the shape of leadership

A Sacred Calling

Three aspects of work preachers should emphasize

Pastors preach on many different topics throughout the year. They might preach through a book of the Bible or about a character in the Bible. They might teach on important spiritual disciplines such as prayer, worship, serving, and generosity.

Or a pastor might cover a wide variety of topics such as relationships, fear, anxiety, marriage, parenting, forgiveness, worry, hope, peace, and love. Of course, no preaching calendar would be complete without Christmas and Easter.

But there’s one topic that is conspicuously missing from most sermon calendars. It’s a subject that consumes a significant amount of our time — and our life. The topic is work.

The average person spends 90,000-plus hours of their life at work. Some researchers push that number north of 115,000 hours. And yet, for an area that plays an enormous role in our lives, the pulpit is nearly silent.

Congregations need to be discipled through a biblical theology of work. In fact, they need to understand three important aspects of work.


The Priority of Work

We see the priority of work in Scripture in three ways. First, God modeled work. In the beginning, He created the heavens and the earth. Simply put, the pages of Scripture open with God dressed as a worker. He invented work.

Author Tim Keller once said, “In the beginning, then, God worked. Work was not a necessary evil that came into the picture later, or something human beings were created to do but that was beneath the great God himself. No, God worked for the sheer joy of it. Work could not have a more exalted inauguration.”

Second, work was God’s intent from the beginning of time. Genesis 2:5 says, “Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up,for theLORDGod had not sent rain on the earthand there was no one to work the ground.”

Before God even made the earth, He knew the soil would need to be worked by people. It wasn’t a surprise to God.

Not only was work God’s intent before creation, it was also His plan before the fall. Genesis 2:15 says, “The LORDGod took the man and put him in the Garden of Edento work it and take care of it.”

Congregations need to be discipled through a biblical theology of work.

Work was not a curse for sin nor was it an afterthought. Instead, work was a pre-thought before man ever sinned.

Third, God has a mission for your work. How so? Work was meant to meet our needs, serve society, and glorify God.

I’ll often ask people, “If you didn’t carry out your job, what part of society would be left undone?” In other words, what vehicle wouldn’t be assembled? What product wouldn’t make it to market? What child wouldn’t be educated? What team would be unemployed? What customer wouldn’t be cared for?

Work meets needs and solve problems — not just our own but for society at large. By performing our work, we make society flourish.

Congregations need to know that work is a priority to God. It’s not a necessary evil. It’s not the result of the Fall. Work was God’s intent from the beginning. He modeled work, made us to work, and has a mission for our work.


The Perspective of Work

Our perspective of work matters. We need to see work as a sacred calling not a secular career. The sacred/secular divide is rooted in Greek philosophy rather than a biblical worldview.

The Greeks believed the material world was associated with the body and the spiritual world was associated with the mind. As a result, they classified some work (particularly manual labor) as secular and religious work as sacred.

However, Tim Keller observes that the Hebrew word used to described God’s “work” in creation means handiwork and craftsmanship. It was the same word used to describe human labor or ordinary human work. Furthermore, our word “vocation” comes from the Latin word vocare, which means “to call.” Our vocation isn’t a curse; it’s a calling from God.

We often forget that many of the heroes in Scripture worked in what many people call “secular” jobs. Abraham was a rancher, Debora was a judge, Moses was a shepherd, Luke was a physician, Matthew was a tax collector, and Paul was a tentmaker. Jesus was even a carpenter. Again, these aren’t secular careers but sacred callings.

Author Gene Edward Veith Jr. wisely observed, “‘The priesthood of all believers’ did not make everyone into church workers; rather, it turned every kind of work into a sacred calling.”

Our congregations need this kind of perspective on their work. It’s not simply a way to pay the bills. Work is sacred, and God desires to use our work to make the world flourish.


The Practice of Work

Daniel is a perfect example of someone who practiced his work — in a pagan culture — by such a way that it brought glory to God. When you read his story, you discover that Daniel did his work with integrity, humility, and a high level of competency. He was faithful to God and faithful at work.

Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, said it like this: “The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays — not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”

How we do our work matters to God.

The apostle Paul said, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Colossians 3:23).

Paul’s instruction addresses the actions and attitude of work. Working with all your heart reflects your actions, and working as though you’re laboring for the Lord reflects your attitude. By doing both, we are being faithful at work.

So, why is this so important? Colossians 3:24 tells us. Paul said, “Since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

How you perform your work has implications beyond the here and now. In other words, when you are faithful at work, you show faithfulness to your Heavenly Father, and one day He will reward your faithfulness.

What about you? Have you taught on the importance of work lately? Have you helped the congregation you’re leading understand a biblical priority, perspective, and practice of work? If not, perhaps it’s time to put this important topic on your preaching calendar.

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