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Finding The Essence Of ‘Good Work’

Thumbnail WW Article 3_Finding The Essence Of 'Good Work

This article is drawn from the Why Work? podcast series, in which Paul Kim, Sibs Sibanda and Lise-Marie Keyser explore Dorothy Sayers’ influential essay on the topic. Although written during World War II, Sayers’ counter-intuitive observations still offer valuable insights into why we work, and how we should think about work.


In the previous two articles in this series, we explored a few important underlying beliefs about why we work. From Scripture, we realised that work is not only (as many of us believed) something that needs to be done to provide financially for ourselves and the people who depend on us.

Instead, it was argued that we were created to work, and we have been called to do particular types of work. If we agree with Sayers’ first premise that work should be “a way of life,” it follows logically that work and rest should be integrated, and that seeking limitless leisure time is not a meaningful purpose in life.

Therefore it is right and proper that we should (as much as possible) seek the fulfilment we can only get from doing good work, well. Now the question arises: what is ‘good work’?

1. The illusion of sacred versus secular

Many Christians believe in a clear separation between religious activities and everyday work, with religious tasks being preferred as they are seen as more important. Yet the majority of us work outside of religious institutions. Does this mean that if we are not employed full-time by a church, we should try to limit our ‘day-job’ as much as possible (in other words, only do what needs to be done for us to survive) so that we can commit as much time as possible to church activities?

Sayers strongly opposes this notion. She states that “it is not right [that] a man’s life is divided into the time he spends on his work and the time he spends in serving God. He must be able to serve God in his work, and the work itself must be accepted and respected as the medium of divine creation.”

In other words, she rejects dualism as unbiblical – so should we. Dualism is a worldview that divides life into ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’ activities. It claims that the Christian faith is only applicable to our private (home and church) lives, while having nothing to do with our public (social and work) lives.

However, God created the world with an inherent design in mind, and that design never divided life into ‘worship’ and ‘work’. Jesus commands us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). It is not possible to offer all of ourselves to Him (as He calls us to do) when we live divided lives. When we embrace a biblical view of faith and work, it breaks the illusion that only religious activities have spiritual significance.

2. Regular work as a divine calling

Once we realise that all work is spiritual, it becomes clear that ordinary, regular work can of course be ‘good work’. God called kings, judges, artists, shepherds, warriors or farmers to his purposes in biblical times, and He calls us to be security guards, teachers, accountants, doctors or farmers today. As Sayers explains, “when a man or woman is called to a particular job of secular work, that is as true a vocation as though he or she were called to specifically religious work”.

Understanding that regular work can be a divine calling, releases great power and a sense of purpose into our lives. In his article “Who Wants A Balanced Life?” Brett Johnson (a South African author and business advisor living in the US) emphasises: “Power for living comes from removing the false barriers between work and worship, business and ministry, career and calling, everyday-life and God.”

And when our ordinary jobs are properly valued as the ‘good work’ it can be, it becomes an obvious channel for serving God and others in everyday life. By God’s design, our daily work gives practical expression to his command that we should love our neighbours as ourselves (Mark 12:31).

3. Serving the community versus serving the work

Does this mean that ‘good work’ always focuses on loving our neighbours (or, serving the community) first? No, warns Sayers:

“If we put our neighbour first, we are putting man above God, and that is what we have been doing ever since we began to worship humanity and made man the measure of all things. Whenever man is made the center of things, he becomes the storm center of trouble – and that is precisely the catch about serving the community.”

In our modern era, we are caught between the two ideological extremes naturally brought about by making man the measure of all things. On the one hand, we are constantly encouraged to selfishly serve ourselves, and on the other it is often demanded that we selflessly serve others (for example, by making ‘climate change’ our main purpose in life).

Sayers suggests a compelling alternative: “It is the work that serves the community – the business of the worker is to serve the work.” Rather than emphasising ‘serving the community’ above all, she redirects our attention to the intrinsic value of doing good work. True service to God and others, she suggests, lies in doing our daily work well: “when you find a man who is a Christian praising God by the excellence of his work… Let him serve God in the way to which God has called him.”

The point is that every profession places its own demands on those who engage in it, simply because of the nature of that specific type of work. And when we understand, respect, and meet those demands, we do ‘good work’.


Sayers concludes that, “as we are, so we make. It is [therefore] the business of religion to make us Christian people, and then our work will naturally be turned to Christian ends, because our work is the expression of ourselves.”

This captures the profound connection between our sense of identity and purpose, and the work we do. It challenges the false division between the sacred and the secular, confirms that our regular day-jobs can be a divine calling, and suggests that every type of work (no matter how humble it may seem) is worthy of excellence.

Ultimately, Sayers encourages a shift in our perspective – urging us to do ‘good work’ as a genuine act of worship, which then naturally benefits the broader community and ourselves.

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Lise-Marie Keyser

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