We look at things in an odd way. Many years ago, shortly after I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I struggled with the idea of leaving my profession, going to seminary, and becoming a Pastor. At the time, circumstances prevented that and I stayed working in the secular world. Instead I served in multiple roles, both official and unofficial, at my church, Idlewild Baptist Church. Later, I did retire from my secular profession and became a volunteer in a ministry organization, The Idlewild Foundation. My role was vocational even though I am a volunteer as I am the Executive Director. The thoughts I could have had, and for a while did have, were:
“So, I used to work in the real world, but now I have retired from that world and job.
Now I am blessed with the opportunity to serve God fully in a more spiritual role.”
Some would think those two highlighted sentences make sense and sound spiritual, but they don’t! Those two sentences have several layers of mental errors and poor choices of words. Once you see the mistakes, you understand the starting point for a Biblical theology of work.
Mistake 1 – “The real world”
It is not more spiritual to work in a church or church ministry. Doing so does not make you more spiritual. Every job is a calling from God and everything you do is an opportunity to serve Him. It is all the real world, whether inside, alongside or outside the church. Anyone who has watched a church dispute or a church split knows that the church can, at times, be embroiled in some of the same struggles as are seen in the secular business world. The church is filled with people working, serving and living in relationship and, quite frankly, people are not always really good at relationships. This is the “real” world.
Mistake 2 – “Volunteer role”
No, I am not paid money for the work I do. Yes, I do it as a volunteer. But it is still “work” and it is still a “job” and nowhere does the Bible suggest that you should work harder, better or smarter because you are paid for the work, or that you have to check your brains or your energy at the door to be a Christian. So, calling it a “role” instead of a job insults the position, what I do, and the service I give to God as Executive Director of The Idlewild Foundation. 1 Corinthians 10:31 still applies to this “role” or job.
Mistake 3 – “Ministry organization”
The Idlewild Foundation is a “ministry organization.” But more accurately, we serve outside and alongside Idlewild Baptist Church, for the same Lord and seeking to fulfill the same call of the same Gospel. In the sense that we, the members of Idlewild, are the church, then so are the ministries that support and labor along with Idlewild in this great mission.
Mistake 4 – “A more spiritual role”
The hat I wear does not determine my “spirituality.” That is a function of my relationship with God. If my job determines my spirituality, then for many years I was in serious trouble. Paul never thought the young could not set and example for the more senior church members. 1 Timothy 4:12. Similarly, nothing in the Bible suggests there is a vocation that is disqualified from serving the Lord.
1 Timothy 4:12
12 Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.
Mistake 5 – “Serve God fully”
Here is one of the thoughts that make an understanding of the theology of work so important. I serve God as much and as fully as I want wherever I work, whatever I do and however I chose to do it. Wherever you work, there is nothing holding you back from going to work each and every day with a renewed sense of Christ-exalting joy.
The vast majority of believers aren’t in a church job or in a ministry in a vocational job. Instead, they are serving God as they work in “the real world” and the opportunities they have in that world are a blessing. Their opportunities include the following and much more:
Inviting co-workers to worship or Bible study,
Demonstrating Christ in their work, and
Demonstrating Christ in their attitude.
The old saying “if Christ isn’t the Lord of all of your life, He isn’t the Lord of any of your life” has an strong element of truth to it. Is Christ only Lord of your Sundays (and only a few of them and only a small part at that)? That is a question that should have an obvious answer; “No!” But the more difficult question is “What does it mean to say Christ is Lord of my work and all of my week?” Your answer to that question is your theology of work (and your theology of life).
What is a Theology of Work?
You need to start from a point that you see that work is not evil, secular or even bad. Actually, work is good and a blessing. It is something we have been given by God and can and should do to His glory. Just a few of many passages showing this include:
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Genesis 2:15, 19-20
15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.
20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found.
9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work,
23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,
24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
2 Thessalonians 3:10
10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
21 They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
the work of their hands.
1 Then the LORD said to Moses,
2 “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah,
3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—
4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze,
5 to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.
16 The LORD said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you.
17 I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone.
One thing is clear, glorifying God in the “real world” goes far beyond witnessing to your coworkers or hosting a lunchtime Bible study. Doing your job well, with the Spirit of God and “with all of you heart,” is the beginning of fulfilling God’s design regardless of the location and nature of your work. That is what it means to be “called to work.”
The root of the English word vocation is the Latin verb voc? which means “to call or summon.” In the Bible, the word “call” is most commonly used to refer to God bringing people to salvation in Christ. We are also called to serve in God’s redemptive work throughout the world. One clear example is:
30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
But that is not the only use of calling. The word is also used to address our conduct and even what we do.
1 Corinthians 7:17
17 Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them.
See also 1 Timothy 1:9 and 1 Peter 1:15. So, are some called by God to a secular job in the same sense that some are called to the ministry? Historically, the answer appears to be yes. Historically, people thought of all kinds of work was a calling. In our more modern use of the word “calling” we have gotten away from that meaning. We need to return to the historical broader meaning. We are called to our work, even to secular work.
Next quarter we will finish this great topic off and look at the fact, and it is a Biblical fact, that work is good and is a calling. We are going to take a God’s eye view of work, examining more of His Word and trying to truly apply it to our daily lives.
About the author:
John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus. He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016. He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.