and research
as the tools to accomplish this? Is our life an example for them to emulate?
Or do we view students as slow to learn or nuisances when they are undergraduates
or an inexpensive set of hands if they are graduate students? Are the students
the end product or are the papers, conferences, research grants or the opinion
polls? Can our students tell that there is something different about the
way we view our work? Do they know why we have a different perspective
Regarding the sports or competition model, Paul said: "Run in such
a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into
strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last." (1
Cor. 9:24-25). Are we laboring for a crown that will not last? He goes
on to say: "but we do it to get a crown that will last forever."
He then reminds us of the Israelites who passed through the sea and drank
from the spiritual rock who was Christ. But, God was not pleased with them
and they lost the prize.
In conclusion, the Christian should see excellence "as the state of
being of the highest quality as measured by the standards of God. There
is no necessity for superiority of one person over others and no particular
virtue in being labeled No. 1."  We need to see our lives as the
integration of faith with work and relationships. Being No. 1 in one area
alone does not justify being a zero in everything else.
Acknowledgment. I would like to acknowledge Prof. Richard Bube of Stanford
University, Dept. of Material Science for his thought provoking insights
into the consequences of the excesses in the pursuit of excellence in one's
 Richard H. Bube, "Pursuit of Excellence: Pitfalls in the Effort
to Become No. 1," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, Vol.
39 (2), pp. 67-76, June 1987.
 R. H. Bube, op. cit., p. 75.
 John White, The Fight, Chap. 10, Intervarsity Press, 1976.