When we kicked off this series, I said I hope we can learn that our daily "mundane" and "secular" tasks can glorify God and expand His kingdom in real and practical ways. And I’m hoping that as a result of this series, we'll learn to be encouraged that our daily work matters to Him and will count for something eternal.
And most of all, because of that, we'll become equipped to live every moment or our life with a constant awareness of His presence, His help, His concern, and His pleasure with and for our work, and let us do all that we do for His Glory!
Part of the reason this discussion is confusing is because we typically have a wrong idea in our mind when we think of the word “worship.” Worship does not mean music. What we typically mean by worship music is, in this case, along with prayer and scripture reading and other things, part of our gathered worship. And our gathered worship is really part of our personal life of devotion, which is only a part of our whole life of worship, which also includes our daily tasks, and rest, and leisure, and other things.
So, my big point today is this: Every task you undertake is a spiritual act of worship. Something being a spiritual act of worship has nothing to do with the category or type of task, but rather it is a spiritual act of worship because:
And as we, in faith, apply ourselves to our tasks in light of these things, all our work will be spiritual acts of worship.
But we don’t think like this, do we? There is a division in our minds between spiritual activities and our every day work. I want to show you where this came from so we can understand why we think like we do, and we can examine the consequences of those ideas.
The problem is dualistic thinking.
Greek philosophers, most notably Aristotle, reasoned that highest form of humanity is contemplation, debate, and teaching things like politics and philosophy, because everything else we do, all the physical work, is just like the animals: working to eat, eating to live, reproducing, and dying. So, of course, the more time you spend in pure contemplation, the more human you are. For Aristotle and those who followed, the most virtuous and highest humans were those who spent nearly all their time in contemplation.
They had a problem though, that every mother in the room will recognize instantly: someone had to grow and make the food, clean up, and generally keep order. Their solution to this economic problem? Slavery. In fact their reasoning around this was so complex and thorough that they actually convinced themselves that some humans were actually designed by nature to be slaves. They were less human.
You see the inherent problem with dualism? Yes? Well what does this have to do with us?
This pattern of thinking is rampant in evangelical Christianity, including our circles.
This pagan way of thinking, (which totally ignores the fact that there is vastly more to our work than simple provision of our physical needs, wormed it’s way into the Christian church early on, and was most clearly articulated by a man named Eusebius a Roman historian and Bishop of the church in Caesarea in the early 300s AD. And the way of thinking he articulated has been infecting the church, ever since.
Eusebius and others were infected with this dualistic thinking as well, and believed that activities of the mind were of the highest order, and all other physical activities were “worldly pursuits”, including things like getting married and having children.
In other words, just like Aristotle, those that held this view believed that there are some things you can do which are “more Spiritual”, and so the best and highest Christians are those that spend all of their time doing these things, which they label “the service of God” (meaning prayer, fasting, studying the bible, preaching, evangelizing, etc).
He had the same problem as Aristotle, however, because very very few Christians could pursue this “level” of “spirituality”, someone had to provide for the community! His solution: “laypeople.” His thought process was so thorough that he actually reasoned that God had created some people as “lower class Christians”, bound to be less spiritual.
The idea of a "higher calling" is a false idea. And the proof is that if every Christian were obedient to this "higher calling" then the economy would collapse.
A BIBLICAL VIEW
The Biblical view stands in vast contrast to the idea that work is a necessary evil. The Biblical view, as we’ve been discussing over the last several weeks is that work is something God Himself does and something we do on this planet as His representatives.
Yes, in the Garden of Eden, we did not have to work to meet our physical needs and, because of the curse we must now do so, but that is not the only, nor the most important reason for work.
Remember that, as we discussed, the purpose of work even before the curse, and still now after it, is bigger than providing for our own physical needs. Again a good, biblical definition is “Rearranging the raw material of God’s creation in such a way that it helps the world in general, and people in particular, to thrive and flourish.
All kinds work, every category of task we can undertake toward that end is worthy of honor and dignity, from the most prestigious job in human terms, to the lowest. Remember that in Genesis, God is a gardener, and in the New Testament, He is a carpenter. Remember that He chose fishermen, tax collectors, and makers of tents to be his most powerful spokesmen. Remember that much of the early church, and much of the church today is made up of the poor, the slaves, the peasants, and the lower class, in addition to kings and governors, presidents and CEOs.
Mission-work is NOT more significant or important, it is not “a higher call” than Marketplace-work, The thing that makes a calling high is the one who calls! And God calls people to both.
The thing that makes a given job or a given task significant, worthy of honor and dignity, is the fact that God is asking us to do it, rather than something inherent in the task itself.
GOD CALLS US TO ALL KINDS OF TASKS
1) Every task is a spiritual act of worship because God calls you to it.
We have mentioned briefly the last couple weeks this idea of calling. The idea of God’s call on our life can be well articulated this way:
The Primary Call - God calls us to salvation and relationship
The Secondary Call - all we do in response to this.
Matthew 22:35–40 (ESV)
And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
God’s call to salvation and relationship results in a life lived to the end of loving your neighbor. Ephesians 2:10 says that God created us for good works, and these good works include all kinds of work. Understood rightly, you can say that these good works are about loving your neighbor.
Jesus called his disciples away from their marketplace work as fishermen, etc., but did not give a general call for all people to give up their marketplace work to follow him, nor did the apostles give some sort of call to leave all “worldly” occupations behind. To the contrary, we see Jesus using illustrations from the marketplace and everyday work, and we see the apostles giving instruction in how to conduct yourself in your work, and exhorting Christians to work with their hands.
This is because the Hebrew mindset toward work, in sharp distinction to the Greek and Roman mindset, was rooted in the scriptural teaching that God Himself works, and created man also to work.
True parity of all God-given tasks
All kinds of work we are called to are high callings, because God is the one asking us to do it. Ephesians 5:16 teaches us to “make the most of every opportunity for the days are evil”, but the way to make the most of every opportunity depends on the moment. Let me give a few examples:
When an airplane is in its landing sequence, what is the most important job that pilot has? TO LAND THE PLANE! When it’s harvest season, the farmer’s most important job is to bring the crop in. They rightly drop everything else to get that work done.
When the plane is on the ground and the pilot is with his coworkers, or when the crop has been brought in, it is important for them to remember that everyone will die and then stand before the throne of God and face judgement for the deeds they have done in life, and so we ought to be very bold in evangelism as well!
If your neighbor or coworker who you’ve been trying to reach out to for months or years, one evening wanders over to your yard with something heavy weighing on their heart, wondering about their eternal destiny, that may be the time for you to drop your plans for the day to spend time with them.
In a few weeks, boatloads of new students are going to be landing in town and on campus and our college and international ministries are going to be dropping most things to go crazy bananas doing everything they can to meet new people and reach as many as possible with the news of the Gospel, and perhaps more of us need to be thinking about ways we can jump in and help them in that effort.
On the flip side, there are some long-range efforts and projects and jobs and other things that need to be sustained, even through that several week crazy bananas period so we also have to keep the long view, and be faithful with all the work God has called us to.
We go wrong, when we absolutize one type of task over another. Because God will not call us to contradictory tasks. For example: take two important tasks in my life: providing for the physical needs of my family, and my involvement in The Great Commission, the spreading the news about Jesus. I cannot rank these two. They are not in conflict. God has called me to work toward both.
I have to pray and think hard to plan my days, and in faith make decisions moment by moment to make sure I am being effective with both, but I cannot make a blanket statement that one is higher than the other.
How to know God’s call on your life.
I’m sure at some point or another many of you have wondered how to know God’s exact call for your life. There are several helpful books out there, one notable one is called “The Call” by Os Guinness, and I’d recommend that one especially.
But although it is nuanced and best understood in counsel and in community, it really is not that mysterious of a process. It’s not simple or easy, it’s just not that mysterious. Look around you? What needs to you see that you can meet? What opportunities have you been given? What is your sphere of influence? What resources do you have at your disposal? With a firm grasp of scripture, a close Christian community, and asking for and following good, godly advice, you are not going to go wrong here.
All tasks are a spiritual act of worship to our God because He is the one that is calling us to them. And because we work for God in them.
WE WORK FOR THE LORD CHRIST
He is the one you are ultimately serving in your task
Colossians 3:23–24 (ESV)
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
This brings dignity and humility to all work, high and low. It removes pride and boasting from high profile, high prestige jobs, brings dignity to the messiest, most menial tasks. And vice versa.
Charles Spurgeon on Colossians 3:24 - from “Morning and Evening”
This saying ennobles the weary routine of earthly employments, and sheds a halo around the most humble occupations. To wash feet may be servile, but to wash his feet is royal work. To unloose the shoe-latchet is poor employ, but to unloose the great Master's shoe is a princely privilege. The shop, the barn, the scullery, and the smithy become temples when men and women do all to the glory of God! Then "divine service" is not a thing of a few hours and a few places, but all life becomes holiness unto the Lord, and every place and thing, as consecrated as the tabernacle and its golden candlestick.
Think of the implications of this for a minute... The Lord Christ is the one you are actually doing the task for. So, if I am building God’s Web site... how am I going to go about my work? If I am building God’s apartment complex, if I am farming God’s land, if I am cleaning God’s house, if I am doing God’s laundry, how am I going to go about my tasks?? With extreme excellence! With care and precision, with careful research, and with joy!
It is remarkable that this statement was given to slaves, to those in the lowest possible position, though it does apply to us. If this reminder was given to government officials, or kings, or others in high positions, it would not have had the same impact.
So, this truth, that we are working FOR God, makes it a little clearer how our tasks are an act of worship. All tasks are a spiritual act of worship to our God because He is the one that is calling us to them. And because we work for God in them. And also because He is working in and through your tasks to carry out His work!
HE IS WORKING IN YOU TO WORK FOR HIM
Philippians 2:12-13 (ESV)
“...work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
Actually it would have been worth it to take this entire sermon on Philippians 2 to show how it applies to our work. So, there is some home work for you, read through Philippians 2 and have your daily tasks in mind as you do so. Actually do the same thing with Romans 12 while you’re at it.
Martin Luther commented on this verse in this context more eloquently than I ever could have, so I’m just going to quote him.
Martin Luther (From “Exposition of Psalm 147”)
“What is our work in field and garden, in town and house, in battling and in ruling, to God, but the child’s play , through which He bestows His gifts on the land, in the house, and everywhere? Our works are God’s masks, behind which He remains hidden, although He does all things. If Gideon had not obeyed and gone to battle with Midian, the Midianites would never have been conquered, although God could, of course, have conquered them without Gideon. He could also give you corn and fruit without your ploughing and planting, but that is not His will...
...God is the giver of all good gifts; but you must fall to, and take the bull by the horns, which means you must work to give God an occasion and a mask.”
Gene Veith, commenting on Luther’s statement above, also turns this thought around for a very convicting application in his book “God at Work”.
If we are masks of God, even when we do not realize it, it is also true that God is masked in our neighbor. Particularly when our neighbor is in need—when he or she is sick, hungry, thirsty, naked, a prisoner, a stranger—Christ Himself is hidden. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren,” the Lord says, “ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40).
Dualism is false! There is no such thing as the sacred/secular divide! A Christian does not do acts of faith, we live a life of faith!
We pray - not because prayer is spiritual and therefore inherently more important, but because we are in relationship with our God who desires us to communicate with him.
We sing praise - not because it is a spiritual act that God requires of us, but because our hearts are overflowing with love and thankfulness to our Creator, Redeemer, and Lord!
We evangelize - not because it is a more spiritually important activity that earns us church points, but because we have Important Good News for the world! That is, that the Great Creator God of the universe, who has designed each and every moment of our lives, and against whom we have all rebelled by choosing our own way over his, offers us forgiveness, peace, and such a deep, closely connected relationship, that we can be called His Children if we trust in life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that pays the penalty for our sin, and provides us with righteousness we lack.
We attend church services - not because it is a spiritual duty of our religion, but in order to take regular focused and intentional time for being thankful, communicating with God, and learning about fullness of reality as revealed in the bible.
And we attend church services and smaller meetings together with our Christian brothers and sisters together not because it earns us some sort of credit with God or the church, but because God desires that His children be involved in one-another’s lives, and to learn from and encourage one another
We work at our daily tasks - not because it is a necessary evil, result of the fall, punishment for sin, but because God has designed us to work to provide for the well being of others, and to manifest His creativity and His care for our lives to each other, the world around us, and yes even to heavenly beings who are watching God’s creatures going about their daily lives, and they are being instructed in God’s wisdom and Glory, in all it’s complexity and beauty.
And, as we are about to do, we celebrate the Lord’s supper, not because there is something about drinking juice and eating bread that magically imparts some sort of spirituality or standing before God, but because by doing so we are reminded of The Gospel, that our sin required a sacrifice, and that Christ was that sacrifice, the He being without sin, died for our sin, and that his body represented by the bread, was broken and tortured and killed on a Roman Cross, His blood represented by the juice, spilling out, atoning for and removing our guilt.
We follow His instructions that we are to continue to do this as a reminder of His work, until He returns in glory to judge the living and the dead, and set all things to right.