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
“I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your
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
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
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
2. Man was created to
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
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
(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
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”
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
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
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
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
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.)
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.
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
(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
(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
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
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
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
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
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
(I) All this balance of
vocation, good works, and leisure is an highly individualized
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
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.
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.
sermons on a scriptural basis for joy and happiness in the
Concept of Vocation for the Industrial Age
Work and creativity
by one of Francis Schaeffer's disciples
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.
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