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.