A Biblical Theology of Work
This series of messages is by David Forsyth. These messages were preached during our Sunday Morning Adult Sunday School. Click here for more teaching by David Forsyth.
A Biblical Theology of Work – The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (Selected Scriptures)
In this lesson, we will briefly survey five responsibilities of wives and mothers and the practical impact they can have on their families so that we might celebrate and honor them as precious gifts from God.
So we arrive this morning at, not the end of the work series. That ended last week, A Biblical Theology of Work. But we have one add-on, and it’s being done to try to address a question that was asked back much closer to the beginning of the series, with regard to stay-home moms and how to stay home.
How does vocation work out for stay-home moms? That’s a pretty big question that I want to address, but not directly in that way. Instead, what I want to do is speak to you, speak to the women and to the men, about the glory of motherhood and being a wife.
So, in a very general sense, lift up that wonderful picture that God has given us, and in the process, there is an answer to that specific question. And I’m sure that those who asked it or were thinking it, if they listen carefully, they will find it there.
But rather than just try to deal with something very specific in that way, I want to take a more general approach to this. So the title of this morning’s message is “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.”
The year was 1905 when a South African miner made the most amazing discovery. While working in the Premier mine, he happened upon the largest gem-quality diamond in the world. Originally weighing 3,106 carats, that is 1.3 pounds, and named the Cullinan Diamond, it was presented to King Edward VII on his sixty-sixth birthday. Edward had the stone cut into nine large pieces, the largest of which, known as the Star of Africa, was a pear-shaped diamond weighing 530 carats. There we go [shows slide]. The Star of Africa. You imagine that on your finger, ladies? You’d need to wear, like, a neck brace to carry that around. The Star of Africa. Probably the most beautiful diamond in the world. While impressive as that stone is, it pales in comparison to the value of a good wife and mother. Pales in comparison.
10 An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels.
11 The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good and not evil all the days of her life. . . .
28 Her children rise up and bless her; her husband also, and he praises her, saying:
29 “Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. (Prov. 31:10–12, 28–30 NASB)
What a glorious picture that is! A glorious picture of a godly woman. The influence of a mother on the development and life direction of a child is huge. It’s huge. Mothers generally spend the most time with the children during their early and formative years and have an unprecedented opportunity to disciple the next generation to either good or evil. To good or evil.
Recognizing this truth, the nineteenth-century American poet William Ross Wallace wrote the following poem, the title of which is “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle is the Hand that Rules the World.” You’ve probably heard that. The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.
There are numerous biblical examples of mothers who have had a profound influence upon their sons. Open your Bible to 1 Samuel 1. First Samuel 1, where we are introduced to Hannah. Hannah, whose son Samuel turned out to be quite a powerful man of the Lord.
In 1 Samuel 1:11, we find Hannah’s vow: “She made a vow and said, ‘O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come on his head.’”
In verses 27 and 28, after the Lord answered her prayer and granted her a son, she says, “‘For this boy I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of Him. So I have also dedicated him to the Lord; as long as he lives he is dedicated to the Lord.’ And he worshiped the Lord there.”
In 1 Samuel 2:1–11, we find Hannah’s prayer. Listen to this.
1 Then Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the Lord, my mouth speaks boldly against my enemies, because I rejoice in Your salvation.
2 There is no one holy like the Lord, indeed, there is no one besides You, nor is there any rock like our God.
3 Boast no more so very proudly, do not let arrogance come out of your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and with Him actions are weighed.
4 The bows of the mighty are shattered, but the feeble gird on strength.
5 Those who were full hire themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry cease to hunger. Even the barren gives birth to seven, but she who has many children languishes.
6 The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up.
7 The Lord makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts.
8 He raises the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with nobles, and inherit a seat of honor; for the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and He set the world on them.
9 He keeps the feet of His godly ones, but the wicked ones are silenced in darkness; for not by might shall a man prevail.
10 Those who contend with the Lord will be shattered; against them He will thunder in the heavens, the Lord will judge the ends of the earth; and He will give strength to His king, and will exalt the horn of His anointed. (1 Sam. 2:1–10 NASB)
That is an amazing prayer. It is an amazing prayer for many, many reasons, but not the least of which is that it is absolutely steeped in biblical theology. Steeped in biblical theology.
Hang on to that thought and turn with me all the way over to the New Testament, to Luke 2, where we are introduced to another mother who had a profound influence on her son. Luke 2:46–47: “Then, after three days they found Him [that is, Jesus] in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.”
At twelve years old. At twelve years old. Now turn back with me to chapter one and verse forty-six. And I want you to pay attention to another prayer of a godly mother.
46 And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord,
47 and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
48 For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
49 For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name.
50 And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him.
51 He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who are proud in the thoughts of their heart.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things; and sent away the rich empty-handed.
54 He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy,
55 as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:46–55 NASB)
Again, another prayer steeped in the most amazing theology, the most amazing understanding of who God is and what He is doing.
Both of these mothers, young mothers, were steeped in the theology of the Old Testament. They knew their God. And I can’t help but think that their intimacy with God, their theological acumen, was passed on to that younger generation.
And one more along these lines to think about is to turn over to 2 Timothy 1. Second Timothy, chapter 1, where what I have supposed in my prior two examples is explicitly stated here. Second Timothy, chapter 1, verse 5. Paul says to Timothy, “For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that is in you as well.”
Chapter 3, verses 14 and 15, in contrast to the evil men and impostors, “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
From your mother’s knee, Timothy, you have come to know the Scriptures. You have come to learn to love the Scriptures. At the knee of a biblical mother.
With that as our introduction, this is our plan for this morning together. This morning I want to briefly survey five responsibilities of wives and mothers and the practical impact they can have on their families, so that we might celebrate and honor them as precious gifts of God. Five responsibilities, so that we might honor them, celebrate them as precious gifts of God.
So her first responsibility is as a homemaker. I will turn you to Genesis, chapter 1 and verse 28. Genesis 1:28: “God blessed them; and God said to them [notice the them], ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”
I want you to notice that God’s original creation mandate is given equally to both the man and the woman. The man and the woman. They together were to rule, subdue, and produce, each in their own spheres of responsibility. Each in their own spheres of responsibility.
For the wife, that sphere is primarily her home. Primarily her home. Paul makes that very clear for us in Titus, chapter 2. Titus, chapter 2, where he writes, beginning in verse 1,
1 But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine.
2 Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance.
3 Older women likewise [likewise, in the same way] are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good,
4 so that they may encourage [or, more literally, train] the young women to love their husbands, to love their children,
5 to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored. (Titus 2:1–5 NASB)
A wife’s primary sphere of responsibility is her home. It is her home. Now running a home is like running a small bu“`siness. Running a home is like running a small business. There are accounts to manage, assets to buy, expenses to be controlled, inventory, production, maintenance, vendors, customers, and even stockholders of a sort.
It’s uncommon now, but it was once, not that long ago, very common that a course of study in a Christian college was home economics. Home economics. It has passed out. It is passé in our more “enlightened” and “modern” culture. (That’s all in air quotes.) Home economics. Because running a home, and running a home well, requires a great degree of skill. A great degree of skill. Typically, Mom runs the household. Typically, Mom runs the household. And in order to do it well, she must be industrious and savvy. Industrious and savvy.
Again, Proverbs 31 is helpful to us, verses 14 to 15 and 25 and 27:
14 She is like merchant ships; she brings her food from afar.
15 She rises also while it is still night and gives food to her household and portions to her maidens. . . .
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future. . . .
27 She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. (Prov. 14–15, 25, 27 NASB)
That means that her vocation, she grasps it with both hands and applies herself to it with great vigor and accumulated skill.
The wife sets the tempo and aroma of the home. The wife sets the tempo and the aroma of the home. Is the home organized or chaotic? Organized or chaotic? That will largely depend upon her. That will largely depend upon her.
Is it hospitable or cold? Is the home hospitable or cold? Now, while the primary responsibility for hospitality lies with the husband, it is the wife who makes it happen in real time. It is the wife who makes it happen in real time.
Is the home peaceful or unsettling? Peaceful or unsettling? Again, the wife is the major player in that reality. Is the home a place you want to come to, or a place you’d just as soon stay away from? Just as soon stay away from? Moms set the tempo and the aroma of the home.
Second responsibility: teammate. Teammate. So first, homemaker. Second, teammate. For this, we go back to Genesis, to chapter 2 and beginning in verse 18. Genesis 2 and beginning in verse 18.
18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable [or corresponding] for him.
19 Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name.
20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable [or corresponding] for him.
21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place.
22 The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.
23 The man said, [“Wow!” That’s implied in the white space.] “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of man.”
24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.
25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Gen. 2:18–25 NASB)
Made from man and for man, a woman’s role is to round out the team. To round out the team. Unless you think I am way out on the limb here, that is Paul’s exact words in 1 Corinthians 11, verses 8 and 9.
The woman is from man and for man. Her role is to support his ambitions, to be his most loyal confidante, cheerleader, and friend. Her strengths complement his, and together they present a very formidable team for life and ministry. The mechanics of how this partnership works itself out are unique within each individual family. There is not a single template.
Gentlemen, it is a rare man indeed who does not need and would not substantially be advantaged in life by a wife that corresponds to him. It would be a rare man indeed who would not benefit from a godly wife. From a godly wife. She is his teammate. Teammate. She’s a homemaker as a responsibility. She’s a teammate as a responsibility.
Third, she is a nurturer. She is a nurturer. Genesis chapter 3, verse 20: “Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.” The word eve, by the way, means life. Life. He called her name life.
To be a mother is to be intimately and totally committed to children. Intimately and totally committed. It’s a life of sacrifice that begins with conception and birth and is occupied in the early years with constant care. Constant care. No matter how old the children get, a mother’s life is marked by prayer and concern for her children in a way the dads do not fully understand, nor will they.
A mother’s prayers for her children never cease. Never cease. The proper care of children was a mark, in the early church, of the piety and godliness of widows. It was a requirement for them to qualify for the financial support of the church. First Timothy five, nine and ten: “A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man, having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work.”
Every good work. And it was a mark of piety and godliness in the first century. A woman’s third responsibility is that of a nurturer. A nurturer.
Fourth, a counselor. A counselor. Homemaker, teammate, nurturer, counselor. This is quite a job description, by the way.
Counselor. Proverbs 31:26: “She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.”
She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
Gentlemen, let me say this as clearly as I can. As clearly as I can. If you do not seek the advice of your wife with regard to the issues of family, business, and ministry, you are a fool. You are a fool. God has given her to you. God has given her to you. And no one knows you better, or is more committed to you and your success, than your wife. If you exclude her from the decisions of life, you are a fool. You’re a fool. She may not always be right. She may not always be right, but she is always worth listening to. She is always worth listening to.
In the context of children, Mom is typically the primary day-to-day spiritual counselor. Dad comes in for the big stuff. But it’s Mom who helps work out the details of the great and weighty principles that Dad has laid down.
It’s Mom who typically spends the bulk of those early formative years working with the children to develop character and manners—something our society could use some additional training in—skills and spiritual awareness.
Many times it’s also Mom who hears first about the rough day at school or at work or the neighborhood bully, and she brings her gentle wisdom to bear on the situation. She is a counselor. A counselor.
And fifth, she is a lover. She is a lover. Homemaker, teammate, nurturer, counselor, and lover. And lover. The sexual relationship was created by God and intended, among other things, for human pleasure. Human pleasure. We get a hint at it in 1 Corinthians 7, beginning in verse 1.
1 Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman.
2 But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband.
3 The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband.
4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
5 Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1 Cor. 7:1–5 NASB)
Because God created the idea of sex—that is His invention, His idea—He reserves the right to regulate it. He reserves the right to regulate it. And He has done so. And He has done so. He has placed it within the high walls of a marriage covenant. Within the high walls of a marriage covenant. In fact, in Song of Solomon, the bride is referred to as an enclosed garden. She’s called an enclosed garden. It’s a private place, open only to her husband and for his enjoyment.
The image is of a secret garden in which the husband is the tender gardener. The tender gardener. And the wife, the beautiful place of joy and delight. Song of Solomon 4 and verse 12: “A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a rock garden locked, a spring sealed up.”
Chapter 5 and verse 1: “I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride; I have gathered my myrrh along with my balsam. I have eaten my honeycomb and my honey; I have drunk my wine and my milk. Eat, friends; drink and imbibe deeply, O lovers.”
That is very poetic language. He who has ears to hear, let him hear them. How does this relate to motherhood? How does this relate to motherhood? Well, your children will learn a great deal about marriage and romance by observing your attitudes and behaviors toward your husband. Much more is caught than taught.
Ladies, I’ve been banging on the men. Okay, ladies, here we go. If your responsibilities as a mother are crowding out your greater responsibilities as a lover to your husband, then your life is out of balance. Your life is out of balance. Out of balance. Homemaker. Teammate. Nurturer. Counselor. Lover. Five responsibilities. OK.
In the time that remains—and that was admittedly very brief—in the time that remains, what I have for you are twenty ways mothers can positively influence their children. These are merely suggestions to sow some seed in your thinking. So, twenty ways mothers can positively influence their children. In the time that remains, we’ll just work our way through them. OK, so here they are. I don’t have them all on slides for you, and if at the end you want them, email me, like some of you did this prior week and got the ten statements that encapsulated the Biblical Theology of Work series. You can have these twenty, OK? If you email me. Here we go. Twenty ways.
First, pray for them early and often. Pray for them early and often. Augustine, the great theologian of the fifth century, credits the faithful prayers of his mother with rescuing him from a life of debauchery. From rescuing him from a life of debauchery. Monica prayed for him early and often.
Second, read to them. Read to your children, especially Bible stories, and make application at their level. Make application at their level.
Third, teach them the songs and hymns of the faith. Teach your children to sing the songs and hymns of the faith. There is something about the way God has created us that music and song stay with us when nothing else will. Even at the end of life, when dementia and things come into a person’s mind and brain and cloud their rational thinking, there’s an amazing ability still to recall and sing, particularly songs of the faith. Particularly songs of the faith.
So teach your children early the songs and hymns of the faith.
Number four, memorize the Scripture with them. Memorize the Scripture with them. Help them to learn to hide it in their heart.
Number five, review their Sunday school lessons with them. Review: “What did you learn in Sunday school?” They hand you a piece of paper with, like, blue scratches on it. “That’s not what you learned. That’s just the ability that you have at the moment to try to articulate it.” Sit down and review the lesson with them. Reinforce it. Reinforce it.
Six, share the gospel with them regularly. Share the gospel with your children regularly, not just when they’re young, but continue to preach the gospel to them. The gospel is not something that we need for salvation and then graduate to advanced theological study. The gospel is the very air in which we breathe. It is life itself. Share the gospel with them regularly. Regularly.
Seven, point your children to the Scriptures and make specific application of them to answer life’s problems. Now, that presupposes something, doesn’t it? What it presupposes is that you are able to make specific application to answer life’s problems. In other words, Mom, you have got to be a student of the Word. You have to spend time in the Scriptures so that you know the Word of God and you know where to go to address life’s problems, or in times of correction. Bring the Scripture to bear in the times of correction.
Eight, teach your children self-control. Teach your children self-control by having them wait for their meal. To wait for their meals, to wait for your attention, to wait for their toys. There are many places where you can apply this and begin to teach them self-control. Self-control. I know it’s easier to just put them in a high chair, give them the food right away, and they start cramming their face, and then they’re quiet. But that’s a mistake. That is a mistake. Teach them self-control. Food is to be eaten, not played with, not applied to the face and head like theatrical paint.
Nine, teach them respect by speaking lovingly and respectfully of others yourself, particularly their dad. Particularly their dad. Speak lovingly and respectfully of their father in their presence.
Ten, don’t make the children the center of your life. Do not make the children the center of your life. Listen, a husband and a wife are a family. They are a family. They are the first family. Children expand the family. They do not create the family. So do not make children the center of your life. They are welcome additions to the family, but your husband is your first priority. So have something left at the end of the day when he comes home. All right, here we go. Apply a little makeup before he gets there. It wouldn’t hurt. You know what I’m saying? It wouldn’t hurt.
Eleven, never undermine your husband’s authority by disagreeing with him in front of the children. Never undermine his authority by disagreeing with him in front of the children. Are you going to disagree with your husband? Of course you are. Of course. But not in front of the children. Keep your disagreements private. Keep your disagreements private.
Twelve, watch out for too many children’s commitments. Guard against too many children’s commitments. Sports, music lessons, dance, gymnastics, parties. I mean, it just goes on and on and on. You can be running constantly. These tax your energy, Mom, and diffuse your focus away from that which is truly important: teaching your children to love and value Christ and His church. You can get caught up in the pursuit of these things, and then you’re just constantly running.
Thirteen, make the atmosphere of your home a place where your children and their friends want to be. That they want to come to your house. To your house. Why? Why do I want to go to your house? Well, you want to go to my house because our house is peaceful. And besides, Mom makes the best brownies you have ever had. And they’re always available when you come.
Fourteen, prepare for and insist on the sacredness of the family dinner hour. Prepare for and insist on the sacredness of the family dinner hour. This is a time where the family connects together in a frenetic life in which we live. Make it a priority. Schedule it. Insist on it. And don’t just use it as an opportunity to fuel the body. Just food in the face. Make it a time to talk. Talk over the day. Bring the Scripture to bear on the events of the day. Talk about how we see the Lord at work in our lives, and in each other’s lives. Make it sacred.
Fifteen, Moms, don’t baby your sons. Do not baby your sons. Let them try and fail. Let them try and fail. This will encourage their protector-provider instincts. They need to become men, not just grown-up boys. They need to become men. They need to learn self-denial. Self-denial is a key to manhood. They need to learn self-denial. And you can help them learn it. Don’t baby your sons.
Sixteen, teach your daughters to guard their hearts and not give them away lightly. Teach your daughters to guard their hearts and not give them away lightly. Place wise limits on their early romantic fantasies. Place wise limits on their early romantic fantasies. Listen, girls love this stuff. They want to dress up like a princess, right? Just be wise in all of this. Even in the literature that they read, the movies that they partake of, the television, the children’s television shows, all of that is communicating a message. It can be way oversexualized. So be very careful. Very careful.
Seventeen, disciple your daughters regarding modesty and purity. Disciple your daughters regarding modesty and purity. Now that again presupposes that you understand modesty and purity, Mom. Take a look in the mirror before you walk out of the house. Teach your daughters to respect their brothers by how they dress.
Eighteen, teach them to love and respect their future husband by loving and respecting yours. Teach them to love and respect their future husband by loving and respecting your husband.
Nineteen, prepare them for marriage by giving them a realistic, non-storybook view of marriage. Give them a realistic, non-storybook view of marriage. Marriage is hard work. Hard work. Two sinners in close proximity is bound to create conflict. Marriage is the wonderful gift of God. But in this broken world in which we live, it requires hard work.
And twenty—finally twenty, for both moms and dads. Learn the secret of how to transition from lawgiver to guardian to coach to friend. Lawgiver to guardian to coach to friend. That is a transition that has to occur. Learn how to do it. Learn the secret of it.
A Biblical Theology of Work – Work and Welfare, Part 2 (Selected Scriptures)
In this lesson, we will look at how work and welfare were related in the Mosaic covenant so that we can extract biblical principles that we can apply to our own care for the poor.
A Biblical Theology of Work – Work and Welfare, Part 1 (Selected Scriptures)
In this lesson, we will look at how work and welfare were related in the Mosaic covenant so that we can extract biblical principles that we can apply to our own care for the poor.
A Biblical Theology of Work – Work and the Great Commission (Selected Scriptures)
In this lesson, we will explore ten ideas for disciple-making through our work so that we will better integrate the Great Commission into this important part of our lives.
A Biblical Theology of Work – The Doctrine of Vocation (Selected Scriptures)
In this lesson, we will ask and answer two questions regarding the doctrine of vocation to have a sense of excitement and fulfillment as we participate in the God-glorifying activity of work.
You know, when men get together, when they meet for the first time, one of the questions that typically comes up pretty early in the conversation between men is, “What do you do for a living?” That’s a very common question among men. What do you do for a living?
And sometimes people are embarrassed about what they do for a living, and they may tend toward some embellishment to try to make it seem more significant, perhaps, than at least in their mind it is. And I can remember when I was in college, I worked pumping gas. That’s a long-lost art, but I worked pumping gas in a gas station. And so in an attempt to embellish the importance of that particular employment, I used to call it a petroleum transfer engineer. That I was a petroleum transfer engineer.
But there is no reason or need to be embarrassed about work because any legitimate work done well is pleasing in the sight of God. Is pleasing in the sight of God. Any legitimate work done well—so those are the two conditions—is pleasing in the sight of God, and thus it brings great honor to those who are so engaged.
Well, this morning—as soon as this thing wakes up. There we go. This morning, we’re going to ask and answer two questions. Ask and answer two questions regarding the doctrine of vocation so that we will have a sense of excitement and fulfillment as we participate in the God-glorifying activity of work. So, two questions regarding the doctrine of vocation. OK, so a lot to cover. Let’s dig in.
Question number one: what do you mean when you talk about vocation? The first question: what do you mean when you talk about vocation? The word vocation in most people’s thinking is just another way to say work or job. Vocation equals job in many people’s minds, and unfortunately, that is not anywhere near the full-orbed implication of that word.
We speak about vocational training; we speak about vocational education; we speak about bivocational pastors, meaning that at the church where they are, pastoring is unable to provide enough financial support to care for the needs of their family, and so they seek bread outside the church as well, so bivocational pastors. But actually, the English word “vocation” comes from a Latin word vocare, which means “calling.” Which means “calling.” And that is significant. Vocation comes from a Latin word which means “calling.”
And so when we speak about vocation, we are speaking about the idea of our calling. The idea of our calling. That is also significant because of this important reality, and that is that we cannot be self-called. In fact, implicit in the word calling is that it originates outside of us. It originates outside of us. You can’t be self-called. Someone else must do the calling. And the one who does the calling is God Himself. Is God Himself.
We see this principle of the call of God in people’s lives in Second Thessalonians chapter 2. So I will turn you there. Second Thessalonians chapter 2, and verses 13 and 14, where there we see the call of God to salvation. The call of God to salvation. This word translated “call,” by the way—kale?—is the Greek verb, and it means “to call” or “to summon” or “to invite.” To call, to summon, or to invite. So here in Second Thessalonians chapter 2, verses 13 and 14, Paul writes, “But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He [kale?] called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Now, question: did you make a real and meaningful choice to follow Christ? Did you make a real and meaningful choice to follow Christ? And the answer to that is yes, you did. Yes, you did. You absolutely made a real and meaningful choice to rise up and follow the Lord Jesus Christ. But your choice was a result of His prior choice of you. That’s what Paul is saying here. Your choice, real and meaningful, is a result of His prior choice of you. Now, that same reality applies to the situation in life. That same reality applies to our situation in life.
And so let me demonstrate that to you from First Corinthians chapter 7. First Corinthians chapter 7. And taking up the reading in verse 15. First Corinthians chapter 7, and beginning in verse 15, Paul writes:
15 Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.
16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?
17 Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches.
18 Was any man called when he was already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised.
19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.
20 Each man must remain in that condition [klesis, which is related to the verb kaleo. You can look in your margin, perhaps, and see the word that’s translated in the NASB “condition,” “calling,” which would be another valid translation there. “Each man must remain in that [calling or] condition”] in which he was called
21 Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that.
22 For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is the Lord’s slave.
23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.
24 Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called. (1 Cor. 7:15–24 NASB)
So Paul is instructing the believers here in Corinth that when they came to faith in Christ, they were not to abandon their station in life. They were not to abandon their station in life. If they were married, they’re not to become unmarried. Verses 12 and 13: “But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any man has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away.”
So when they came to Christ, when they were called to faith in Christ, Paul says if you’re married, remain in that condition in which you were called, that station in which you were called. Married or, as he develops the argument, even unmarried.
If you were called as Jew or Gentile—verses 18 and 19—if you are called while a Gentile, don’t seek circumcision, don’t seek to change that situation. If you were called while circumcised, don’t seek to become uncircumcised to change that situation. Again, don’t try and change the situation in which you are. You cannot improve your standing by a change of situation. If they’re called while a slave, they’re not to worry about it (verse 21).
So let’s make some application. In other words, if you come to faith while working as a janitor, you are not to think that you must quit your position as a janitor because of your new allegiance to Christ. Instead, you are to be the best janitor possible. The best janitor possible. Colossians chapter 3 and verse 23: “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.”
If you were called to faith in Christ while a janitor, don’t quit your job. Become the best janitor possible. The best janitor possible. Now, the implications of all of this for our understanding of vocation is huge. It’s huge because it means whatever our station in life, it has no effect upon our relationship with Christ. No matter what our station in life, it has no effect upon our relationship to Christ. In other words, we are not closer to Christ because of our work. We are not further from Christ because of our work. We can neither improve nor diminish our standing with Christ because of our work, what we do.
Because we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, without regard to works, therefore, all vocations are equal before God. This is the big idea. All vocations are thus equal in the sight of God. All vocations that are legitimate work done well are equal in the sight of God.
That means—listen to this—that means that all vocations are thus sacred callings. All vocations are thus sacred callings. Pastors and plumbers, missionaries and maids are both sacred callings of God. Neither are in favor with God, nor are either inherently superior to the other with regard to our standing before God.
Now, another way to get at this profound truth is through what is known as the priesthood of the believer. The priesthood of the believer. The idea taught in the New Testament that through the shed blood of Christ all Christians enjoy equal access to God the Father and are thus spiritually equal and have equal potential to minister for God. OK, the priesthood of the believer.
Galatians chapter 3, verse 28, I’ll just read it to you. Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Jesus Christ.” In other words, there is not a hierarchy before the Lord. Now, this understanding destroys the clergy-laity distinction. And the sooner it’s destroyed, the better off the church of Jesus Christ will be.
So let that truth sink in. There are men called, gifted by God to positions of leadership within a church. But they’re standing before God is not one wit better than yours. Their vocation is not in the slightest bit superior to yours in the sight of God. As I’ve said before, we do not have to have an official pray-er at public events.
Now, the reality that God calls us to our vocation means that He sets the terms by which we fulfill it. He sets the terms by which we shall fulfill it. It is His calling. So we understand this readily enough when it comes to the vocations found within the family; we don’t struggle with that, right? The means by which the vocation to be a husband is fulfilled, we would look to the Scriptures. The means by which the vocation of a wife is to be fulfilled, we would look to the Scriptures. The means by which the vocation of a parent and a child is fulfilled, we would look to the Scriptures. The Scripture defines and bounds these things for us. Even being a grandparent, we would look to the Scriptures.
This is also true of our employment situations. This reality is also true of our employment situations. When we work to glorify God by expressing our humanity, we also work to love and serve others. All legitimate work done well expresses our humanity. It brings pleasure and glory to God, expresses our humanity in the way He has originally created us, and it provides for us the opportunity, yea, the obligation to love and serve others. To love and serve others through our vocation.
This is what God has called us to. This is what God has called us to. In Matthew 22 verses 37–39. Pick it up in 36: “Teacher, what is the great commandment in the Law?” 37: “And He [that is, Jesus] 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 foremost commandment. The second is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.’” The Law and the Prophets. Their teaching can be summarized in two loves: love to God and love to fellow man.
So the first great commandment: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. The second: to love your neighbor as yourself. It is through vocation that one of the means of fulfilling that second commandment occurs. In other words, we must understand that one of the purposes of our vocation is to love and serve our neighbor. To love and serve our neighbor and thus fulfill the second great commandment. It is in this sense that this second commandment is a test of the legitimacy of our work. A test of the legitimacy of our work. In other words, a question to ask is, “How does my present work love and serve my neighbor?” How does my present employment love and serve my neighbor? That is a very important question to ask and to take the time to think about.
Let me suggest some for you, OK? Just to get the juices flowing. If your vocation is law enforcement? How does a vocation of law enforcement love and serve others? Well, you are being called, first and foremost, to protect the innocent and the helpless. To protect the innocent and the helpless. That is how you love and serve. What about teaching? What about a teacher? It is to educate the ignorant. You love and serve by educating the ignorant. What about a healthcare worker? You love and serve by easing the suffering of others. What about a trash collector? You are beautifying the creation. You love and serve by beautifying the creation. In other words, stopping when half the trash doesn’t go in and scooping it up and putting it in.
What about a drill press operator on an assembly line? What about a drill press operator on an assembly line? How do they love and serve others? They love and serve others by doing their work with excellence and precision and thus providing ease of use for the next person who has to work with that part. They work with precision and excellence so the next one down the line, they’re able to use and utilize that part. What about an insurance claim helpline operator? They love and serve by providing timely, quality, friendly, compassionate service when interfacing with someone who is in need of help. That’s how they love and serve.
What about a doorman at the hotel? Right? The invisible people. By providing friendly, courteous service and caring for the well-being of the hotel guests, they love and serve others and thus have a calling to a legitimate work done well. Pleasing to God.
One of the main ways we love others through our work is to work with a high level of competence. Is to work with a high level of competence. That is one way to love and serve. We serve God best when we work with excellence. We serve God best when we work with excellence. So a couple of quotes here from Dorothy Sayers. I introduced her a few sessions back in a 1942 article entitled “Why Work?” And she writes,
The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables. No crooked table legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare say, came out of the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth. Nor, if they did, could anyone believe that they were made by the same hand that made Heaven and earth. No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself. For any work that is untrue to its own technique is a living lie.
Those are powerful words. Powerful words. The article was so good, I cannot resist one more.
Let the church remember this: that every maker and worker is called to serve God in his profession or trade, not outside of it. The Apostles complained rightly when they said it was not meet or proper that they should leave the word of God and serve tables [Acts 6]; their vocation was to preach the word, but the person whose vocation it is to prepare the meals beautifully might with equal justice protest: It is not meet or proper for us to leave the service of our tables to preach the word.
In other words, before the Lord, in the sight of God, the vocation of waiting tables and the vocation of preaching the Word are of equal value. Equal value. The bottom line in all of this is that Christ desires us to see our work through a whole new lens. That it is not so much about providing financially for our families, although it does do that, as it is about fulfilling the purposes for which we were created. In fact, to approach our work without understanding and applying these truths is to work in the manner of a pagan. It is to work in the manner of a pagan.
So now we know what vocation is, we have a second question to address: how do I find my vocation? You have painted it as noble. How do I find it? In any discussion of a vocation, there is an associated and unavoidable topic called providence. Providence is the continuing action of God by which He preserves in existence the creation which He has brought into being and guides it to His intended purposes for it. The continuing action of God by which He preserves in existence the creation which He has brought into existence and guides it to His intended purposes for it. Providence.
Let me give you some—I’ll just read them to you—some verses that speak of such things. Act 17:26—this is in the NIV: “From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.”
In other words, God determines where and how long you will live. God ultimately determines where you will live and how long you will live. You living here is not the result of an accident; it is the outworking of the providence of God.
First Samuel chapter 2, verses 6 and 7: “The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts.” God determines your socioeconomic condition. God determines, ultimately, your socioeconomic condition.
Proverbs 16, in verse 9: “The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.” “The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.” In other words, God directs your every decision. Do you make a decision out of your own volition? Yes. Just as surely as you did when you repented of your sin and entrusted yourself entirely and fully to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, beloved, contrary to most self-help books and seminars, you cannot choose to be whatever you want. If you are a young person this morning, listening to me here, I have good and bad news, depending on how you want to receive it. I’ll just give you the bad news. We’ll develop the good. The bad news is you can’t be whatever you want. All right? So when you stand at graduation and they get somebody up there to bloviate and talk about how you are the greatest and most intelligent class that has ever graduated and you can be whatever you want, you just put your fingers in your ears, because that is absolute nonsense. Absolute nonsense.
In God’s providence, He has made you in a certain way with specific gifts, specific talents, specific capacities, and specific limitations. He has made you with specific gifts, talents, capacities, and limitations. God has made you that way.
Now, let me give you an obvious example. As a young man, through high school and foolishly hanging on to it far longer than I should have even into college, I wanted to be a professional hockey player, ice hockey player. That was my desire. But no matter how hard I practiced, guess what? I was never going to be a professional ice hockey player. I’m too slow. I’m too—too slow. I’m too…a lot of things.
It’s never going to happen. Never going to happen. And the sooner I would have been disabused of that ridiculous notion, the better off I would have been. I could have just enjoyed ice hockey for the fun of it.
Now, you might be thinking, well, what about people who have no choice? No choice. I mean, there are some obvious examples of individuals who, quote, have “no choice” in their vocation, their particular occupation. For example, a subsistence farmer in rural China. When they become twelve, thirteen years old, they don’t sit down with mom and dad and say, OK, you can be whatever you want, son. No, no. Get back out there and harvest that rice, because we have to eat tonight. That’s all you’ll ever be. But here in the West, we are presented with what on the surface looks like such a range of choices that we can become paralyzed and restless and even indecisive with regard to vocation.
On the surface, there is such an array of choices. Many jobs, by the way, today were unheard of just a couple of decades ago. There are new careers blossoming all the time. Here’s a few. Ten jobs that did not exist fifteen years ago: App developer and designer, driverless car engineer, podcast producer, telemedicine physician, cloud architect, drone operator, blogger, search engine optimization expert, Uber or Lyft driver, cryptocurrency expert—I would have phrased it differently, but we’ll go with it. Ten jobs that didn’t exist fifteen years ago.
So what do we do? I’m thinking now a lot about kind of the young among us. What do we do? Under the umbrella of providence, how do I make meaningful choices with regard to my vocation? How, under the umbrella of providence—OK, so I’m living under the umbrella of providence. I embrace it, not begrudgingly but joyfully and willingly. How do I go about making meaningful choices with regard to my vocation?
You need wisdom. You need wisdom in assessing your interests and abilities in order to help determine your field of endeavor. You need wisdom in assessing your interests and abilities in order to help determine your field of endeavor. Proverbs 13:20: “He who walks with wise men will be wise.”
Now, the process of finding your calling, your vocation, has two aspects. It has internal desire and external confirmation. Internal desire, external confirmation.
So let’s kind of tease that out a bit. What are my interests? What are my interests? Am I more of an indoor or an outdoor person? Indoor or outdoor person? Am I more oriented toward my hands or my head? Do I find joy in working with my hands or with my head? Am I more oriented toward people or projects? People—projects? Structured or unstructured work environment? Structured or unstructured work environment? Which am I more drawn toward? Employer versus self-employed? Employer versus self-employed. Which am I more inclined toward? Which am I more suited for?
This is where if you’re a young person here, this is where mom and dad can really help you get a good view of yourself. But it’s true for all of us. A good friend who knows us, a spouse, or even a friend outside of that relationship who really knows us can help us to really hone in on this. So what are my interests?
Secondly, what do I like and find joy in doing? What do I like and find joy in doing? I’m going to be doing this for a long time. I don’t really want to do it like a prison sentence. So money is—and you’ve heard me say this—if money is your determining factor, you may well be consigned to a highly paid prison sentence.
Third, what am I good at? What am I good at? Proverbs 22:29: “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before obscure men.” You see a man good at his work; he’ll stand before kings. What am I good at? Help me assess myself. I may like building model airplanes, but that does not make me suited to be an aeronautical engineer. OK, I might like to build model airplanes. It does not necessarily say I am suited to be an aeronautical engineer. So having just a good, grounded, open-eyed view of yourself.
Fourth question: is this work God-honoring? Is this work God-honoring work? Can you articulate how? Again, back to legitimate work done well, right, brings honor to God, is pleasing in the sight of God. Another way to ask this question is how does this work love and serve other people? Can you articulate that?
Fifth, how will this work love and serve my neighbor? How will this work love and serve my neighbor?
Sixth, do I have an elitist attitude toward work? Do I have an elitist attitude toward work? In other words, do I think some jobs are beneath me? Some jobs are just beneath me. Elitist attitude toward work.
Seventh, am I giving myself to the opportunities to work that God has already provided to me? Am I giving myself to the opportunities for work that God has already provided for me? Or do I always have my eye on the horizon, looking for the next thing? If I’m wasting what God has already entrusted to me, why would He entrust anything more? If I’m wasting the opportunities that He has given to me to love and serve, to honor Him by producing good work at whatever it is that I’m doing, why in the world would He entrust anything greater to me? Answer: He won’t. He won’t.
Now, in all of this, it should be noted that vocation can and often will change throughout our working lifetime. Say it again. Our vocation can change and will often change throughout our working lifetime. In other words, we can have multiple vocations throughout a working lifetime, and we can have multiple vocations simultaneously. And in fact, we do have multiple vocations simultaneously.
Provide some illustration here just from personal experience. When I was in college, I had a vocation as a student. Vocation as a student. In other words, study hard, learn the material, do well. That is a vocation. Legitimate work done well. And I had a vocation as a petroleum transfer engineer simultaneously.
And by the way, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this. Check the air tire pressure, check the oil, check the antifreeze, check the windshield washing fluid, and put seven gallons in the tank and don’t run over. You have to think about the order you’re going to do these things to get it all done. Well, then I moved on while in college to a vocation as a security guard, to love and to serve, to protect the property of the particular company that I was working for.
After graduation, my vocation transferred, I guess you’d say, to banking, into banking. And so, sixteen years later, it changed again. I was called by the congregation of our former church in Southern California to pastoral ministry and served in that vocation for twenty-five years.
And then I was called from Southern California to North Idaho to live and to work and to serve among you here at KCC. This is now my vocation. Notice I haven’t said anything about money because money is not part of the equation. From college on, in addition to all of those vocations, I have had the vocation as a husband, a father, and a grandfather. I’m a busy guy. There’s plenty to do. Plenty to do.
Here’s the big idea. Here’s the big idea. We work to love and serve others. Any legitimate work well done is pleasing in God’s sight. I trust this whole discussion of vocation will be used of the Lord to renew your passion for your present employment situation and that you might find great joy tomorrow morning. Tomorrow morning. As you put these truths to work by faith, walking in dependence upon Christ and in the power of His spirit.
Upon graduation, he married Carol, his college sweetheart, and began a career in banking. After several work-related moves, they found themselves in 1991 living in southern California with their 4 young children.
In 1995, Foothill Bible Church, Upland, CA, the church they were attending, asked David to leave his position at the bank and join the staff as Associate Pastor of Administration and Christian Education.
Two years later, while still serving on staff, he enrolled at The Master’s Seminary, completing his Mdiv in 2002. Upon graduation and the retirement of the church’s teaching pastor, the congregation unanimously extended a call to David to fill that role.He served there until 2019 when he and Carol moved to Sandpoint, ID, to become actively involved in the discipleship of their grandchildren. David and Carol began attending KCC in June of 2021, where they find great joy in loving and serving the church body.