“What do you want to be when you grow up?” That question, which is so common today, would be shockingly irrelevant for the vast majority of humans who have ever lived.
In the premodern world, one’s work usually was not a matter of choice. It was essential to one’s identity. It was more a matter of who you were than what you did. Let’s consider farming, for example. Farming was not merely what one did; a farmer was who you were. It was just as much a matter of one’s identity as it was one’s activity. If your father and his forebears had been farmers for generations on end, you would most likely become the same. You would till the land and husband its resources like your predecessors did, and your descendants would likely follow after you.
In the post-Industrial Era, work took on a different aspect, and the sense of calling and pride in one’s work—which often accompanied it—gave way to more practical considerations. Hence, many men took factory jobs in the twentieth century, not because they felt called to manufacture widgets on an assembly line but because they wanted to provide a steady income and health insurance for their families. The end of their work was no less noble, even if the means to provide for their families wasn’t particularly a matter of pride.
For Christians, though, as we will see, God created us to work. It is the context in which we spend the bulk of our adult lives, and it is the primary arena in which we can glorify Christ. And as we work intentionally for God’s glory, our work lives can become a potent gospel witness.
During the Middle Ages, a class distinction emerged between the clergy and laity, which recognized the former as more noble, desirable, and beneficial than the latter. During the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, along with other Reformers, reasserted the biblical concept of vocation and argued that God extends two calls on a person’s life. One, a general call to follow Christ; another, a call to a specific vocation, or work. We know our vocational call by gifting, ability, and opportunity, and we both honor God and serve man as we fulfill it. Thus, our vocational lives are a key component of our Christian identity and Christian witness. Consider Gene Veith on this point:
The ability to read God’s Word is an inexpressibly precious blessing, but reading is an ability that did not spring fully formed in our young minds, it required the vocation of teachers. God protects us through the cop on the beat and the whole panoply of the legal system. He gives us beauty and meaning through artists. He lets us travel through the ministry of auto workers, mechanics, road crews, and airline employees. He keeps us clean through the work of garbage collectors, plumbers, sanitation workers, and sometimes undocumented aliens who clean our hotel rooms. He brings people to salvation through pastors and through anyone else who proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the lost. The fast-food worker, the inventor; the clerical assistant, the scientist; the accountant, the musician—they all have high callings, used by God to bless and serve His people and His creation.
Therefore, as a Christian, even if you are independently wealthy, you are still called to lead a productive life. Endless days of sun tanning, golfing, and, as John Piper has lamented, “sea-shell collecting,” are vacuous if they become the end goal of your life. In order to glorify God through your work and in retirement, your steady productivity is imperative. The point is not that it is dishonorable to retire. The point is that even in our retirement we are to live in a way that is productive, Christ-honoring, and given to our families and our churches. In other words, regardless of our life-stage, we are called to honor Christ through what we do and how we do it. God has indeed made us, by gifting and by calling, for certain tasks. As we fulfill those tasks, we flourish, our families are strengthened, others are well served, and Christ is honored. We need, then, to discover and pursue our vocation. As Keith Welton encourages us,
“Our hands are the instruments of our heart. They express outwardly what we believe inwardly. Our work ought to show we have a higher calling. It ought to say that something greater than earthly reward motivates it. The quality of our work should glorify God.”
See Your Job as a Gospel Platform
Finally, understand that, as an adult, your job is where you spend the bulk of your daylight hours. Do not fall into the mind-set that your Monday-through- Saturday life is secular, divorced from your Sunday life. Understand your work life, when lived with a redemptive purpose, is an awesome platform for the gospel of Christ.
Popular Christian author Tim Keller made this very case in his book Every Good Endeavor. In it, he rightly observed, “Christians who grasp a biblical theology of work learn not only to value and participate in the work of all people but to also see ways to work distinctively as Christians.” Let’s make sure we cultivate this mind-set in our lives and in our work.
Editor's Note: This originally published at JasonKAllen.com