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Serving The City Through Our Vocations

Stonebrook Community Church https://www.stonebrook.org

Please turn with me to Ephesians, chapter 2. Two months ago, at the beginning of May, I talked about what it means to be a worshipper of Jesus, a follower of Christ, one who believes in and loves God and desires to love other people.  How, if we profess to be a follower of his we should, as Ephesians tells us, seek to understand what he wants from us, or another way of saying it: “what his will is.” 

We are told in chapter 5 of Ephesians that we who follow him are to “make the best use of the time”, understanding what the will of the Lord is. That followers of Jesus are to walk in a manner worthy of Jesus. 

How many of you feel like you have a good grasp on what God’s will for your life is?

The great thing about  following Jesus is that we are not left wondering about that. We aren’t left fumbling around in the dark looking for some secret code to crack, or hidden lever to pull, he actually makes his will for us pretty plainly known here in the scriptures. 

My main purpose today is not actually about figuring out God’s will for your life. If you want to know, in your case, what it means to walk in a manner worthy of Jesus, find that verse in Ephesians 4, and keep reading. 

My point today is a little more foundational, one layer below understanding God’s will. My point today is about the fact that God is the one who determines our identity and our purpose, and that this identity and purpose encompasses every part of life, and is carried out in every daily task  you undertake, no matter where you are, and what you are doing.

Let’s look at Ephesians 2:10. This is written to every believer in Christ. Everyone who has bowed their knee in faith to Christ, and have acknowledged that HE is God and we are not. He is Lord and we are not. That HE gets to say what my identity is, we don’t decide that on our own. And that HE has work prepared for us to do.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Ephesians 2:10 ESV

Typically, I think, when we hear about the idea if “good works” while reading the Bible or listening to a sermon, we usually think of “spiritual” work, praying, missionary work, evangelism, charity, etc. But Paul is talking about much more than that: “Good works” include every type of task, including your 9-5 job, your housework, your homework… everything. God cares about every single task you undertake, and every single task you undertake is an opportunity to bring him glory and serve him. 

And we see this when we keep on reading in Ephesians and come to chapter 6. God has instructions for even slaves and masters about the impact of faith in Jesus on our every day work. He speaks to the lowest stations and the highest stations in Ephesian life.

5 Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6 not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. 

9 Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him. 

Ephesians 6:5-9 ESV

Why did Paul need to teach this to the church? Why did take time to emphasize that God cares about and will reward even a slave’s daily labor? Why did he mention in a short book that God watches over the masters?  Most of the epistles have instructions along this line!  He teaches this, because, like us, the greco-roman world had a tendency to get this wrong, and to divide work into “higher callings” and “lower callings”.

Where we got this wrong idea: The Greeks

I’d like to take a brief side road into western history to help set some background context for Paul’s comments to the church in his letter. 

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.

…and also Eusebius

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).   And they misused Luke 10, a scene with Mary and Martha, to support their ideas.

In Luke 10, a crowd had gathered at Mary and Martha’s house, and Martha was busily tending to serving the guests, preparing food, etc. Mary, on the other hand sat at Jesus’s feet to listen to his teaching. Martha complains about this and rebuke’s Martha saying that Mary chose the better thing.  This was wrongly taken by people like Eusebius, and frankly, people like us, to mean that “lower work” like serving and preparing food was unimportant, whereas sitting at Jesus feet (which we then extrapolate out into things like prayer and worship) were more important. And I’ll just say briefly that this is a deadly wrong application of that story.

If we apply it this way, we have the same problem as Aristotle, however, because very very few Christians cam pursue this “level” of “spirituality”, someone has to provide for the community! Eusbeius’s 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.

What nonsense!

The idea of a “higher calling” is a false idea. And the proof is that if every Christian were obedient to this “higher calling”, 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 see when we read all the way from Genesis to revelation 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.  

The purpose of work even before the curse, and still now after it, is bigger than providing for our own physical needs.  A good, biblical definition I’ve heard is from a book by Tim Keller where he says that work 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.  In the Ephesians passage he says that even slaves are serving Christ in their menial work.  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, governors, and CEOs.

Mission work and church work are NOT more significant or important, not “a higher call” than Marketplace-work, or home work or house work. The thing that makes a calling high is the one who calls!  And God calls people to all kinds of tasks. 

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.

Every member a minister

Having said that, I want to strike a both/and balance for a moment. I’ve been harping on an error in thinking that ministry work is a higher calling. That is classically known as the “Roman Catholic error” in the doctrine of vocation. An over-swing in the scriptural statements about the nobility of work in the church to the disdain of daily tasks. But we protestants have our own historic error as well: an over-swing in the nobility of every calling to the neglect of church work.

It seems to me that the modern evangelical church today has counter-swung and over-corrected from this back to the Roman Catholic error. So how do we find balance?

A follower of Jesus is to be involved in the work of evangelism and mission, in the work of bible study and prayer, and in the work of teaching one another to follow Jesus. Every member of Jesus’s body is a minister.

Conclusion

My point is that 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 and serve each other in the church – 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.

We get to be like Jesus

  • He was a carpenter given to humble tasks
  • He suffered just as slaves do
  • He is the master over the master
  • He works, self-sacrificially, for the good of all mankind, and especially of those who are his children.

So be encouraged today that whether you get to wake up in the morning to study in school (and yes I know it is summer break), whether you have to get up early to prepare the meal for the house, whether you have to get up early to go work at the desk, or behind a shovel, or in a truck, whatever your task is tomorrow, you have assignments that have been hand-crafted for each one of you by our Lord Jesus. 

Be on the lookout in prayer in the morning and throughout the day, “Lord you are with me, you promised to never leave me, you have work for me to do today, maybe at this desk or in the kitchen or in the classroom or in the field, you have work for me maybe in a conversation with an individual who needs to hear about you for the first time, or be encouraged by the good news about you for the hundredth time. What is my task today, Lord? Help me be faithful to it. Help me be diligent and hardworking. Help me to rest comfortably knowing that I am on assignment right now.”

I pray that God will bless you as you do that, show you how near he really is, how much he cares about your seemingly mundane daily tasks: your seemingly unspiritual office work, your seemingly never-ending housework, your seemingly pointless homework.  I pray he gives you a glimpse of the bigger picture, how your work ripples out into the lives of many, bringing salt and light to the world, and glory to God.

Let’s pray.