WORK: The Most Honourable and Sacred Calling?

WORK: The Most Honourable and Sacred Calling?

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)

In the 1559 Edition of The Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin wrote, “Wherefore no man can doubt that [this vocation or calling] is, in the sight of God, not only sacred and lawful, but the most sacred, and by far the most honourable, of all stations in mortal life (4.20).”

As you read the quote, I bet that you, like me, must be thinking that Calvin has the pastoral ministry or full-time Christian work in mind when he penned those words. It sounded like he was but the truth is that he was not. 

It may surprise and even shock you that Calvin was referring to the office of the magistrate of Switzerland. That office is somewhat similar to the office of a politician or public servant today. 

We might want to discount the weight of Calvin’s words by dismissing the fact that he had no idea about how politics and politicians are disgraced and dishonoured today! But, the truth was that Calvin experienced first-hand unjust and oppressive politicians and public servants. He had to flee from France because of religious persecution. In his preface to the Institutes, he wrote a lengthy preface to the King of France, appealing for sensibility and kindness towards the Protestants in France. 

What we fail to see, in historical context, is that Calvin was referring, not to any particular politician, but to that political office and the responsibilities it entailed. Far more importantly, we fail to see Calvin’s view of the world in general and the Christian life in particular. For Calvin, there is no dichotomy between the sacred and secular in all of the Christian life! The world is a theatre for God’s glory and that the Christian life is to live only for the glory of God! 

The apostle Paul would have heartily agreed with Calvin in looking at the Christian life as a singular calling for the glory of God. Let me narrow down our discussion here – work or job, something that occupies a significant part of your time and energy! Here are some passages that show the apostle Paul’s agreement with Calvin with regards to work – employers and employees:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.” (Ephesians 6:5)

”And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.” (Ephesians 6:9)

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” (Colossians 3:22)

“Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.” (Colossians 4:1)

“All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered.” (1 Timothy 6:1)

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)

Well, I hope the Bible passages above convince you that there is no dichotomy between sacred and secular, regardless of your work. 

The discussion thus far, at least, helps us deal with the prevalent malaise among our generation – seeing work merely as a way to earning possessions, pleasure, prestige and power. Sadly, many Christians share this attitude towards work. Perhaps, some of us may not be so materialistic in our attitude, but somehow we see work as simply something to be endured for earning a livelihood – supporting self, family, church, missions, charities, and others. That, too, turns work into something less than what it should be – a calling to be enjoyed and employed for the glory of God! 

Now, if work is a divine calling, then the next question is, “How do I know God’s will regarding which work I should undertake?” 

Here, I share with you five questions outlined by Roger Schultz in his article “Direction for Lice: Calvin’s Concept of Calling” (2004):

#1 Do I have a desire to do this work? Is it something that drives me (energizes) or drains me? Personality does play a part in answering this question too. For example, an introverted person may feel drained doing customer service. 

#2 Do I have the gift or aptitude to do the work? There are jobs that require special skills and training. You cannot do the job of a forklift operator unless you are trained. Similarly, in the church, there are ministries that require skills, knowledge and abilities that you may not possess. 

#3 Is there an opportunity for you? Has God opened up the doors and windows for you to be engaged in that kind of work? Or, has God closed all opportunities? 

#4 Is the job lawful and honouring God? Selling lottery tickets is not a crime but is it glorifying for you to do so? Here is a question of conviction and we jolly well should not engaged in a job that troubles our conscience. 

#5 Is there affirmation from matured and godly counsellors? Speak with someone who knows you and preferably who is engaged in that job or industry. If possible, do some kind of internship and have some exposure working in that environment and industry. Then, do a reflection with a matured godly counsellor. 

Allow me to share very briefly an episode in my four-and-a-half years of serving God in the marketplace. I entered the marketplace, right after my National Service, and through it, I saw my work as a calling. My competence was greatly appreciated by my GM and colleagues. I was passionate in the things I did in my job. I was an Admin Executive in an SME, overseeing office administration and raw materials purchasing. It was a steep learning curve for me, as I had no prior experience in the printing industry. When my manager left, I was asked to take over the finance and accounting functions, over and above my current duties. Well, I was elated to expand my role and of course, with the hope to maximise my abilities too! But, I soon discovered that my GM had no intention of revising my pay for the additional work and higher level of responsibility. Well, he did add a couple of hundreds to my pay, but I thought that was a gross under-appreciation of my work. Honestly, I was unhappy and I struggled in my relationship with God. I complained to Him about this unfairness. Then, I heard a gentle voice within me, asking, “Am I still on mission with God? Do I still consider this job a calling from God?” After a few weeks, I surrendered to God and told Him that I would seek to honour Him in my job. If money was the principal concern, then I should leave the job, rather than to whine and sigh, indulging in self-pity! Or worse, staying on and give half-hearted commitment and contributions, thereby dishonouring God and discrediting my Christian witness. 

You would have done what I did if you see your job as a calling. Seeing our job as a high calling helps us steer through difficult and painful issues at work! With a biblical view of work, we are able to rise above all the changes and challenges at work, and continue to be His witness at the workplace! 

Bethanians, remember our acronym BPCEC and what it stands for? Yes, it stands for Bethanians Proclaiming Christ in Every Circumstance. Also, remember one of our vision statements: We are a congregation that seeks to Present Christ to the World! Yes, world is the third “W” after Word and works of ministry. One of the most accessible ways in which we bear witness to the world is the way we work, which entails the attitude we bring to work! Let us see our work as the most honourable and sacred calling, to be enjoyed and employed for the glory of God! Let’s do this together for the glory of God! 

Rev Peter Chan

Soli Gloria Deo

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