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Work as Covenant

Updated: Sep 25, 2018


Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is bondservant or is free. Masters do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their master and yours in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

Ephesians 6:5-9


As I am sure you are well aware, this past year was the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. We all read and listened to an abundance of material on the five solas, Martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 theses and much more. Another major tenet of the Reformation which gets less coverage but also needs emphasis in our day is the ‘Doctrine of Vocation’ or the ‘Priesthood of all Believers’. Many historians argue, that it was a major contributor to the rise of capitalism, democracy, industry and many other aspects of our western inheritance.

The Doctrine of Vocation asks: “if we are justified by grace alone (et. al), how then do we serve God”? Have you ever heard a Christian say something along the lines of “I’m too busy at work to serve God”? I think the quickest and simplest way to argue against this attitude is to point out where that Christian’s priorities must lie. We might say “but sir, you must make time in your day to read your bible, pray, and serve in some program at the church!” We might say that and we might be right. This form of retort, however, does not cut deep enough. You see, the problem with this attitude is that behind it, a dualism has crept in; namely, the idea that in order to serve God one must be doing something extra pious or ‘spiritual’ or a program for the local church. In other words, an unbiblical sacred/secular divide has become prominent in our thinking about vocation. If we adopt this kind of attitude we are actually undoing the Reformation. We are returning to the scholastic view of the late middle ages.

The church in that day believed that vocation, this holy calling of God, applied only to priests, nuns, monks, bishops, popes, etc. These were the holy callings in society. Everything else they called ‘the profane’. This has filtered down to our day as many claim that there is some sort of neutral sphere outside of the church that King Jesus has some lesser claim over (or indeed, no claim at all; at least in the ‘Church Age’) that people interact with in their ‘everyday’ lives. The reformers rejected this notion and we must as well.

In fact, sometimes we may agree with the scholastics and feel that our work is unimportant or that we do not make any difference in the wider world or culture. Some of us may even feel our jobs are demeaning or a grind. Well some of this is of course due to the effects of the fall. The Doctrine of Vocation, however, means that we can know that all work is dignified if done to the glory of God. Colossians 3:17 says: “whatever you do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” By glorifying Christ in everything we do, we are honouring God our father. Martin Luther, responding to the medieval scholastic view of work, put it this way:

It is pure invention that pope, bishops, priests and monks are called the spiritual estate while princes, lords, artisans, and farmers are called the temporal estate. That is indeed a piece of deceit and hypocrisy. Yet no one need be intimidated by it, and for this reason: all Christians are truly of the spiritual estate, and there is no difference among them except that of office. Paul says in I Corinthians 12:12-13, that we are all one body, yet every member has its own work by which it serves the others. This is because we all have one baptism, one gospel, one faith, and are all Christians alike; for baptism, gospel, and faith alone make us spiritual and a Christian people.[1]

Luther here argues that no work is profane in itself. The farmer’s work milking the cow is no less holy than the Priest’s sermon. There is a difference of office and function, but not of holiness.

All Christians are called by God to do their work. Recognizing that your work is God’s call on your life makes all the difference. It will change the way you work. It will change your attitude to your boss or your co-workers or your employees. Paul tells slaves in Ephesians 6 that their work is glorifying to God. Slaves! And they were to do this demeaning work as if they were working for Jesus. He tells them that this is God’s will for their lives, and to do it from the heart. We often want to know what the will of God is for our lives. We worry about big questions like career path and marriage and the like. Those things are important. But if you are working as unto the Lord, glorifying God in everything you do, and obeying his inscripturated law, you are doing the will of God!

The reformers claimed that God ordains our work. We must first recognize God’s attitude towards work. In Genesis 1 God is working. He is the working creator who makes man in his image. Six days he works and on the seventh he rests. God is a working God and we are meant to be his workers on earth. Genesis 1:26 gives us the cultural mandate: “and God blessed them. And God said to them ‘be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Work, then, predates the Fall.

Many have this notion that the cultural mandate and the call to work happened as a result of the fall and that work was some sort of punishment for Adam and Eve’s sin. But Adam and eve were not originally put in the Garden to lounge around on hammocks sipping coconut drinks. Genesis 2:15 says that God put Adam and Eve into the Garden to “cultivate it and keep it”. They had to be faithful to the task of dominion and expand the Garden of the Lord to the ends of the earth. One theologian puts it this way:

made in God’s own image, man has a unique responsibility to ‘subdue’ the earth and rule over every living creature…This subduing involves the bringing out of all potential within the creation which might offer glory to the Creator. Such an ordinance, embedded in the creational responsibilities of man, clearly intends to affect his entire life-pattern.[2]

In a sense, Christ has republished this cultural mandate in the Great Commission. Because of the authority that Christ has now, we are to go into all the world making disciples of the nations, baptizing and teaching them to observe all that he has commanded. The point for us is that this calling involves cultural activities. This gospel is all encompassing and will affect our work; indeed, all areas of life. Theologian Charles Hodge said that,

it is our duty, as far as lies in our power, immediately to organize human society and all its institutions and organs upon a distinctively Christian basis. Indifference or impartiality here between the law of the kingdom and the law of the world, or of its prince the devil, is utter treason to the King of Righteousness. The Bible, the great statute-book of the kingdom, explicitly lays down principles which, when candidly applied, will regulate the action of every human being in all relations. There can be no compromise. The King said, with regard to all descriptions of moral agents in all spheres of activity, “He that is not with me is against me.” If the national life in general is organized upon non-Christian principles, the churches which are embraced within the universal assimilating power of that nation will not long be able to preserve their integrity.[3]

So there is no neutrality in our work life either. You are either with Christ or against him. Our cultural activity belongs to him, and if not laid at his feet, will be thrown into the fire.

The Priesthood of all Believers could be summarized by 1 Peter 2 which tells us that we are a ‘royal priesthood’. As believers we are all priests acting for the true High Priest, and thus in a sense we mediate God to others.[4] That is what God is doing through our work. Through us, God is serving others, providing for others, and blessing others. Priests also offer sacrifices and our work is sacrificial worship as we offer our lives to our Lord. Pastor Rich Lusk says that this fact turns every workplace into an altar where we present our worship to God.

All legitimate work is love to neighbor. Ephesians 6 says that we should be “doing the will of God from the heart, rendering good service with a good will as to the Lord, and not to man”. Love your neighbor by doing your best work and you will be loving God and demonstrating a gospel testimony. Colossians 3 tells us that we need to do things heartily; in other words, competently. We should be the best workers in the workforce! D. Martin Lloyd Jones remarks that by being diligent workers,

the Christian honours God, and he pleases Him. This is God’s will for him. Behaving thus he is approximating more and more to man as he was at the original creation, and God is pleased to see him like that… It is… a great missionary opportunity, and it is open to everyone.[5]

God has created us to be dependent on others. We serve our fellow man through our work. The puritan William Perkins wrote that “the main end of our lives…is to serve God in the serving of men in the works of our callings… The true end of our lives is to do service to God in the serving of man.”[6] Our work then, is offering sacrifice to God, through service to neighbor.

How do we do this? How do we fulfill our vocation when it is often laborious, dull, and unfulfilling? Christ. Jesus came to this earth to become a servant. He came to do the work that we could not do. He put himself in our place so that the curse of our work is now being undone and will ultimately perish. Because Christ did this, we are free to do his work. We can boldly go out into the world as Christ’s ambassadors, his vice-regents, and share the Gospel of his Kingdom in everything we do; including our work.

[1] Martin Luther, Three Treatises (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 12.

[2] O. Palmer. Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg, N.J: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub., 1980), 80.

[3] Quoted in Joseph Boot, The Mission of God: A Manifesto of Hope for Society (Toronto: Ezra Press, 2016), 376. Emphasis mine.

[4] For ideas in this paragraph: Rick Lusk, "The Reformational Doctrine of Vocation" (lecture) on the Theopolis Podcast.

[5] David Martyn. Lloyd-Jones, Life in the Spirit in Marriage, Home and Work: An Exposition of Ephesians 5:18-6:9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003), 355.

[6] Quoted in Joseph Boot, The Mission of God: A Manifesto of Hope for Society (Toronto: Ezra Press, 2016), 374-375.

#Work #Covenant #Vocation #PriesthoodofallBelievers

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