Monday, January 14, 2008
Discipleship And WORK
Jerry works for a company that manufactures drill presses, the kind used in some of the more sophisticated machine shops. His supervisory position pays pretty well, but the money doesn’t make up for the sense of pointlessness that
eats at Jerry’s soul. “It’s the same thing day in, day out, year in, year out,” Jerry muses. “Organizing a bunch of guys to make machines that punch holes in metal so that the holes can be filled with screws!” When he was younger, Jerry had dreams of making a splash in the world for God’s Kingdom, but now the futility of the way he spends his time is grinding his life away. He struggles to get up each morning, prays for the clock to move toward 5:00, and longs for the weekend. Jerry’s problem is that he thinks God doesn’t care about drill presses. That means the way Jerry spends sixty percent of his day is irrelevant. And that means Jerry feels insignificant, worthless. He holds what we call the Two-Story view of work. This view carves life into “secular” and “sacred,” assigns most work to the “secular” category, and assumes that God cares only about the “sacred” areas of life, the “upper story.” But unless you can connect what you do all day with what you think God wants you doing, you will never find ultimate meaning in your work-or in your relationship with God, or in your life. To do something that matters, you must leave your work to participate in things that “count” such as counselling hurting people, Bible reading, praying attending church. But, of course, you can do these things only part-time (unless you quit your job and go into “fulltime” Christian work). So you are really just a part-time Christian, “just a layperson,” just a second-class citizen in the Kingdom of God
Where is God? In… heaven, no… He is everywhere!
The whole of life is where you can experience God.
Most Christians divide up their lives into three categories: (1) religious, e.g., going to church, reading the Bible, family devotions, and witnessing; (2) secular, e.g., work, hobbies, chores, or going to the movies; and (3) in-between, like family, which is partly secular and party spiritual.
Traditional parents, for example, would be much prouder of their son the priest, than they would of their other kids who were only doctors, farmers, and housewives. You see what I’m getting at, don’t you? It’s the idea that some parts of life are spiritual and others are worldly. That being a pastor or a missionary is full-time Christian service, while being a CPA or a garbage man allows for only part-time Christian service.
A great deal of the dilemma concerning the Christian who earns a living by means of “secular” work is the result of a false conception of work. Let me suggest just a sampling of some popular misconceptions of employment.
1. There is a great deal of confusion regarding the relationship of a Christian’s priorities to the expenditure of his or her time. Most Christians believe that their priorities should fall in this order: God, family, church, and – last of all – employment. If employment is one’s lowest priority and yet consumes most of a person’s waking energies, is this not unspiritual? No wonder the many hours one spends in secular employment is often viewed as wasted time. This idea is by no means a recent one.
Eusebius revealed this attitude as early as the fourth century when he wrote:
Two ways of life were given by the law of Christ to His Church. The one is above nature, and beyond common human living… . Wholly and permanently separate from the common customary life of mankind, it devotes itself to the service of God alone … . Such then is the perfect form of the Christian life. And the other, more humble, more human, permits men to … have minds for farming, and trade, and the other more secular interest as well as for religion. And a kind of secondary grade of piety is attributed to them (Demonstratio Evangelica).
We as Christians do not accept the categories. Everything is religious. The mum who changes the baby’s nappy is serving Christ no less than the missionary who’s preaching to the cannibals.
I Corinthians 10:31"Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God".
Colossians 3:23-24, "And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men…for you serve the Lord Christ".
The carpenter who eats a ham sandwich with thankfulness is spiritual while the pastor who serves the Lord’s Supper—while thinking about something else—is worldly! Or, the believing janitor who mops the floor well is doing the work of a saint. This is what the Bible teaches.
"Not only my spiritual life, but even my civil life in this world, all the life I live, is by faith in the Son of God" (John Cotton).
"We ought to so spiritual our affections that we may have heavenly hearts in earthly employments" (Thomas Gouge).
"The pious tradesman will know that his shop as well as his chapel is holy ground" (George Swinnock).
The last quote is the one I find most interesting. If I understand Swinnock, he’s not saying both shop and chapel are sacred. No, what’s he saying is Both shop and chapel are equally sacred. For a tailor, sewing a cuff well was an act of worship; charging a fair price was praising God. The effect this had on the farmer or blacksmith was revolutionary. He didn’t have to feel ashamed about what he did—shoeing a horse is equal to preaching the Gospel! But now—because all work is God’s work—he had to do it well. If sloppy sermons are sinful, then so is bad farming.
A quick word here to the kids and young adults: If God has called you to some secular field, like computers or accounting or construction, never let well-meaning Christians make you feel bad by telling you "You ought to be serving God". If you’re working hard and well and cooperatively, you are serving God. If "The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and they who dwell in it", …then all work is sacred and ought to be done for the glory of Jesus Christ.
But, “attitudes toward work among Christians are not much different from those in society." And Chuck Colson is correct when he asserts that "the loss of the work ethic does not begin in the workplace; it begins in the hearts of people -- in the values that motivate them or fail to motivate them."
1. YOUR WORK IS SACRED WORK
All work is God’s work! This means that God’s Work is not limited to being a pastor, a theologian, a Christian school teacher, or a missionary nurse.
We must go back to Genesis 1 to discover the “cultural commission”
Genesis 1:26-28 states that, Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’ Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground-everything that has the breath of life in it-I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so.”
Psalm 111:1-3 says, “Great are the works of the Lord.” God is a worker. Work is a divine activity (Psalm 107 John 5:17; 4:34; 9:4) This alone tells us that work must be significant, that it must have intrinsic value. If God calls what he does “work”, and calls it good, then work has value.
God created people to be his co-workers. Humans were created in God’s image. Since God is a worker, humans who are created in God’s image, must be a workers as well.
In the opening chapters of Genesis, we learn that human beings were made in the image of God, to reflect his character; therefore, we are called to reflect his creative activity through our own creativity-by cultivating the world, drawing out its potential, and giving it shape and form. All work has dignity as an expression of his divine image...
When God placed the first couple in the Garden of Eden, he assigned them the first job description: Work the earth and take care of it (Genesis 2:15). Even in Paradise, then, in the ideal state of innocence, work was the natural activity of human beings.
He creates the first human beings and orders them to carry on where he leaves off: They are to reflect his image and to have dominion (Genesis 1:26). Though the creation itself is “very good,” the task of exploring and developing its powers and potentialities, the task of building a civilization, God turns over to his image bearers. “By being fruitful they must fill it even more; by subduing it they must form it even more,” For the Christian, there must be no dichotomy between the sacred and the secular because nothing lies outside of God’s created order. Our task is to reclaim that entire created order for his dominion. , Ecclesiastes 3:13 says that the ability to find sustenance and satisfaction in one’s work is
“the gift of God.” Thus every job is equally sacred! Here’s a list of quotes,
"If we look externally, there is a difference between washing dishes and preaching the Word of God, but as touching pleasing God, none at all" (William Tyndale).
"The action of a shepherd keeping sheep is as good a work before God as a minister in preaching" (William Perkins).
"This is a wonderful thing, that the Savior of the world and the king above all kings, was not ashamed to labor, and to use so simple an occupation. Here He did sanctify all manner of occupations" (Hugh Latimer).
Every job is a Divine calling. In other words, flipping burgers is no less a calling than pastoring a church.
"God doth call every man and woman to serve Him in some peculiar employment in this world…The Great Governor of the world hath appointed to every man his post and province" (Richard Steele).
"A vocation or calling is a certain kind of life, ordained and imposed on man by God" (William Perkins).
"God is the General, appointing to every man his particular post…God Himself is the author and beginning of callings" (William Perkins).
This means we don’t stumble into our jobs, but God gives them to us. And because He gave us the job, the job must be sacred.
"Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eye-service, as men pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ".
The people spoken to here were not serving men, but the Lord. What were their occupations? Apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers? No. They were slaves. They were plowing fields, milking cows, slopping pigs, washing dishes, and cleaning out chamber pots! Yet their jobs were God’s Work!
If all work is sacred, three things follow:
You ought to be content with your job,
"A Christian should follow his occupation with contentment…Contentment is no little part of your homage to that God Who hath placed you where you are" (Cotton Mather).
You ought to be good at your job,
"When God hath called me to a place, He would have His gifts improved to their best advantage" (Cotton Mather).
You ought to stick to your job,
"A Christian should not be too ready to fall out with his calling" (Cotton Mather).
The first two points cannot be denied. But the third—some think—is arbitrary and legalistic. Is it wrong to bounce from job to job? Inherently, it isn’t. But there are often sins behind the constant moving. What are they? Cotton Mather says,
"Many a man, merely from covetousness and discontent, throws up his business".
William Perkins adds two more, "Ambition and envy…when we see others placed in better callings and conditions than ourselves".
All work is good, because every job—from curing cancer to sweeping floors is from the Lord. Martin Luther wrote we see that, “the entire world is full of service to God, not only the churches but also the home, the kitchen, the cellar, the workshop, and the field of the townsfolk and farmers.
2. YOUR WORK IS PURPOSEFUL WORK
What is work for?
Most people would say it’s for money. If they had enough money, they’d never work again. Others are a little nobler than that—they work for the love of it. Or to support their families. All of these things are legitimate. We need money; we need something to do with ourselves; we need to take care of our loved ones. But as necessary as these things are, they’re not the highest goals of work. William Perkins writes,
"Must we not labor in our callings to maintain our families? I answer: This must be done: but it is not the scope and end of our lives. The true end of our lives is to do service to God in serving man".
The two chief goals of work, therefore, are: (1) the glory of God, and (2) the welfare of other people.
Mather says, "A man ought to pursue a calling so that he may glorify God".
How many students do you know who are going to college in order to help others? Very few. The most popular majors are the big money ones! Business, computer science, engineering, and so on. There’s nothing wrong with these things, of course—they too can be of great public service. But how many people are studying them to be of public service? Not many, I suspect.
"We must labor, not for our own good, but for the good of others" (John Preston).
"The public welfare, or the good of the man is to be valued above our own. Every man, therefore, is bound to do all he can for others, especially for the church and commonwealth" (Richard Baxter).
"We may not aim only at our own, but at the public good. Therefore, faith will not think it hath a comfortable calling unless it will serve, not only its own turn, but the turn of other men" (Cotton Mather).
Leland Ryken adds,
"What is noteworthy about such statements is the integration among God, society, and self that converges in the exercise of one’s calling. Self-interest is not totally denied, but it is definitely minimized".
We therefore, work—not mostly for money or prestige—but for God and other people. In doing that, they were but obeying the Two Great Commands,
"You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, and mind… And your neighbor as yourself".
If this is what work is for, you’ve got to choose your work carefully. Richard Baxter says,
"Choose that employment or calling in which you may be most serviceable to God… Choose not that in which you may be most Rich or honorable in the world, but that in Which you may do most good… "In choosing a trade or calling, the first consideration should be the service of God and the public good, and therefore, that calling that most conduceth to the public good is to be preferred".
3. YOUR WORK CAN BE SUCCESFUL
How do we as Christians view success? The puritans came to America with nothing, and within a generation or two, created a society that was well off financially. Many of them became rich. And not only in America. English Puritans often did well, and so did their counterparts in Scotland, France, the Netherlands, and other places too. Did they attribute their success to their hard work or thrift? No they didn’t. They saw it as a gift of God.
"In our occupations, we spread the nets, but it is God who brings into our nets all that come into them" (Cotton Mather).
"Neither covetousness nor hard work can make men rich, since God alone blesses with success" (Robert Crowley).
"No direct correlation exists between wealth and godliness. It is not riches, but faith and suffering for the Gospel that are signs of election".
This means: When the Puritans did well—and they often did—they didn’t congratulate themselves; they thanked God, James 1:17.
It also means: They didn’t look down on poor people as being stupid or lazy. Richard Baxter says riches are given to some so that they can,
"Relieve our needy brethren".
RULES FOR WORK
Finally, we have two rules for work. The first is Work Hard, "Religion does not seal warrants to idleness… God sets all His children to work…God will Bless our diligence, not our laziness" (Thomas Watson).
The second rule is Don’t Work Too Hard, "Take heed of too much business" (John Preston). How do you know when you’re working too hard? Philip Stubbes says,
"Every Christian man is bound in conscience before God not to allow his immoderate care to surpass The limits of true godliness". In other words, if you’re working too much to pray or read the Bible or take care of your family or come to church, you’re working too much. Richard Baxter says the same thing in another way, "Take heed, lest under the pretense of diligence in your calling, you be drawn to earthly-mindedness, or excessive cares or covetous designs for rising in the world".
Elton Trueblood states,
Perhaps the greatest single weakness of the contemporary Christian Church is that millions of the supposed members are not really involved at all and, what is worse, do not think it strange that they are not. As soon as we recognize Christ’s intention to make his Church a militant company we understand at once that the conventional arrangement cannot suffice. There is no real chance of victory in a campaign if ninety per cent of the soldiers are untrained and uninvolved, but that is exactly where we stand now. Most alleged Christians do not now understand that loyalty to Christ means sharing personally in ministry, going or staying as the situation requires
4. YOUR WORK CAN BE SPECIAL WORK
Paul was appointed to a special ministry (1 Timothy 1:12), that of teaching and preaching the Word (2 Timothy 1:11). Moreover, he recognized the possibility that he might fail in the ministry (1 Corinthians 9:27) and expressed the hope that he would be able to complete it (Acts 20:24), which he seems to have done (2 Timothy 4:7). He spoke of Epaphras as a “faithful minister of Christ” (Colossian 1:7; 4:12), a description he obviously did not apply to everyone. He reminded Timothy of his consecration to the gospel ministry when the elders laid their hands on him (1 Timothy 4:14). There is nothing in the New Testament to suggest that men in secular employment were ever set apart to their work by the laying on of hands. All Christians are expected to work and witness for Christ regardless of their vocation; but only a few are called to leave everything and follow Christ in order to give themselves unreservedly to prayer and the ministry of the Word.
The New Testament uses the term for call or a form thereof more than 150 times. However, the term is primarily used of the divine call to salvation, never to vocational ministry. “Let’s take a look at the word called as it relates to ministry. The Greek root is kletos, and lexicons define it as “called” or “vocation.” Paul wrote, “. . . think of what you were when you were called” (I Corinthians 1:26), and, “. . . live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Ephesians 4:1). The context clearly refers to all members in the body of Christ. Paul strung the same kind of thoughts together in Romans 1:1-8. Paul considered himself in a special category, since he referred to himself as an apostle. More important, he said he was “called” (Romans 1:1). But Paul’s teaching did not stop with himself. “You also are among those who are called….To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints” (Romans 1:6, 7). “Among those” referred to Gentiles, and the Christians in Rome were included in the redeemed community. Paul emphatically stated it again in verse seven, “called to be saints.”
All Christians are called. We are called out of the world and called into fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ. We are called to live out our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in our world, however God has gifted us to serve Him and to serve others. We are all called to Serve. The New Testament teaches the priesthood of all believers. (1 Peter 2:9-10; Revelation 1:6) All believers are to be involved in ministry. This personal call is different for everyone; that its beauty – it is so intensely personal, tailor made for you, to match your personality, nature, gifts and circumstances.
• Through work we love people by serving them. God uses your work to meet people’s needs. If you are in your job simply to serve your own ego or comfort, then you definitely need to change your reasons for working.
• Through work we meet our own needs and those of our families. The apostle Paul explicitly says that we should pursue gainful employment to provide for our own needs (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12, 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). We are to work to provide for our families. (1 Timothy 5:8). Failing to try to meet the basic needs of one’s family is denying the faith. Why? Because it directly opposes God’s command to love those who are our own.
• Through work we earn money to give others (Ephesians 4:28). The overwhelming thrust of scripture is that as God makes up prosper, our abundance should spill over to benefit others who are in need (2 Corinthians 8:13-15). Scripture teaches that giving some portion of our income away is both a discipline and a privilege.
• Through work we love God. We love God through our work because in this work we are doing something God wants done. That is, after all, what it means to love God: to do what God wants us to do, and to do it out of a sincere desire to please him (John 15:9-15, Romans 13:10).
Often we think of the pastor or the missionary as the one who is involved in doing the will of God. Somehow the rest of us are doing only second or third best. But the Scripture teaches wherever God calls you is his will. God calls people in offices, and in garages, and onto farms, and as housewives, and as students. As we do our work we are doing the will of God. And as we do the will of God in our workplaces we can “adorn the doctrine of God” (Titus 2:10).