The word calling in contemporary evangelical culture often implies something “spiritual.” The Lord calls some to ministry in the church. But we must not let the fact that God calls some to serve the church as their full-time job eclipse the vocational calling the majority of church members receive. God calls Christians to other work, too. Evangelical culture often underemphasizes the importance of our work outside the church, leading Christians to undervalue their own contributions to the kingdom through their vocation.
But God does not see work this way. Though providing for ourselves and our families is important, work is not merely a means to a payday. Beyond provision, we extol the work of pastors and missionaries for the kingdom. Likewise, we should not assume the work of teachers, fast food employees, lawyers, janitors, and entrepreneurs is any less important and essential to the kingdom. God calls every Christian in their totality of being. He is Lord over all, including our thoughts, worship, and work. God cares about his people’s work and how that work will further his kingdom.
Considering Christ’s authority over our work, we must dissolve the paradigm that Christians can participate in genuinely secular work. If a Christian can describe his work as secular, not religious in any specific sense, he has a wrong understanding of God’s intention for our work. God commands us to serve him with all of our heart, soul, and might (Deut 6:5). This comprehensive devotion to the Lord must include working with the zeal we have for serving him.
Faithful Christian labor advances God’s kingdom
Our temptation may be to think the kingdom utility of vocation is restricted to evangelism. What this sentiment has in fervor, it lacks in understanding. Evangelism is a crucial responsibility of every Christian. But Christ uses more than our witness in the workplace—he also uses the work itself. Think of the work of the men who rebuilt Jerusalem’s walls after Cyrus released them from captivity. Nehemiah recorded, in detail, the men of Israel repairing the gate’s bolts and bars and repairing portions of the wall that were in ruins. While this work may seem mundane or even secular to our modern ears, rebuilding the city wall was a holy task (Neh 3). These builders were gifted with skill and were the means God used to renew what already belonged to him.
God’s plan for Israel’s revival after her captivity in Babylon was to ordain the preaching of the Word and the labors of the men who rebuilt the wall. In our secularizing culture, it is easy to minimize the impact of our work and forget that it is ordained by God. In a fallen world, work can be tedious, corrupt, or unfulfilling, but when we, as Christians, work under the lordship of Christ, he uses our work as a means to bless the nations.
Faithful Christian labor glorifies God
When we discuss Christian service, it typically relates to the ministry of the church, but God tells all of us to “work heartily, as for the Lord” (Col. 3:23). The work God bestowed upon Adam was to cultivate and protect the Garden. Would many in the church today recognize a gardener or a security guard as one with a holy calling who glorified God? Remember also the Roman centurion who petitioned Jesus to heal his servant. Jesus never called this soldier to leave his post and take up the specific ministry of the Word.
The young teenager in his first job as a lifeguard at the local swimming pool may think he is simply trading time for money, but this perspective is impoverished. The transformed Christian should work differently than the non-believer. His job is to glorify God in whatever he does. Genuine Christians should recognize the kingdom impact of their vocation and reject the error that work is only temporal. We must work in the light of eternity. Busing tables at a restaurant may not appear particularly religious, but God cares how the Christian employee does his job. Bus tables to the glory of God.
The challenge and responsibility each of us must reckon with is trusting that God will use the results of our labor to advance his will. For example, who may God be redeeming by preserving life through the careful work of a bus driver or the food produced by a farmer? My particular vocation does not appear outwardly religious, but God calls me to serve in my job as if I were serving Christ. As a leader, I know my actions affect the men I serve. I still wonder how God will use my efforts for his kingdom. But this I know, he cares how I conduct myself, and success is more than a paycheck that provides money for my family and church. Though I do not know to what extent God will use my efforts, God-honoring results are my objective.
Although your job may appear secular, a Christian’s efforts are never merely temporal. Christ has dominion over your whole life—including your vocation. Even if it is difficult to see, Christ uses your work as an instrument to advance his kingdom by making him known and preparing the world, one step at a time, for the day when all things will be made new. Let us labor with anticipation and in faith that the Christ-empowered work of our hands is reaping eternal benefits.