Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

God at Work BOOK CLUB

God at WorkGod at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life by Gene Edward Veith Jr. Crossway. 176 pages. 2011.

When we recently visited St. Andrews Chapel where R.C. Sproul is one of the pastors, this book was the church’s “Book of the Month”. I’m excited to read it. We’ll look at a chapter each week. Won’t you read along with us?

Chapter One:  Introduction – The Christian’s Calling in the World

  • Wingren’s Luther on Vocation turned out to be one of those books that opened my eyes to things I had never seen before, helping me see my Christian life in a completely different way.
  • God has chosen to work through human beings, who, in their different capacities and according to their different talents, serve each other. This is the doctrine of vocation.
  • He chose to create new life through the vocation of husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. God calls men and women together and grants them the unfathomable ability to have children. He calls people into families, in which—through the love and care of the parents—He extends His love and care for children. This is the doctrine of vocation.
  • Though work is a blessing, enjoyed even by Adam and Eve who were employed in the Garden of Eden “to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15), after the Fall we must labor in frustration and sweat: “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground” (3:17-19).
  • People sin in their vocations, and they sin against their vocations. And in not being aware of what their vocations are—and that there is a spiritual dimension to work, family, and involvement in society—they are plagued by a lack of purpose, confused as to what they should do and how they should live and who they are. At a time when, according to the polls, people’s major preoccupations are work and family, there has never been a greater need to recover the Christian doctrine of vocation.
  • The doctrine of vocation amounts to a comprehensive doctrine of the Christian life, having to do with faith and sanctification, grace and good works. It is a key to Christian ethics. It shows how Christians can influence their culture. It transfigures ordinary, everyday life with the presence of God.
  • The term vocation comes from the Latin word for “calling.”
  • The doctrine of vocation is thoroughly biblical, as shall be seen; but, as with other scriptural teachings, it surfaced and was developed with its greatest rigor during the Reformation.
  • In the medieval church, having a vocation or having “a call- ing” referred exclusively to full-time church work.
  • The ordinary occupations of life—being a peasant farmer or kitchen maid, making tools or clothing, being a soldier or even king—were acknowledged as necessary but worldly. Such people could be saved, but they were mired in the world. To serve God fully, to live a life that is truly spiritual, required a full-time commitment.
  • The Reformers insisted that priests and nuns and monastics did not have a special claim to God’s favor, but that laypeople too could live the Christian life to its fullest.
  • “The priesthood of all believers” did not make everyone into church workers; rather, it turned every kind of work into a sacred calling.
  • Luther’s “Small Catechism” with its “Table of Duties” placed vocation at the center of every layman’s Christian instruction, just as his “Large Catechism” developed the doctrine in detail for pastors. Calvin and his followers likewise emphasized the Christian’s vocation in the world, and the Puritans applied the doctrine with a diligence and intensity that would shape American culture.
  • The doctrine of vocation encourages attention to each individual’s uniqueness, talents, and personality. These are valued as gifts of God, who creates and equips each person in a different way for the calling He has in mind for that person’s life. The doctrine of vocation undermines conformity, recognizes the unique value of every person, and celebrates human differences; but it sets these individuals into a community with other individuals, avoiding the privatizing, self-centered narcissism of secular individualism.
  • This book is an exposition of the doctrine of vocation and an attempt to apply that doctrine in a practical way to life in the twenty-first century. First, it will explore the nature of voca- tion—what is the purpose of vocation, how to find one’s vocation, how God calls us to different tasks and how He is present in what we do in our everyday lives. Then the book will address specific vocations and specific problems common to them all.
  • According to the Reformers, each Christian has multiple vocations. We have callings in our work. We have callings in our families. We have callings as citizens in the larger society. And we have callings in the Church.
  • The doctrine of vocation is utterly realistic, accounting for problems, sins, and confusions that beset each and every vocation. The Reformers had much to say about failing in vocation, about the times when our vocation seems to be bearing no fruit. What the Reformers say about “Bearing the Cross” in vocation, about the role of prayer in vocation and what it means to depend on God in desperate times, may be the most helpful and encouraging sections of the whole book.
  • What is distinctive about Luther’s approach is that instead of seeing vocation as a matter of what we should do—what we must do as a Christian worker or a Christian citizen or a Christian parent—Luther emphasizes what God does in and through our vocations. That is to say, for Luther, vocation is not just a matter of Law—though this is a part of vocation that neither Luther nor this book will neglect; rather, above all, vocation is a matter of Gospel, a manifestation of God’s action, not our own. In this sense, vocation is not another burden placed upon us, something else to fail at, but a realm in which we can experience God’s love and grace, both in the blessings we receive from others and in the way God is working through us despite our failures.

Next week we’ll look at chapter 2.

Chapter 2: How God Works Through Human Beings

  • How did this happen? Why did the external world cease to be perceived as an arena for God and spiritual reality? Surely the claims of modernity were weak. How can a natural law be both rational and impersonal? Isn’t rationality evidence of a mind, of a personality looming behind what we see? And what does it mean to say that life is meaningless? Isn’t there order, design, and purpose in every stage of life, from conception to death? Isn’t it rather the experience of meaninglessness that is subjective, coming from the anguished heart of a lost soul?
  • I suspect that one reason Christians capitulated so completely to the new God-forsaken vision of the universe is that, well before modernity, they had lost the understanding that God works through means.
  • Luther believed that God rules in two kingdoms: His spiritual kingdom, in which He brings sinners into the life of faith, in which He rules in their hearts and equips them for everlasting life; and His earthly kingdom, in which He rules everything that He created (that is to say, everything).
  • Just as God works through means in His spiritual kingdom, so the Reformers thought, He also works through means in His earthly kingdom. God works through the natural laws that He built into creation. He rules the nations, including those who do not know Him, by means of His moral law. And He works in the so-called secular world by means of vocation. That is, He institutes families, work, and organized societies, giving human beings particular parts to play in His vast design.
  • God’s authority finds expression in the authority borne in certain human vocations.
  • What is permissible in one vocation is not necessarily permissible in another.
  • Rather, we are supposed to call the police. They do have the authority and the vocation to bring criminals to justice, and judges and jailers have the vocation to punish them.
  • Other passages in the Bible support the notion that God works through human beings—indeed, that He is hidden in human vocations. God’s fatherhood looms behind human fathers, the marriage relationship is a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the Church, service to one’s master is service to Christ.
  • Many Christians miss the point of these texts when they reduce them to “who has to obey whom.” Though the passages deal with issues of authority and power, their subject is vocation, in the context of God’s providence, which in turn means not so much control as care, how He provides for our needs.
  • As we shall see, each vocation, even the authoritative ones, also entails responsibilities for the well-being and care of those under its charge.

Next week we’ll look at chapter 3.

Chapter 3: The Purpose of Vocation

  • In our vocations, we are not serving God—we are serving other people.
  • The purpose of vocation is to love and serve one’s neighbor. This is the test, the criterion, and the guide for how to live out each and every vocation anyone can be called to: How does my calling serve my neighbor? Who are my neighbors in my particular vocation, and how can I serve them with the love of God?
  • But if it is true that we are supposed to be dependent on other people, it is also true that other people are supposed to be dependent on us. This is no passive, lazy, welfare-state dependence, but an active exchange: my gifts for yours; my vocation for your vocation.
  • If the purpose of vocation is to love and serve our neighbors, it is worth asking, for each vocation, the question that the teacher of the Law asked Jesus: “Who is my neighbor?” “Who in this relationship, am I called to love and serve?”
  • In the workplace, the neighbors may be the customers, who are to be loved and served. The boss is to love and serve the employees, his neighbors who are under his authority. They, in turn, are to love and serve him.
  • Those in authority over others, by virtue of their vocations, are obliged primarily to love and serve those for whom they have responsibility.
  • There is no vocation that consists solely of being waited on hand and foot, receiving homage and obedience, with no corresponding duties to work for the well-being and happiness of those under the authority’s care. This applies to parents, spouses, bosses, pastors, and kings.
  • The farmer and the others feeding the “hungry” are feeding Christ. The mother dressing her baby is clothing Christ. The nursing home attendant is taking care of Christ. Employers and employees, husbands and wives, rulers and subjects, pastors and laypeople, and whoever our neighbors are in our vocations—we are all to see Christ in one another.

Next week we’ll look at chapter 4.

Chapter 4: Finding Your Vocations

  • The Christian doctrine of vocation approaches these issues in a completely different way. Instead of “what job shall I choose?” the question becomes “what is God calling me to do?” Our vocation is not something we choose for ourselves. It is something to which we are called.
  • Our vocation is not one single occupation. As has been said, we have callings in different realms—the workplace, yes, but also the family, the society, and the church.
  • Furthermore, a person may hold multiple vocations within each type of vocation.
  • Another aspect of our multiple vocations is that callings change.
  • And whatever our vocation is, and in the very way it changes—whether the course of one’s lifework goes from poverty to wealth or wealth to poverty—our callings are not completely under our control; rather, they come from the Lord’s hand.
  • Though the world has its ways, its status games and career ladders, with good jobs and bad jobs, great wealth and the minimum wage, to the Lord all vocations are equal in status.
  • Despite what our culture leads us to believe, vocation is not self-chosen. That is to say, we do not choose our vocations. We are called to them. There is a big difference.
  • Finding your vocation, then, has to do, in part, with finding your God-given talents (what you can do) and your God-given personality (what fits the person you are).
  • We are to plan in the here and now, but we can do so in the confidence that the Lord is acting in our lives and in our circumstances, calling us to His purpose.
  • Our calling comes from outside ourselves. Bottom of Form
  • In our earthly vocations we must attend to how God is calling us through other people and through the ordinary circumstances of life. And we cannot assume that what God is calling us to is exactly what we want, though He has no doubt prepared us to be exactly what He needs for His greater purpose.
  • Though we have been discussing “finding one’s vocation,” there is an important sense in which such a search is misleading. Not only do we not choose our vocation, but, strictly speaking, we do not find our vocation, as if it is something unknown, awaiting us in the future. Rather, our vocation is already here, where we are and what we are doing right now.
  • Our Christian calling is to be played out in whatever our daily life consists of.
  • This means that vocation is played out not just in extraordinary acts—the great things we will do for the Lord, the great success we envision in our careers someday—but in the realm of the ordinary.
  • The doctrine of vocation, though it has to do with human work, is essentially about God’s work and how God works in and through our lives.

Next week we’ll look at chapter 5. Won’t you join us?

Chapter 5: Your Calling as a Worker

  • A Christian and a non-Christian may labor side by side in the same job, and on the surface they are doing exactly the same thing. But work that is done in faith has a different significance than work that is done in unbelief. The doctrine of vocation helps Christians see the ordinary labors.
  • Thus human work is an imitation of God’s work, a participation in God’s creation and His creativity. Ruling, subduing, multiplying, causing plants to grow, making things—these are what God does, and yet God gives them as tasks to human beings.
  • But then came the Fall. One of the first consequences of Adam and Eve’s disobedience was that God called them, but they hid (3:9-10). Then all of their callings, though remaining, were cursed.
  • This then is the human condition: Work is a blessing; work is a curse. Work can indeed be satisfying, since it is what we were made for, but it can also be frustrating, pointless, and exhausting. Work is a virtue, but it is tainted by sin.
  • But the Old Testament makes clear that the Sabbath’s holiness is to be recognized by not working on that day. Christians have often disagreed about how strictly to observe the Sabbath.
  • Good works, which are primarily done within vocation, are the fruits of faith. Good works are done not for God but for the neighbor. The whole purpose of every vocation is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).
  • It follows that not every occupation or way of making a living can be a vocation.
  • Christians are to be in the world, but not of the world. The way this is accomplished is through vocation.
  • Christians are engaged in the world by carrying out their vocations. This is how they can be a positive influence in the culture.
  • Furthermore, it is in vocation that evangelism can most effectively happen. In the workplace, non-Christians and Christians work together and get to know each other. Occasions for witnessing and inviting a colleague to church come up in natural ways—over the watercooler or during a coffee break, discussing a disaster like the World Trade Center attack or a failing marriage, or in times of joy such as the birth of a child. Christians penetrating their world in vocations have access to more nonbelievers than a pastor does.
  • Each vocation has its own purpose, and it is basically the same for Christians and non-Christians.
  • The Reformation theologians emphasized the equality of vocations before God. While hierarchies exist in this world, even in our more egalitarian age, which still has bosses, employees, and organizational charts, it is also true that God does not regard them in the same way that we do.
  • Servants (or employees) are to obey their masters (or bosses) as if they were working for Christ!
  • The worker’s obedience is not to the master but to Christ. Masters are not to threaten those under their authority. They are to remember that they too have a Master. If they mistreat their servants, they will be held accountable to their Master in heaven. They must realize that they too are under authority, the source of their own, but that He, unlike the social system, shows no partiality.
  • In the workplace, whether on a road crew or in a corporate office, the passage from Ephesians applies as Christians live out their vocations: Subordinates must do their work, as instructed by their superiors. In doing so, they find themselves serving Christ in serving their boss. Bosses, in turn, must make their employees do the work they are supposed to do, but in the way they treat them, they must remember their own accountability to Christ. Since a particular person may be both a master and a servant at the same time (exercising authority over certain subordinates, while answering to the next level of the corporate chart), both injunctions will apply every day.
  • That is the doctrine of vocation. Ordinary men and women expressing their love and service to their neighbor, “just doing our jobs.”

Next time we’ll look at chapter 6.

Chapter 6: Your Calling in the Family

  • The family is 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.
  • Thus the vocation of citizenship has its foundation in the family, and the father’s calling to provide for his children gives rise to his calling in the workplace.
  • Being a child is a vocation, according to the Reformers, and we will always be the child to our parents. And it may be that we children, in turn, will be called into marriage—another lifetime relationship—and that we will be called to be parents, with children of our own. All of these are holy, divine vocations from the Lord.
  • Marriage is a vocation from God. This was a major issue in the Reformation, which had to battle the notion that those who wished to be spiritual would have to take a vow of celibacy, promising never to marry or have children. Marshaling the biblical texts on marriage and the family, the Reformers insisted that there is no higher or holier calling than marriage, and that everything that accompanies marriage, including sexual relations, is a gift from God.
  • That is to say, Christ is hidden in marriage. Not that marriage is a sacrament as such, since even non-Christians get married. The Reformers insisted that a sacrament must have been established by Christ as a communication of the Gospel; so baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the only sacraments.
  • Marriage is not a sacrament but a vocation.
  • The wife’s vocation is to submit to her husband. The husband’s vocation is to give himself up for his wife.
  • The purpose of vocation, remember, is to love and serve the neighbor. In marriage, the wife’s neighbor is her husband, and the husband’s neighbor is his wife.
  • The point illustrates a principle about vocation that will be further discussed in a later chapter: Something may be good when done inside a vocation, but bad when it is done outside that vocation. Sex outside of marriage is wrong, but not because there is anything wrong with sex. Within the vocation of marriage, it is a great good. Outside the vocation of marriage, though, it is evil. You are not called to have sex with anyone other than your spouse. You have no authority to have this positive physical relationship with someone you are not married to.
  • There is good reason why there must be a vocation to have sex: By its nature and its purpose, sex leads to another vocation, that of parenthood.
  • Not only do parents—like God—bring the child into existence—they also—like God—sustain the life of the child. That is to say, parents are not so much being “like God” as God is operating in what they do. He is hidden in the vocation of the parents.
  • It is the parents’ job, or rather vocation, to “train up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6) and to teach him or her the Word of God (Deuteronomy 4:9; 6:7).
  • Not everyone is called to be a parent, of course, but everyone has a parent. Being a child is also a holy calling, with a particular work and particular obligations. Even when we are still adults, as long as our parents are living, we are children to them, and this continues as a major part of our family vocation.
  • What children do is part of their calling. Playing, for example, is what children do and, arguably, what they are supposed to do. Learning is part of the calling of childhood. Everything they do to grow up is part of their vocation, and it is the one vocation that everyone has had.
  • If childhood is a vocation, how is a child to love and serve his neighbor? Who is the child’s neighbor? The answer is, the parents.
  • Vocation is a matter of a person being called to a particular office. The authority, the prerogatives, and the divine presence belong to the office, not to the person who holds it.
  • There may come a time when their parents become similarly dependent on them. Though the role reversals are traumatic for both sides, repaying their parents and grandparents are all part of the family vocation.
  • The family is the foundational vocation. Other earthly authorities grow out of the authority exercised in the family.
  • Though authority within the family and the other vocations is very real, it is not the purpose of vocation.
  • The essence and purpose of Christian vocation—from the point of view of the person holding the vocation and being a vehicle for God’s action—is love and service.
  • In a well-functioning family, the parents are loving and serving their children. The children are loving and serving their parents. The wife loves and serves her husband. The husband loves and serves his wife. By the same token, employers and employees, rulers and subjects, pastors and congregation love and serve each other.
  • Acknowledging authority tends to come as a response to the love and service that have been received. Children will more readily obey parents whom they know love them; citizens will more readily obey rulers who have worked for the good of their people.

Chapter 7: Your Calling as a Citizen

  • Again, the doctrine of vocation is helpful in sorting out the thorny issues of church and state. Being a citizen of a particular nation is a divine calling.
  • Christians do have a vocation to be good citizens, in every way that implies. They are to see God’s authority as looming behind the secular authorities who govern their nation. This includes obeying their rulers. In a democratic republic, however, the ultimate rulers are not officeholders but the people who elect them and to whom they are accountable. American Christians thus have the unusual vocation of being subjects and rulers at the same time.
  • Voting, getting involved in politics, agitating for causes, and trying to make their communities the best they can—all of these are part of the calling to be good citizens. Serving in the armed forces, pledging allegiance to the flag, loving one’s country, and other exercises of citizenship are also part of the Christian’s vocation.
  • The Reformers spoke of three uses of the Law: to curb the evil of sinners so human beings can exist together in societies without tearing each other apart (the “civil use”); to make people realize their sinfulness and to awaken them to the necessity of repentance and to their need for the Gospel (the “theological use”); and to guide Christians in living according to God’s will (the “didactic use”). The civil use of the Law, then, applies to all cultures, Christian or not.
  • What makes a person a Christian is not holding to a particular set of moral beliefs; rather, it is faith in Jesus Christ, which, indeed, can be imposed on no one. Being Christian is not a matter of behaving rightly; rather, it is a matter of being forgiven for behaving wrongly. Morality, though, is for everyone in every religion and every culture. Christians are right to work for social justice, to fight corruption, to defend the unborn, to crusade against pornography and sexual immorality. These are not reli- gious issues as such, but moral issues. Christians in their vocations as citizens should uphold the civil use of the Law. Because they know this law more clearly, since they have not just a fallible conscience but the Word of God, they will tend to be moral activists. This is part of their vocation as Christian citizens. But they must not confuse their moral activism or political activism with their distinctly Christian spiritual calling to proclaim the Gospel to all nations.
  • God created human beings to live in relationship with others, to form societies and cultures. The Christian’s involvement with and responsibility to the culture in which God has placed him is part of his calling. Human societies also require governments, formal laws, and governing authorities. Filling these offices of earthly authority is indeed a worthy vocation for the Christian, and the rest of us Christian citizens have a distinct biblical calling to obey them.
  • In response, Luther asked whether God is allowed to take a human life or to punish sin. Indeed, He is. Luther maintained that it is God, working through the offices of the judge or soldier, who takes life and punishes sin. Christians can indeed occupy these offices, being called to them as divine vocations. So a soldier is loving his neighbor when he protects his country, and a judge is loving his neighbor when he puts a criminal in prison or delivers him over to the executioner (another valid vocation).
  • Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities “not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience” (Romans 13:5).
  • Romans 13 makes many Christians squirm. Are we always supposed to submit to our rulers? Does that mean we should not even criticize them? The issue is especially troubling when Christians live under bad or oppressive rulers.
  • It follows that a ruler who punishes those who do good is acting outside his vocation. One who bears the sword in vain, one who does not punish evil, out of either indifference or out of a false sense of kindness inappropriate for his office, is neglecting his calling. Those rulers who abuse their authority by using it for their own advantage—stealing from their people, enslaving them, forcing them to obey their whims for their own gratification—are sinning against their vocation.
  • When he refuses to serve God by fulfilling the purpose of his vocation, he will be held accountable for violating his stewardship.
  • Thus we have a paradox: Rulers are to be obeyed, yet they themselves must obey the higher Law of God.
  • American rulers must put themselves under the authority of the law.
  • So is it ever right to disobey the authorities? In almost every circumstance a Christian should, in Peter’s words, “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (1 Peter 2:13). There are rare times, though, in which a ruler acts outside his authority by violating either his nation’s law or the higher Law of God. In this case the rulers no longer have a basis for their authority. They act outside of their calling. Sometimes a government might pass a law that violates the Law of God. Such a law can hardly claim divine authority.
  • In the words of a Reformation confession of faith, “Christians owe obedience to their magistrates and laws except when commanded to sin. For then they owe greater obedience to God than to human beings” (Augsburg Confession, Article XVI). The confessors cited Acts 5:29. When the disciples were forbidden by law to preach the Gospel, they answered: “We must obey God rather than men.” Luther did believe that when it was necessary to disobey the authorities, Christians should be willing to accept the punishment.
  • Those who have been blessed by a calling to live in the United States or another free country have a more complicated vocation of citizenship than do those who live under a monarchy. In a democratic society citizens are still subjects, but at the same time they are rulers.
  • Those called to be American citizens, therefore, have a Romans 13 obligation to take an active part in their government. Christians should indeed obey the laws, pay their taxes, and honor—and pray for (1 Timothy 2:2)—their governing officials. Feelings of patriotism and acts of civic-mindedness are fitting responses to the blessings God has given this country and to the citizenship to which He has called them. But the calling to citizenship also includes active involvement in their nation and in their government: voting, debating issues, grass-roots politics, and civic activism.
  • Christians who mobilize for pro-life causes—even when this means criticizing officials and working to change laws—are acting in their divine vocation as citizens. Christians who, like the prophets, challenge the evils in their societies, including those perpetuated by their officials or their institutions, are acting in their divine vocations as citizens. So are Christians running for the local school board, demonstrating at the statehouse, going to precinct meetings, and voting for the candidates who best reflect their beliefs.
  • Christian political activism falls under the vocation of citizenship—not the vocation of faith; and it is important, as shall be seen, not to confuse the different callings. But Christians are called to be engaged not just in government but in their cultures as a whole, working, through their various vocations, to make their country, if only in a small way, a better place for their neighbors.

Next week we’ll look at chapter 8.

 Chapter 8: Your Calling in the Church

  • Being a Christian is itself a calling. That is to say, a person becomes a Christian by being called by God.
  • The promise that God will work things out for the good of His children has to do with vocation. God’s good “purpose” is being fulfilled in those He has called. The next verses give another remarkable promise related to vocation. “Those whom he predestined he also called; those whom he called he also justified”.
  • A Christian, then, is someone who has heard and believed the Gospel—that is to say, someone who has been called to faith by the Word of God.
  • Christians will feel an affinity for their fellow believers wherever they are, especially when they find them out in the secular world or in a common vocation.
  • In all of the ordinariness of a local church and an average Sunday morning worship service, Christ—as with other vocations, though this time in a spiritually saving way—is hidden.
  • The vocation of the pastor is a special office indeed. Not that it is more meritorious than any other vocation.
  • Christ carries out His shepherding, in large measure, through the vocation of the pastor.
  • Laypeople are especially positioned to reach people outside the church, by virtue of their secular vocations, which put them in contact with people who would never darken the door of a church.
  • This is all a prelude to the apostle’s breakdown of the different tasks and gifts—the different vocations—within Christ’s Church: Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? —VV. 27-30.
  • The “spiritual gifts” are perhaps best under- stood not in terms of some extraordinary powers zapped into a person by the Holy Spirit, but in terms of vocation. That is, they are avenues for service, ways to love and serve one’s neighbor—in this case, the other members of one’s church.

Next week we’ll look at chapter 9.

Chapter 9: The Ethics of Vocation

  • What surprises some Christians is that when all is said and done, the specific responsibilities of vocation are not any different, from the outside, for Christians or non-Christians. A Christian construction worker or a Christian physician does pretty much what a good non-Christian in those fields must do. The difference is on the inside, as faith—or the lack of faith—makes a difference in the meaning of those tasks and in the way they become acceptable to God. The doctrine of vocation brings the spiritual life, literally, down to earth.
  • One way to look at sin is as a violation of one’s calling. Since the purpose of vocation, as has been seen, is to love and serve one’s neighbor, failure to do so is a sin against one’s vocation.
  • Consider some of the controversial moral issues we face today:
    •  Is euthanasia right or wrong?
    •  What about abortion?
    • What about sexual morality?
    • Can there be homosexual marriage?
    • What about the new reproductive technologies
    • What about the use of surrogate mothers, in which a woman conceives a baby for another couple?
  • It is already apparent from these examples that vocation has the capacity to authorize certain actions, and that some things are right when done inside of vocation, but wrong when done outside of vocation. The very same action can be right or wrong, depending on the vocation of the person doing it.
  • When we act outside of our vocations—that is, when we try to do something we have no calling for—we are only creating trouble for ourselves. Sometimes this may involve a moral transgression, as in taking the law into our own hands instead of calling the police or having sex with someone we are not married to. More often, acting outside of vocation is morally innocent, but it results in ineffectiveness, frustration, and wasted time.
  • We indeed have a calling to serve in our local churches, but it must be emphasized that our so-called “secular” vocations are actually “holy offices” where we are to serve our neighbors and live out our faith. “If you do your household chores,” Luther told the servant girls, “that is better than the holiness and austere life of all the monks” (“Large Catechism,” 406).
  • Churches should not demand so much “church work” from their members that it takes away too much time from their primary vocations.
  • However much we sin in and against our vocations—and we sin a great deal—God is at work in them. It is God’s love that is active in vocation, and though we may try to thwart it in our sinfulness, and though we make ourselves obstacles to God’s will, He works in what we do despite ourselves.

Chapter 10: Bearing the Cross in Vocation

  • Though personal and unique for each person (“take up his cross”), the Way of the Cross means that our spiritual life does not consist solely of victories, miracles, and success stories.
  • So there is glory in the Christian life, but in the meantime we must bear our crosses. And when we do, we find that we are driven to depend on Jesus more and more.
  • It is not just sin that gives us trouble in vocation. We face trials. We face tribulations. Sometimes we experience utter failure.
  • A businessman builds a company, providing goods and services to the public, employing scores of workers. This is his calling, and he is good at what he does. But then the economy turns. He has to lay people off. He tries, but he cannot save his business. He goes bankrupt. He thinks, What about my calling now?
  • Sometimes trials are temptations. “Temptation in vocation,” says Gustaf Wingren, “is the devil’s attempt to get man out of his vocation”. That is to say, since God has called a person to a vocation, the Devil’s strategy is to try to make him quit.
  • In other words, the Devil tempts the holder of a vocation to the way of glory. Insisting on being served rather than serving, the calling becomes an occasion to wallow in pride. The mentality this creates is one of self-sufficiency. The person in this vocation feels no need for dependence on God. There is certainly no need for the Gospel, since the person in this successful position is doing just fine by himself. The Devil has twisted the vocation so that it undermines both love for neighbor and love for God.
  • In contrast, the Christian uses vocation as an occasion to serve, which in itself is humbling and self-denying.
  • Trials and tribulations, even failure, keep Christians aware of their weakness, aware of their utter dependence on God. And it gives them empathy for their neighbors in need and a desire to serve them out of love.
  • What should Christians do when they experience trials and tribulations and temptations in their vocations?
  • The answer, given by the Reformation theologians, is that suffering drives us to prayer.
  • When we pray, we recognize our dependence on Him, and we turn ourselves over to His will. When we pray in our vocations, we recognize their connection to God—to His will, His judgments, and His grace. We have said that God is hidden in vocation. In prayer, we get a glimpse of Him. The mask is lifted.
  • Our part is to carry out our vocations. The outcome belongs completely to the Lord. The burden is shifted over to Him.
  • Occupy your office with prayer. The results and consequences and outcomes are largely beyond your control. But they are not beyond God’s control. Realizing that one does not have to worry about what will happen, that the future is in God’s hands, is liberating.
  • God is working through what we do in vocation. We are merely His instruments. When we realize that, we can relax.
  • All of life, all of vocation, is transfigured by faith or is darkened by its absence: faith gives an inner meaning to what would otherwise be experienced as meaningless.

Next week we’ll conclude our study of this book.

Chapter 11: Conclusion: Resting in Vocation

  • Recovering the doctrine of vocation can help Christians influence their culture once again as they carry their faith into the world, into its every nook and cranny, through the plenitude of vocations.
  • The Christian life is to be lived in vocation, in the seemingly ordinary walks of life that take up nearly all of the hours of our day. The Christian life is to be lived out in our family, our work, our community, and our church.
  • The first explicit treatment of the doctrine of vocation in the Bible was on Mount Sinai. God called Bezalel to the vocation of being an artist. This was a personal calling—he was “called by name”—and then he was equipped with gifts from God so he could carry out God’s purposes for his vocation.
  • Another important biblical text for the doctrine of vocation is when St. Paul enjoins the Corinthians, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (1 Corinthians 7:17). Our calling is not a choice out of many options but rather an assignment.
  • When he says to live as you were called, he is saying, among other things, do not change your various callings just because you became a Christian.
  • The application of this text for today seems to be, first, that we should indeed accept our callings as having been assigned to us from the Lord. This means being secure in our state—not wanting to be something or someone we are not—recognizing it as a gift and an office from the hand of God. It also means that a new Christian should, for the most part, remain in his calling.
  • The Bible tells us to work; it also tells us to rest. We are to pause from our work to worship God on the Sabbath Day. In vocation, we are to rest in Christ even when we are hard at work.
  • Retirement from a lifelong vocation can be difficult, especially for those with Protestant work ethics. Properly, though, the laying down of a vocation after many years of work is a kind of Sabbath, a kind of reward for service rendered.
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