Secular vs. Sacred: What's Our Primary Call?
- Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Editor's note: This is the second and final article in a series by Os Hillman on viewing your work as ministry. Part one can be read here.
“Full time” vs. “Part time”
May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us- yes, establish the work of our hands (Ps 90:17).
Throughout the church, a view of those in full-time Christian work versus those who work "secular" jobs has created a definite class distinction. There seems to be little evidence of this distinction in the Bible. Yet, we often hear testimonies from those who left "regular" jobs to go into the mission field, or some other “full-time” Christian work.
The often-held view by pastors toward business people was brought home to me one day when I received a letter from a pastor in response to a TGIF devotional that I write for men and women in the workplace. This devotional is being distributed throughout the world and I have a surprisingly large number of pastors subscribed to it. One day I received a very simple note from a pastor that said, “How can a businessman have such wisdom?” This comment spoke volumes to me. Basically, he was implying that clergy were the only ones in tune with the spiritual matters of life, and businessmen and women are focused on the “secular” life. However, God has never said this. He is now helping many of us begin to understand our true calling as disciples of the Lord Jesus, but with different roles to fulfill in the body of Christ. And no role is less Holy than another.
When I received Christ in 1974, I was a golf professional. God gradually led me away from golf and into business. In 1980, I considered moving into “full-time” Christian work by attending a short-term Bible school to determine if I wanted to be a pastor. I served briefly as an assistant pastor only to have the position removed. God took me out of that because it was never His intention for me to be a pastor.
It was more implied guilt than a genuine call of God that led me to consider “vocational ministry.” I believed I might not have been giving my all to God if I wasn't full time in the work of the Lord. I have learned since then that work truly is worship to God: work and worship actually come from the same root Hebrew word, avodah. If you are in a secular job that doesn't violate scripture, your vocation is just as important to God as is a full-time missionary in India. God calls each of us to our vocation. It is in that vocation where He desires to use us for His kingdom.
In their book, Your Work Matters To God, authors Doug Sherman and William Hendricks state the following regarding holy versus unholy vocations.
The architect who designs buildings to the glory of God, who works with integrity, diligence, fairness, and excellence, who treats his wife with the love Christ has for the Church, who raises his children in Godly wisdom and instruction, who urges non-Christian coworkers and associates to heed the gospel message -- in short, who acts as a responsible manager in the various arenas God has entrusted him -- this man will receive eternal praise from God. That is what really matters in eternity. In short, God's interest is not simply that we do holy activities but that we become holy people. Not pious. Not sanctimonious. Not otherworldly. But pure, healthy, Christlike.
This whole idea of secular versus religious is a Greek idea. These Greek ideas, clothed in biblical language, have for the most part, been passed down unchallenged to succeeding generations of Christians. As a result, most of us today bring assumptions to the biblical text, assumptions based on a worldview articulated by Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, and other Greek thinkers. Likewise, if you have been around much Christian teaching, you've undoubtedly been influenced by at least some Greek ideas. Nothing overtly or purely pagan. But I suggest that Christianity in our culture has absorbed from its tradition a number of subtle beliefs that trace back to Greek philosophy. Now I am not 'down' on philosophy. Nor am I 'down' on the Greek philosophers, for they have provided us with many insights into philosophical questions. Nevertheless, reading the Bible through their eyes -- through Greek glasses -- can severely distort the truth of God's Word. We will think that the Bible says things it does not say, and overlook important things it does say. The result will be a distorted view of life. And a distorted view of work. Wearing Greek glasses, one would tend to ignore or disparage everyday work. This is how work looks when viewed through these lenses.
Sherman makes an excellent assessment here of how many Western societies have been affected by the philosophies and culture of the Greek influence. We in the United States may speak English, but we think “Greek.” Our focus on competition, segmentation of life from the secular to sacred, rationalism and reasoning – all move us to a goal of a more intellectual position in our faith instead of a simple trusting faith. The root of this is the Greek/Hellenistic civilization. It has been so much a part of our thinking and way of viewing life that we have lost our ability to understand God and relate to him as the early church did.
As the church grew and extended its borders outside Jerusalem believers became influenced by a wide array of philosophies. The purity and power of the message were affected by the dominant culture, which became the Greek culture. The time following the two major Jewish revolts of AD 70 and AD 135 saw a Greek, man-centered view of the world reshape the church. Early Greek scholars like Plato introduced dualism, which says that life is divided into two compartments: the spiritual or eternal, and the temporal realm of the physical. Plato’s dualism entered the church through many of the church fathers that were Greek philosophers who had converted to Christianity. They attempted to reconcile Greek thought with Christianity.
To Bring Glory to God
God takes us through the process of life and allows us to develop specific skills and talents for His purposes. The workplace is where many of us have the greatest opportunity to display these gifts. When young David went up against Goliath, he was only a small shepherd boy. King Saul offered David his armor to protect him from the big Philistine, but David knew the weight of the armor would be a hindrance to him. Instead, David used the skills he had developed as a shepherd to protect his sheep. A slingshot and stones were his weapons. When the time came for David to exercise his faith in God to slay the giant, he used the talents God had trained him to use. The shepherd fields were David's training grounds. There he learned to fight lions and protect his sheep. Now he would protect God's sheep. God gives us the same talents to achieve the things He wants us to achieve. However, not all of us will be heroes. Some of us have been called to use our talents to serve others to benefit the kingdom of God. David's faith was the reason God gave him victory. David declared that he came in the name of the living God and that the whole world would know the God of Israel because of the defeat of Goliath by a small shepherd boy. This is why God gave him victory over Goliath - so the world may know the living God. The workplace is a training ground for most of us. It is the place where we deal with the everyday challenges of life, but it is also here where God wants to reveal His glory “so that the world might know that He is God.” Someone once said that you will have many “jobs” before you come into the “primary” calling God has for your life. I have seen this principle at work. God uses the early training, like David, to prepare us for future battles and future experiences that God will use for his purposes in our lives.
That is how God wants to use you and me, so we may proclaim Him wherever we are. He also wants us to use the talents and abilities he has allowed us to be trained with for His greater glory in this world. For many of us, these talents were given to provide valuable services to our employers for the glory of God. We can find comfort in the knowledge that there is no higher calling than to be where God calls us. Regardless of whether it is in “full-time” Christian mission work, or working at the local hardware store.
Our Primary Call
We should step back for a moment and remind ourselves again that each of us is called to a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, first and foremost. From this position all else comes. The fruit of our relationship with Christ moves us to the level of our calling in work. That work – whether serving on the mission field—or delivering mail-- is a holy calling of God. The reason God holds a high view of work is that He created each person in His image for an express purpose in this world to reflect His glory in ALL aspects of life. "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Col 3:17). He knows the number of the very hairs of our head, and He knows what we are wired to do in life (see Ps 139). By segmenting this part of our life, we cut off the expression of His life to the world. However, He would by no means let us do that. He knows there are many who will never hear the gospel because they will never enter a church building. You or I may be the only representative of God they will ever encounter.
Have you ever considered the diversity of gifts and talents God gave humankind? It is amazing to consider. I sometimes think about someone who is working in a particular profession that does not appeal to me, yet God created that person to use his or her gifts for that express purpose. At the same time, He desires that we see that work as worship to Him and a place where His presence and power can be manifested as a testimony to the world. God is always about creating a testimony of His love and power for the world to see. The Bible is a continual testimony about reconciling the world unto Himself. Later we will see how God has demonstrated His life through individuals in some dramatic ways in the workplace.
The Value of Secular Work
The Word in Life Study Bible provides some good insights into this question of secular versus sacred work.
God values our work even when the product has no eternal value. Christians often measure the significance of a job by its perceived value from the eternal perspective. Will the work last; will it “really count” for eternity? The implication is that God approves of work for eternity, but places little value on work for the here and now. By this measure, the work of ministers and missionaries has eternal value because it deals with people’s spiritual, eternal needs. By contrast, the work of a salesman, teller, or typist has only limited value, because it meets only earthly needs. In other words, this kind of work doesn’t really “count” in God’s eyes. But this way of thinking overlooks several important truths.
(3) God cares about the everyday needs of people as well as their spiritual needs. He cares whether people have food, clothing, and shelter.
(4) God cares about people who will enter eternity. To the extent that a job serves the needs of people, God values it, because he values people.
Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men (Prov. 22:29).
The Lord has called each of us to be excellent in what we do. Those whom God used in the Kingdom as marketplace ministers were skilled and exemplified excellence in their field. Not only were these men skilled, they were filled with God's Spirit. Then the Lord said to Moses, "See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts-to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship" (Exodus 31:1-5).
Consider Huram, the master craftsman of bronze to whom Solomon entrusted much of the temple designs. He was a true master craftsman (see 1 Kings 7:14). Consider Joseph, whose skill as an administrator was known throughout Egypt and the world. Consider Daniel, who served his king with great skill and integrity. The list could go on (David, Nehemiah, Acquilla and Priscilla). Most of these were in the “secular” world of work providing a service that was needed for mankind. May we strive for excellence in all that we do for the Master of the universe. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving (Colossians 3:23-24 emphasis mine).
Publication date: June 25, 2013
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