One of life’s great frustrations is the feeling of being pulled in two directions. It’s something that nearly everyone encounters at some point and in some form, and it’s never pleasant. The competing draws of relationships, career choices, educational opportunities, and so much more are often enough to make a person feel like he’s being torn in two. I spent years feeling that way.
After graduating from college, I was fairly confident that my future was in education. After all, I had a degree in that field and an affinity for the classroom. But while waiting for my wife to wrap up grad school so that we could move on to the next phase of our life together, I began to consider vocational ministry. Thoughts of seminary, pastorates, and preaching soon began to swirl and before I knew it I was moving for a job in ministry, not education.
For years, I kept a foot in both camps. I worked part time for a church, but nearly full time for the local school systems. When I sat down and asked myself which I enjoyed more, which I was better equipped for, which offered realistic opportunities, the answer always came back: yes. It was maddening. I prayed perpetually for clarity and guidance. And for years when asked the “what do you do?” question, I always had this awkward response about being both in ministry and in education.
Every time I would give that response to people, my mind would sort of stumble over it. “Ministry” versus some other field. It’s the way we tend to speak, and yet there’s a way in which that sort of thinking is incorrect. Certainly there is distinct work associated with the body of Christ that is not accomplished in other fields. However, there are no biblical categories for that sort of dichotomy in the life of a believer. We do not minister OR work in some other field. We all work; we all minister. And in whatever field we are called to for our living, we all serve the Lord. Or at least we all should. Some do so while earning their living from the church, while most do so while earning their living outside of the church. I’ve always known that in principle, but missing it in practice is what caused me to feel divided for those years. Figuring it out helped me to once again feel whole.
Now this concept was relatively easy for me to get my mind around when it came to body life. One may work in finance or construction or education but still lead a Bible study on Thursday nights and be ministering in that sense. Things became tricky for me in trying to think through how I serve the Lord in work outside of the church. How do we minister there? Can we? The Bible is notably silent when it comes to specific commands for how the Christian is to behave in vocations outside of the body of Christ. This does not mean, however, that Scripture is insufficient for this question. There are principles made clear in Scripture that really helped me conform my thinking to Christ in this area.
One of the most familiar verses in the Bible comes to us from 1 Corinthians 10:31-- “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.” While this verse may not immediately address the question of how we serve the Lord in our employment, it makes clear that such a thing is a possibility. In the immediate context, Paul is addressing the eating of meat sacrificed to idols, however he expands the concept to include literally “whatever we do.” Clearly we are supposed to work (2 Thessalonians 3:10) and are commanded to provide for our families (1 Timothy 5:8). So if we are commanded to work and commanded to do all to the glory of God, then it stands to reason that there must be a way in which we can glorify God in our employment. But how?
Ephesians 4:28 states, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” While Paul is first addressing the practice of theft, there is a principle in his admonition that is valuable for everyone. His urging is that the believer would work so that he would have something to share. Thus we understand that our employment, allowing that it is honest (i.e. not thievery), is a means by which God allows us to bless others. In that way, it is a vehicle for the ministry of Jesus Christ. Martin Luther’s understanding of this concept extended beyond merely using one’s income to bless others. He argued that all honest work that benefits others is, in a sense, the Lord’s work. Passages such as Psalm 145 affirm that it is God who provides for the needs of all His creation, and yet we know that He does not cause food to appear instantaneously on our table. Someone grows it, someone harvests it, someone delivers it, etc. All of these means of employment, then, contribute to God’s work of providing for the needs to His creation and those that do them are in essence serving Him.
The Bible’s insights do not stop there. It is not enough that the outward effects of our work contribute to God’s purposes. He is after our hearts and motivations. Paul provides another principle in Colossians 3. Verses 23-24 read, “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.” Again, the immediate context is addressing a specific situation (servants and masters), but the principles remains applicable and helpful. Our lives are to be characterized by worship-- in all arenas. Our work lives can and should be lived to God’s glory by seeking to do our best for His sake. He has endowed us with the abilities and talents that we apply in our jobs and careers. When we use them well out of a motivation that God would be delighted in the work of His creation, he is glorified.
Understanding these principles has been of great benefit to my Christian walk. I still have no idea where the Lord will bring me long term, but the anxiety over the two directions has dissipated. The Lord has given me confidence through His word that regardless of the form of employment, I will be able to serve Him and minister to others. When the Christian strives to work to the best of his ability for the sake of God’s glory and pleasure, and for the purpose of blessing others, he is serving the Lord. This is the call and privilege of every Christian and gives all of our work a dignity and eternal value.