Commitment: Vocational ChallengesErwin W. Lutzer | January 17, 1993
Selected highlights from this sermon
You’ve complained about your job, haven’t you? Maybe you’d rather do something else. Well, God’s will may never include a raise, a promotion, or that dream job. Yet, your work—no matter what it is—has significance to God and His kingdom.
We are called by Paul to work for God. As we serve in our various jobs, we are commissioned to bring glory to God. Every day, we need to ask ourselves: are we making the good news about Jesus look attractive?
Today millions of people are unhappy with their vocations. There are all kinds of reasons. For some it is because of boredom. They have a job that does not fulfill them. Others are tired of the hassle because of the interpersonal relationships that are so strenuous. Still others just feel that they are in the wrong job. And if you feel that you have the wrong job, I want you to know that you’ve got lots of company.
In the seventies, there was a study done that indicated (and I don’t know how accurate it was, but it would say...) that about eighty percent of Americans probably have the wrong job. Aptitudes and desires lie in one direction. Responsibilities and the necessities of economics force you to work in another direction. What do you do?
Well, I want you to put yourself in a time machine and go back two-thousand years, and pretend that you were a slave in the Roman Empire. And if you would be a slave in the Roman Empire, you would join sixty thousand other slaves, and the Apostle Paul some revolutionary principles on how even slaves can be fulfilled in what they are doing.
Some people are very critical of the New Testament at this point. They say, “Why didn’t Paul just tell the slaves to march and demonstrate, and throw off the yoke of slavery?” Well, my friend, I want you to know that sixty-million slaves means that there were more slaves than there were free people. There would be no place to go. The whole economy was based on slavery. What would the slaves do if they tried to break out of their slavery?
Secondly, the Apostle Paul stressed social change through the nature of the Gospel and through changed hearts. Later on, Christianity became effective in taking care of slavery and literally abolishing it in the Roman Empire. But for now, what the Apostle Paul in effect says, as we shall see in a moment, is “Be a good slave for Jesus.”
Now, before we open our Bibles I want to share my heart with you and I want to be very clear. In America today we are not going to see a revival, we are not going to see America being won back to decency and righteousness unless there is a mighty change that takes place in the work force among Christians in the United States. Unless believers begin to understand that their responsibility in the work force is just as important as my responsibility is as a pastor, or the responsibility of missionaries...unless people begin to understand that they are going to be judged just as carefully by Christ as I am going to be, and that you could receive as many rewards as any missionary or any pastor or any evangelist by being faithful in the workforce today, unless believers see that, they are not going to seize the opportunities that God puts on their doorstep. But it is right there in corporate America, right there in the workforce in your vocation, whatever it may be, that you have the clearest opportunity to demonstrate the difference between a Christian and the people of the world. Yes, it is tough, but it is right there that the grace and the lovingkindness and the mercy of God can be most clearly seen if you understand your vocation as a direct calling from Almighty God.
One day Jesus went into the synagogue and He began to read passages of Scripture, and He began to teach. And He was criticized. And the reason that He was criticized is not because of what He said but the people said, “Could this be the carpenter? A man with callouses on his hands from having sawed wood all day, and hammering nails can’t stand up and do ministry.” They stumbled because of who He was in His vocation. And ever since that time, the Christian church has always stumbled, not understanding the awesome calling that every single believer has. You, my friend, are important to God, and your work is incredibly important.
Now, if Paul...before we open our Bibles, let’s make a deal. If the Apostle Paul gives some revolutionary principles that even a slave can implement and find fulfillment in his slavery, don’t you think that those principles will work for today in our workforce where people are continually hammering about the business of rights and where there are labor relation boards and all kinds of opportunities to redress wrongs? Of course they will work. And because we have looked into the Scriptures, your job can be different from now on.
Let’s take our Bibles and turn to Ephesians, chapter 6, where the Apostle Paul talks about how to be a good slave for Jesus. Notice that he picks up the text here, the passage that we want, in verse 5. Chapter 6, verse 5: “Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters, according to the flesh, with fear and trembling in the sincerity of your heart as to Christ, not by way of eye service as men pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.”
Principle number one! Are you ready? Serve Christ—not men. Serve Christ! Notice what he says, “Do your work as to Christ.” Now, he emphasizes, first of all, that there should be singlemindedness. Notice that the text says that. “Not by way of eye service as men pleasers but as slaves of Christ.” He says, “You think that you’re a slave of that task master. Actually look at him as if he were Jesus.”
What does it mean when he says, “Not by way of eye service?” Eye service is when you have people who work only when the boss is there. You know there are some companies where they ought to have work breaks rather than coffee breaks. Eye service means that you get busy because you hear that the boss is coming and because you have a schedule to meet, but as soon as he is gone, you begin to waste the time. And you no longer are faithful because he is not there. You have somebody, either yourself or someone else keeping your eye on the boss. Notice that the text says in verse 5 that we should be serving with fear: “Those who are your masters according to the flesh with fear and trembling in sincerity to your heart as to Christ.”
Now, whom shall you fear? There were many people who feared their taskmasters, their slave owners, their masters, but I think that the Apostle Paul is saying more than that. What he is saying is that we should not only fear doing a good job, or not doing a good job as the case may be, because of those who have authority over us in the flesh, but we must also do it with reverence and fear, knowing that we are doing this for Jesus, and we shall give an account to Him for the way in which we conducted ourselves. We are going to see our lives in review day by day and faithfulness will be evaluated, and on that basis it will be determined where we fit into the eternal kingdom. Do you know what means? That means that if in your job you are serving Jesus Christ, you do not cheat the company even though they may be unfair to you. You don’t say, “Well, they are paying me such a low wage that I’m going to take it out of time, or I’m going to take some of the things home. I’m going to steal some things in my lunch bucket because, after all, they deserve this.” No, my friend. Would you steal from Jesus? Would you cheat Him? Then don’t cheat your employer because the text says your employer is Jesus. You say, “Well, that’s strong.” Yeah, I know, but I’m not making it up.
That also means that you don’t participate in the slander that take place in the office, all of the gossip, all of the talking behind people’s back because you can’t talk behind Christ’s back. He’s hearing it all and you’re serving Him. At the end of the week you pick up your paycheck, and your paycheck is taken from the hand of Jesus, and you say, “This belongs to Christ, and I have served Him.”
You know, the Apostle Paul taught this because he understood that there were many slaves who would not have an opportunity to find jobs that were in keeping with their disposition, their gifts and their aptitudes. So what the Apostle Paul says is, “Recognize that where you are placed is the very spot where God would have you.” Do you know what he said in the book of Titus? He again exhorts slaves and he says, “Be a good slave, well-pleasing, easy to get along with. Do not pilfer,” and then he says, “adorning the doctrine of the Gospel by your lifestyle.”
I’m going to say some things today that are so contrary to society that you’re going to have to forgive me in advance. Alright? But I want you to know today that in a day where people have gone berserk regarding their rights...I don’t know if you heard that story about a week ago where a woman without teeth because of a gum disease, was suing to get her job back because she was fired in a hotel because they did not want someone to meet guests who did not have teeth. And so the legal discussion had to do with whether or not being without teeth meant that the dress code was not being met, you understand.
I don’t know how to relate to stories like that. I don’t know. It just goes by me, but we’re living in a day when people are absolutely berserk about their rights. I want you to know that there is something even more important than your rights, and that is that the people around you see Jesus. Paul says slaves should adorn the doctrine, and they should make Christ attractive to the people around them. Yes, there is a place to fight for your rights, even though the slaves couldn’t, but remember that seeing Christ, and that they see Him through you, is the most important thing that you can contribute to your vocation. So, first of all, serve Christ, not men. Serve Christ. You’re working with someone who is hard to get along with. Show them the love of Jesus for Jesus’ sake.
Secondly, very important, work for fulfillment, not advancement. You see, if you are going to work for advancement, if your great desire is to climb the ladder and end up being somebody, you might be disappointed because all of the plans that you have might fall to the ground. You might be unjustly treated and you might not be getting what you deserve. So what do you do then? You see, if you set your heart on something you’ll always risk the possibility of bitter disappointment.
You see, you and I have within ourselves a great desire to feel in the presence of others as if we have accomplished something. Within my heart and yours is a secret desire that someday people who are important to us will rise up and say, “He has it made.” We all want to be something. A friend of mine said that he went into debt to buy a Chevy car. Probably not wise, but nevertheless he did. And he wanted to be something. He couldn’t afford it but he wanted all of his neighbors to look and say, “Look at that new Chevy car.” So he went into debt to buy it.
He said he drove it up on the driveway. His neighbor was mowing the lawn. The neighbor glanced up and glanced back and continued to mow his lawn. He wouldn’t even come over and look at it.
What a disappointment, but all of us are like that. We want people to say, “He has made it. Look at how successful he or she is,” and there is something within us that says, “I need to do it.” Listen to me carefully. It may not be God’s will for you to fulfill some of the dreams that you have vocationally for yourself.
Do you realize that some of these slaves that were working in the Empire at that time, the Roman Empire, many of them may have had gifts in drama? There could have been some Shakespeares among them. Many of them could have had careers in law and great opportunities, but because of their situation, they never had a chance to be all that they could have possibly been if they had lived in our generation. They had to be content with a lifestyle into which they were born. Paul says, “Fulfill the will of God from the heart.”
Now there’s nothing wrong with seeking your dream. My wife for many years had a great dream to be a nurse. That’s what she wanted to be, and when our children were young, she couldn’t do that. But several years ago, she went back to nurses training for the first time, and she has become a nurse. And now she has her dream. She works in the O.R., the operating room, and she comes home and tells me all the things that are done. And I say, “Honey, I love you very much, but keep the conversation short.” I just can’t relate, and the very sight of blood makes me weak. She loves it! (laughter)
Now, you see, there are times when God allows us to be able to do what we really want to do. But if you’re not there yet, look at this period of your life as that training ground when God is saying, “I can fulfill you where you are.”
Now, I’m going to give you a New Testament principle that will revolutionize the way in which you see your job. The New Testament would teach that it is not what you do that should be the source of your fulfillment, but who you do it for. What a revolutionary principle!
Of course, this isn’t exactly what you want to do. Yes, this is beneath your dignity. Assuredly your aspirations lie in another direction, but there are no opportunities, and you are confined to something that you don’t like. Would you do it for Jesus? Do it for Jesus, and that is doing the will of God from the heart, and for that you will be generously rewarded.
Do you remember that story? It’s a myth actually, but it is a myth that has a point. When Jesus was on Earth, the story goes, He asked some of the disciples to pick up stones, and so they all picked up stones, and then after carrying them around for several days, Christ took those stones and turned them into bread. And some people had bigger stones. That means that they had more bread than others, and they shared. And then Jesus said, “I want you to pick up stones again.” So they picked up stones, and this time they all picked up bigger stones and carried them day after day after day. And finally they came to a river and Jesus said, “Take your stones and throw them into the river.” They looked at one another and couldn’t believe it, but they took their stones and threw them in the river to the obedience of Christ, and then wondered what was the purpose of it all. And Jesus, it is said, turned to them and said, “Why do you wonder? For whom do you carry the stones?” For whom do you carry them?
If Jesus wants you to carry stones and later on have them thrown into the river with no visible evidence of any purpose to it, who cares? For whom do you carry them?
Some of you work in factories. Bless your heart, you need the grace of God. But I want to tell you something. Let that turn of the wheel be done for Jesus. And if you are shoveling dirt, let every shovel of dirt be done in the name of Jesus, and for His glory. And if you are a corporate president and you run the board meeting, run the board meeting for Jesus. And if you sell insurance, sell those policies in the name of Christ and for Him. That’s what the Bible says.
You do the will of God from the heart. You work for Christ—not men. You seek the fulfillment that comes from doing something for Christ rather than the advancement that all of us so naturally seek.
And there’s a third principle, and that is you work for eternity, not for time. Notice it says in verse 7, “With good will render service as to the Lord and not to men (He emphasizes it again. Students, don’t write that term paper for your prof. Write it for Christ.) And then verse 8, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord whether slave or free.” And then Paul goes on to exhort the masters to take good care of their slaves. Whatever you do, whether bond or free, you will receive back from the Lord. That’s the important thing. You are not looking at this from the standpoint of time, but from the standpoint of eternity.
Now I want you to use your imaginations. Pretend that you are in a long house. The east end of the house is on fire and the flames are coming in your direction, and soon will be at the west side of the house. But you are there and the fire is raging, but you continue to paper the walls and you’re hanging pictures and you are putting in furniture, and you are asking the man to come in and lay rugs. And so he says, “The house is burning at the other end.” And you say, “Well it doesn’t matter. We’ve got things to do so let’s just go ahead and do them.” That is exactly the way life is. That’s why we should not attach so much to the things of this world, becoming absorbed, and are having our whole identity connected with our vocations, as if to say what we are doing is going to last forever. It won’t. It’s going to be gone, the Bible says, but it is going to burn with fervent heat, and it will be gone forever. The house is burning.
But here’s the good news. If we serve Christ, if we are hanging those pictures for Him, and installing the rugs for His glory, even when the house burns, what we have done for Christ will last forever, and we will receive His approval throughout all of eternity.
Do you remember when Elizabeth Elliott was here a few years ago and she said that she spent two long years doing language study for an obscure language in South America, hoping that someday the Bible would be translated into that language. And you know that that is a process that takes so much time. She had to prepare a dictionary. She had to prepare documents to break down that language so that it could be understood and translated. All of her work was in one suitcase, and in those days there were no Xerox machines. You didn’t back it up on a computer. And the suitcase was stolen, and it was gone. And they prayed that they might be able to find the suitcase and they never did.
People said to her, “Weren’t you angry at God that He would let you go through two long years’ worth of work and then have it come to nothing?” And she said, “It never even entered my mind to be angry with Him because,” she said, “what I did for God is not lost. The suitcase is lost, but the work isn’t because” she said, “every morning as I would do my translation and do the language analysis, this was my offering of service to God.” And that offering of sacrifice, the willing hands and the willing mind to be able to understand that language as best as she possibly could, all of that isn’t lost. It was the offering that she made to Him during those two years.
You, tomorrow morning, are making an offering to Jesus. You’re not working for men. You are working for Christ. You’re not working for advancement. You are working for fulfillment. And you’re not working for time. You are working for eternity. That is your offering. That is your gift. And, you see, that will never be lost even if you should be treated unjustly. That goes on forever. It’s a reward. Do you see how a theory of work like this gives a divine significance to everything?
My daughter was in the nursery this morning, and I thought about this on the way down here. Helping in the nursery changing diapers with a theory like this is a divine work. It’s a divine work. You need to remind yourself of that once in a while. And that means doing dishes is a divine work done for Christ, and there is no such thing as a task that is too lowly as Jesus who washed the disciples’ feet illustrates. It is done for Jesus.
I feel sorry for you if you are working for yourself. Peter worked for himself, and when he fished for himself he was out all night and caught nothing. And whenever he fished in obedience to Jesus, his nets were full.
Do you realize why you may be so frustrated at work? Nothing seems to be working out. All the relationships seem to be strained and harsh. Have you ever thought that the reason might be that you are actually working for yourself and you are not working for Christ? Have you ever committed your vocation to Him so fully that you recognize that the responsibility and the burden “no longer rest with me?” It is His! It’ll change the way the way you view your work tomorrow.
What a travesty that many people would think that their Christianity is confined to one day a week, not understanding that in the Bible, of the forty great men and women in the Bible who we admire, 75% never had a religious job. Whether it’s Abraham or Daniel or Joseph, none of them had religious jobs. They simply represented God where they were in their (quote) secular vocations. You are God’s representative wherever you are.
Jesus gave an illustration when He was here on Earth about a man who did not bring God into his vocation. He did not understand these principles, or try to apply them. Jesus said that he was a rich man, and he said to himself, “You know, my crops are doing so well. I’m going to tear down these barns, and I’m going to build greater ones because I’ve got more grain than I can possibly handle, and then I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, thou has much goods laid up or many years, take life easy, eat, drink and be merry.’” And then Jesus said, “That night the man died, and it was all gone.”
What was this man’s problem? First of all, he confused his soul with his body. When he said, “Soul, thou has much goods stored up for many years,” he should have said, “My body does.” His soul was shriveled. His soul was dead because God was not in it.
Next, he confused himself with God. Five times he uses the word “I.” “I will say to my soul, thou has much goods. I will build barns.” Nobody can say that because you don’t know when your life will be cut off.
And finally he confused time for eternity. That night he died and it was all over. I can’t help but think but that I’m speaking to a man who is here today who is so absorbed in his job. It’s his life. And someday it’s all going to be gone, and his soul will be required, and he discovers that though he provided so much for his body and so much for his identity to be somebody, in eternity it’s all gone, and he will be there without Christ. What an awful thing!
Begin by receiving the free gift of eternal salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord. And once you belong to Him, you give your vocation to Him, and you say, “If these principles worked for slaves in the first century, surely they can work for employees in the twentieth.”
Our Father, we are reminded of the little poem that says:
Only one life, twill soon be passed.
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Today we want to give You thanks for every person who is here and his or her vocation. And we have such a rich congregation in terms of variety, in terms of ability. We just marvel at the people that you bring to The Moody Church. We pray that each one today might be uplifted and know that You have called them in a mighty way to represent You. Make us faithful in doing that.
And then, for those who have never believed on Christ, have never accepted Him as Savior, today even may they say, “Lord Jesus, be mine. Be mine that I might serve You and not myself.”
Before I close this prayer if you need to talk to God, if you need to take your hands off your life, off your vocation and give it to God, would you do that at this moment?
Thank You, Father, for hearing us, in Jesus’ name, Amen.