Continuing our series looking at Timothy Keller’s insights from his blog post A Missionary Encounter Today? We are going to take a more in-depth look his third point A Faithful Presence Within the Vocations. “Today’s church must equip Christians with the doctrine of vocation to integrate their faith within their work.” Some excellent books on the topic include: The Gospel at Work by Greg Gilbert and Sebastien Trager, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work by Timothy Keller, God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life by Gene Veith, and Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work by suburban Kansas City pastor Tom Nelson.
An underappreciated insight of the Protestant Reformation period in the sixteenth century was what the Reformer Martin Luther popularized the biblical notion that Christians need to think of their lives in terms of vocation, or calling. From his readings of 1 Corinthians 7:17-24, Luther taught that each Christian has multiple vocations: he argued that each Christian has particular callings in our work, in our families, as citizens in the larger society, and in the Church.
Luther argued that God works through means. He institutes families, work, and organized societies, giving human beings particular parts to play in his vast design. In these societies, it is my gifts for your; my vocation for your vocation. In our life in the world, in the interplay of vocations, we are always receiving and we are always giving. This is the dynamic of love. God has chosen to work through human beings, who, in their different capacities and according to their different talents, serve each other.
Biblical Motivations to Work:
1. Motivation: Work to Love God
Before all else, we should love God in and through our jobs. In the course of Jesus’ ministry “an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:35-39).
When you become a Christian, your overarching, overriding, life-driving assignment becomes crystal clear: you are to love God and others. No matter what you do for a living, you are working for something different than what the non-Christians around you are working for. Yes, money is important. Yes, advancement in your career can be good. Yes, you want to help your boss and do a good job. But ultimately you are in your job so you learn to love God and other people better.
2. Motivation: Work to Love Others
If loving God is the greatest commandment, Jesus tells us right behind it is love for others: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). God provides for our needs through the work he calls us to do in and for the good of society. Loving others typically happens at the day-to-day level or relationships with other people. We are called to love the particular people with whom we rub shoulders every day, and that ought to motivate us to do our work well. This should motivate us to work hard and to work well.
3. Motivation: Work to Reflect God’s Character
When God created human beings, he created us “in his image, in his likeness” (Genesis 1:26). At the core, those phrases mean human beings had a God-given job to do in the world. They were to stand as God’s representatives, ruling the world as his vice-regents and communicating to the universe, “It is God who rules!” As they did so, they would also reflect his character to the world.
In one way or another, your job somehow involves the work of bringing beauty out of ugliness, order out of chaos. This creative action in our work reflects the character and work of God. Before God created the world, the universe was “formless and empty” (Genesis 1:2). There was nothing there! Instead of darkness, God brought forth light. Instead of unformed waters, God created land and seas. At the end of his work of creation, God looked at his work and saw that it was very good! It is no accident then, that when God finished his work and placed Adam in the garden of Eden, he called him also to work – to create order and beauty in the world. That is at least in part of what God meant when he told Adam to subdue the earth and to work and take care of the garden (Genesis 1:28; 2:15) We image God when we carry out our work in faithfulness.
4. Motivation: Work for Money
One of the main reasons we work is so we can provide for ourselves, our families, those we love, and others. We work so we can eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10; Proverbs 12:11; Ephesians 4:28). It glorifies God when a Christian works hard to provide for his family and to be a blessing to others. You can take satisfaction and work with all your heart in a job that simply provides, eve if it is not the most personally fulfilling job you can imagine or the most financially lucrative job out there. Providing for your family, blessing others, supporting the work of the church – all of these are legitimate and good reasons to work. The love of money may be “a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10), but a godly use of money glorifies God.
5. Motivation: Work for Enjoyment
In his kindness, God even allows us to enjoy the fruits of our labors. Moses writes in Deuteronomy 8:18 that it is God “who gives you the ability you produce wealth.” Ecclesiastes 5:18-19 states, “It is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink, and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor…to accept their lot and be happy in their toil – this is a gift of God.”
It is true that our work can be “toilsome,” yet at the same time, it can also bring us satisfaction and enjoyment. Do you ever experience satisfaction or enjoyment in your work? It not, it is likely that the mechanics of your job is not all that enjoyable – the repetition, monotony, hard physical labor, stress, etc. However, you can still find satisfaction and enjoyment in doing your job well and knowing you are doing it for the Lord Jesus Christ and as an expression of your love for him.
6. Motivation: Work to Adorn the Gospel of Jesus Christ
“Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” (Titus 2:9-10)
In this passage, Paul is instructing workers to work well and to do their work honestly. When we work in ways that reflect God’s loving authority, creativity, excellence, and honor, our lives back up and support the gospel we profess. Our conduct communicates. It can either confirm or undermine what we say with our lips. People are pretty good at recognizing those who are more interested in themselves than in serving others, who care more about getting ahead than about loving and caring for the people they work with. We are called to adorn the gospel by loving and serving others whom we work with and for.
Conclusion: Work With and Eternal Perspective
When J.R.R. Tolkien had been working on writing The Lord of the Rings for some time, he came to an impasse and he began to despair of ever completing the work in his life. He had been working on the story for several decades and the thought of not finishing it he said was “a dreadful and numbing thought.” It was at this time that he sat down and wrote a short story by the title “Leaf by Niggle.” Niggle was intended to represent Tolkien himself. He was a perfectionists who always fretted over details and struggled with anxiety. In the story, Niggle, was nearing death, though he had one picture that he was trying to paint.
He had in his mind a picture of a leaf, then a whole tree, and then behind the tree, a vast expanse of country. Knowing death was near at hand, he sat about getting to work on his canvas, but he never got much done. There were two reasons for this. First, it was because he was the “sort of painter who can paint leaves better than trees. He used to spend a long time on a single leaf trying to get the shading and the sheen and the dewdrops on it just right. So no matter how hard he worked, very little actually showed up on the canvas itself. The second reason was his “kind heart.” Niggle was constantly distracted by doing things his neighbors asked him to do for hem. In particular, his neighbor Parish, who did not appreciate Niggle’s painting at all, and asked him to do many things for him.
One night when Niggle senses, rightly, that his time is almost up, Parish insists that he go out into the wet and cold to fetch a doctor for his sick wife. As a result he comes down with a chill and fever, and while working desperately on his unfinished picture, death comes to Niggle. Just before, poor Niggle cried out weeping, “Oh, dear! It is not even finished!” Sometime after his death the people who acquired his house noticed the painting and put it in the Town Museum, where it hung in a recess and was noticed by only a few eyes.
When Niggle gets to the heavenly country, something catches his eye. He runs to it – and there it is: “Before him stood the Tree, his Tree, finished: its leaves opening, its branches growing and bending in the wind. He gazed at the tree, and slowly he lifted his arms and opened them wide. ‘It is a gift! He said.’”
Though largely forgotten in the old country, in the new country he finds that his tree, in full detail is finished, and not just the image that he had died with. His vision was part of the True Reality that would be enjoyed forever.
God gives us gifts for work that are to be used to serve other and to serve Him. This life is not all there is, and we must work with an eternal perspective, knowing that “In the Lord, our labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).