The character of our work and vocation, as it is related to the Gospel message and our witness, has been slowly divorcing itself from contemporary humanity. The Gospel is meant to give meaning to the ideology of work and the environment in which we create are to contribute to the greater cause of society. Biblical vocation becomes the activity by which we are to sustain production and cultivate what has been entrusted to us since the creation narrative. When faith and work collide, it finds meaning to our vocation or as Timothy Keller states that all human work is not merely taking on a job but a calling.This calling becomes the root word for our communication theory towards our Christian witness. It’s in our vocation that we can communicate, shape and learn to catch human beings (Matt.4:19). Working side by side reinforces the camaraderie just as the disciples toiled together in the fishing trade that unified them for a specific cause. A vocation to them became the bridge that not only leads them to Christ but bonded them in intimacy with one another in their calling and is a means by which Gospel culture was created.
Vocation in the Beginning
To first understand how vocation affects our presentation of the Gospel in creating a culture of care, we must first examine the creation account and the analogy of God’s work in creating out of nothing. The Bible describes work right from the beginning in Genesis 1-2 as God effortlessly creates material, temporal and spatial reality all in the timeframe of six days.The design of work was first established by God and this is transferred to humans who are made in God’s likeness and image (Gen.1:27). It’s in this poetic climax that God finds delight in the splendor of what had been formed and celebrates this accomplishment employing rest. With this, human beings are given a mandate or “owners manual” to fill the earth and subdue concerning their identity as bearers of God’s image. God places the first Adam in the garden to work and keep it (Gen. 2:15) and to imitate (imitatio dei) through this divine vocation. It is in this understand that we are instructed to work according to God’s divine will. Dorothy Sayers writes with this in mind, “What is the Christian understanding of work?…It is that work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties…the medium in which he offers himself to God.”Vocation is therefore wired into our spiritual DNA, a supreme gift that gives purpose to who we are as co-creators and co-rulers with God.
The concept of work was part of paradise since the beginning. One scholar puts it as, “It is perfectly clear that God’s good plan always included human beings working, or more specifically, living in the constant cycle of work and rest.”This, however, changed once sin entered the scene and transformed how we as humans are to work. The judgment of God affected the world ever since Adam and Eve’s eyes were open. They attempted to hide from the creator who created them into existence who were God’s pinnacle of creation. This disobedience resulted in a curse that we today are still under submission until the eschatological time when this curse will be lifted and all of creation redeemed.Sin has distorted how we value work from a work-based mindset that seeks its pleasures and a culture that views vocation only in dollar amounts. The purpose of our work has shifted from filling and subduing the earth to a more individualistic framework that disregards culture and community altogether.
The concept of work was part of paradise since the beginning.
During the New Testament era, Jesus and His disciples demonstrated what it meant to work in a variety of occupations. Jesus himself was a carpenter by trade (Mark 6:3) and His disciples held positions as fishermen, a tax collector and even Jesus taught the value behind working. The apostle Paul even writes in his epistles the positivity of vocation and how laboring faithfully produces in abundance. The NT use of the word for “work” (kopos) means to toil, labor, hardship and “worker” (ergates) frequently describe what the ministry of the Gospel was designed for.The biblical view of work can be characterized by two general themes throughout scripture. Biblical stewardship as seen in the Genesis account (Gen. 2:15) and Reward as the Word portrays work and monetary opportunities as a gift from God.Taking these two themes as a whole we see that work can be seen as more than a labor of love but a gift, instituted by God, for our enjoyment. Cultivating and drawing this out, unfolds the true design and plan for cultural development in our glorious pursuit of exercising our work of subduing. Our vocations are to create and make culture come alive not just for the corporate offices but into the homes and lives of everyone we come in contact with.
The Fullness of Christ and the use of Gifts
As co-labors with Christ called to a reasonable Christian service (1 Cor. 3:9), our view of vocation must be formed by our faith and not according to our function. Keller makes a point that we are to see work as a service unto God and to our neighbor as the very purpose of why we work.It is to obtain in some form the fullness of Christ in our group relationships with one another. Paul begins this dialogue with the church of Ephesus and writes,
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13).
Each gift that has been bestowed on each member is for the edification of the entire body and by this, we visualize a unification process among each group relationship. Paul will go on to extrapolate this further in his letter to the Corinthians when he remarks that every member carries this image and the manifestation of the Spirit is for the common good of everyone (1 Cor. 12:7).
This distribution of gifts as mentioned in Ephesians is entitled to all as part of the victory of Christ.The fullness of Christ isn’t measured by the productivity of humanity but can only be found in the person of Christ and this is manifested in the togetherness of the believers. The differences is that we have come together in the vision that the Gospel presents. This divine mandate instituted by Christ, given by the same Holy Spirit, are all equally dignified of each other. This dignity of the gifts works in unison for the common good and no one gift is greater than the next. Yoder goes on to say, “God has done this not by making everyone the same but empowering each member differently although equally.”The gifts empower and equip our work as God’s vocation that has been handed down to us for the service of everyone. All our work now becomes the path to our utter devotion and love to God and this love reaches towards our neighbors.
The fullness of Christ isn’t measured by the productivity of humanity but can only be found in the person of Christ and this is manifested in the togetherness of the believers.
Vocation as Service
Works as service can find its tracing back to the Old Testament as belonging to other people (Gen. 24:35; Ex. 21:21) that performed different types of work. The servant (ebed) contains two ingredients: action (the servant who is considered a worker) and obedience.Many OT patriarchs and matriarchs were called servants as they not only worked in service to another person but to God. The New Testament use of the word (doulos) is often used in scripture to designate a slave but was also used as a follower of Christ or bondslave. The servant couldn’t exercise his or her own will and was submitted entirely to the one over them. Work seemed as routine and uneventful that contributed only to the one who ruled over them. Even the Son of Man took upon himself the very form of a servant (Phil. 2:7). This act of love is reciprocated in the lives of Christians who have moved from being slaves to sin to slaves of righteousness (Rom.6:17-18). The task of work is meant to bring fulfillment to the everyone affected by its services and our daily work is ultimately a spiritual act of worship to God.Jesus came not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28). This kind of hospitality is shown in our vocation, through the exercising of gifts for the benefit of the community. Around 116 A.D Caesar Hadrian, who was known for construction the of Venus temple, saw a rapid growing cult within the Roman Empire called “The Way” (Christianity). He sent for a man named Aristides to spy out this fraction of people and find out what was going on in their midsts. When Aristides had finished his reconnaissance, he writes back to Caesar concerning this group:
They love one another, and he, who has, gives to him who has not, without boasting. And when they see a stranger, they take him into their own homes and rejoice over him as a very brother. And if there is among them any that is poor and needy, and if they have no spare food, they fast two or three days to supply to the needy their lack of food. Such, O King, is their manner of life, and verily, this is a new people, and there is something divine in the midst of them.
The early church was renown for serving one another with their gifts, providing to those who lacked and used vocation as a means to generously establish relationships that would last over two thousand years.
Vocation as Communication
In our vocation, we communicate different messages and those messages are interpreted differently among others. The critical question we should be asking is how does God want us to communicate the Gospel through our works? To understand this, we must first look at the ways God communicated and demonstrated the message to creation. Intimacy with God will be the focal point in this segment as we learn to communicate the essence of the Gospel to “catch” human beings. At the very beginning, God spoke into existence and it became. From the first instance of light (Gen.1:3b), land (Gen. 1:9b) to human beings (Gen. 1:26b), the goals of God are evident in that desire to have a relationship with us. God spoke to the first Adam when he attempted to hide, Abraham was given instructions to begin living your culture for God, and from Issac to Paul we see a God stretching forth, who not only desires to be understood but to strategize their vocation towards the purpose of the Gospel.God communicated with Adam during the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8b) in ordinary human language as he could have understood it. Not only did the incarnation reveal the coming Messiah as an infant baby who grew to be a carpenter and teacher but reveals to us that the message of the true God doesn’t necessarily come in impressive vehicles (Kings 19:11-12).God’s goal and strategy in communicating are saturated in love that places oneself in a position to effectively make sure the message is heard. When God became the message as Christ, the cross spoke of this love and the epicenter was the resurrection that assured all would be able to hear and communicate this truth.
God’s goal and strategy in communicating are saturated in love that places oneself in a position to effectively make sure the message is heard.
One of the best ways to communicate through our work is by demonstration. The Father sent His son to tell the salvific work of the Gospel as seen through Christ (John 14:9). To prove this love, Jesus had to demonstrate this throughout his life and word. He taught his disciples how to pray, fast, show patience, kindness, live in holiness and to use their gifts in promotion of the kingdom of God on earth. It becomes a personal matter that meets the felt needs of others around us when we become the message by demonstrating our works. As Christian communicators, we are the vehicles of this message in how others will credibility answer and accept it. Who better to hear a message than from a communicator that has walked in and through it? The vocation that has been assigned to us serves as a mouthpiece in vocalizing the message to the receptor’s interpretation of it. They have the final say as to accepting the outcome and inviting them to move from one commitment to another.The message is enhanced through the work we outsource, and the interpretation becomes recognizable to each participant. It begins to take shape in the message and the culture evaluates it based on receptivity. Does it meet the intended needs of the community and communicate the values and beliefs adopted by each group? Asking the right questions beforehand is crucial in avoiding any misinterpretation and helps rather than become a hindrance to how we communicate work.
Vocation as the Problem
The shaping of culture in and outside the four walls of the church is largely affected by our vocations. When we work, we are committed to the task at hand, but it can become mundane and pointless at times when its focus is ourselves. There is a meaninglessness and alienation to our work that Keller describes as taking the hope out of our futures.The Westminster Short Catechism asks the question what is the chief end of man? The answer is that man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.This, however, has not been the case when we substitute our joy in work for self-indulgence and find satisfaction in our toils (Eccl. 2:24).
There is isolation to work as well that keep us away from community and fellowship with one another. We become so involved and busy in what we do that it separates the purpose of our vocation as cultivators of the Gospel. The Tower of Babel is a great illustration of this point where the people sought out to create an idol for themselves. Genesis 11:4 says, “Then they said, Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we are dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” This fatal attraction leads to the demise of the nation that reveals the motivation of their hearts for self. Idols can be found when we begin to view our work as a moral duty rather than viewing it as God’s ordinance (Titus 3:14). The apparent problem with shaping culture becomes difficult and the remedy is what James Hunter states that “Significant changes in any society come…only as Christian people hear the word of God and determine to obey it.”If our current generation is to cultivate a gospel centric culture, it must give birth in our spiritual commitments to not idolize the present and understand that work is seen as a stewardship from God (Col. 3:23-24). Idealism shapes how society views morality and their worldview shifts when the underlining issue aren’t addressed. If work becomes the sole means of happiness and the measuring stick for success, then the distortion of God’s work as a calling loss its appeal.
We as human beings are defined by what we ultimately love. In an attempt to make sense of the purpose behind our vocation, we must first come to grips with the fact that God has ordained these said purposes to be fulfilled through the co-operation of humanity. Our labor is futile if it is disconnected from faith and our relationship with God (Ps. 127:1). James K. A. Smith writes, “One might say that in our everyday, mundane being-in-the-world, we don’t lead with our head, so to speak; we lead out with our hearts and hands.”The heart and hands are created by God for us to cultivate what had been entrusted since the beginning (Gen. 2:15). Vocation was never meant to exploit through dishonestly (Hos. 12:7) or even oppression (Ex. 1:11-14) but is intended to glorify God and enjoy the fruits of labor. Working under the sun can be then viewed as beneficial to ourselves and more importantly to those in whom we serve. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart” (Col.3:23).
The Christ of culture can be demonstrated through our love of work when the motives are aligned with the Gospel in mind. Richard Niebuhr discusses this position in detail, “The Christ-of-culture position appears in these and other similar ways to make effective the universal meaning of the gospel, and the truth that Jesus is the savior, not of a selected little band of saints, but of the world.”Communicating and shaping gospel culture with our jobs becomes the catalyst for introducing the world to the savior. In an individualistic culture, we can implement a biblical community when we are committed to working with one another. Vocation doesn’t have to be a normal routine of living but has intrinsic worth and potential when God is the source. The fall brought sin and death but there’s a redeemable part of work that honors God and finds its fulfillment in servitude. How we communicate this in today’s postmodern world is the task that has been given to those called to endeavor and present themselves as ambassadors of the gospel.
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Keller, Timothy, and Katherine Leary. Alsdorf. Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to Gods Work. New York: Viking, 2012, 103.
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Hunter, James Davison. To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010,22.
Smith, James K. A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2009,47.
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