What Do Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians Teach us About Work?

The Theology of Work Bible Commentary (TOWBC) indicates that “Workplace themes are woven into the fabric of the Thessalonian letters.” There is a reason for that. One of the problems in the church of Thessalonica was that some believers were idle. Here, Paul reminds them, “Christians need to keep at their labors, for the way of Christ is not idleness but service and excellence in work.”

In this article, I have collated some excerpts from my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession that highlight what the Apostle Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians teach the church about various aspects of work. I have done this previously with several other books of the Bible (Ecclesiastes, Psalms, Minor Prophets, the Gospel of John, Romans, and Exodus).

A Christian’s motivation for work

In his greeting, Paul makes the first of many statements regarding work. 

In 1 Thes. 1:2-3, we read that Paul thanks God for the church in Thessalonica, specifically remembering their faithful work and loving labor, which he praised in 1 Thes. 1:8, “The Lord’s message rang out from you … your faith in God has become known everywhere.”

Regarding God as a worker

In 1 Thes. 2:13, Paul is thankful that the church in Thessalonica accepted God’s Word, which is described as being at work in those who believe. This living and active Word of God came from God the Father, was revealed by Jesus the Son, and was given through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. God has always used His Word to transform lives, and its power is still effective in every believer’s heart and mind today.  (See Heb. 4:12.)

In 2 Thes. 2:13-14, we observe that Paul reminds his readers that they have been chosen and were called to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

Regarding God’s purposes for work

In the context of the instrumental value of work, meaning that work is not just good because God created it and is a worker (intrinsic value), but work is good for us. It serves various God-given purposes. Through work, God meets our needs and our family’s needs (1 Thes. 4:11-12).

Regarding how we should work

In 1 Thes. 4:11-12, with the context of the church neglecting their earthly responsibilities in light of their belief in Jesus’s imminent second coming, we see Paul’s command to the church to make it their ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind their own business, and to work with their hands so that they might earn the respect of nonbelievers and be responsible and independent.

In his final instructions at the end of his first epistle, Paul tells the church to respect those who work hard among them and to warn those who do not work hard (1 Thes. 5:12-14). He has much stronger language for these idle Christians in his next letter, which we will discuss now.

Refusing to work in light of Jesus’ return

In 2 Thes. 3:6-12, Paul exhorts the church to keep away from those who are idle by choice. If a man does not want to work, he should go hungry. A few commentaries and writers have shed some light on this unusual command, which may also help to explain the strong words of exhortation to the sluggard in Proverbs. Let me share some insights from them to help us out.

The TOWBC provides some background. “Many believe that some of the Thessalonians had stopped working because the end times were at hand … They might have felt that Jesus was coming at any minute, and thus there was no point to work.” They call attention to the fact that these passages warning those who are idle are found “in the context of teaching on the end times.” The commentators exhort, “Responsible Christian living embraces work, even the hard work of a first-century manual laborer … If people can work, they should work.”

The TOWBC confirms what I had heard regarding what Paul demands here. “The positive view of hard work that Paul was promoting was countercultural. The Greco-Roman world had a very negative view of manual labor.” They continue, “In Paul’s assessment, manual labor is not beneath Christians, and Paul himself had done what he demands that these idle brothers do. The apostle plainly regards work as one way believers may honor God, show love to their fellow-Christians, and display the transforming power of the gospel to outsiders.”

Working in light of the creation mandate

Nelson indicates, “At first blush, Paul’s rather blunt words seem cold and lacking Christian compassion, but upon further theological reflection, Paul’s words convey to us some needed insight. Paul does not rebuke those who, for various legitimate reasons, cannot work, but he does say that an unwillingness to work is no trivial thing. For anyone to refuse to work is a fundamental violation of God’s creation design for humankind.”

R. Paul Stevens states, “The sluggard knows nothing of the creation mandate, that work is good, that work is part of our God-imaging dignity … In short, the idler has no theology of work. Realizing neither the intrinsic value nor the extrinsic value of work, the sluggard refuses to see work as a gift, a calling, and a blessing.” This insight is absolutely right on target.

I appreciated how both Nelson and Stevens emphasized the need to understand the creation mandate. We were designed by God in His image and called to work to expand His kingdom. This basic concept of work gives working in light of Jesus’s imminent return a whole new perspective.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 170 articles on faith and work topics. Eighty of these have been published over 150 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)

Summary of Writing Activities in 2021

As we begin a new year, I want to recap what the Lord brought about as I followed my calling to write.  I praise God for His presence as I worked diligently to write about His presence at work

Like one of Job’s friends said, I, too can say, “For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me; inside I am like bottled up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst” (Job 32:18-19).

This past year of writing was full of many blessings, beyond what I ever could have imagined.  Below, you will see the many ways God demonstrated His faithfulness to me.  He opened up doors to expand my audience so that I could teach and encourage Christians in many places. 

Articles written and published

By the grace of God, this was my most productive year in the past six years of keeping a blog.  In 2021, I wrote 49 articles.  Of these, 37 of them were on a variety of faith and work topics, yielding 170 articles I have written in this category.  I also wrote 12 articles on other topics, yielding a total of 81 articles.  Over the past six years, I have written a total of 251 articles. 

The number of articles that were posted or published elsewhere blew me away: 24 out of the 37 articles on faith and work (65%) were published 45 times.  [Compare this to 2020, where 19 out of 33 articles on faith and work (58%) were posted or published 34 times.]  There were also nine articles I wrote in previous years that were published this year, yielding a total of 54 articles.  I now have 82 out of 170 articles (48%) that were posted or published a grand total of 159 times.

These articles were published in various organization’s blogs, websites, and other places, including the Coram Deo blog, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics (IFWE) blog, The Gospel Coalition, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work blog, and Christian Grandfather Magazine.  (You can find all these articles on my relatively new Linktree site: https://linktr.ee/Russ_Gehrlein.)

I was amazed to see that two of my articles that were published on the IFWE blog made their top ten list for 2021.  (I also had articles on their top ten lists in 2017, 2019, and 2020.)  I am grateful and astounded by their support.  They have published 44 of my articles since November 2016.

Podcasts and interviews

In addition to the doors that God opened with numerous articles being published, I was given an amazing opportunity to appear on a podcast with the Theology of Work Project last January. 

I also appeared on two radio programs in January last year.  The first interview was with Family Radio, on their Community Bridge program.  The topic was “Letting God Help You Find a Rewarding Career”.  The host had contacted the IFWE to see if they could interview me based on an article I had written a couple of years prior.  The IFWE then took the transcript of this interview and posted it on their blog in three parts, which ended up #6 on their top ten list.

The second radio interview that I also did in early January last year was with WORD FM, a radio station in Pittsburgh, PA, on their “The Ride Home with John and Kathy” show.  This one also was generated from an article I wrote for The Gospel Coalition that had just been published.

Things I learned this year

  • God continues to give me new ideas for articles, often during sleepless nights
  • Once I start typing, the articles seem to just write themselves
  • Shorter paragraphs are better than longer ones
  • There is a place for shorter articles on occasion (one page vs. two)

Upcoming projects and goals

Here are some of the things I want to work on in 2022:

  • Whittle down my list of 20+ topics and unfinished articles on faith and work
  • Write articles on other theological topics; i.e., the use of the OT in the NT
  • Put myself out there: send out requests to do podcast, radio, and blog interviews
  • Improve my writing skills
  • Be more consistent with social media posts

Prayer requests

I sincerely solicit the prayers of my brothers and sisters in Christ, regarding my writing:

  • That I would press on, despite occasional doubts that I am making a difference
  • Podcasts/interviews (Laymen’s Lounge coming up in March)
  • Opportunities to publish articles with new organizations that need guest writers
  • Opportunities to partner on a deeper level with faith at work leaders/organizations
  • Opportunities to speak to Soldiers on post at prayer breakfasts or other events

Let me elaborate on the first bullet above.  Once in a while, I wonder if I am wasting my time with all this writing.  I only get feedback from a handful of friends when I post an article.  I want to reach more people.  Then, I am reminded of who it is that brings doubts to our minds.  It isn’t God; it’s Satan.  I know deep down in my heart that I am called to write on faith and work issues.  God has given me a unique life message.  Since close to half of my articles have been published, God is clearly working to bring about my desire to be part of this faith and work conversation.

Closing thoughts

When Nehemiah’s huge renovation project was completed, and the walls around Jerusalem were restored, it was obvious to all who observed, that “this work had been done with the help of our God” (Neh. 6:16).  It would not have been possible without God’s presence from start to finish. 

In the same manner, I am hoping that those who read the articles I write about God’s presence at work will also be able to see that God was present in my work.  Moreover, I truly want people to experience God’s presence for themselves as they do the work that God has called them to do.

I am extremely grateful for a growing number of family, friends, colleagues, and organizations around the world who have responded to my posts, read my articles, shared them with others, connected with me via social media, listened to my podcasts and radio programs, purchased or reviewed my book, and encouraged me occasionally over the year.  You know who you are! 

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 170 articles on faith and work topics. Eighty of these have been published over 150 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)

Here I am; Lord Send Me

On the way to work yesterday, I chose a song to play on Spotify that means a lot. 

The song was “Here I Am”, by the group Downhere.  It is based on Isa. 6:8, where the prophet was asked by Yahweh, “Whom shall I send?  And who will go for us?”  Isaiah humbly replied, “Here am I.  Send me!”  I would like to share some of the things I prayed about and meditated on as I listened to the song.  (I encourage you to watch this video to get a feel for what I am about to share.)

My story is a part of God’s plan

The day prior to attending the 2016 Faith@Work Summit, I played this song.  I was affected deeply by its message that “somehow my story is a part of your plan”.  I was filled with immense gratitude that God prepared me over a lifetime of working in His presence to begin a new season of ministry.

The story of David and Goliath expresses a similar attitude.  He saw Goliath taunting God’s people, and he made himself available to be God’s man at that moment.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus also modeled this posture of total surrender to the will of His Father, and chose the cross. 

This “blank check” mentality of complete submission to God’s will for one’s life is one that every person coming to faith in Jesus would express at the time of their salvation experience.  I imagine that for some Christians, this simple prayer of dedication to God’s purposes might be a daily event.

My life is an offering

A line in the chorus that strikes me is “all of my life I make an offering”.  He is intentional about presenting himself to God in submission and trust.  This is a costly sacrifice that the Apostle Paul urged the members of the church in Rome to make also: “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship” (Rom. 12:1).  Unlike the OT sacrifices, where what was given to the Lord was dead, this is a living sacrifice, one we can make every day.

It occurred to me that this same humble attitude of yielding completely to God’s purposes for our lives could also be expressed at major milestones or critical launch points at every stage of our adult development (i.e., graduating from college and landing that first job, getting married, having a child, reassessing our careers at mid-life, and deciding what to do before we are about to retire).

Let me describe for you what this kind of deliberate submission to God’s plan might look like as we embark on each new calling throughout our lives.  As we begin our vocational journey after high school, college, trade school, or some other path, a young Christian man or woman might seek God’s blessing as they move into the work force to be God’s representative in their chosen field.  As a young couple becomes parents, they would certainly want to bring their desires to become a godly mother and father, and ask God to lead them and guide them along their perilous journey. 

All of this is based on the understanding that God has good plans which include our broken lives. In His grace and mercy, He allows us to be part of His work by preparing us in the womb, teaching us in the classroom, protecting us in the boardroom, and strengthening us all the way to the tomb.

Failures and fears

The songwriter mentions setbacks, failures, and upset plans and how God is able to use us in spite of them.  God takes the clay pots that we are and somehow turns them into something useful for His kingdom.  (See 2 Cor. 4:7.)  As the Apostle Paul states, “we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

When we struggle, we learn to lean on God.  He is always there to give us what we need.  We are reminded that God will finish what He began, alluding to Phil 1:6, which is a promise I count on.

Later, the singer feels overwhelmed by his own weakness.  He is fearful of failing to accomplish the mission to which he is called.  Then he remembers that God is able to put the pieces back together.

I think that there are many Christians who can truly identify with this beautiful song as I do.

If you haven’t prayed this prayer or one similar to it in a while, I encourage you to humbly and sincerely take time to do so when the time and place are right for you.  

“Lord, here I am.  Send me!  I submit to whatever you have planned for me.  Use me in spite of my failures, weaknesses and fears as your representative in my family, at work, and in church.”

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 170 articles on faith and work topics. Eighty of these have been published over 150 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)

The Irreversible Transformation of all Followers of Jesus Christ

The centuries-old debate on God’s election vs. free will is a fascinating topic.  Christians have had strong feelings about this.  It is somewhat like the chicken and the egg; which one came first?  A closely related discussion centers around the eternal security of the believer.  Is one who was saved always saved?  Can they lose their salvation, and essentially become an unbeliever again? 

I discovered several years ago one key word related to this topic which settles the debate for me.  I observed passage after passage that describe the many irreversible changes that take place when a person becomes a Christian and is saved.  They have been given a new identity, they begin the process of becoming more like Jesus, and their eternal destiny is locked in.  Let me begin to unpack this a bit.

Regeneration

I have observed that the first of many irreversible changes that take place in a Christian’s life begin before they come to faith and become a Christian.  (This obviously points to God’s work of election.)  Without the supernatural regeneration that takes place in a person’s heart by the Holy Spirit, they cannot even see the kingdom of God, nor can they respond to the gospel. (See John 1:13, 3:3.)

This radical change in a person’s heart, which essentially quickens a spiritually dead person and brings them to life in order to see the gospel clearly enough to be able to choose to follow Jesus Christ is not dependent on their actions.  It is the precursor before any action can even take place.

According to The Dictionary of Christian Spirituality, regeneration is the work that God does to every believer at the very moment of faith in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.  They become a totally new creation, able to “commune intimately with God . . . outfitted with a new disposition that strives to respond rightly to him . . . one marked by faith, hope, and love.”

I think it is fairly easy to understand that once a person has been regenerated, there is no going back.

Identity

Once we are enabled to come to Him by faith, repent, and submit to Jesus as Lord, God gives us a new identity.  Scripture uses various word pictures to describe our transfer from one place to another.  The Apostle Paul states in Eph. 2, verses 1 and 5 that we were dead in our sins, but God made us alive.  (See also Col. 2:13.)  Dead people cannot do a whole lot.  That is why God must bring us to new life.

Other passages talk about being brought from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.  The sovereign God of the universe who transferred us into His kingdom will never reverse this condition.

In John 10:3 and following, Jesus distinguishes between those who are His sheep and those who are not.  There are two categories; there is no middle ground.  You are either His sheep or you are not.  Jesus’ sheep listen to His voice; He calls them by name and leads them (v. 3).  His sheep follow Him (v. 4).  Jesus said that He knows His sheep and His sheep know Him (v. 14).  (See also John 10:27.)

There are many other passages that describe our new status in union with Christ.  Let me summarize:

  • “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17)
  • “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:26)
  • “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’  So, you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” (Gal. 4:6-7)
  • God has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints; he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into Jesus’ kingdom; in Him we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins. (Col. 1:12-14)

As we understand the definition of all these terms, it should be fairly clear that these changes in our condition cannot be reversed.  We were adopted to be children of God.  That is a permanent thing.  God qualified us by grace; we can’t disqualify ourselves.  God rescued us.  He doesn’t unrescue.

The hymn “Amazing Grace” biblically proclaims that we once were lost, but now we are found; we were blind, but now we see.  We are declared to be righteous in God’s sight.  Our sins are forgiven.  Do you think we in our limited human frailty by our actions can undo all that God has done for us? 

David Needham, in his book Birthright: Christian, Do You Know Who You Are? states: “God tells us we are alive in a way we have never been alive before, possessing a birthright we never possessed before. . . If you have received the Savior, you simply are not the same person you were before.”

Sanctification

God not only sees us differently in Christ, He also begins to change us from the inside out.  We are declared to be holy in His sight (justified).  We then are made to be holy in experience (sanctified).

As a baseline of understanding, I want to make it clear that believers participate in this sanctification process.  It is a partnership.  We can either accelerate or impede our progress by the frequency, duration, and consistency in our practicing of various spiritual disciplines over time.  However, make no mistake.  This supernatural process of becoming more like Christ is started in us by grace through faith and continues by grace through faith.  It is empowered by God’s Holy Spirit who works in us.

  • We (collectively and individually) are God’s temple; God’s Spirit lives in us (1 Cor. 3:16)
  • Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit; we received the Spirit from God (1 Cor. 6:19)
  • God makes us stand firm in Christ; “He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put His Holy Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Cor. 1:21-22)
  • God began a good work in us; He will carry it on to completion until Christ returns (Phil. 1:6.)
  • God has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4)

The main point here is grasping that God only gives His Holy Spirit to His children.  Once given, this gift, which enables Christians to live the Christian life and become like Christ, will not be taken away.

Eternal destiny

What I have laid out so far is that God works in our hearts and minds prior to the moment of salvation to enable us to believe, repent, and submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  From that point forward, our identify is radically different than it was before we became a Christian.  God sees us differently and we are different in many ways.  We begin a lifelong process of becoming more like Christ.  As we walk by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit, our lifestyle confirms that we are new creatures in Christ.  

As Christians look to the future, the Bible reminds us that our eternal destiny is sure:

  • “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish” (John 10:28)
  • There is an established order to key salvation events in a believer’s experience, beginning with God’s foreknowledge, to being predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, to being called, justified, and eventually glorified (Rom. 8:29-30)
  • “In His great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter1:3-5)
  • “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:11-12)

What I am hoping to drive home into the hearts and minds of those reading this article is that with regards to our salvation, God did it all!  We did nothing to deserve our being able to see Him clearly enough to repent and believe.  We did nothing to be transferred from death to life and darkness to light.  If we did nothing to earn our salvation, then there is nothing that we can do to undo what God did.

I trust that these deep truths will cause you to praise God for His indescribable gifts and to rest in Him.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 170 articles on faith and work topics. Eighty of these have been published over 150 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)

Creating Positive Changes In Your Organization

I was asked to review some recent changes to U.S. Army policy on pregnant soldiers which addressed some of the unique challenges that females (which make up 18% of our force) and their families face. 

The challenges pregnant soldiers experience are in many cases more complex than what civilians have.  When their unit gets orders to deploy or when they have to go to away to a required school for several months they may need to execute a family care plan.  They may have to buy new uniforms to fit their ever-changing bodies during and after pregnancy.  They must be able to maintain their physical fitness.

The proposed changes included a wide range of things such as maternity leave (some of which is authorized for their spouse also, if dual military), uniform wear, height and weight standards, schooling, and deployments.  They will improve female Soldiers’ quality of life and enable them to advance in their careers as they expand their families.

A female officer I highly respect was impressed.  She stated, “This makes me want to stay in the Army.”

This policy got me to thinking about how important it is for any organization with female employees who may become pregnant to ensure there are standards and benefits in writing that are reasonable, compassionate, and appropriate to provide a healthy work environment that does not hinder assignment and promotion opportunities, encourages wellness, and clarifies expectations for all concerned.

Why should we be interested about such matters?  Is it my duty to care for those who have special needs in my workplace?  What can an ordinary employee do if these kinds of policies are not in place? 

Let me offer some ideas from a biblical and theological perspective as to how we can meet the needs of individuals as well as work towards fair and appropriate policies that will benefit all in the long term.

Being the Good Samaritan

It should be fairly obvious that we have the opportunity every day to fulfill both of the two greatest commandments that Jesus clearly spelled out in our workspaces every day.  We can love God as we work for His glory with the strength and wisdom He provides and we can love our neighbor.

Like the Good Samaritan, if we focus on being employees in our organizations who are actively concerned with meeting the practical needs (i.e., physical, emotional, mental, financial, and spiritual) of our coworkers who are facing unique challenges, this is what biblical love of neighbor truly looks like.

Building unity amidst diversity

I found a statement in a memo from the Secretary of Defense in November of 2020 that appears to be the focus in driving these changes: “The women who serve in the U.S. military are vital to the readiness and lethality of our Armed Forces, making important contributions every day to protect our Nation.”

The Apostle Paul wrote something similar about the value of each member of the Body of Christ in 1 Cor. 12:12-26.  Paul’s main point was that all team members have value, purpose and function.  He emphasized that every individual brings something unique to the table.  Everyone contributes.  No one is unnecessary.  All workers are needed.  All should treat one another with honor, respect, and concern.

If these kinds of attitudes are appropriate for diverse members in the church, they can certainly help to build teamwork in any organization.  Perhaps God has a plan for you to ensure that employees with unique needs are cared for in practical ways so that they will want to continue to be part of your team.

Bringing Shalom to your space

In Jer. 29:7, Yahweh tells the Israelites who are exiled in Babylon, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.  Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”  Just like the Israelites who were in captivity, God sends each of us to an organization as an employee to be His agents of redemption.  We must shine the light of Christ in dark places and become part of His work to bring common grace to all who are made in His image.  (See also Prov. 11:10.)

Hugh Whelchel, in How Then Should We Work? ties this passage to the cultural mandate in Gen. 1:28.  He points out the connection between the command to Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” with the command to the Babylonian exiles to “build houses and settle down” and “marry and have sons and daughters” (Jer. 29:5-6).  He sees that as they “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” (Jer. 29:7), they are also exercising “subduing” and “ruling” functions.  By doing so, they are “reweaving Shalom.” 

Whelchel continues, offering an application for us, “God meant them to be a blessing to the world even while they lived in Babylon.  God intends the same for us.  We are called to work for the shalom of the city, whatever or wherever that city is, where God has put us.  We are to be a blessing in our time and place.  This is possible only because we have found our identity in Christ, the Prince of Shalom.”

Practical application

So let me return to my question, regarding what an ordinary employee can do.  There are countless ways that the average worker, who does not own a company, is not a manager or supervisor, or does not work in human resources can help to ensure there are benefits for pregnant workers and young mothers. 

Some ideas include: plan a baby shower; provide meals the first few weeks after delivery; extend grace if they have to leave early or arrive late due to emergencies; ensure there is a private and clean space for nursing mothers to pump throughout the work day; ensure that motherhood is not the sole basis for decision-making when the employee is up for a promotion, reassignment, or special project; just listen.

Christians are called to be salt and light wherever God sends us (Matt. 5:13-14).  If changes are long overdue, perhaps God can use us to influence organizational leaders to provide better support systems for women who need it.  If positive reforms happen due to God’s presence in us, it brings glory to God.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 170 articles on faith and work topics. Eighty of these have been published over 150 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)

Christmas Declarations of God’s Faithfulness

Like many Christians, I have been reading some devotionals this week.  Many of them discussed some of the main characters in the Christmas story.  I was compelled to read these key passages again.

There are four individuals whose response to announcement of the Messiah’s birth as recorded in the Gospel of Luke that are worth pondering now as we quickly move through this Christmas season.  According to Luke, these were among many “eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Luke 1:2). 

Recording the story of Jesus’ birth was a priority to Luke.  It is a priority with me for the very same reason: “it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you. . . so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:3-4).  Let me highlight a bit of what occurred.

Elizabeth

In Luke 1:39-45, we get a glimpse of Mary’s visit to her relative, Elizabeth.  When Mary arrived and greeted Elizabeth, the baby in her womb (John the Baptist) leaped, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  She loudly declared that Mary was blessed among women and that the child she carried was blessed also.  In divine wisdom, Elizabeth recognized that Mary was the “mother of my Lord”. 

Elizabeth knew without a doubt that God had worked a miracle in her own life (Luke 1:25).  She knew that God had done something miraculous in Mary’s life as well.  She also knew that Mary was blessed for believing that what God had told her regarding this child would indeed be done as he had said. 

Mary

In response to Elizabeth’s statement of God’s faithfulness, Mary gives her own. 

In the next section, Luke 1:46-55, Mary reflects on the announcement given to her by the angel Gabriel earlier in this account (Luke 1:26-38).  She magnifies several of God’s unchangeable attributes, ones that every Old Testament believer would have understood well from the Hebrew Scriptures:

  • “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior” – God delivers (v. 47)
  • “He has been mindful of the humble state of his servant” – God knows all (v. 48)
  • “The Mighty One has done great things for me” – God is all powerful (v. 49)
  • “Holy is his name” – God is holy (v. 49)
  • “His mercy extends to those who fear him” – God is merciful (v. 50)
  • “He has brought down rulers” – God is sovereign (v. 52)
  • “He has filled the hungry with good things” – God provides (v. 53)
  • “He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful” – God is faithful (v. 54)

It is worth noting here that Mary connects the baby in her womb, the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel, with the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12:2-3), where Yahweh promised Abram that “all people on earth will be blessed through you.”  This blessing to the entire world would come through Jesus.

Zechariah

After Elizabeth had given birth to her son (see Luke 1:57-66), we read another declaration of God’s covenant faithfulness in Luke 1:68-79, which was given by Zechariah, John’s father.  

Zechariah begins by praising God for his presence at that very moment and for redeeming his people.  He recognized that his son’s destiny was connected with that of the chosen Messiah, whom God had raised up to fulfill Old Testament prophecy indicating that he would come from the house of David. 

He praised God for this salvation which would bring deliverance from their enemies, revealing God’s mercy based on faithfulness to his covenant with Abraham.  The point of this rescuing was so that God’s people could serve God “without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” 

Next, this father who had been silent for several months spoke truth directly to his son.  He told John that he will be called a prophet who will go before the Messiah to prepare the way for him.  John will tell of the salvation found in Jesus, which will be marked by forgiveness of sins that flows from God’s mercy.  It will bring light and peace to those who are “living in darkness and in the shadow of death”.

Simeon

The first three individuals’ testimonies that reminded Luke’s readers of God’s faithfulness all came before the traditional “birth narrative” that we read in Luke 2:1-20.  This last one takes place when Jesus is presented in the temple in Jerusalem on the eighth day, when Jesus was to be circumcised.

We learn about a man called Simeon in Luke 2:25.  Luke states that he was “righteous and devout”.  In these few verses (Luke 2:29-32), Simeon expresses a beautiful prayer to God in response to seeing his Messiah that he had waited for.   As he took Jesus in his arms, Simeon reflects back to God what he knows well, regarding God’s divine promises, plans, and purposes for this little child.

Simeon begins his praise by acknowledging God’s sovereignty in fulfilling his covenant promises to his people.  He expresses gratitude that he was able to catch a glimpse of the one who would bring the salvation that God prepared for “all people”, a light for the Gentiles and glory for the Jewish people.

Closing reflection

Each one of these believers put their trust and confidence in the God of Israel to keep his covenants and were anticipating the arrival of the promised Messiah who would bring them a new covenant. 

This Christmas, may we also trust in the promises of the new covenant that are found in Jesus Christ (Heb. 8:8-12, which quotes Jere. 31:31-34).  More importantly, may we anticipate Jesus’ return, this time not as a babe in a manger but as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, to reign forever and ever.

(Note:  This is the seventh Christmas article I wrote and posted on this blog.  The first one was about the Gospel accounts of the Christmas story and the second one was about the visit by the Magi , both written in December 2015.  The third one was a devotional on some non-traditional Christmas verses that I wrote in December 2017.  I wrote a fourth one on God’s presence at work during the holidays in November 2018 and a fifth one was about the man and the birds illustration (a well-known Paul Harvey radio broadcast) in December 2018.  I wrote a sixth one about our family Christmas in 2019. I invite you to check out these articles.)

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 41 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 170 articles on faith and work topics. Eighty of these have been published over 150 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)

Giving Thanks for God’s Gracious Blessings

Psalm 100

A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

(New International Version; copied from Bible Gateway.com)

I thought I would try something a little different this year.  I want to focus on the many blessings that God the Father has graciously bestowed in my life, centered around the callings He has given to me.

Christian

The first sphere where God called me was to be a child in His kingdom through faith in Jesus.  I have absolutely no room to boast in anything that I have done.  (See 1 Cor. 4:7.)  I simply want to put the spotlight where it belongs, giving glory to God who has been most merciful and gracious to me.  He has blessed me above and beyond anything I could have ever ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20).

  • I am grateful God revealed Himself in Scripture; I have learned more about Him
  • I am grateful that I have experienced the presence of Father, Son, and Spirit
  • I am grateful for the hope that has kept me pressing on through a tough year
  • I am grateful for the prayers of family and friends who have helped sustain me
  • I am grateful that I have no fear of death because of what Jesus Christ did for me

Family

The next major sphere that God put me in was my family of origin.  I have so much to be thankful for when I reflect on all the love I was surrounded with from my mom, dad, sisters, brother, and grandparents.  Once I did the “leave and cleave” thing nearly 41 years ago and started a brand-new Christian family with my beautiful wife, Linda, God has continually blessed us beyond measure.

  • I am thankful for my siblings who connected virtually on the 20th anniversary of our father’s death in October and for their words of encouragement
  • I am so thankful for an amazing wife of 40 years; her beauty, love, and wisdom have grown with the years; she is God’s greatest gift to me
  • I am grateful for visits, both virtual and physical, with each of our three children
  • I am so thankful for five amazing grandchildren, one of whom was born in April
  • I am grateful to see the fruits of our labors in our 1st generation Christian family

Work

In order to provide for my family and to fulfill my purposes in the Kingdom of God, He called me to the sphere of work.  This winding spiritual journey morphed from math education, to ministry, to the military, where I still serve today.  This should be no surprise to anyone who knows me, that I have so much to be thankful for regarding employment, as well as to my writing efforts part-time.

  • I am thankful for a great team of leaders and teammates who make me better
  • I am thankful that I get to see God use me in the lives of people that I serve with
  • I am grateful to have accomplished our missions while fighting COVID
  • I am thankful that I get to live out the theology of work in three dimensions
  • I am grateful for doors God opened up to share my work with a larger audience

I trust that whatever you find yourself doing this Thanksgiving, you will take time to reflect on the things that God gave you this past year freely out of His overwhelming mercy and amazing grace.

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty. Russ works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Since 2015, he has written 170 articles on faith and work topics. Eighty of these have been published over 150 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, and The Gospel Coalition. (See published articles on Linktree.)

How Can I Identify my Spiritual Gifts?

(Note: This is a follow-on article to one I posted a couple of days ago, where I shared some insights on spiritual gifts that I had scattered throughout my book and in subsequent articles.)

This is not going to be a deep dive into this topic.  Books have been written about it.  (I highly recommend 19 Gifts of the Spirit, written by Leslie B. Flynn.)  I intend to keep it simple.  I have two biblical and practical ideas to share on how you can find out what your spiritual gifts are.  What I am sharing with you now is something that I have thought about and taught a long time.

The party

What would you do if you were at a party, and saw someone spill their snack plate? 

Would you jump in to help clean by yourself?  Would you take charge and delegate someone to get the trash can, another one a vacuum, the other one to replace what was dropped?  Or, would you take them aside after they cleaned it up themselves and try to explain how they could have been more careful?

This method is helpful when you look at the list of what is referred to as “motivational” spiritual gifts, which is found in Rom. 12:4-8.  What is unique and somewhat difficult to understand about this topic is that each of the passages I mentioned has its own list.  There is some overlap, but there about 19 gifts if I remember correctly.  Some are positions in the church, some are broad categories, but this list seems to pair up motivations with seven special abilities that are needed inside and outside the church.

If you would jump in and help them clean up the mess, you may have the gift of service.  If you would take charge of the operation, this might indicate the gift of leadership or administration.  If you biggest concern was their feeling of embarrassment, you might have the gift of mercy.  If your first inclination was to help them to avoid this kind of mishap in the future by shedding some practical or biblical truth on the situation, you might have the gift of teaching or prophecy.

The diamond

Another key question that I came up with myself to help you identify your own spiritual gift or gifts: Which attributes of God caught your attention most when you first became a Christian?

This concept also came from Rom. 12:4-8.  The key phrase is in verse 6, which states, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.”  I learned that these two English words gifts and grace come from the same Greek root word, charis.  There is a strong biblical connection here that must not be overlooked to grab the intended meaning of this passage. (See also Eph. 4:7.)

I also noticed while meditating on this section that although our spiritual gifts are different for each believer, the grace that was given to all Christians should be the same to all.  Or was it? 

Could it be possible that God’s grace is somewhat like a diamond with its many facets? 

In the good news that my heart responded to in December 1975, I saw a facet of God’s character much more clearly than others, which then drove how I have focused my ministry with others.

My experience in coming to Christ 45 years ago (which I invite you to read about in more detail in my testimony that I published in an article last year) was that I saw God’s ability to change me from the inside out, which I so desperately needed.  From that point forward, I was all about helping other to discover how God could do the same for them.  I have been diligently practicing my gifts of encouragement and teaching my entire Christian life, and have been seeing results.

What about you?  Did God’s love, forgiveness, comfort, and healing grab you when you heard that He would forgive and cleanse you of your sins?  Were you eager to reach out with a new sense of compassion to bring God’s comfort to those who were hurting?  Maybe you have the gift of mercy.  Was God generous to meet your needs, leading you towards the gift of giving?

Go back and read each of the passages that provide a list of spiritual gifts.  Ask yourself these questions regarding what would be your first reaction in a crisis and which attribute of God attracted you most.  You might see one or two pop up as strong possibilities. 

You might also ask a brother or sister in Christ to tell you what gifts they see in you.  You could also begin to just start practicing them, and see how God blesses and brings consistent results.

In closing, I want to encourage believers to continue to explore this topic and get busy using those gifts that God has given you.  You have been supernaturally equipped to participate in the building up of the Body of Christ.  You have valuable contributions to make.  Go out and serve!

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty and now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. He has written 170 articles on faith and work topics on this blog since 2015. Eighty of these articles have been published over 150 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, and The Gospel Coalition.

Random Thoughts on Spiritual Gifts

A while back, it occurred to me that I have never posted an article on my blog addressing the topic of spiritual gifts.  This was surprising, as I had discussed this topic in several places in my book (which I also posted in articles on my blog) and in an article I wrote a year ago.  I thought it would be helpful to consolidate these ideas here, and then flesh out this critical topic a little more in a separate article.

To help set the stage, so my readers don’t have to go scrambling to find a concordance, here are the passages in the New Testament where the Apostle Paul mentions the importance of spiritual gifts for all believers, which are discussed below: Rom. 12:4-8, 1 Cor. 12:4-11 and 12:28, and Eph. 4:11-13.

Spirit-filled tabernacle construction workers

Here is a summary of the insights I shared in my book, regarding a great narrative from the book of Exodus that highlights the gifted workers who were called to build the tabernacle in the wilderness.

This episode about Spirit-filled tabernacle construction workers also clearly ties in with the New Testament concept of spiritual gifts.  In 1 Cor. 12:7, Paul highlights the value of these Spirit-filled abilities: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”  Tying this verse to the passage in Exodus helps us understand that these artistic talents to be able to fashion wood, metal, fabric, perfume, and provide leadership, can easily be seen as OT examples of spiritual gifts.

We see a clear connection here between God’s presence and human work.  The workers that God called and equipped were not evangelists, preachers, or missionaries.  They were ordinary men and women in secular jobs who were willing to be used to contribute to God’s kingdom.  God will use people just like that today in order to build His church, both inside and outside its walls.

Nelson, in Work Matters, boldly states that “You were created with work in mind.  You have been gifted to do a particular work.  As a follower of Christ who has been born from above, you have been equipped and empowered by the Holy Spirit to make an important vocational contribution, a contribution that God has providentially arranged for you to make in this world.”   Meditate on this, and your attitude toward work will change.

Viewing our identity

I also shared a few thoughts on spiritual gifts in terms of how we see ourselves as Christian workers.

It is important to apply the principles that the Apostle Paul lays out in 1 Corinthians 12 where he compares spiritual gifts/abilities with body parts.  All are necessary; none are more or less important than the other parts.  We cannot take pride in what we are called to do, looking down on others who have different callings.  All in Christ have equal value.

Regarding evangelism

I also mentioned in my book (and in article I posted on my blog) that evangelists were among the few positions in the church that Paul records in Eph. 4:11-13, even though they were not included in the main passage on spiritual gifts in 1 Cor. 12:4-11, or in 12:28.  However, these positions Paul lists are considered by most to be spiritual gifts because they line up with their purpose in v. 12, “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up”. 

More importantly, in 1 Cor. 12:12-26, Paul emphasized that all members of the body of Christ have value, function, and purpose.  Each one needs to use their gifts, not look down on others who do not have those gifts, and to appreciate the contributions of all.

If evangelism is a spiritual gift, I must conclude that not all Christians are called to be evangelists.  We are all called to be ready to share the reason for our faith (1 Peter 3:15).  But those who do not have that gift of evangelism need not feel guilty if they do not have the same passionate desire to share the gospel with everyone they see all of the time, just like those with this gift do not have the same drives and motivations as others in the Body of Christ to be administrators, serve, have mercy, teach, etc.

Every team member contributes

In my article, “Building Your Team by Showing Dignity and Respect” I wrote about spiritual gifts.

In 1 Cor. 12:12-26, we read a brilliant analogy concerning various parts of the human body.  In context, Paul had just been teaching about spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:1-11).  He writes that there are a variety of spiritual abilities that every Christian has that the Holy Spirit gives to each one as He wishes.  In the same way, the human body is made up of many parts and forms one complete body. 

These individual body parts failed to understand that they each had a divine purpose and were connected to one another and to the head, just like this local body of believers, whose members forgot their unity in Christ.  The foot should not think that it does not belong to the body just because it is not a hand.  If the foot was missing, how would the body walk around?  Additionally, the eye can’t say to the hand that it is not needed.  Every part contributes to the whole.  What Paul is saying to them (and us) is this: every member of the team is essential, has a unique purpose, performs a necessary function, and is to be valued by the other members.  We need each other.

Here is what it would look like at my work.  One of my sergeants could say, “Well, I am not an officer.  Officers are really important.  What I do doesn’t matter.”  One of the male employees could say, “Why do we have females on our team?  They are different.  We don’t need them.”  These are not helpful.

What would it look like at your place of employment?  Do your custodians or administrative assistants feel like valued members of your organization?  Are there leaders at or near the top of the chain who do not recognize or value the contributions that everyone on the team brings?  You can change that!

About the author:

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-Edit

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty and now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. He has written 170 articles on faith and work topics on this blog since 2015. Eighty of these articles have been published over 150 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, and The Gospel Coalition.

How does the Theology of Work Help our Veterans with Their Greatest Challenges?

(Note this article was written for and published on The Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog.  It was also reposted on my good friend Pastor Bill Herried’s blog.)

On this federal holiday set aside to honor those who have served in our armed forces, it seems appropriate to spend a few moments focusing on some biblical principles that are foundational to a Christian worldview on vocation that may help them out with some of their greatest challenges.

For those who are serving now

I served on active duty for just over 20 years.  Probably the biggest challenge that my fellow service members and I had to deal with is in trusting God in new assignments.  Here was my experience.  After about one year at my first duty station, I showed up one day and was told I was on orders to report to the Republic of Korea for a one-year unaccompanied tour (without my family).

As a Christian, there were a few things I had to keep in mind as I prepared for this transfer.

A Christian in the military needs to understand the sovereignty of God, that He is in always in control.  He is an all-powerful, all-knowing, loving, and faithful God.  If your next assignment is in the hands of someone in Fort Knox, Kentucky, you must know that God has you in His bigger hands.  He knows where you need to go, what you need to do, who you need to serve with, and when is the right time that He needs you and your family to be there to fulfill His purposes. 

(I invite you to read an article I wrote a while back that was posted on the IFWE blog here.)

My story would be of little value to Christians in the military if not supported by Scripture.  How can you know that you can trust God in every new assignment throughout your career and beyond? 

Joseph found himself in places that he did not plan to go.  However, God had it planned all along.  In Gen. 45:7–8, Joseph concludes that despite what his brothers did to him, it is not man who causes things to happen to us but God.  Later, we read in Isaiah that “we are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isa. 64:8).  God sovereignly works in the circumstances and hearts of His people to prepare them to do His work and to mold them as He desires to fulfill His purposes. 

A second major challenge that our military personnel have to deal with is learning how to submit to their unit leadership, especially when they are uncaring, incompetent, or less than trustworthy. 

I asked two captains that work for me how they did that as Christ-followers.  One of them said that by serving under a bad leader, he learned what not to do.  He stated that his faith in Jesus reminded him that there was something greater down the road, and that God would work it out for His good (Rom. 8:28).  The other officer told me that she tried hard to focus on doing everything as unto the Lord and not for men (Col. 3:23- 24), and that she was glad to be able to be light in a dark place.

The third major challenge that our U.S. Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines face is how to find meaning and purpose in their day-to-day job.  That was something that I struggled with as well.

For my first two years as a nuclear, biological, chemical operations specialist, I felt a lot of guilt.  I had felt called to serve God in vocational ministry when I was in college.  I had done all I could do to pursue ministry as a profession, but because my financial circumstances impeded my progress, that door was closed.  I had to find a secular job.  I truly felt that I was a second-class Christian.

Then in 1989, while serving my first of two unaccompanied tours in Korea, I read a life-changing book entitled Your Work Matters to God by Doug Sherman and William Hendricks.  They tore apart the myth of sacred versus secular, and they clearly explained to me the intrinsic and instrumental value of everyday work.  I began to see how God could use me to glorify Him wherever I worked.

For those who have served in the past

Those who have served honorably and are beginning to transition to the civilian sector or have already done so have some unique challenges in finding employment in the outside world.  I see two major struggles with those who have spent most of their adult life serving in the military. There is a third challenge I would like to address at the end, regarding their contributions towards peace.

First, it may be difficult for some veterans of our armed forces to see how God could use their military experience in their next career.  Some military occupational specialties, especially those that fall under the category of combat arms: infantry, armor, field artillery, etc., do not necessarily have a similar civilian position that they can seamlessly transition into.  However, I want to remind them that many of the skills, attitudes, values, and experiences that God graciously provided them throughout their military career are easily transferable, and would make them an asset to any employer: intangible things such as discipline, resilience, loyalty, respect, and selfless service.

A second challenge our veterans face is that when they do find a job, they may need to adapt to a radically different work type of work environment.  Some aspects of serving in the military are not found in the civilian sector.  They may stand out among their peers, which may or may not be appreciated.  There may not be the same sense of purpose that comes with accomplishing a mission.  My word of encouragement to them is that perhaps they are there to improve the organization.  God may have placed them in for such a time as this.  He can work through them to make a difference.

I know that those who served during our nation’s conflicts often struggle to acknowledge their role in maintaining peace.  They may not always understand or see the total impact that the work they did as they served actually participated in God’s work to bring peace (or shalom) into this world. 

For our older veterans (I am in that category myself), I have a word.  I want you to remember that God used each and every one of you, as His coworker, no matter what branch you were a member of, where you were assigned, or what your military occupational specialty was, that He was present with you whether you realized it or not.  As a result, your work made a real difference for all of us.

I trust that these words from a fellow veteran will encourage my brothers and sisters in arms to remember that God is with them.  He will provide; He will lead; He has good plans for His own.

About the author:

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Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of five, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. Russ received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth minister. He served 20 years on active duty and now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. He has written 160 articles on faith and work topics on this blog since 2015. More than 70 articles have been posted or published 150 times on several Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.