Let Each Person Lead the Life
Cry Out America
If you were here last week you heard an appeal to serve through the local church. If that were the only message you'd ever heard, you'd likely conclude that as a pastor I care only to get people active in ministry. It might seem that the only kind of work worth doing is what we might call spiritual work.
But the Bible is clear that Christians have a great deal of other work to do in this world. Our series this summer has been titled, "With Each Passing Moment." We have been considering the activities we do every day and how we might do them in a more God-honoring way.
Today we conclude that series on the day before labor day with a message focused on our work. Most every day of our lives we are at work doing something. Believers in Jesus Christ must understand how God views their jobs, their occupations, their labor, and their professions.
The church exists in the world to proclaim the gospel. We are not a business. We believe that we can glorify God in the work that we do. But we insist that God's greatest glory shines in the salvation of individual sinners from eternal condemnation through the cross-work of Jesus Christ.
Christians must be concerned about justice -- fair wages for work well done, physically and morally safe working conditions, and help for those who cannot work. But our first concern is that we declare that the justice of God against sin has been satisfied through the sacrifice of his own Son.
The gospel teaches me (all of us) that my failure to love and live for God's honor has left me alienated from him and under his wrath. But Jesus willingly put himself under that wrath and exhausted it in my place so that I might be forgiven and go free. No work I could do could earn for me what Christ earned for me by his work on the cross.
Do you believe Jesus died for you? Do you abandon your attempts to try to work to make up for the wrong you've done and simply receive by faith what Christ has accomplished? This gospel is the ultimate reason why the church exists.
But the church does care about how believers go about their business every day. Why? Because when we work well we demonsrate the power of the gospel through excellent work, we enhance the presentation of the gospel through the integrity of our work, and we earn money to support the propagation of the gospel to bring joy to the nations.
The living God is not merely concerned with religious activity. He is intimately involved in all aspects of the life of his people. This includes the work that each believer does. And work involves more than an occupation or profession. I submit to you that in profound ways, the Lord is on the job with us whatever work we may be doing. Let me build my case.
I direct you to 1 Corinthians 7:17-24
It is easy to miss this paragraph and its significance for our life of work because it is buried in a chapter that is all about marriage. As Paul was answering the Corinthians question about the value of marriage and the role of singleness in the church, he introduces the subject of a person's calling or vocation. It seems he realizes that this may be a fuzzy concept for his readers (and for us too) so this writer of Scripture, by the Holy Spirit, steps back and explains the general concept.
"17 Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. 18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. 20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God." (1 Corinthians 7:17-24)
I draw five conclusions from this text.
1. God assigns all "work" as a calling (17)
"Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches." (1 Corinthians 7:17)
Note that the apostle's teaching applies to each person individually and that the rule that he is establishing applies in all the churches. No one can say "My job is insignificant. I'm really not doing anytihng important. God has no interest in what I'm doing."
God assigns a life to each person. His sovereignty is universal. He cares about all work whatever you do wherever you live.
And He calls each to his or her work. This makes it personal. An assignment might be impersonal but a call involves a summons or invitation.
The command here is a present command. Whatever work God has assigned right now is our calling. Christians do not prepare for a calling, they do their work now as a calling.
If you are a student, that is the Lord's assignment for you right now. You are not a student to prepare for some other calling, being a student is your calling. That is not to say that you will be a student your whole life. Your parents certainly hope that you will not be a student your whole life. But guard against the attitude that you are somehow spinning your wheels while you wait to find your calling.
You may be in a job this morning that you do not like. You have no intention of spending the rest of your working life in it. But God has assigned you to that work. He has called you to it.
When we take that attitude we do our work for his glory and not to try to make a name for ourselves and advance to a better job. Those in the military know the temptation of not really doing the job but just doing whatever it takes to get promoted or get a better assignment. God's word calls us to do our work now because he has assigned us not because its a stepping stone to something else.
This first point forces us to grapple again with God's sovereignty. Do I recognize that He is in control? Nothing is coincidental. Neither am I the master of my fate. God is in control.
If I truly confess this then I will not be grumbling and complaining about my work. I will submit to His wisdom. I will be grateful for his provision. I will seek to honor Him in the way I work. No work is beneath me because Jesus became a servant to die for me.
2. God issues more than one call to each person (17-18, see 7:1-16)
The main command in v. 17 is "lead the life." This passage is not merely about the job where we earn a paycheck but to all the work that we do. It refers to a whole life. There is a wholistic approach pursued here.
V. 18 reminds us that our ethnic and cultural placement is an assignment from God. V. 21 extends the principle to the work of servants and freemen. These words describe not a specific job but a life status which would have involved many different kinds of work. And we cannot forget that the first half of the chapter has taught that marriage and singleness represent callings from God.
This leads us to conclude that a person will have many different callings. Christians are called to be doctors, teachers, soldiers, husbands, wives, children, coaches, public servants, students, laborers, technicians, architects, gardeners, homemakers, farmers, community leaders, etc. And it does not matter whether one is paid to work in these callings or not. Location does not determine a calling. We work at home in our callings as much as at an office or so called "work" site.
The practical outcome of this conclusion is that believers will not neglect one call in order to fulfill another. We seek balance in our lives. "Leading the life" involves giving the proper attention to each calling at the appropriate time.
The man who works all the time to make more money while neglecting his family betrays his love of money. He does not recognize that God has called him equally to fathering and his profession.
3. God insists on faithfulness in each calling (18-20)
Faithfulness is expressed in two ways according to the text.
The first way is what I would call endurance. This is stated succinctly in v. 20.
"Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called." (1 Corinthians 7:20)
Literally, "Each one should remain in the call in which he was called." Paul is employing a play on words. The first call in v. 20 is the calling to our work. The second the calling to life in Christ.
Commentators surmise that Paul was concerned that new believers in Corinth would think that becoming a Christian means that I can leave my job and just live for Jesus. Instead, Paul is saying live for Jesus by staying where you are and doing that work well. Be faithful by enduring.
So important is this principle that Paul restates it in v. 24.
"24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God." (1 Corinthians 7:24).
John Calvin note that this kind of faithfulness checks our tendency to jump around and do whatever we feel like doing.
"The Lord bids each one of us in all life's actions to look to his calling. For he knows with what great restlessness human nature flames ... how its ambition longs to embrace various things at once. Therefore, lest through our stupidity and rashness everything be turned topsy-turvey, he has appointed duties for every man in this particular way of life."
The second expression of faithfulness is obedience. This is most specifically stated in v. 19.
"For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God." (1 Corinthians 7:19)
In other words, it is not what you do but how you do it that counts. We are bound to obey God no matter what group we belong to. We cannot use our social status to be lazy. Nor can we use the fact that we are under authority to be sloppy.
We are not to be concerned with getting a better job but doing a better job. But that does not mean that we can never seek to improve our situation in life.
4. God encourages seizing new opportunities (21)
"Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.)" (1 Corinthians 7:21)
Paul is not defending slavery in this verse. We could look at Philemon to see how Scripture puts the burden on free people to practice justiced.
He is speaking here to slaves who were locked into their status and giving them hope that their work also has meaning because it is done for the Lord.
What v. 21 does encourage is taking the opportunities that God gives. Paul instructs slaves that if they are able to gain their freedom, use freedom to work even harder.
We can apply that to our situation by noting that if God gives us the strength and opportunity to do more in our lives, we should do it.
This does not mean that conclusion three and four contradict each other. We must be faithful. We ought to practice contentment about our current situation. But if there is a desire to take a new direction and God opens up a new direction, the believer does not sin to take up different work so long as he keeps his contractual commitments.
5. God retains final authority over all work (22-24)
V. 22 reminds us that our identity in Christ matters more than any assignment in this world.
v. 23 reminds us that Christ's blood makes us all his special possession. We live to please him. If we live instead for human approval or worldly wealth we are denying his Lordship.
v. 24 reminds us that we can only remain in our callings "with" God. He gives the strength to do our work. His companionship makes difficult work sweeter. His presence provides ultimate accountability. HIs protection gives us confidence to do our work enthusiastically.
Work is difficut because of sin but work is not sin. It is not evil. It is a gift of God to accomplish his two great commandments, loving Him and loving neighbor.
Leland Ryken wrote in his book "Work and Leisure in the Christian Perspective"
"In our society work is overvalued as well as undervalued. Christianity is an alternative here as well. Work is not the highest value in life. I should not occupy all our waking time, nor is it meant to be destructive of our relationships to God and others. The workaholic usually worships success and prosperity.... Many in our culture take their iedentity from their work, but in a Christian view our identity comes from being God's people and new creatures in Christ."