(Note: I wrote this article and posted it on my blog before my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession was published by WestBow Press in February 2018. This critical topic was later included in the book. I invite you to check it out.)
This is Part 2 of an article I posted on July 20th. Click here to read the first part.
It is commonly believed by the majority of Christians that our life is divided into “sacred” and “secular” categories. Sherman and Hendricks, in Your Work Matters to God warn us that this view is unbiblical. They call it the Two-Story” View of Work. It is a belief that “the only part of life that ‘really counts’ to God is the part committed to religious activities.” They give us some valuable insights into this issue. This view is based on four assumptions:
- God is more interested in the soul than in the body (But, God created man as a soul-body unity)
- The things of eternity are more important than the things of time (But, both are important to God)
- Life divides into two categories, the sacred and the secular (But, all of life is sacred to God)
- Because of the nature of their work, ministers and other clergy are more important to God’s program than the laity (But, all who work are necessary)
Let us explore this a little further.
Darrell Cosden, in The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work, paints a very clear picture of the spiritual dilemma where most Christians struggle, as we are faced with the appearance that we who are not doing the work of “eternal things” directly on a full-time basis are second-class Christians. I know have often felt that way.
Cosden states, “It appears that we are called to serve God, and serve him in our ordinary work, but that somehow we also need to accept that, unlike the work of full-time ministers, what we do does not ultimately have eternal or lasting value.” He goes on to explain that what follows is that we are then categorized into a “hierarchy of callings”, where professions are judged based on their “perceived spiritual significance”. Helping professions are at the top, obviously, and other “selfish” occupations (lawyers, politicians, businessmen) are at the bottom.
So, the question is – Do we need more full-time Christian workers (missionaries, pastors, college professors and such)? Absolutely, we do! We fully acknowledge that Jesus did say in Matt. 9:37 that “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” However, this does not mean that we would expect that all “truly spiritual” Christians will answer the call to full-time ministry. That would imply that the vast majority of us, who incidentally will be providing their financial support, to be less than spiritual, which is not the case.
We also need to ask ourselves a similar question – Do we need more workers who are full-time Christians? That is an equally valid question. It can also be answered with a resounding “Yes.” If we fully integrate our faith at work, specifically by submitting to our employers, loving our neighbor by meeting his or her needs by what we do every day, working with integrity, and serving in accordance with our gifts and calling, then our work at work will have eternal value. And, it will be enough.
Sherman and Hendricks make this conclusion regarding what is eternally valuable:
What ‘really matters’ to God is that the various needs of His creation be met. One of those needs is the salvation of people, and for that He sent Christ to die and He sends the Church to tell the world about what Christ did. But in addition to salvation – obviously a need with eternal implications – mankind has many other needs. Just because many of them are temporal needs does not diminish their importance to God, nor does it diminish the value of the work done to meet those needs. In fact, God thinks they are important enough to equip a variety of people with various abilities to meet those needs.
In a classic essay written by Dorothy Sayers in the 1940s entitled, “Why Work?” she recognized that secular vocations are sacred. She made this profound statement: “The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.” She continues this thought, which I had not seen before, “No crooked table legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth.”
I think what she is implying is that because Jesus did it, it was not only excellent, but was sacred. In like manner, as Jesus’ disciples, indwelt with His Holy Spirit, what we do in a spirit of excellence for His glory at work is also sacred.
I invite you to check out this YouTube clip of this same message that I presented to a small group of college students in the spring of 2015.
Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, 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 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 also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.