On Work

This is a long post. Be warned.

Discussion on Simone’s blog has evolved in an interesting direction. And one I’ve been meaning to write about for some time – or at least since the “Ministry Matters” day the Walkers held a few weeks ago.

The debate about the value of secular work vs vocational ministry puzzles me.

Before I begin I want to say that I affirm the value of secular work – in most cases. So long as the job is in some way about “bringing order to creation” I see it as being of some merit. But to suggest that God is as glorified in secular work as he is in “ministry work” just seems odd.

It’s odd because I think the Bible’s pretty clear that one is more valuable than the other, that there are rewards for ministry (including anything that serves and builds up the Kingdom of God) that don’t exist for those who diligently work in their vocation.

The very fact that we get so little information about Jesus’ pre-ministry vocation in the Bible but so much about his ministry and preaching would suggest there’s a difference in value. But that’s a fairly long bow to draw…

I brought up the distinction between the two types of work in the comments onĀ Simone’s post about rewriting song words – because I think it’s right for artists to be protective of their secular work – that which earns them their living, but I think the standard is different for those who are in ministry. I think their aim is to glorify God and serve the body of believers with their gifts.

I don’t think using gifts – for example a gift of communication – for your job is the same as using them for the spread of the kingdom. Luther and Calvin both affirm the value of secular work – and the value of using God given gifts in secular work – but you can affirm this without putting it on par with ministry.

My understanding of what both Calvin and Luther have to say about work is that it’s a valuable activity and should be tackled with gusto. They see work as a means to create or restore order – and again, I’d argue that for the Christian this is most likely to be expressed through the ministry of the gospel – whether by preaching, or teaching, or hospitality, or acts of service – than through secular work (I’m not saying this has no value – just less).

Overt glorification will always win out over intrinsic glorification – both in value and effect.

Full time ministry is a special calling – with special responsibilities, special rewards and special consequences for doing the wrong thing.

There’s also a hierachy within the context of ministry (where preaching and teaching is considered more valuable than other gifts – see below for the passage this idea comes from).

Let me back up my thinking with some Bible verses (which I’ll copy directly from my comment on Simone’s blog…). Obviously the “Great Comission” means that “making disciples” is the fundamental priority of all Christians. And lets face it – nobody is converted without some input from the word of God.Actions alone aren’t enough. They are important though.

1 Corinthians 3 is where I’d be drawing most of my thinking from with regards to the greater heavenly valuation of ministry.

Verse 8 implies a reward directly linked to ministry.

8 The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.

Verse 9 implies that Paul is specifically talking about ministry…

9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Verses 10 through 15 seem to be linking the heavenly outcomes for those in ministry with the quality (not quite the word I’m looking for) of their work…

“10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”

I contend this isn’t talking about the vocational cleaning of toilets – though that be done well and to God’s glory.

I don’t think you can form a doctrine of work solely from the exhortation in Colossians 3:17…

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Then 1 Timothy 5 suggests gospel workers are worthy of double honour…

“17 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” 19 Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. 20 Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.”

Then you’d have to consider Ephesians 4 – which suggests acts of service are a gift, but I don’t think it equates exercising them in the secular context with exercising them in order to serve the body of believers…

“11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

And finally, 1 Corinthians 12. The whole chapter is relevant. It starts off by establishing that while gifts are different they all come from God – but then the chapter only really deals with gifts that serve the body – again, not equating secular work with serving the body of believers.

“4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.” And the last few verses seem to establish a hierachy – and exhort us to desire the “greater gifts”… “28 And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But eagerly desire the greater gifts.”

That’s my thinking anyway. And I’ve spent enough time on this. I have work to do.

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.

4 thoughts on “On Work”

  1. Note to self – make sure paragraph formatting is correct in preview mode before posting something created in HTML mode.

    Apologies to those who read this in the feed version or before editing.

  2. The reformers always get misrepresented (or half represented) in debates on work. Here’s a couple of quotes from Calvin and Luther:

    Luther: “The Gospel treats of the office of the ministry, how it is constituted, what it accomplishes and how it is misused. It is indeed very necessary to know these things, for the office of preaching is second to none” (Sermons of Martin Luther, Vol 3, p. 373)

    Calvin: “God often commended the dignity of ministry by all possible marks of approval in order that it might be held among us in highest honour and esteem, even as the most excellent of all things … The purport of these and like passages is that the mode of governing and keeping the church through ministers (a mode established by the Lord forever) may not be ill esteemed among us and through contempt fall out of use” (Institutes (Battles translation), p 1055-56)

    It’s just simplistic, and wrong, to say that the reformers taught that all kinds of work were of exactly the same value. They didn’t. The ministry of preaching the word of God was for them was “second to none” and “the most excellent of all things”.

    Luther’s teaching on the priesthood of all believers wasn’t that all kinds of WORK suddenly became spiritual. It was that all Christians could now do the SPECIFIC PRIESTLY work of prayer, teaching and holiness. But even then “some [Christians] who are competent should be chosen out of the congregation to the preaching office. Thus there is only an outward distinction for the sake of office, in that one is called out of the congregation.” (from his Comm. on 1 Peter 2).

  3. I think we all should be serving the body in some way. And I agree that there is something special about being a ‘pastor’ (or in contemporary lingo, a full-time gospel worker) but that doesn’t mean that our secular workplaces cannot be places for gospel work or ‘ministry’.
    This may be slightly off topic, but I think it’s fair to say that a secular job done as col 3:17 says is an act of worship – after all, Adam was commanded to tend the garden, would we see that as an act of worship?

    I’m interested about your comment that secular work that brings order to creation is worthy work. Does this mean opera singing is not worthy work? Could I argue that music, by it’s inherent order points to the glory of God? Gen 4:21 gives music making the biblical seal of approval anyway.

  4. I know you’ve changed your mind on some of this, but your more recent post suggests people should still do paid church work if possible.

    I wonder how much of this is tied to the fact that we see Sunday as the real locus of ministry. If Sunday is where ministry happens, then of course ‘paid ministry’ is more valuable, because it’s mostly the paid people who get to do stuff on Sunday. But that’s not what the NT envisages.

    Jesus calls on us to live in his kingdom as loyal subjects 24/7. Part of this (but not the WHOLE of this) includes proclaiming his kingship: evangelism is necessary, but not sufficient. Rather, it is right simply to do good to people, even if they never become Christian: that’s how God created us, and that’s what pleases him. This is what it means to serve (=minister) as a priest in Jesus’ kingdom: the sacrifice we bring is our whole lives, our members offered as instruments of righteousness.

    That’s the theology; now a bit of practice.

    If you work in a regular workplace, you get to love a whole bunch of people all the time. You get to know unbelievers. You get to serve them in a range of ways. You get to talk about Jesus. If there are other Christians in your workplace, you get to remind one another of Jesus’s good reign. For example, if I whinge in the workplace, my Christian colleague can remind me that ultimately I’m working for Jesus, and that he has given me this good work to do. If she gossips and excludes another colleague from a clique, I can remind her that Jesus is the God who welcomes us, and so we should welcome others.

    The thing is, ‘ministry’ happens in relationships, and relationships are multifaceted. It’s not like I have a choice to make: EITHER I evangelize my colleague, OR I share some teaching materials with them, OR I hang out with them at a winebar, OR I help them move house. I do all these things: they are all part of my ministry to them.

    People who are “cut out for paid full-time Christian work” are cut out for something else, too. There might be all kinds of reasons for them to stay in that ‘something else’, including money (though full-time paid pastors get a lot more money than I) and unique ministry opportunities: the occasion to be salt and light among people who would otherwise not encounter Jesus.

    But the model in which I was trained said that my task as a ‘secular’ worker is really to get people to come on Sunday, where the real ministry happens. I get them to lay aside their preferences to come to where I’m comfortable, rather than vice versa. That might be a way to evangelize the 20% of Australians who attend churches on Sundays. But it’s no way to live as a royal priesthood, and that’s no way to grow Jesus’s kingdom in this city among the other 80%.

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