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Summary Principles of Work, Vocation, Career, Leisure, and Retirement

“Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:28

“To the woman He said:
      “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;
      In pain you shall bring forth children;
      Your desire shall be for your husband,
      And he shall rule over you.”

Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’:
      ‘Cursed is the ground for your sake;
      In toil you shall eat of it
      All the days of your life.

 Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
      And you shall eat the herb of the field.

 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
      Till you return to the ground,
      For out of it you were taken;
      For dust you are,
      And to dust you shall return.’” Genesis 3:16-19

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” Exodus 20:8-11

1. Man was created to work. In The Creation Mandate, man was given these tasks: (1) "the procreation of offspring, (2) the replenishing of the earth, (3) subduing the same, (4) dominion of the creatures, (5) labor, (6) the weekly Sabbath, and (7) marriage"  (John Murray, Principles of Conduct, page 27). Man is not commanded to work because of the Fall of Adam and Eve, but “in the beginning.” “Male and female, He created them,” meaning that the tasks of men and women are different. But, their work was made much more difficult after the Fall because of God’s curse. (See below.)

2. Man was created to have dominion. Some have used the term, “vice-gerent” or vice-regent,” meaning that man rules at God’s appointment in His stead. Because of unbelief, pagans cannot grasp this role. However, Christians can understand and by their regenerated state have been empowered by the Holy Spirit for this role. Unfortunately, modern Christians have mostly lost this concept of dominion. They are not to be “in the world” as mere participants of the spheres in which they live. They are to rule… to be leaders in the world, as well as, in the Church. Or, more comprehensively, they are to rule for the Kingdom of God. Indeed, an understanding of The Kingdom of God is necessary to grasp their role. Thomas Babington Macaulay gave a great description of this role in his vivid portrayal of the Puritans. Our articles on The Kingdom of God may be found here.

The church in American has many faults. One that is relevant here is the model of the Christian as one who makes every effort not to offend, in order to model Christ and “win” others to Him (“being winsome“). This model is not an accurate portrayal of Jesus Christ nor what the vigorous lives of Christians should be. Today, if He visited us in our churches, His manner and conversations would be so direct and without the false civility of modern times, that He would be banished, as He was banished His home town of Nazareth. Certainly, the Christian should never intentionally offend for the sake of offense itself, but a disciple of the King who is commanded to judge men, and who will judge angels (I Corinthians 6:1-11) should carry a certain authority among men both in his area of calling, social discourse, and in government of self, family, and state. The model of Macaulay and the Puritans above, is a better model for Christians than that the “winsome” Christian of today. Of course, modeling that kind of authority assumes considerable training and knowledge, and those commitments are perhaps the primary reason for such omission. A correct understanding of the “meek” in the Sermon on the Mount is consistent with this role.

3. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work.” Somehow, the modern Christian has adopted the world’s approach to the seven-day week. We work for five days (or less) and think that we have two days of recreation that we have “earned.” (We will deal with the Sabbath below.) There are several errors in this attitude.

(A) The Fourth Commandment states that we are to work for “six days.” Now, that “work” does not necessarily mean working in our employment. In the work of the Kingdom of God, one person is usually called to several tasks or “works.” (We have come to call these, “good works,” for this reason.) Duties in the local or universal church is one area and central to the work of the Church and the Kingdom. Ministries of mercy and outreach are others. Many modern Christians and churches are lacking in their attention to these areas, believing and letting the state provide “welfare” to those in need.

Thus, there is a two-fold “work” here: (1) to work politically to remove all welfare from the function of local, state, and national governments and (2) to have Christians and churches move back into this area, using Biblical guidelines in their application. Welfare, blindly applied, is not what God intends, even from His people. For example, the Apostle Paul said, “If a man will not work, neither shall he eat” (II Thessalonians 3:10). See the other worldview areas of Economics, Government, and Justice.

Of Leisure, Good Works, and Rest

(B) The concept of recreation and leisure needs to be re-considered. The Fourth Commandment says to “work” for six days and to “rest” on the seventh. Where is the concept of leisure here or elsewhere in Scripture? Where is the concept of recreation? Jesus Christ was a carpenter before His earthly “career“ began. The Apostle Paul was a tent-maker in his “spare time.” In fact, Paul’s “tent-making” has become a modern word that we use for someone who uses some skill to make money sufficient to support their evangelism or work in the church.

I fear that “leisure” has been substituted for “rest.” We find this contrast illustrated in this passage.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Jesus invites those who “labor,” yet He invites them to “work” for Him, and then they will find “rest.” Is this expression a paradox? Not at all. The problem exists within those who “labor” and are “heavy-laden,” not their work per se. And, this labor is not only their “work” (their job to make money), but everything that they do (“work at”) on a daily basis. (It also includes their burden of sin, but our focus here is work and rest.)

God has prescribed that we rest one day in seven. Yet, Jesus is instructing us here to “rest” on an ongoing, everyday basis, even as we work in all the areas of good works. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for God is at work in you to will and to do His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).

The New Testament speaks of God’s people doing “good works.” The Westminster Confession of Faith has a whole chapter on “Good Works.” That the word, “work” or “works,” is used in these areas is not accidental. Good works are all the tasks to which God calls us, not just where we work to earn money. And, this fullness of “work” is the problem of American Christians. We have divorced the area where we make money from the (falsely) more important concept of “good works.”

Everything that we do in life should be a good work for Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. Only when we see this fullness of our calling, can we turn our attention to remunerated work and leisure.

At a minimum, we are to perform all these good works for six days and rest the seventh. On a higher level, we are to work and rest every day. As a trained nouthetic counselor and church member for 40 years, I have observed hundreds of families in evangelical, strongly Bible-taught churches. With few exceptions, Christians’ lives are chaotic! They are always in a rush. The noticeable fact that most arrive within minutes of the time that Sunday worship services start is symptomatic of every day life, for on Sundays their priority ought to be worship.

Another symptom is the amount of television that Christians watch, especially relative to the amount of time that they spend in serious devotion and study of God and His Word. And, to demonstrate how broadly damaging this “out-of-control” lifestyle reaches, consider the problems that hurriedness creates in parents’ relationships with children, always hurrying them to brush their teeth, get to piano or soccer practice, get to the breakfast table, etc., etc.

Until this fragmentary, out-of-order priorities is addressed, there is really not much need to discuss career and leisure because the misunderstanding of these two concepts flows out of this larger misunderstanding. Have you, reader, ever heard a serious, detailed sermon or had a Sunday School class on time management, controlled by the priorities of God’s Word? In this chaos of everyday life, a “quiet or devotional time” has become the “quickie” to salve the conscience of the guilt-ridden Christian who knows that they “ought” to study God’s Word. But, curiously this “quickie” only further alienates their lives from the reality of Matthew 11:28-30, quoted above. See Time Management.

The Apostle Paul tells us “to work out our salvation (that is, our sanctification) with fear and trembling.” But, he not only “preaches” this, he practiced it (I Corinthians 9:24-27). He speaks of running the race, which for an athlete requires hours, days, and years of practice to be able to compete. He “disciplines” his body and brings it into “subjection” in the pursuit of his calling before God. All this discipline is directed towards an “imperishable” crown, not that which is “perishable,” gained by earthly competition. How many Christians make much more effort than a five-minute “devotional” hurriedly and with other things on their mind?

So, in light of all this discourse into work and rest, where does leisure fit? I believe that those decisions are for the individual to plan under the directives of all the good works to which God has called us. Leisure is not freedom from good works. By contrast, leisure should enhance our ability to perform good works. Leisure is not mindlessly watching the television for hours every day. Perhaps, it may be occasionally watched to relax. But, then, I would suggest other ways to relax.

Let me give an example from my own life. As you might expect of a writer-thinker, my mind races from the time that I get up until I go to bed at night. When I have my devotional time, I am also thinking, learning, and exploring ideas. But, I must turn that off when I go to bed, or I will continue those racing thoughts and not sleep. So, I read a novel for 30-45 minutes as the last thing that I do before getting ready for bed. My mind is engaged by the story and the characters, mythical ones that require little, if any reflection, and my mind begins to slow from its engagement of ideas. I usually get to sleep easily and sleep well.

I am not opposed to leisure. I am not opposed to television (although most lives would be much the better if it were removed from the home or at least placed in a small, out-of-the-way corner, rather than the central place [altar?] of the home). I am not opposed to technology per se. (See Technology Is A-Moral.) My only admonition relative to leisure is that it conform to the concepts of work and rest in the above passages and the concept of vocation below.

Vacation. What about the modern notion of vacation? For too many people, vacation is not a time of rest and relaxation. It is an arduous, expensive expedition that is more strenuous than every day work. This “free” time can be a time for families to play together or for people to study or work in areas that they do not usually have time to devote to these pursuits. Vacations should be planned under the directives that we have discussed, not as an opportunity to just “get away” from the drudgery of everyday life. Drudgery under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and His calling to good works should not be. We are to “enjoy Him forever,” and that starts now!

Vocation: The Calling and Gifting of God

4. Vocation comes from the Latin, vocatio, meaning “calling.” It should be clear from what has been said above that God’s calling includes His calling us to all “good works,” not just the manner in which we make money to provide for our needs and wants. Each person’s calling includes his responsibilities in the family, church, and social responsibility.

However, in our day, vocation is virtually synonymous with career and/or employment, that is, calling to that means by which we produce income. In fact, in high school and college groups, the question, “What is God’s will for your life?,” is denotative of “What would God have your career to be?” Again, “God’s will” is narrowly distorted and detracts from “His will” to good works. This focus on this one aspect of “God’s will” or “career” is important, but aberrant in all that God calls us to do.

For example, God’s calling of many women is to their being wives and mothers, as well as activities in their church and community for which they have no monetary income. However, these roles perform the highest value of work. There is great truth in the expression, “The hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world.” Also, the role of a layman who is a ruling elder is just as important at that of a pastor or teaching elder. Or, a person may, as Paul did, have an occupation that provides his monetary needs while his primary activity is evangelism or works of mercy.

Many young people are distressed, even obsessed, over “God’s will” for their lives (again, meaning their career). I do not want to diminish the importance of that decision, but I believe that it is been made a mountain, when it should be more of a molehill. I am going to use the word vocation, now, to designate “career” and “God’s will” (as narrowly defined here).

Dorothy Sayers stated, "Work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is, or should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental, and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God." (Dorothy Sayers, "Why Work," quoted in various of her compiled works.)

(A) To re-iterate, vocation is only one part of a much larger whole of good works. By placing vocation into that larger picture, the task diminishes in size. More importantly, the larger picture of God’s directives for the whole of His calling come into focus. A great help to understand this larger picture is a study of The Kingdom of God.

(B) The division of “sacred” and “secular” must be bridged. There seems to be far more talk of this bridge, than actually exists. When have you ever been to a missions conference and seen a booth or table on vocations other than being a missionary? When a person says that they want to “serve God full-time,” when are they directed to be an architect, a scientist, carpenter, or tent-maker (in the modern sense of building houses)? In God’s economy, no one task is more important than another. For example, how would the missionary get to the mission field without a ship or airplane? Where would the pastor in American live, if someone did not build his house? Then, there are food, utilities, and public works (including sewage, to get “down and dirty”).

(C) The difference between talents and spiritual gifts should be discerned. There is a distinction between The Church and The Kingdom of God. Spiritual gifts are for the building up of the Body of Christ, The Church (Ephesians 4:7-16, I Corinthians, etc.). Talents are for benefit of all mankind. I admit that everyone might not agree with these designations, for all skills ultimately come from the Spirit of God. However, the Bible is clear that special gifts are given for the building up of The Church. So, somehow they must be distinguished from those that serve mankind in general and not The Church per se. I choose “talents” and “spiritual gifts.” Others may choose some other designations.

(D) The number of variables in choosing a career is perhaps more narrow than might appear at first glance. As was once presented to me, choosing a career involves talents, spiritual gifts, and opportunities. By the time that one reaches his late teens, he is already aware of his abilities, likes, and dislikes. Choosing a career is simply matching these areas with occupations.

Truly, the man or woman who has an income-producing occupation, that he or she enjoys, is specially blessed of God. I believe that this situation should occur more than it does with wise counsel and guidance of young people. Parents should be careful not to discourage their children’s desires. Parents, even Christian parents, often try to influence children away from what a career that they want for reasons of social “status,” low salary, or other reasons. While this influence is a parental responsibility they should be careful that they are basing their directions on Biblical values, not their own personal desires.

A Jewish and early Christian tradition, or even law, was to train all one’s children in some skill or trade. Thus, in the future these children would be able to produce income for their family should their primary “career” never be achieved or should it fail. The Bible is clear that a man is responsible for the “provisions” of his family and is condemned as “worse than an infidel” (I Timothy 5:8), if he does not.

(E) People change over the course of their lives, and this change may cause a career change. Early in my life, my interests and skills were heavily skewed towards mathematics and the sciences. Because of that tendency, I became a physician. But, in a medical college where one’s tenure depended upon the dictum to “publish or perish” (to publish articles in professional literature or leave academia), I was virtually forced to write. Eventually, writing became my passion, including the study that is necessarily precedes it. A unique book traces how these changes occur over one’s lifetime. (See Vaillant below.) Are such changes not to be expected with the dramatic change of regeneration, when it occurs in early adulthood or later? Similarly, progressive sanctification is likely to change one’s interests and abilities, as gifts or talents.

(F) The consideration of specific vocations is beyond our scope here. However, some references have been provided below.

(G) Christians need to evaluate their affluence for the advancement of The Kingdom of God. While attention to this area falls more under the area of economics, it does have a considerable bearing on vocation and leisure. The large majority of Christians in the United States are monetarily rich by almost any measure. The question is, then, “Are we using that wealth, under God’s directives (commandments) to advance His Kingdom. I believe that Americans will have much to answer for in the Final Judgment for their use of their prosperity. The Lord Jesus Christ has given quite specific instructions about what He will be looking for in that day: clothing, food, water, housing, and care of the sick and imprisoned.

Some Christians have defended government-sponsored welfare programs as Biblical charity, but surely this position is as serious, ethically, as heresy is about the centrality of Christ in salvation! Biblical charity is always voluntary, but government welfare requires taking money by force (at the point of a gun, literally) and re-distributing it under pagan values at a greatly diminished value, after being filtered through the costs of a huge bureaucracy! (Again, see references on this website cited above.)

Through both vocation and leisure, Christians must begin to provide Biblical charity locally and worldwide. Perhaps, the greatest step to achieving this goal is simply to teach what the Bible says about charity and works of mercy.

This directive is not meant to take us back to monasticism, a denial of possessions and pursuits that pursues some higher, holy plane. And, it is not a directive to point our fingers at others in their failures. It is a belief that many American Christians are not Biblically responsible with the stewardship of their time and possessions, and a call back to that responsibility.

(H) We should not make an idol or either our work or leisure. The “Protestant work ethic” was not, and has never been, a call to being a workaholic. The Reformation in general, and the Puritans, in particular redirected believers to “vocation,” work as a calling of God in all the areas that we have discussed above. Interestingly, the concept of workaholism being greatly productive is mostly a myth. Social studies show that most successful businessmen have a mostly balanced life that includes time for family, church, and social interests.

And, we should not make an idol of our leisure. Any pursuit that begins to demand a consuming focus that crowds out other good works (above) in both time and money has likely become an idol. Many Americans have a money-producing occupation that is solely to pay for another pursuit of possession or achievement. They should consider whether this activity is an idol.

(I) All this balance of vocation, good works, and leisure is an highly individualized consideration. But, before God, His Scriptures, sound teaching (of sermons, lectures, and writings), and Godly counsel, we all need periodically to re-evaluate our commitments. Being the self-centered and finite beings that we are, there is always room for improvement.

(J) All that I have said here should not be construed as a heavy load of Phariseeism. The answer of the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession of Faith is that “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” God wants all of our lives to be enjoyable under His Lordship. My only contention here is that we are all too often seeking enjoyment in many of the wrong places. The “yoke” of His commandments, when they are followed in His ways, will be found to be “easy and light.” Otherwise, we will “labor” and b be “heavy laden.”

John Piper has brought some balance to this situation with his “Christian hedonism.” While “hedonism” perhaps denotes too much identity with excess, it does portray the serious call of God, as one with great benefits of enjoyment and happiness, rather than the dour portrayal by some pastors and teachers.

(K) The concepts of vocation, talents and gifts, and rest are central here. The idea of “work” connotes drudgery. Vocation or calling denotes purpose in activity. Talents and gifts are usually enjoyable for they are our strengths. What could be more exciting and fulfilling than purpose in the application of our talents and gifts? Would not we need less “recreation,” as fulfilled purpose has great rewards in itself? Would we not be able to work longer and harder at what we enjoy? And, if we ordered our lives in these pursuits to obtain needed rest, what harmony, productivity, and worship would we enjoy? And, most importantly, what would be our worship of God for ordering these things?

5. Historical note.

It was the Roman Catholic misconception of vocation that prepared the way for the gradual inroads of modern secularism upon the Christian view of work. In the Middle Ages and throughout the centuries, Rome limited the idea of vocation only to the priestly class. By placing the monk in a special life of isolation and rigorous self-discipline, monastic Christianity also limited the meaning of “vocation.” Even today the Catholic Encyclopedia restricts the term “vocation” to priests, monks, and nuns, while the Jesuit abbreviation S.J. (Society of Jesus) suggest that one cannot fully follow Jesus outside the priesthood. In other words, Catholicism regards only the priestly class, and not the laity, as being in the service of God. (Henry, “The Christian View of Work”…, page 36.

As we have seen above, modern Protestantism has mostly lost this correction that occurred with the Reformation and the Puritans.

6. Freedom in vocation. The Christian has great freedom to choose among almost any profession or skilled work. Those forbidden are those that involve immorality in which a Christian should not be engaged for any reason. That is the beauty of “vocation.” Christian young people do not have to be in a dither about “higher” callings. All the work of God’s Kingdom are available to them within the parameters that are described above.

7. Retirement. Retirement is a modern concept that at the end of one's primary means of producing income, a person is free to do whatever he wants, usually what he has always wanted to do, but never had the time.  It is an unbiblical notion because one never "retires" from God's Work or Good Works.  However, such "retirement" can be a great opportunity for one to be more fully engaged in “good works” to advance the The Kingdom of God.

References

http://www.desiringgod.org/

Articles and sermons on a scriptural basis for joy and happiness in the Christian life.

http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=212

Revising the Concept of Vocation for the Industrial Age

http://thirdmill.org/newfiles/udo_middelman/udo_middelman.work.html

Work and creativity by one of Francis Schaeffer's disciples

Martin Clark. Choosing Your Career: The Christian Decision Manual. (Phillipsburg, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1981).

Carl F. H. Henry. Aspects of Christian Social Ethics. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1964).

Ralph T. Mattson and Arthur F. Miller, Jr. Finding a Job You Can Love. (Phillipsburg, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1982).

Doug Sherman and William Hendricks. Your Work Matters to God. (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1987.

George Vaillant. Adaptation to Life. (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1977). A unique study of college students who were followed over a period of 30 years after their graduation from college. It demonstrates what actually happens to people, not what we think and speculate what happens to people


 

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