Work has intrinsic value that is often overlooked or misunderstood, but as Christians, we are called to be overseers of humanity’s ethics, J. Daryl Charles told attendants at Southwestern Seminary’s first Land Center luncheon of the semester, Oct. 10. His lecture topic, “The Church’s Calling to Public Life: Theological Reflections on Virtue, Stewardship and Vocation,” emphasized that, as workers, people become active stewards of the social culture.

Charles is an affiliated scholar in theology and ethics at the Acton Institute, headquartered in Grand Rapids, Mich. The Acton Institute’s mission is to promote individual liberty and religious principle through books, periodicals, articles and seminars. Charles, whose work focuses on a wide range of themes that concern the intersection of faith and culture, is author or co-editor of 12 books, including most recently The Just War Tradition: An Introduction, with David D. Corey. 

“The Master gives different gifts to those of different talents,” Charles told the luncheon attendees. “Yet what matters is not the gift but how the steward uses it.”

“What displeases God is unwillingness to take risk, to not use what we have,” he said. He recalled that when he previously studied criminal justice ethics, “I found that public officials who have built their faith on work deeply had the biggest impact on public policy.”

“Our work and our works are exceedingly valuable,” he said. “They count.”

Yet the church has had little to say on the topic of the merits of work, Charles said. “In 45 years of being a Christian, I have never once heard a sermon on the high calling of the marketplace.”

Charles called for the church to focus on Scripture’s application in society. Few worshipers are called to the clergy, he said, “but nearly 100 percent of any congregation is called to the marketplace.” 

“I think that a misunderstanding exists among conservatives about the value of work and the church’s mandate,” he said. “The solution, clarification, must come from seminaries and divinity schools.”

Charles also emphasized that workers need to take pride in their work and press for excellence. “One of the gifts of God is satisfaction in our work,” he said. “Do you think that the Prince of Glory, 30 years a carpenter, made shoddy furniture?” 

“Work has intrinsic worth, and reward in and of itself,” he concluded. “Can we say that, in going to work, that is part of our worship to God?”