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 on 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.