Theology & Culture (7): Why Vocation Matters to God

February 11, 2011 by Bruce Ashford

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The notion of vocation (calling) is significant to any discussion of theology and culture because all of a Christian’s vocations are at the intersection of theology and culture. In our recent Theology & Culture seminar, which was the impetus for this blog series, our discussion centered on Gene Veith’s God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life (Crossway, 2002). Veith’s book is a contemporary exposition of Martin Luther’s teaching on vocation, as conveyed primarily through his sermons.

As Veith argues, following Luther, God works through people and does so through their callings. Every Christian has at least four callings-family, church, workplace, and community. The purpose of one’s callings is to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mk 12:30-31). In our vocations, we demonstrate our love for God by doing all that we do to his glory. We demonstrate our love for our neighbor by fulfilling our callings faithfully and with excellence. We depend upon others, and they depend upon us.

Evangelical Christians may be very aware of their callings to family and church, but perhaps less likely to view their workplaces or communities as places of calling. For this reason, I’ll spend a bit more time on workplace and community.

Family & Church

In the family we find “the most basic of all vocations, the one in which God’s creative power and his providential care are most dramatically conveyed through human beings.”* The marriage relationship is a calling, as it is a manifestation of the relationship between Christ and the church. It is significant because our family life is a lever for unseating our unselfishness. It is further important because family is the place in which a child learns to honor their father and mother on the way toward learning to honor their Heavenly Father. Further, in the church we learn to love God and one another, serve God and one another, have our masks and pretenses unveiled, and live grace- and gospel-centered lives. The church is a window through which a watching world sees Christ because the church is indeed the body of Christ.

Workplace

Is it fair to say that most evangelicals do not recognize their workplaces as a significant way to love God and neighbor? I think so. In my experience, we tend to view our jobs as ways to “put bread on the table,” “build a good life for ourselves,” and maybe even share the gospel. But rarely if ever do we view the job itself as a calling from God.

In fact, most of us spend the majority of our waking hours at our workplaces. We make many relationships, interact in several spheres of culture, and use many of our God-given abilities while we are simply doing our jobs. It would be a shame to waste our workplaces. There are at least three ways in which we can make the most of our jobs:

First, we can speak and embody the gospel in appropriate ways at our jobs. For many people, the workplace brings them into contact with many unbelievers who may have never heard the gospel or seen a Christian living in a gospel-centered manner in front of their very eyes.

Second, we can realize that God ordained work before the Fall. God is the one who created us in his image and likeness, gifted us with the moral, rational, creative, and relational capacities we use to accomplish our work, and commanded us to do all things (including our work) for his glory and renown. Work is part of what it means to be human. Our obligation, therefore, is to offer our work to God as worship, seeking to do it with faithfulness and excellence.

Third, we can realize that God often works through our jobs to love his image-bearers. In other words, God uses the products of our work to provide for our fellow citizens. When God wants to feed a hungry child, he does not usually do so in miraculous manner; he usually does so through farmers, truck drivers, grocery store owners (and clerks and stock boys), contractors and electricians and plumbers (and everybody else who helps to build the grocery stores), and a myriad of other types of workers.

In a sentence, don’t waste your workplace.

Community

Another calling which we often neglect is our calling to be a citizen of multiple communities-town, state, national, and global communities. Even in a democratic republic, we sometimes limit our calling to voting about political candidates, and then whining about them or insulting them. In fact, God has placed each of us within multiple communities, and provides us with many ways to serve these communities within our own unique life situations.

First, we can love our communities by faithfully fulfilling our calling to our families, churches, and workplaces. In so doing, we serve our communities in a deep and profound manner. Second, we can love our communities by being active in the mediating structures of our communities-structures such as schools, non-profit organizations, newspapers, blogs, etc. Third, we can love our community by being actively involved in the political process, and doing so in a manner that embodies grace and gospel as well as wisdom and realism.

Conclusion

In conclusion, our callings are our primary means to bring God glory, loving Him and our neighbor. If we are seeking to fulfill these callings faithfully and with excellence, canmultiply our faithfulness in every dimension of society and culture, and across the fabric of our shared human existence.

____________________

*Gene Veith, God at Work (Wheaton: Crossway, 2002), 78.

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2 Responses to “Theology & Culture (7): Why Vocation Matters to God”

  1. matt papa says:

    bruce-

    great stuff. i would love to discuss this one further w/ you. it seems to me that in our modern context the word “calling” is somewhat meaningless and at best ambiguous. People say things like “God called me to preach” or “God called me to southeastern” or “I feel called to work at Starbucks” or “my calling is to make a lot of money and surpass joel osteen in book sales”

    it seems to me that the word “calling” in the Scriptures is never used apart from the context of salvation?

    it also seems to me that the way that Luther has used the word (calling is family, church, workplace, and community) could also be seen as “biblical responsibility”. This view I can appreciate, but it seems very different than the modern, individualistic, subjective view of “calling”.

    it almost seems like “calling” today means that God gave me a specific assignment OUTSIDE the Bible.

    is this making sense? would love your thoughts.

    MP

  2. Matt,

    Hey friend! Of all the things that I expected when I woke up this morning, I didn’t expect that Matt Papa would have time to read my blog and drop a comment! thanks for your thoughts on this matter.

    I think I agree with you in essence, though I’m still willing to use the English word “calling.” Here’s what I mean: I use the English word “calling” in two senses, one in which I speak of a “calling” to salvation, and another when I speak of one’s “calling” to family, church, workplace, and community. Following Luther, I am saying that God “assigns” us and “places” us in our stations in life, and expects us to honor him from those stations. So I do use the word in two different senses. 1 Cor 7:17 would be an example of my second use of the word calling: “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.”

    I further agree with your point about inappropriate uses of “calling.” Too often, we follow our own misguided desires in forming some goal for ourselves or taking some task for ourselves, and then we attach God’s name to it, saying that he “called us” to it. In response to such misguided uses, I would argue that a person’s internal sense of calling should be matched with an external affirmation of that calling. For example, if a young man comes to our pastors/elders (at the Summit Church) and informs us that he is “called” to replace Matt Papa as the worship pastor for the BC South campus, we would respond by telling him that he is acting on his own wishes and that he is wrong. In other words, God gives provides the redeemed community as a hedge to guard against misguided “callings.”

    Make sense?

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