Heigh Ho: A Christ-Centered Biblical Theology of Vocation
My very first job that I have ever had was bagging groceries for $6/hour at Holiday Market on Main Street in Royal Oak. At first, I thought that this was just the greatest thing ever. I was 16, I had my license, I had that 1993 White Chrysler New Yorker wit the red seats. Yeah. My first day on the job at Holiday Market I am taken through all of the different levels of orientation, as you would imagine, bagging groceries can be a complicated task. So there are all these levels of orientation, and right before I started bagging the assistant manager tells me about the perks of being a Holiday Market employee: 50 cents off of every single purchase. That day I went on my break and I figured I’d utilize this newly acquired employee discount, since I’ve never had one before. I bought a sandwich from the deli, I bought a bag of chips, I bought a pop, and I bought a cookie from the bakery for dessert. If you’ve ever been to Holiday Market before, you know that it’s not a very thrifty store. It’s actually kind of expensive. I probably spent about $15 on lunch that day, that’s including my employee discount. The problem was, I was only making $6 an hour and I only worked about 4 hours that day, which means I spent half my paycheck on lunch to use my employee discount! My first job.
Many of you right now are thinking about the very first job you ever had. Or maybe you’re sitting here and you are thinking about your favorite job you’ve ever had. Maybe I’ve caused your mind to wander to the least favorite job you’ve ever had. Maybe you’re sitting here right now thinking about what’s waiting for you when you return to work on Tuesday. Work, vocation, has been a part of the human story from literally the beginning of time. Pastor Kevin read it this morning during our call to worship. God’s work in creation, God creates the man to work. Every person who has ever lived has dealt with work, whether it’s in the marketplace or in the home, in the temple or in the field, the military base or first base, from the nursery to the nursing home, we are a people who are meant to cultivate the world.
In the history of God’s people there has always been some confusion about work though. For some reason, in our minds, we’ve created this secular/sacred distinction where people think that you’re is only doing God’s work if you’re a preacher or missionary or seminary professor or something like that. Everything else is just work, and you know what they say about work, “work sucks.” From time to time we must reorient ourselves to the truth and Labor Day seems as good a time as any to think about vocation and Christ-centered vocation in particular. What does the Bible have to say about the work that we do? How does the gospel apply to my work whatever it is? And in order to do, church, that we have to go back to the beginning. We have to go back to those pages that were read at the beginning of the service. We have to go back to beginning of the story, the book of the beginnings, the book of Genesis.
Work is Created by God
Work itself was created by God. The opening pages of the Bible tell us that God created everything and that it is all “very good” (Gen 1.31). Before God molds Adam from the dirt, Moses writes, “there was no man to work the ground” (Gen 2.5). He specifically notes before God creates humanity, that there is no man, and he doesn’t just say that there aren’t any man or people, he specifically says, “There is not a man to work the ground.” And then after God creates Adam, the scripture says “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it ” (Gen 2.15). We need to notice a couple of things here, first of all even before God created Adam, the Scripture notes that the plants hadn’t sprung up from the ground yet. They hadn’t done so because God hadn’t caused it to rain and there was no man to work the ground. Even before Adam steps foot on the earth, the earth itself is anticipating a man to care for her. That is a whole that need to be filled. That’s some chaos that needs to be cultivated. It’s almost as if the world is eagerly awaiting this image-bearer to come and take dominion. Our planet was created by God to be cared for by his image bearers. That is part of what Genesis 1 and 2 teach us.
Second, God puts Adam to work before his fall from grace. Work itself is a pre-fall reality. We talk about work, or vocation, sometimes like it’s a result of the fall. Don’t we? Like before Genesis 3, Adam and Eve are just chilling, and after they sin now they have to go to work. Now to be fair, we’ve only ever experienced work east of Eden, we ourselves. But work existed before our primeval parents were barred by those flaming swords from the garden. Adam was made to work. Why? Pastor Kevin read it for us this morning. He was made to work because Adam bears the image of God, and God works. Immediately before he created Adam, God had just spent 6 days working, creating, and cultivating, and now he creates one who bears his image to do the same. If Adam didn’t work, he wouldn’t be like God. God is a creating God. Work in and of it’s self is not bad, in fact it’s good. Genesis 1:31, it is very good. People aren’t made to be idle. We’re made to be active. Even though work existed before the fall, it, like the rest of the creation, has been affected by the fall. Work now is fallen, it is broken, it is tainted by sin.
Work is Fallen
After Adam and Eve sinned, God confronted them and that rebel serpent. We read from Genesis 3:15 earlier. Listen to the words that immediately follow the first gospel in Genesis 3.16-19:
16To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” 17And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
He promises pain in childbirth, he promises pain in work because of sin. As a result of their rebellion, now their work is made more difficult. Work is broken, just like everything else in the universe. Domestic work is affected. There’s pain in childbearing. There’s relational strife between man and wife. Work is affected in the marketplace. The ground is now cursed. The earth that so longed for Adam’s creative touch in Genesis 1 and 2 will now fight back just as Adam and Eve fought back with their creator. Before the fall the man and the earth worked in harmony, now there is strife. Before the fall Adam and Eve married in harmony, but now there is strife.
Sin affects our work. That’s why many of you this morning are dreading Tuesday. Some of you hate your job, don’t you? You’re counting down the days until you get to retire. Some of you stay-at-home-moms here are in the middle of diapers, and temper tantrums, and you long for the day when you’ll regularly be having adult conversations and not watching 8 consecutive hours of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Some of you are stealing from your employer this morning, maybe it’s money, maybe it’s time. Some of you are employers that may be abusing your employees. Some of you aren’t even working at all and there’s no good reason why. Regardless of where sin is chasing us at this moment, because it is affecting each one of us differently myself and Pastor Kevin included with work, our work has been affected by the fall. But luckily nestled in those Genesis 3 curses, there was a promise. We read the promise this morning.
Work is Redeemed by Jesus
The 15th verse in the 3rd chapter of Genesis is where God himself preaches the gospel for the very first time in the history of the world. There is going to be strife between the man and the woman, there is going to be strife to between the man and the earth, but there is also going to be strife between her children and that wicked rebellious reptilian king. There is going to be war, enmity, between the woman, between his children and her children. His head is going to be crushed. He may bruise the heel, but his head is going to be crushed. That is the great gospel irony isn’t it? By bruising Jesus’ heel, Satan’s head is crushed.
Jesus has come to save his people and his creation, and part of that salvation and part of that redemption is that Jesus redeems our vocation. He redeems our work that has been broken by the fall. Jesus redeems work as a substitute and as an example. As a substitute and an example. First Jesus redeems work as our substitute. Jesus came to live the life that we were meant to live, to die the death that we were meant to die, to resurrect us with himself. Like YWHW in Genesis 1, Jesus is bringing about the work of New Creation. Jesus’ primary vocation is that of redeemer. He is the true and better Adam, who though he tempted, never fell. He is the true and better Israel, who is the Son of God who passes through the waters of judgment and goes into the desert to be tempted. Jesus lived the sinless life that Adam, and Israel, and me, and you never lived. Jesus died the death for sin that we are supposed to die. Jesus resurrected on the 3rd day defeating Satan, sin, and death. Listen to me church, if you hear nothing else this morning hear this, Jesus died for your sin in accordance with the Scriptures, he was buried, and raised on the 3rd day in accordance with the Scripture. If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. That is the work of Jesus. For everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.
Jesus is our redeem. But Jesus doesn’t just redeem our vocation as our substitute, but also as our example. Jesus is Christos exemplar. He is the example for us. Jesus reveals to us that that secular/sacred divide, that we have created, is a false dichotomy. Jesus spent a majority of his life as a carpenter and then the last 3 years in public ministry. He did “ministry” and he also didn't. Jesus brought dignity to all work through his life and his ministry. It doesn’t matter if you’re a preacher, or a carpenter, or a fisherman, a tent maker, an accountant, a small business owner, a stay-at-home mom, a factory worker, a team member, a graphic designer, or amissionary. From athletes to zookeepers, preachers to plumbers and everything in between, all work that is done well images God.
Work in the New Creation
The Bible doesn’t stop there though, church. Not only is work a pre-fall reality; work is also a New Creation reality. In Revelation 21 and 22, the last two chapters of the bible, the New Creation is described in terms of a New Jerusalem. For Israel, Jerusalem was the center of their commerce that was the heart of the economy, especially in the OT. The world started with a garden, but it’s moving toward a city. Verses 24-25 of Revelation 21 talk about the nations walking in this city and the kings of the earth bringing glory to that city. Verse 25 of Revelation 21says that the gates of the New Jerusalem will never shut. You don’t have to worry about defending the city against enemies because king Jesus is ruling this city. The gates of commerce and creativity are always open.
It’s also interesting to note that in Revelation 22.4 it says that God’s name will be on the foreheads of all of his servants. That sounds familiar doesn’t it? Earlier in the book of Revelation John writes about those who have the mark of the beast – 666 – on their foreheads, and if someone doesn’t have the mark of the beast they can’t participate in the marketplace, which describes those who throughout history who have denied Christ to get ahead in the marketplace. But that isn’t so in the New Creation. In the New Creation, they don’t take the mark of the beast to their foreheads; they take the mark of God on their foreheads, which means that God’s people are able to do business together in God’s name. It is the anti-mark of the beast and it points to the God’s work. The church’s work eternally. Heaven isn’t eternal retirement. It is not lying in a hammock and playing a harp. The New Earth will be like a city filled with commerce, culture, and most importantly with Christ!
So what does this mean for us? What does this truth mean for CCC? How do we move from understanding God’s Word to standing under God’s Word? Let me encourage a couple of different groups right now within our body. I want to encourage you all differently with one truth. All work, when done well, glorifies God. Now when I say that your work should glorify God I don’t mean that you have to pray before you eat lunch at work, or that you have to read your Bible on your breaks, or that you have to start a work Bible study (though all of those things are great!). But that is not what I mean when I say all work, when done well, glorifies God. What I do mean is that when you work, when you produce, when you create, build, or make, and you do it well, that God is glorified in that. That’s what he made you to do.
If you’re here and you are a kid or a student, you’re in school, from Preschool through graduate work, you are at some level of schooling. That’s basically your work right now. That is what you are doing. That is what your time and energy is given to. The encouragement from God’s word this morning is work hard; work hard on your schooling. Do well. Not just because you want to get into a good college or because your parents will kill you if you get another D on that chem exam, but because when you study and know that 2+2=4, when you study and know that the 17th president of the United States, Andrew Johnson was the 1st president ever to be impeached, when you study and know these things, you’re glorifying your father in heaven who made you to be a thinking being, who made you to be a learning being. Glorify God with your work.
Many of you in here are out of school and in the middle of the work grind right. Some of you create with nails and wood, others of you create with words and images. Regardless of the nature of your specific vocation, God is calling you to work hard and to do well. When you order chaos, be it with concrete, or diapers, or numbers on a spreadsheet, you are imaging your Father, and your brother Jesus who is your example. Work hard, do well, glorify your Father in Heaven.
Some of you in the room are retired or not physically able work. I don’t want you to mishear this sermon this morning; I am not saying that you currently have no dignity because you are not punching a clock. Retirement is not wrong, but it also shouldn’t be wasted either. Use your retirement to bring glory to God! Invest in your children, invest in your grandchildren, invest in your great grandchildren, your neighbors, your friends, and your church. Serve in the nursery. Host a flock. Go to a flock that you wouldn’t have been able to go to because you didn’t have time when you were working. Babysit for a SAHM who could use an adult conversation. Order the chaos in your life, even if you’re not doing it from 9-5.
Eric Liddell was a Scottish Olympian. Do you know that name? Later he was a missionary and his life was the inspiration for the film Chariots of Fire. He is famous for refusing to run a 100-meter heat in the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris because the race was held on Sunday. He is the original Chick-fil-a, he ain’t doing it on Sunday. His most famous quote of all time goes something like this, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.” God made us all to do different work. Even throughout your life he may be calling you to do different things at different times. Let me ask you this morning, do you feel God’s pleasure when you work? If not, why? Think about this for a minute, if you believe that God is in control of everything – from solar systems to seeds, from galaxies to grains of sand – if you believe that he is in control of everything and that he loves you more than you can even imagine, then that means that he’s got you in your current vocation, in your current work, in your current spot for a reason. You are where you are for your own good and for his own glory. So if you don’t feel God’s pleasure right now in your work, it’s not because of him. You don’t have to be a pastor to do “holy” work. You don’t have to be rich and famous to be happy when you drive to the office this Tuesday. When you work hard and do well for the glory of Christ, you can feel God’s pleasure whether you’re a banker, or a bus driver, or you’re bagging groceries at Holiday Market.