Christians often talk about working for God, going on a missions trip for God, doing the ministry for God.
It’s good to talk that way. It’s biblical. For example, we are promised that through Christ we will “bear fruit for God” (Romans 7:4). We are urged to “live for him who . . . died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15). And we are called to “work heartily, as for the Lord, and not for men” (Colossians 3:23).
So we should do things for God. But what does that mean?
Not to Meet God’s Needs
Sometimes when we talk about doing something for someone, we mean that we are going to meet their needs. So if we talked about doing something for the poor, we mean we are going to meet the needs of the poor.
But is that what we mean when we talk about doing things for God? When the Bible calls us to do things for God, is it calling us to meet God’s needs? That’s impossible, because God has no needs.
“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” (Acts 17:24–25)
God has no needs. He is completely self-sufficient in the joyful fellowship of the Trinity. He is always full and overflowing with grace — giving, giving, and giving some more. Which means that doing something for God cannot mean doing something to meet God’s needs.
Then What Does It Mean?
To answer that question, we’d do well to look at verses where the Bible talks about doing something “for God” or “for the Lord,” to see if we can find any hints in the context. There’s a crucial clue in Colossians 3:23–24. Start with verse 23: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”
There it is — we are called to work heartily for the Lord. So, if that doesn’t mean we should work heartily to meet God’s needs, what does it mean? I found the answer in the next verse. Read verses 23 and 24 together: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.”
To do something for the Lord means we do it knowing something — that from the Lord we will receive the reward of the inheritance. So doing something for the Lord does not mean doing something to meet the Lord’s needs. It means doing something to receive the Lord’s reward.
And the reward the Lord gives is the inheritance, the all-satisfying joy of knowing him forever. So, to work heartily for the Lord means to work heartily for the reward of joy in the Lord.
It’s like what a football coach means when he pulls the team together and says, “Let’s do this for the win!” What he means is, Let’s do this for the reward of winning.
When we see what doing something for the Lord means — not doing something to meet his needs, but doing something to receive his reward — it changes everything. It motivates our obedience — because we see that doing something for the Lord means pursuing more joy in him. It humbles our hearts — because we see that obedience is not about us giving God something he needs, but about God giving us something we need — more joy in him. And it purifies our motives — because it takes our focus off impressing others with our obedience, and puts it on seeking joy in God through our obedience.
Think of what God has called you to do — like lead a small group, wash the dishes, share the gospel, or make a sales call. You know you should do these things for the Lord. But too often we are not clear about what that means, and so it becomes just a cliché.
So try this: see what happens in your heart when you prayerfully and meaningfully say,
I’m going to lead my small group for the reward of joy in the Lord.
I’m going to wash the dishes for the reward of joy in the Lord.
I'm going to share the gospel for the reward of joy in the Lord.
I’m going to make this sales call for the reward of joy in the Lord.
It changes everything.