In Work in the Spirit, Miroslav Volf argues we must strive to transform “alienating work” into “humane” work, that is, work that does not exclude freedom or stifle personal development of worker.
But, “free work that fosters one’s development is not necessarily humane work.”
Because, “when one strives for individual freedom and personal development alone, freedom becomes empty – a mere absence of outward regulations for individual behavior” and personal development becomes “narcissistic.”
If a person is not “willing to serve others in love” through his work, then he is using his freedom “as an opportunity for the flesh.” If work is not “framed by the concern for the common good,” then the “essential characteristics of humane work…degenerate into forms of alienation: by being free and developing myself I am alienating myself from my true nature as a being-in-communion” with my fellow men.
Luther argued that work is the means by which God shares his love of mankind. Thus, when I work, I serve my neighbor. In other words, Luther starts from God and his loving nature to arrive at work as service to others.
Volf reaches that same conclusion in a very different way. For Volf, our very nature as a social being implies we ought to serve others through work or risk alienating ourselves from our true nature. In other words, Volf starts from man and his social nature to arrive at work as service to others.