Why Do We Work?
by Pastor Greg Hoffmann
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. –Colossians 3:23-24
During my years in seminary (training to be a pastor) I had a number of part-time jobs—janitorial, UPS runner, floral delivery among them. Most of the time, in the cleaning of offices, restrooms, preschool rooms and delivering packages or flowers, I can’t say there was much more on my mind than putting food on the table for our family. Even though the work was difficult, I was thankful for the way God was providing. But to a large degree, those experiences just confirmed that this was not my life’s work (although there are many people who do these jobs and do them well!).
The Unique Perspective of Calling
This week our devotion looks at the societal pillar of business or the marketplace. Volumes have been, and continue to be, written on this subject, but as followers of Christ, what is the bottom line of business? I approach this question not only in terms of those who are actively involved in employment or a career, but also those who are not—students, stay-at-home parents, those who are retired, the disabled. You might say, “Well, Greg, that’s a pretty broad spectrum!” Yes, it is. But perhaps we have too narrowly defined business/marketplace and have missed a key ingredient of what the Bible refers to as “calling.” Throughout Christian history, especially Lutheran church history, our “calling” has been referred to as vocation (from the Latin, vocatio, meaning a call or summons). A career or employment puts the focus on us, whereas our calling from God places a greater value on why we do what we do.
So what is the bottom line in business? Is it a good feeling about what we do? Is it the money we make? We often refer to the bottom line in financial terms—the money that the company makes. But in each of these cases, is this truly the bottom line? Is prosperity the bottom line, or is there something else?
The Colossians 3 passage at the top of this page is one that causes some consternation in our day. Some see it as problematic, for Paul is addressing slaves and he does not decry the evils of slavery or even try to persuade slaves to seek freedom (but we must leave this for a different discussion). Instead, he focuses on the issue of our heart as it relates to a position of service—“work at it with all your heart…It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” To speak of “calling” speaks of a higher purpose—we are serving Jesus Christ in all of life, but especially in our work.
Calling – Remember The Lord
Scripture cautions us against forgetting the Lord and becoming self-sufficient, somehow feeling that because of our greatness we have received blessings—the fruit of our labors. Deuteronomy 8:17-18 says, “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms His covenant, which He swore to your ancestors, as it is today.” Any ability that we have to produce wealth (as in daily bread) comes from the Lord and is a cause for gratitude.
To speak of business in terms of our “calling” also has implications for what we do with our earnings. Proverbs 3:9-10 says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” If we are working for ourselves, then our earnings are all ours. But if, through our calling, we are serving the Lord, then all that we earn belongs to Him and as an expression of our gratitude we give 10% (a tithe or the firstfruits) back to Him. Rather than such actions diminishing our resources, the Lord’s promise is that there will always be enough.
Vocation as a Call to Prayer
In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” These petitions apply to the workplace as much as they do to family and everyday life. To see life in terms of calling (whether as parents/family, students, employee or retiree) is to see that situation in which God has placed us as a harvest field and a call to prayer. Our calling is an invitation to pray that in us and through us God’s kingdom would break into our world. Do we pray for righteousness to be the foundation of our business decisions, actions, conversations? Do we pray for our boss, our fellow employees that they would come to know Jesus Christ? Do we pray for God’s kingdom to come even in our workplace? We are called to bring the light of Christ to our world and that includes the marketplace.