What is a person’s work worth?
We work to live. True, but there is more to the transaction than this crude equation points out. Should our work be sold to the highest bidder, a straight swap of services for compensation? Or does the act of employment itself create something greater than either party can produce alone?
A couple of weeks ago, as my wife and I wandered through a craft fair in North Carolina, I saw this sign on a booth.
Tempting though it was to dismiss this as so much salesmanship for hobbyists, it stuck with me. Sure, artists tend to self-importance (No, I’d never do that), but there is something of imago Dei dignity in this statement. Any craftsmanship or professional endeavor is art in the sense described here, and in whatever capacity we are employed, we are selling a piece of ourselves. It is the value created by our knowledge, experience, strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures that makes buying our labor worthwhile.
Of course, there is another side: If no one is buying what we are selling, the fault may not lie entirely with the purchaser. It is certainly not an easy task to turn some of the grimier and more mundane tasks of life into “art”, but excellence can be pursued in any endeavor. Surely this is what the Apostle had in mind when he told Christian slaves (encompassing by synecdoche all of us who work) to serve: “with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ; not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man” (Eph. 6:5-7).
Work runs deeper than paying the bills, and, difficult and stressful though it may be at times, it is not itself a curse (as many have pointed out before, God gave Adam work to do in the Garden before the Fall). Perhaps if we remembered that the work of our hands is an extension of our person, we could serve and be served with greater honor and love.