A surprising advantage of woodworking using hand tools – one can quietly prep boards and layout dovetails during a church service. A dozen or so years ago I got to do just that. My friend Sonja preached a sermon focused on Ephesians 2, specifically, For we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do (Eph. 2:10, CSB). She asked me if I would relocate my workbench and some tools to the church sanctuary stage and then do some woodworking stuff as she gave her message.
As I prepared boards to cut dovetails that Sunday morning, I contemplated the significance that I, Curt Hinkle, am God’s workmanship. What does it mean to be God’s workmanship? And what does it mean that I am his workmanship with purpose? And what are those good works for which God has prepared for me? Some thoughts…
I notice that the Apostle Paul said we are God’s workmanship, not you (or Curt Hinkle, for that matter). In our western, American individualistic approach to faith, it’s an easy miss. I don’t doubt that this is a truism applicable to the individual, but we need to remember that Paul is addressing the Church in Ephesus. It seems that he is saying that Christ-followers as a whole unit are his workmanship, created for good works – individually and corporately.
So, let’s look at what Paul might be saying both individually and corporately. The root Greek word for workmanship is poiema (ποίημα). It describes God’s creative activity. It’s the word from which poem and poetry are derived. It has also been translated as accomplishment, masterpiece, handiwork, or a product of his hand. The Jerusalem Bible’s translation of Ephesians 2:10:
We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life.
God’s work of art! In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis describes us as “Divine work(s) of art, something that God is making…” Or, as Timothy Keller has been oft quoted…
Do you know what it means that you are God’s workmanship? What is art? Art is beautiful, art is valuable, and art is an expression of the inner being of the maker, of the artist. Imagine what that means. You’re beautiful … you’re valuable … and you’re an expression of the very inner being of the Artist, the divine Artist, God Himself.
As a woodworker, I know the reality that every project I work on is a unique creation. Every year I try to make gifts for each of our four kids (i.e. charcuterie boards). On the surface, they all appear to be the same but they are not. They each have nuances related to things like wood types, grain orientation, blemishes, and, of course, operator error. What they do have in common that cannot be taken away from them: They are each a unique creation of mine, an expression of my creative activity.
The Apostle Paul used poiema only one other time in his writings that are included in the New Testament canon. In Romans 1:20 he states…
For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and all the things that make him God [his divine nature] – have been clearly seen [perceived], understood through what God has made (poiema). (EXB)
To be God’s poiema is a big deal! It’s right up there with all of creation (which we discussed in The Theology of Woodworking). We are visible expressions of the invisible God. As a higher schooler once said to me, “We get to be walking billboards.” It’s the “good works” we were created for. What a privilege!
With woodworking, there is a point where I, the artist, say “good enough.” It’s not a statement of shoddiness. It’s more of a comment about return on investment. At some point, I deem a project complete enough for its intended purpose. Satisfied with my poiema, I move on to the next project.
I am aware that not all of us consider it a privilege to be “walking billboards” due to real or perceived warts. But Paul didn’t say “For we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works someday.” There is a present tense implication. God’s creative activity is ongoing in the form of transformation into the likeness of his Son (For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son – Romans 8:29). He doesn’t say “good enough.” As we continue to follow him, the warts (real and perceived) begin to fade.
Transformation. We’ve talked about that in previous blog posts (cf. Metamorfoo). We must remember that it’s not our job to transform ourselves. Our job is to follow Jesus, positioning ourselves so God can accomplish the transformation – For God is at work within you, helping you want to obey him, and then helping you do what he wants (Philippians 2:13, TLB). This is the entirety of C.S. Lewis’ quote from The Problem of Pain…
“We are a Divine work of art, something that God is making and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character.”
6 thoughts on “Woodworking and God’s Poiema”
Thank you, that’s a keeper. I needed to hear esp. the “you ” is a plural pronoun. Also, the connection to Romans 1:20.
Thanks for your comments. I’m always glad when people experience a bit of an ‘Aha’ moment when reading a blog post!
Curious: How did you stumble onto my relatively obscure Blog?
I emailed you more detail, but basically it started with your post on Hesed and Emet, and went from there. Enjoyable to read, and edifying. Thanks.
Curt, I am sitting in the quiet hours of the early morning sharing the light of our Christmas tree. It is the first opportunity I have had to open your words and reflect on what I always anticipate will bring me to new places of understanding.
In the last several days we have been knee deep in caring for our pregnant daughter-in-law and our two little grandsons, all struggling with bad colds. Our daughter-in-law in particular has been quite sick. So when I began to read your post I wept.
I AM God’s workmanship and he has called me to a workmanship with purpose. We moved to Colorado in June with anticipation of being closer to our only son and his family. They just moved in November to Colorado. In the short time we have been here we have been the inn that has provided a base from which to hunt for an apartment, grand parenting services, respite while they awaited their furniture to arrive, and most recently the place they could heal physically. For me, it was an opportunity to love our daught-in-law by taking the burden of parenting two sick little boys while she recovered in the quiet of our lower level master bedroom. To ply her with nutritious food and allow her to rest and heal. At the same time it provide space for our son to devote time to his new job demands and keep him away from becoming ill.
For months before our move I lived in the verse from Exodus 23:20
See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and bring you to the place I have prepared.
God has blessed us with a home too big for the two of us but clearly the inn he wanted for us, the place we would need to be living with purpose.
Thank you for your words,
Great to hear from you. I wasn’t aware you were moving – blessings on that endevor and transition!!
I’m glad my blog has been beneficial for you. Stay in touch. Say “Hi” to Steve for me./