Red Letters Only?

When I began to study what the New Testament said about work, I realized that Jesus Himself said very little about the topic.  And it got me thinking about the progressive revelation of the gospel message throughout the entirety of the New Testament.

What I mean by progressive revelation is this.  Starting with Jesus’ announcement of “Repent, the kingdom of heaven is here,” through His earthly ministry, through His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, through the missionary journeys of Paul, through the formation of the Church and local churches, through the letters of the New Testament, to the Revelation of Jesus to John the elder apostle, we have the completion of God’s written revelation for the church age.  This is the full presentation of the gospel message.

I think this understanding is important as we evaluate movements toward “Jesus only” that suggest we only need the teachings of Jesus to have a full understanding of the gospel.  But if you think about it, Jesus said very little about many issues of the Christian life.  For example, Jesus said very little about the Christian home.  Yes, He clearly endorsed marriage as being between one man and one woman.  He elevated the value of women and children in a society where they were often marginalized.  But beyond that, He did not spell out principles for husband-wife or parent-child relations.  On other issues, he didn’t address the value of “secular” work or list the qualifications for church leadership or how potential lawsuits should be handled between believers.

Now if we think about the timeline for the formation of the church, this all makes sense.  Jesus came to announce the arrival of His kingdom and His call was literally to drop everything – fishing nets, family ties, religious customs – and follow Him.  In Jesus’ day, there were no Christian homes, no Christian architects, no church elders, etc.  They did not exist because the church was in the process of being founded by itinerant disciples, with Jesus in the lead.

Let’s fast forward to the missionary life of Paul and the spread of the church beyond Jerusalem.  As folks in the Gentile world came to Christ and churches were formed, you now had Christian husbands and wives.  You now had Christian craftsmen, artisans, and homemakers.  You now had a need for church government and church elders.  So the New Testament letters address the biblical principles that inform these roles.  The pattern for Christian behavior in these relationships are not secondary issues to Christ’s call to radical discipleship, they are instructions for what radical discipleship looks like in these settings.  And this was the setting most new believers found themselves in.  And I might add, the setting most believers find themselves in today.

Red letters only?  I don’t think so.  We need all of the New Testament to capture the full presentation of the gospel message for the church.

Representing Jesus to the World

Principle four is that we work to represent Jesus Christ to the world.  This is the last of our four principles that summarize why we go to work, and what we are trying to accomplish in our work.

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.  You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:13-16).

When our co-workers see our honesty, our cheerful attitude, our industry, and our integrity, it should be displayed in a way that brings glory to God.  We all have been tempted to join the griping and gossip at work with attitudes that are not becoming to the Lord.  We need to fight this temptation with attitudes that are positive and uplifting.

May I encourage you to see your job as full time ministry?  We often only think of religious professionals or missionaries as full time ministers.  We in the secular workplace are to be full time ministers as well.  The difference in our ministry is how we receive our funding.  One of the beautiful benefits of seeing work this way is that we are free from the desire to manipulate to get our way in the workplace.  Manipulation for advancement and the salary that comes with it is the world’s way to get ahead, not God’s way.

Why do we go to work?  To provide , to redirect, to excel, and to represent Christ.  And all for the glory of God.

Work Harder, Earn More???

A corollary to the principle that the significance of our work is in our attitude and our excellence, not in our position, is the myth that there is always a cause and effect relationship between how hard you work and how much you earn.  Now on the surface this makes sense.  If you are paid for piece work at a furniture factory, your pay may be directly related to how many sofa legs you install in one day.  But in general, this cause and effect relationship does not exist.  Think with me about the big picture.

There is so much that affects our pay that we have no control over.  For example, who is working harder on a typical day, the Indonesian rice farmer whose income is barely enough to feed his family or Bill Gates?  Do you see the point?  These two people have incomes that are drastically different because of reasons that have nothing to do with how hard they are working.  Quite frankly, just being born in America gives us a leg up on the income scale that has nothing to do with our skill, talent, or effort.

I remember one year in particular when I had an outstanding performance review at the major oil company where I worked.  Unfortunately, it was a down year for oil prices and the merit raises varied from zero at the low end to two per cent for top performers; not even keeping up with inflation.  In other years, if oil prices were up, even poor performers received a five per cent raise.  In each case, while the intent of the system was to pay for performance, the actual numbers, on an absolute scale, did not mirror that.

My advice is, “Don’t put all your eggs in the ‘work harder, make more” basket.”  The outcome is not worth it.  The results are unpredictable and can be a source of discouragement if we are fully convinced that working harder is the answer to all financial challenges.  It is a common trap to fall into.  The implications are far reaching.  This is what it looks like.

A husband thinks that if I work harder (i.e. longer hours), the sacrifice will be worth it for the better provision of my family.  But we do this actually to the detriment of our family as we spend more hours away from home.  We convince ourselves that this overwork is only a temporary situation and things will improve shortly.  I can’t begin to count the number of “temporary” situations that have threatened to become permanent in our family and I suggest in yours too, if we are not careful.

The trap is equally appealing to wives.  How many of you have thought to yourselves, “If only my husband would work harder, we could have more things, a better house, or at least a less-stressed budget.”  You encourage him to take on more work responsibility while you assure him you can cover the bases at home for this “temporary” time.  Don’t forget, temporary situations have a habit of becoming permanent.

When we recognize our work as part of God’s calling in our lives, we see how our work fits into the larger picture of our life and ministry.  And we avoid the driven mentality that there is always more to accomplish, always more to acquire.  Instead, we have found the balance of doing our work with excellence while avoiding the trap of finding our significance and financial reward through our position at work.