Through the years, I have been greatly disturbed by the self-abasement of many of my Christian friends who were not in so-called “full-time Christian service.” They consistently have thought of themselves as second-class citizens in the kingdom of God. Often they view their occupations as being spiritually fruitless and frustrating. I cannot emphasize too strongly that such thinking is deplorable because it is unbiblical. There are several reasons why I feel so strongly concerning this mentality, which is common among Christians today.
The first is this: If (in your mind) your job is solely for the purpose of “putting bread on the table,” you are, in a sense, prostituting your labor. Consider these words from the Book of Proverbs:
For on account of a prostitute one is brought down to a loaf of bread,
but the wife of another man preys on your precious life (Proverbs 6:26).
To the harlot, her work is only a “loaf of bread,” or in today’s language, a “meal ticket.” The intimate, physical relationship between a man and his wife should be a beautiful thing. The prostitute, however, does not regard her “work” in this light; it is simply a way of “putting bread on the table.”
Realizing that I am not taking this verse completely within its context, is it not a tragic thing for Christians to regard their work merely as “putting bread on the table?” Is there not more to one’s work than this? Does one spend a great portion of his waking hours in vain? If there were no relationship between one’s work and one’s ministry, a secular occupation would be an anathema to one’s spiritual life and ministry. Thank God, this is not the case, as we shall soon discover.
A second reason people often consider secular occupations spiritually insignificant is because they have a distorted and unrealistic concept of “full-time ministry.” Unfortunately, much of this is the result of the propaganda generated by those in the allegedly elite category of professional ministry. Let me whet your appetite for the message that follows by stating that much of the current conception of the “full-time ministry” is categorically untrue. I will be more specific shortly.
Third, and most important of all, the distinctions often made between “full-time Christian ministry” and secular employment are unbiblical.
With these observations in mind, let us pursue the question: “What is the relationship between one’s ministry and one’s occupation?” As we begin, I would ask you to stop for a moment and ask the Spirit of God to open your heart to the truths of Scripture concerning this issue of the relationship of ministry to vocation. Pray that the Holy Spirit will expose errors and misconceptions that may have been sanctified by years of tradition. Pray also that you will be able to rightly discern the truth or error of what is about to be taught.
Before we press on to our study, we must review the highlights of our last lesson. There are several principles that encapsulate the New Testament concept of ministry:
1. New Testament ministry is vastly different from that found in the Old Testament.
2. New Testament ministry is exceedingly broad.
a. In the Old Testament, ministry was largely the responsibility of the few, the priesthood. In the New Testament, all true Christians are priests (1 Peter 2:5; Revelation 1:6) and thus the ministry is the work of all the saints (Ephesians 4:11-12).
b. While ministry was very narrowly defined in the Old Testament, it is very broadly interpreted in the New Testament. It encompasses the ministry of the Word as well as the ministry of feeding widows (Acts 6:1-2,4).
A New Testament ministry is any service rendered by a Christian that is motivated and empowered by the Holy Spirit that benefits men (saved or unsaved) and brings glory to God.
3. Ministry is both general and particular. There are certain ministries that are required of all Christians (giving, for example). For these tasks, we are prompted and empowered by the Holy Spirit, regardless of our spiritual gifts.
In addition to general duties, each Christian is given a particular ministry to fulfill (1 Corinthians 12:5; Colossians 4:17). This ministry is the outworking of a particular spiritual gift or gifts (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; 1 Peter 4:10-11).
4. New Testament ministry is both practical and spiritual. Often in the New Testament, diakoneo refers to a service to God that is expressed by ministering to people. It is service that benefits others (1 Peter 4:10). In addition, it is a spiritual ministry; spiritual in that it is of the Spirit, and that it results in spiritual edification and growth (Ephesians 4:12-16). While the activity may not appear particularly spiritual, the outcome is what reveals true ministry (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:12-15).11
5. Finally, we could probably best compress the meaning of New Testament ministry into one term, servanthood.
A great deal of the dilemma concerning the Christian who earns a living by means of “secular” work is the result of a false conception of work. Let me suggest just a sampling of some popular misconceptions of employment.
1. There is a great deal of confusion regarding the relationship of a Christian’s priorities to the expenditure of his or her time. Most Christians believe that their priorities should fall in this order: God, family, church, and – last of all – employment. If employment is one’s lowest priority and yet consumes most of a person’s waking energies, is this not unspiritual? No wonder the many hours one spends in secular employment is often viewed as wasted time. This idea is by no means a recent one.
Eusebius revealed this attitude as early as the fourth century when he wrote:
Two ways of life were given by the law of Christ to His Church. The one is above nature, and beyond common human living… . Wholly and permanently separate from the common customary life of mankind, it devotes itself to the service of God alone … . Such then is the perfect form of the Christian life. And the other, more humble, more human, permits men to … have minds for farming, and trade, and the other more secular interest as well as for religion. And a kind of secondary grade of piety is attributed to them (Demonstratio Evangelica).12
2. Closely related to this is the arbitrary division of life’s activities into that which is sacred and the rest, which is secular. Here is the continuation of the Old Testament distinction of secular and sacred. It is found not only in Roman Catholicism, but is also woven into the fabric of Protestantism.
3. Secular work is, in reality, a curse. Perhaps men do not base their thinking on Genesis 3, but the result is that working for a living is a kind of life sentence.
“By the sweat of your brow you will eat food
until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust, and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19).
4. Secular work is competitive and antithetical to spiritual ministry. One who engages in secular work cannot be truly spiritual, cannot be involved in any significant ministry, and must simply settle for second best. If one is to have a meaningful ministry, he or she must leave the secular world to do so.
Such are the mistaken thoughts of many Christians today.
Many Christians who are a part of the “secular” work force in our country are discontent with their role because of a greatly distorted mental picture of the nature of full-time Christian service. Among these “myths” are the following:
1. Full-time “spiritual” ministry is more significant than mere “secular” work.
2. Full-time ministry is the “better way” for any Christian. Those who are in “Christian service” are more spiritual, more fulfilled in their work, and do not face the same degree of testing and temptation. In short, the rewards are greater, and the liabilities fewer.
3. He who ministers best does so full-time: “If I only had more time to serve the Lord, I would do a better job.”
4. God wants as many Christians as possible in full-time ministry and only our lack of faith and failure to “step out in faith” keeps us from this blessed place of service.
These four misconceptions may have a ring of familiarity, but they are not true. Clinging to them may keep you from being content with your present situation and could encourage you to attempt a kind of ministry to which you have not been called. In response to these misconceptions of work and ministry, let us consider some pertinent biblical principles.
1. God does not distinguish between secular and spiritual, but only between that which is of the flesh and that which is of the Spirit (Romans 8). The Old Testament distinctions have been eliminated by the work of our Lord Jesus Christ. This includes the distinctions between clean and unclean (Acts 10), clergy and laity (1 Peter 2:9), holy and unholy (Colossians 2:8-19), circumcision or uncircumcision, and bond or free (1 Corinthians 7:17-24; cf. also Colossians 3:11). Whatever we do is to be done as to the Lord:
And whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17).
So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
The point is this: Fundamentally, it is not a question of whether your work is in the realm of the secular or the spiritual, but whether the work you do is done in the power of the Spirit or in the power of the flesh. God desires to be glorified by His saints, whether it is in the assembly line or in the pulpit. First and foremost, we are called to be saints (cf. Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2). One will manifest the character of God and bring glory to Him as a missionary; another will glorify God as a mechanic. Both are needed and will bring glory to God as they serve Him through the strength He provides.
2. God does not measure the significance of ministry as men do. Man has a built-in tendency to stratify the worthwhileness of any activity. The disciples of our Lord (as well as the religious leaders of Israel) were greatly preoccupied with the status of their service (cf. Matthew 23:1-12; Mark 9:33ff.; 10:35ff.; Luke 22:24ff.; John 13).
The Christian cannot take pride in the magnitude of his spiritual abilities, for they are a gift of God (Romans 12:3; 1 Corinthians 12:4) through the Holy Spirit. No one can take credit for their ministry because that ministry is given by the Lord (1 Corinthians 12:5). And none can boast over their successes, for their effectiveness is also of God (1 Corinthians 12:6).
We tend to measure the significance of our activities by the degree to which it appears spiritual. “People look on the outward appearance” (1 Samuel 16:7). If there is a religious hue to our activities, they must impress God, we suppose. And yet, the religious leaders received our Lord’s most severe criticism (cf. Matthew 23).
We often engage in the numbers game, counting attendance or conversions. God is not impressed with the results of a ministry. Often they are deceiving, and even when they are accurate they only reveal the power of God (1 Corinthians 12:6). The basis for the measure of a ministry cannot be the judgment of men or the tallying of numbers.
The measure of a ministry is God’s business, not ours. God does not compare our ministry with that of others, nor should we (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:11). We are judged according to the abilities and faith which He has given to us (Matthew 25:14-30; Romans 12:3,6; James 3:1). Strangely, it is those with lesser abilities who often neglect their responsibilities, and this is sometimes due to slothfulness (cf. Matthew 25:26).
But even beyond this, God judges us according to our motives:
7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Don’t be impressed by his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. God does not view things the way men do. People look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
1 People should think about us this way—as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.
2 Now what is sought in stewards is that one be found faithful. 3 So for me, it is a minor matter that I am judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not acquitted because of this. The one who judges me is the Lord.
5 So then, do not judge anything before the time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive recognition from God (1 Corinthians 4:1-5).
What we do must be done as unto the Lord, and not unto man:
23 Whatever you are doing, work at it with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not for people, 24 because you know that you will receive your inheritance from the Lord as the reward. Serve the Lord Christ. 25 For the one who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there are no exceptions (Colossians 3:23-25; cf. also 1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17).
God has not required the Christian to be fruitful, but to be faithful (1 Corinthians 4:2). Let us be careful about measuring the effectiveness and significance of our service to God; that is God’s business, not ours.
For it is not the person who commends himself who is approved, but the person the Lord commends.
I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord (2 Corinthians 10:18).
Am I now trying to gain the approval of people, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ! (Galatians 1:10)
3. The Christian’s vocation is not a matter of consecration, but a matter of calling. Here is a fundamental principle. How often we speak of a Christian being “called” to a full-time ministry. Seldom, if ever, do we refer to secular work as a “calling,” but it is every bit as much a “calling.” Look at these words of the Apostle Paul:
17 Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each person, so let him live. I give this sort of direction in all the churches. 18 Was anyone called after he had been circumcised? He should not try to hide the fact. Was anyone called who is uncircumcised? He should not get circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Instead, keeping God’s commandments is what counts. 20 Let each one remain in that situation in life in which he was called. 21 Were you called as a slave? Do not worry about it. But if indeed you are able to be free, make the most of the opportunity. 22 For the one who was called in the Lord as a slave is the Lord’s freedman. In the same way, the one who was called as a free person is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought with a price. Do not become slaves of men. 24 In whatever situation someone was called, brothers and sisters, let him remain in it with God (1 Corinthians 7:17-24).
Apparently, the Corinthian Christians were disturbed about their circumstances after being saved. They felt it must make a difference whether or not one was circumcised, or whether one was a slave or a freedman. Paul encouraged slaves who could obtain their freedom to do so if possible, but if one could not, he was not to worry about it (verse 21).
While this passage may not speak directly to the relationship between one’s occupation and one’s ministry, the principle he teaches here does apply. The Corinthians were inclined to think that it was not possible to be a Christian slave. Paul taught that Christians need not feel compelled to change their occupation or status just because they had become believers.13 A wife who has accepted Christ may glorify God by remaining married to her unbelieving husband. A slave may glorify God by his faithful service. A man may continue to work in a factory and glorify God.
Each of us has been called to a particular occupation as well as to a specific ministry. A few may find their ministry also to be their vocation. As far as the Word of God is concerned, a Christian in a “secular” job is no less “called” than the missionary or the preacher.
Most important, we must not confuse “calling” with consecration or dedication. I do not believe that Peter was any more spiritual than the other disciples were, even though our Lord designated him as a leader among leaders (Matthew 16:18-19; Luke 22:31-32). Peter, James, and John were privileged to enjoy a more intimate relationship with Christ, yet we dare not assume any greater spirituality on their part.14 As I have sometimes said, if apostleship were to be based upon one’s devotion to the Savior, I suspect that there would have been a good number of women apostles.
The tragedy for many men who are in the professional or full-time ministry is that people expect them to be more spiritual. As a result, they are reluctant to share their failures and shortcomings. They do not feel free to ask others to pray for them, and they bear their burdens alone. Some “ministers” preach as though they have no problems, as though they are sharing only out of their vast resource of victories and triumphs. I want you to know that I and the other elders of our church do not always live our lives on the mountaintops. Our wives and families can verify this.
4. Our calling is not set in cement. We should all be familiar with these words of Paul:
For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29).
Some Christians seem to take this as the final word on their vocational calling. They suppose that one’s vocational calling needs be settled only once. This is not the case.
There are various “callings” in the Bible.15 The “calling” of which Paul speaks here in Romans 11:29 is not the call to Christian service. Paul is assuring the Jews that while this is the time of Gentile salvation and (by and large) of Jewish unbelief, God’s eternal purpose of the Jews (their “calling”) is sure, and will come to pass.
Our vocational calling, therefore, is not forever fixed by this verse in Romans. In 1 Corinthians 7:17-24, Paul made it clear that while one may have been called as a slave, the slave may change his or her status. Paul was called to be an apostle (Romans 1:1). While his calling never changed, it took years before that calling was fully realized. In Acts 6, Stephen and Philip, among others, were appointed (in my opinion) as deacons, or at least they were a kind of prototype of deacons,5 and yet it is clear that Stephen had an even more significant calling as indicated in the verses that follow his appointment in chapter 6. Philip had a ministry of evangelism, as evidenced in Acts 8.
Beyond this, Christians seem to equate a call to certain types of ministry with full-time service. If you are called to preach, they think, surely you must do so full-time. The Bible clearly teaches that some should devote all their available time to their ministry (1 Corinthians 9; 1 Timothy 5:17-18; 2 Timothy 2:6). This may especially be true of certain ministries, such as preaching and teaching (cf. Galatians 6:6). The life of the Apostle Paul makes this position hard to justify. Paul spent much of his time working with his own hands, supporting himself and others.
While the teacher may have the right to be supported as he ministers (1 Corinthians 9:5-14), it is not necessarily right to do so (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:15ff.). Paul refrained from being supported full-time when it would hinder his effectiveness as a minister. Some would have felt that Paul was no different from all the other “traveling holy men,” that he was simply in it for the money. By supporting himself, Paul gave his ministry great credibility.
In other instances, Christians were lazy and idle. They had ceased working perhaps on the pretext that they were waiting for the Lord’s return. Paul worked with his own hands among them, showing them that the Christian is to contribute to the needs of others, rather than expecting others to meet their needs (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15). Very often, laziness is cloaked in the spiritual jargon of spirituality and “waiting on the Lord.”
Full-time service is not a life-long decision, made once and for all. Neither can it be determined solely on the basis of what one’s ministry is. It is a matter of conscience, of conviction, and of calling.
I must go on to say that Paul had the right as an apostle to be supported full-time. Being an apostle was a full-time job. As I see it, those in full-time Christian service must be careful about laying claim to this “right.” Paul possessed the right to be supported because he was an apostle. It is the obligation of those who are the recipients of ministry to reciprocate in return (Galatians 6:6). While this is true, I am of the conviction that no one should insist upon being paid for his ministry, as though it were a right. Instead, I would encourage a man to minister as to the Lord, and let God convict men of their obligation to reciprocate financially.
This would seem to me to be an ideal way of discerning whether or not the Lord wanted me in full-time ministry. If God provides sufficiently (and there is no reason to refuse this support), then I would assume that is God’s will. If God does not provide, I would find some other employment that is sufficient to meet my needs and those of my family.
I have the impression that some go into full-time ministry expecting to be supported. When their needs are not met, they often blame those to whom they have ministered as being irresponsible or insensitive (as they sometimes are). Sometimes, however, they are simply reflecting their evaluation of the ministry they have received.
5. Full-time ministry is not necessarily more effective ministry. We have already said that God calls some to serve Him in a secular occupation, while others are called into “full-time Christian service.” While this may be given mental assent, there often remains the idea that full-time service will be more effective and fruitful.
In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul wrote that he refrained from serving full-time because it would hamper his ministry. This is often the case. Full-time ministry often creates a wall, an invisible shield between the “minister” and those whom he wishes to serve.
When my family and I moved into our present house, the people of the church planned a surprise housewarming party for us one Sunday evening after the meeting. Eventually cars were parked along both sides of our street for nearly a block in each direction. One of the couples, arriving a bit late, had to park some distance from our house. They did not know our street number and had expected to determine the house number by the house with the most cars in front of it. Unable to determine this, they decided to go up to one of the houses (some distance away) to ask where we lived.
“Do you know where the Deffinbaughs live?” they asked. “Who?” “The Deffinbaughs.” “No, I have never heard of them.” “Well, he is a preacher at our church, and they just moved in somewhere around here.” “Oh, you mean the preacher. Well, he lives right up there in that house.” That person did not yet know me personally, but the word had already spread that I was a preacher. That, my friends, is a barrier to my ministry. Many of our neighborhood friendships have begun over the fender of a car in my driveway. Being a “professional” Christian can create barriers to ministry.
Let me give another illustration. A couple of years ago, I met a lovely Christian family in the Northwest. The husband was an agricultural expert and was sent to India to initiate the “green revolution,” a program to introduce superior strains of wheat, which would resist insects and diseases and produce greater yields. After several years, he was sent to a Muslim country. In both places where he had worked, Christian missionaries were either refused entrance to the country or were greatly hindered and harassed. This Christian was free to have Christian gatherings in his home and to share his faith without interference. You see, he was too valuable, too much of an asset to that foreign nation, to be hindered in any way. That man’s occupation was not “full-time ministry,” but his ministry was greatly enhanced by his secular job. Full-time ministry is by no means an assurance of the effectiveness of one’s service.
6. Full-time ministry is hard work, and all work falls under the curse. I have been saving this for the last. I could hardly wait to get to this because so many myths begin here. Countless Christians believe that if they could only become full-time servants of Christ their frustrations with their secular occupations, their failures in their work, would be eliminated. This is wishful thinking, and shallow thinking at that.
A few times I have been irked when someone has innocently remarked, “Bob, why don’t you take care of that; I have to work today.” I would like to respond, “What do you think I do all day?” I really believe some people look at preaching as a kind of paid vacation. I get to do what I enjoy best, and I get paid for it as well. Observe how Paul refers to Christian ministry:
I urge you also to submit to people like this, and to everyone who cooperates in the work and labors hard (1 Corinthians 15b-16).
14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish though you live in a crooked and perverse society, in which you shine as lights in the world 16 by holding on to the word of life so that on the day of Christ I will have a reason to boast that I did not run in vain nor labor in vain (Philippians 2:14-16, emphasis mine).
28 We proclaim him by instructing and teaching all people with all wisdom so that we may present every person mature in Christ. 29 Toward this goal I also labor, struggling according to his power that powerfully works in me (Colossians 1:28-29, emphasis mine).
Paul describes his work in the ministry by using the Greek term kopiano, a word used to denote exertion and exhaustion through labor.16 Whoever believes the work of the ministry is an easy life has not carefully studied the life of the Apostle Paul (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23ff.).
We must see that the ministry is no less “work” than “secular” employment. As such, it comes under the curse:
17 But to Adam he said,
“Because you obeyed your wife
and ate from the tree about which I commanded you,
‘You must not eat from it,’
cursed is the ground thanks to you;
in painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
but you will eat the grain of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat food
until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust, and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:17-19).
Are you frustrated by your work? To a great extent, this is a result of man’s fall. But if you think that entering the full-time ministry will exchange your frustration for fulfillment, you are greatly deceived, my friend. I want you to know that I face frustration every week in my preaching. I am frustrated because I can’t find time to study uninterrupted. I am frustrated because I cannot find a handle on the passage on which I am attempting to preach. I am often frustrated and discouraged with the results of my preaching. (Having already delivered this message, I can honestly say I was frustrated with the way I handled it.) You see, I can never blame a bad message on a poor text.
Are you bored with your job? That is a part of the consequences of the fall, and I face the same problem. I must disillusion you by telling you that I sometimes fall asleep reading the commentaries. Worse yet, I have to read my own material. Every job has its routines, which few find enjoyable. I know that my wife does not find housekeeping a highly stimulating and exhilarating task. There is no great pleasure in dirty dishes and dirty diapers. All I can say is, “Welcome to the club.” Our work, as well as our world, is affected by the curse.
Are you under pressure in your work? Welcome aboard. If you stop to think about it, you will have to agree that the full-time ministry is the only occupation where a man is pressured by the belief that the “minister” should neglect his wife and family on the pretext that this is the test of his spiritual dedication.
Sometimes Christians feel that while Christian ministry may not be without its drawbacks, at least you would be doing a work that will keep you in the Word, that you will be stronger and more able to resist temptation. Many Christians have had to leave the full-time ministry because it overtaxed and dried up their spiritual lives. For them, the Bible ceased to be a guidebook and a love letter and became a textbook and a sermon manual. This brings me to my last principle.
7. Any honorable work is worthwhile when God is in it. The main factor essential to satisfaction in your vocation is that you are doing what God has called you to do, and therefore, that God is in it.
The Book of Ecclesiastes gives great insight into this matter of one’s work. Solomon tells us that work which is for selfish gain, that which attempts to gain pleasure and build a monument to oneself, is vain (Ecclesiastes 2:4-11). Work that leaves God out will not bring about enduring results. That for which you labored a lifetime may become the property of a fool (Ecclesiastes 2:18-23).
To find pleasure and fulfillment in our work, we must recognize work as a good gift from the hand of God (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13). Work is in one sense a curse, but it is also a blessing (Ecclesiastes 5:18-19). If God is at work in us, in our work, then our work will endure (Ecclesiastes 3:14; Psalm 90:17).
I am not certain that Scripture can substantiate everything I say here, so beware! I would ask that you at least consider these suggestions:
1. On the one hand, be careful not to equate your work and your ministry. For those in full-time ministry, this can lead to a devastating kind of professionalism. I suppose this is one reason why I like to minister to others as a mechanic, as well as by preaching.
2. On the other hand, be sure to regard any honorable occupation as a ministry that is an opportunity to serve men and to glorify God.
3. The full-time worker should regard his ministry as his job. That is, work hard at it, and be diligent. But also be willing and able to leave your study and go home and be a husband and a father. Be able to leave your job behind.
4. As much as possible, let your “secular” occupation serve to enhance your ministry. You can surely manifest godliness on the job. You can undoubtedly find times to share your faith and minister to the needs you encounter on the job. You can view your job as a means of enabling you to minister to others financially (Acts 20:34-35; Ephesians 4:28; 2 Thessalonians 3:8-10). Look at your job as an opportunity to relate to others in the real world, where their problems (and sins) are evident. (There is no stained glass in a factory.) If possible, seek to develop and improve the use of your spiritual gift(s) on the job. Some will find that the nature of their task may facilitate Bible study, Scripture memorization, or meditation.
5. Finally, while you are working, plan and prepare for a new and different (or expanded) ministry during your retirement years. Perhaps your occupational skills will be useful in ministry after you retire. In these years, you will normally have greater maturity and biblical knowledge, as well as greater financial freedom and mobility. Plan ahead. This can be the greatest time of your life.
Let me conclude by raising several areas of application for you to consider.
Do you find your work frustrating and less than fulfilling? Do you have good reason to think it should be otherwise? How are you dealing with these frustrations? Have you come to learn contentment in circumstances that are less than ideal? Have you experienced the intensity of suffering that slaves experienced under cruel, unbelieving masters (cf. 1 Peter 2:18ff.)? Have you considered the possibility that it is you who needs to change, rather than your environment?
I do not say that you should never change jobs. But I do say that if you are a good part of the problem, a new job won’t solve your dilemma. We must learn to live with frustration and failure in our occupations. Full-time ministry seldom solves occupational problems, and it often compounds them.
Have you been thinking of going to work for a Christian organization or institution to improve your work situation? You will probably discover that backbiting, backstabbing, and arrogance will be there as well. If you are thinking of working for a religiously-oriented organization, you will often discover that lower wages are excused because your work is (in your employer’s mind at least) a ministry.
Over the years, Christians have desired to establish a Christian business. I am not always sure what people mean when they speak of a “Christian business.” Does it mean that you will be known for being good at what you do, or for being (by reputation) a Christian? Why do you want, or expect, people to patronize your business? Do you plan to employ only Christians? Is that legal? Is that wise? Will you expect every employee, saved or unsaved, to have the same ethical standards? Will you be willing to pay a comparable salary and give the same benefits as any other business? Can there be such a thing as a Christian business?
Finally, why do we as Christians choose to patronize Christians over others? Is it just because they are believers? Would you rather have surgery performed on you by a highly-skilled pagan doctor, or by a sincere, but inept (God forbid) Christian doctor? Does a non-Christian surgeon shorten God’s hand?
I do not have the answers to all of these questions, but they hinge upon your understanding of what has been distinguished as the spiritual versus the secular. I am not as concerned about where you may land on these questions as I am afraid that some of us have not even thought about it.
May God help us to glorify Him in our work and to be content where He has called us to serve Him.
10 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on October 21, 1979.
11 A beautiful illustration of this interweaving of the spiritual and the practical can be found in the ministry of a friend. My friend and his wife have always had a compassion for seminary students. They felt it would be nice to do something special for the seminary wives, who sacrifice so much for their husband’s theological education. They could have given each wife a new Bible, or better yet, a set of commentaries. That would seem very spiritual. Instead, my friend had his wife take every seminary wife from his church out and buy her a new dress. The result was the meeting of a very practical need, but also the spiritual results of realizing God’s bountiful provision for those who trust in Him for their needs.
12 Leland Ryken, “Puritan Work Ethic: The Dignity of Life’s Labors,” Christianity Today, October 19, 1975, p. 15.
13 You will, of course, understand that there are limits to this. The immoral woman was told by Jesus to go and sin no more (John 8:11). A vocation or lifestyle that is not honorable must be left behind (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Ephesians 4:28).
14 You will recall that James and John were the two who asked for the two highest positions in our Lord’s service (John 10:35ff.).
15 In the Old Testament, the predominant use of calling is with reference to the corporate call of Israel as the people on whom and through whom God would pour out His blessings. In the New Testament, the most common use pertains to the call of the Father that results in salvation (Romans 8:30; 1 Corinthians 1:9, etc.). In addition, the term “calling” is used of the call to special service (Acts 13:2; 16:10; Romans 1:1) and to a particular occupation (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:20). C. H. Horn, CF. “Calling, Call,” The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975, 1976), I, p. 694.
16 “Kopiao is used in the general sense of to labour or toil in everyday work (cf. Matthew 6:28; Luke 5:5; Romans 16:6; 1 Corinthians 3:8 Kapos). … It also denotes weariness through the exertions of a world, John 4:6 speaks of weariness through the exertions of a journey… . Paul uses work in his own particular sense of work in the Lord. Kopos and Kopiao describe his own manual labour (1 Corinthians 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 2:9). He practiced this in the context of his missionary calling, to make himself financially independent of the churches … .” W. Mundle, “Burden, Heavy, Labour, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), I, p. 263.