'Work' Completed—- Coming to a Bookstore Near You

My next book in my little Kingdom Perspectives series for Eerdmans is my book succinctly titled WORK,  and it has just come out this week.  Here below is a little sample for you to tease your mind into active thought.     If you wonder what you are looking for,  you will find the cover below as well.    Yes, it’s available on Kindle (though I hate that format)  and yes its inexpensive—- $12.00 or thereabouts.  You shouldn’t have to do much work to buy this book  :)

CHAPTER FIVE: WORK AS MINISTRY, MINISTRY AS WORK

The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity, and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because philosophy is an exalted activity, will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.— John W. Gardner

The secret of joy in work is contained in one word – excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.—Pearl S. Buck

Some time ago I wrote a poem about work and ministry that goes as follows:

OPUS MAGNUM

Weary, worn, welts on hand

Work has whittled down the man

To the bare necessities

Of what he is, and what he’ll be

Was this then his destiny?

Defined, refined by what we do,

The toilsome tasks are never through

Thorn and thistle, dirt and dust

Sweeping clean, removing rust

All to earn his upper crust?

Sweat of brow, and carried weight

Rose too early, slept too late

Slaving, striving dawn to dusk

Til the shell is barely husk

Staunch the stench with smell of musk?

But work is not the curse or cure

By which we’re healed, or will endure

It will not save us in the end,

It is no foe, but rather friend

But while it molds us will we mend?

Task Master making all things new

Who makes the most of what we do,

Let our work an offering be

A timely gift from those set free

From earning our eternity.

When work is mission on the move

By those whose efforts serve to prove

That nothing’s wasted in God’s hands

When we respond to his commands

Then we shall hear him say “well done”

To those who worked under the Son.

Oct. 4, 2005

WORK AS AN OFFERING TO GOD,  A RESPONSE TO GRACE AND SALVATION

In this poem I am suggesting work can be a calling, a mission, a ministry, an offering to God, and in any case and at all costs it should never be seen as merely a way to ‘make a living’, which is an exceedingly odd phrase.  We might do well to talk about making a Christian life before we talk about ‘making a living’, if what one means by that phrase is making money so one can survive.  All too often ‘making a living’ really means ‘making a comfortable living’ or even ‘making a killing’ if we are a greedy sort of person.

From a Christian perspective all persons in Christ are called to both ministry and discipleship of various sorts.  Labor is part of this calling some of which is remunerative, some of which will not be.  Paul in 1 Corinthians 9 is insistent that ministers of various sorts should be offered pay for their labors since Jesus says a workman is worthy of his hire, but of course they can refuse pay as well.  If we see work as part of our life stewardship, just as play and worship and prayer and sleep and so many other things are part of our stewardship, we will begin to be on the right track.

Life is a gift from God, and work can be a blessing rather than a curse if it is done to God’s glory and for Christ’s kingdom. Work is part of what we offer to God on a daily basis as we respond to God’s call to do various things that matter in life, even do things that change life for the better, or even save lives.  There are several keys to a proper Christian attitude about work.

Work should be done in full remembrance that initial salvation or conversion is in the first place a gift of God’s grace.  It is not a debt God owed to us. Therefore we can neither work nor worm our way into God’s graces, and we shouldn’t ever see work as a means of doing so, or as a means of making amends, or as a means of atoning for things we’ve done wrong and the like.  Work has no capacity to convert us, nor can it compensate for our lack of salvation, nor can the doing of it make God an offer he can’t refuse.  Work done in service to God, as a grateful response to God’s grace, can however be a great good.  It can even help feed, cloth, and even save the world.   As we have said previously as well, ‘working out our salvation’ that God has worked into us can be said to be part of our work.  The will of God for our lives is sanctification and what we do affects that sanctification (see 1 Thess. 4).  And here is where I add that the ultimate expression of holiness of heart and life, the ultimate expression of sanctification is doing the will of God, which is to say doing the ministry he has called each of us to do.  What is interesting is that if we focus on the doing of the ministry, sanctification happens as a by product of that focus, but if we focus on ourselves and our sanctification, ministry may never happen.  Ministry you see, is other directed, focused on others.

While we are reflecting on the ministry God calls each of us to do, we should avoid the mistake of our culture– defining ourselves by what we do.  We are all creatures created in God’s image (which is not an accomplishment but a gift) and if we are Christians we are creatures renewed in the image of Christ.  This is who we are.  What we do, whether we are doctors, lawyers, scientists, ministers, theologians is important but it does not define or eclipse who we are.  We have all met doctors who had excellent skills but who were not very good persons.  They were good at their tasks but bad at being a real human being, much less a Christian one.  It is no accident that Paul in the Pastoral Epistles, when he is talking about ministers says precious little about what they ought to be doing, and quite a lot about what kind of persons they should be (cf. 1 Tim. 3 to Titus 1).

Furthermore, we should not evaluate the value of our work by how much we are paid to do it, nor by the amount of praise, fame, or kudos garnered for doing it.  We should evaluate our work by whether we have done it well, done it to the best of our ability, done it honestly and in good time, done it to the glory of God, whatever the human response to the work may be.  Unfortunately we live in a world where many people, even Christians, not merely define themselves by what they do, but define their true worth by their financial or net worth.   This is both tragic and it gets in the way of finding out whom and whose we really are.

Lastly, it is right to take satisfaction from a job done well.  This is in itself a reward, but since in the end we are playing to an audience of One, the evaluative voice that really matters when it comes to assessing our work is the one whom hopefully we will one day hear say “Well done good and faithful servant”.  It is no accident that there is a dialectic set up in Genesis between work and rest, between work and play, between work and worship.  Work should never be a be-all and end-all experience, or else it will indeed be the end of us all, prematurely, as we work ourselves to death.

I was visiting the Billy Graham library in Charlotte and had finished the tour and was going to leave but there was one more outside spot to see—the memorial garden for Ruth Graham, Billy’s wife.  There was a very large tomb stone carved with her name and dates and the following words—“Construction Completed.  Thanks for your Patience”.  It dawned on me that there is a whole different way of evaluating work, ministry and time.  What if you evaluate life’s work as something God has been doing in and to you?  What if you conceive of it as a timed process that takes time?  What if “work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you to will and to do” is viewed as the most important ‘work’ of all, a work dependent on God’s doings in us which we cannot even work out unless God has first worked it in?  What if this sort of working is the one that really matters and affects our eternal destiny?

WORK AS MINISTRY

With these sort of general considerations we can then begin to look more closely at ministry as work, and work as ministry.  It will be well if we remind ourselves of a few key points before we turn to a text like 1 Cor. 3.    Firstly, it was the concept of the priesthood of all believers which motivated Reformers like Martin Luther to talk about all good work done by Christians as a ministry of sorts, thus breaking down the distinction between work in general and ministerial work in particular, or between sacred and secular work.  I quite agree with Luther on this point.  This in turn leads to an understanding that any sort of good life work is a calling which God gives a person leading to certain tasks assigned according to ability and gifting.  The parable of the talents is as applicable to those we call ministers as to those we call lay persons, as applicable to women as to men. Put succinctly, the parable of the talents is for all believers who have the ability to work!   This of course also means that the Christian is always responsible to God in Christ for what he does with what tasks he has been assigned, and there will be an accounting by Christ when he returns.

What that parable tells us is that Christ is looking for industry, integrity, honesty, loyalty, a striving after excellence, a doing of one’s task to the best of one’s ability, a taking responsibility for one’s own actions, and we could say more.   Regardless of the work a Christian does, it should be seen as a calling not merely a job, and it should be seen as a ministry done in service of the King and his Kingdom, not merely a task.

The way the eschatological situation changes the way we view work, is that now that salvation has been loosed in the world, we all especially have the task to do our work in a way that bears witness to that truth and to the one who said he was the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Whether we are talking about lifestyle evangelism, or bearing witness by the integrity of one’s work and work ethic, Christians all know there is a world to be saved, and participating in that is indeed JOB ONE for all of us.  The Great Commission was given to all the post-Easter disciples, not merely the Twelve.  We are to make disciples of all nations and lead them to the point of the ultimate task of all creatures great and small—worshipping the one true God.

Work then from a Christian perspective is not just viewed in light of the original creation order, much less in light of the Fall.  It is primarily viewed in the light of the Christ event, and it looks forward to the completion of that Christ event when He returns.  What the eschatological fact that Christ is returning like a thief in the night does (and we have no idea whether that will transpire sooner or later) when it comes to work, is that it gives a certain urgency to the basic task of making disciples, either directly or indirectly through one’s work.  But there is more.

What the eschatological horizon also does is make the ordinary or mundane things and tasks of this world be seen for just how contingent and temporary they are.  When Paul reflects on how the Christ event has changed “business as usual” for the Christian he says this in 1 Cor. 7.17-20, 29-31—“each of you should live as a believer in whatever [life or social] situation the Lord has assigned to you, just as God has called you. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. Was a man already circumcised when he was called?  He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called?  He should not be circumcised.  Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing.  Keeping God’s commands is what counts…What I mean brothers and sisters is that the time has been shortened.  From now on those who are married should live as if they were not, those who mourn as if they did not, those who are happy as if they were not, those who buy things as if it were not theirs to keep, those who use the things of this world as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is already passing away.”

Paul is saying, as plainly as he can, that since Christ and the eschatological situation has come, it will no longer be adequate to live on the basis of the old Wisdom, the old verities about life and death, love and marriage, possessions and property, work and rest.   The things of this world and the people of this world have been put on notice that they have an expiration date.  Things will not continue for ever the way they have always been. This in turn means that one must recognize the contingency of all of earthly life and its institutions and activities, not because, as Qoheleth suggested all was vanity or meaningless, but because all now must be viewed in light of the really important things in life—namely salvation in Christ and his coming Kingdom.  Even marriage or death pales in significance when compared to these eschatological realities now in play, and they must now change how we view work and rest, marriage or singleness, life or death.

The ultimate upshot of this for the Christian is that the old basic priorities of making a living and providing for one’s family and getting ahead in the world, have all been relativized or places further down the list of priorities compared to doing the more basic and essential task of leading people to Christ and into the Kingdom.  As we see from reading 1 Corinthians straight through, Paul does not think those kinds of tasks are just for the paid ministers either.   He is telling the whole audience to think in a new way about their lives, relationships and work in the light of the divine saving activity of God in Christ which keeps happening in their midst.

He is saying that even things like marriage and children are not and should not be the be all and end all of our existence.  Marriage is a temporal institution for our earthly good, as Paul makes clear in Rom. 7.1-4.  When the partner dies, the marriage is over.  Paul simply wants believers to understand the difference between temporal and eternal things, and make the main thing the main thing.  In fact, Paul suggests that with the coming of the Kingdom it requires a calling and a gifting to get married, or to be single for the sake of the Lord. He calls it a charisma—a grace gift, to live in either condition in this life (see 1 Cor. 7.1-10).  In other words, Christians no longer take the creation order mandate to be fruitful and multiply as their necessary marching orders if they are to fulfill God’s purpose for them in life.  In fact Paul suggests we no longer live on the basis of what comes natural or seems natural, or even on the basis of the old creation order Orders.  Instead, we look at life from a Kingdom perspective, which means that we can see either marriage in the Lord or singleness for the Lord as blessed options, not necessities.  Among other things, this view of life allows women to assume all sorts of roles, including those we would call ministerial, which they had no time for before since they were committed full time to producing offspring and raising them.

THE WORK OF THE MINISTRY OF THE WORD

But what about those who have been especially called and equipped for teaching and preaching, for evangelizing and proselytizing?   Paul has some specific things to say about such persons, and clearly he would agree with James’ sober assessment that not many should desire to be such educators, as with that task comes more responsibility for the outcome.

Let us hear 1 Cor. 3.5-23:

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness” ; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.”  21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas  or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

There are a variety of things about this passage that call for comment.  First of all, these church planters or apostles or leaders are all viewed as servants of God, and indeed servants of God’s people.  They are also called God’s co-workers, and Paul expects them to be honored as such.   They are first called planters and waterers of God’s field then builders of God’s temple, but it is stressed that it is God who gives the growth and in both cases Paul means a living entity that is being built up—the people of God.

Notice what this text says—both the planters and waterers have one and the same purpose, and God is the one who will reward them for work well done.   They are to do their work with care and leave the results and rewards in God’s hands.  The judgment day will bring to light what sort of work Apollos or Paul or Peter or others have done, and “if what has been built survives (the fiery test of the Judgment) “the builder will receive a reward” [when Kingdom comes].  If however the work has not been done with care and not with the right materials, the builder will suffer loss, but himself will be saved, though as one escaping through the fire.”  Notice that it is God who is to ultimately judge the builders work, not the congregation.   The leaders belong to both God and to the people, but then all of the people of God belong to, and are accountable to God for their behavior.  Everything is to be done ‘Coram Deo’ not merely bearing in mind that God is watching, but bearing in mind that God is now working, and also will one day do the quality control test on one’s work.

The second thing to stress about this passage is that Paul is not merely telling us that Christ compels and empowers our ministry, he is saying that God is working at it as well.  We are co-laborers with the Almighty, and there can be no higher privilege.  God has not merely assigned us a job to do, handed us the tools and ability and told us to get on with it.   The Big Boss is always on the job, and we are working along side of Him, which ought to be sufficient motivation to not slack off and always give our best.  It ought also to be an enormous comfort.

William C. Placher, in his anthological volume entitled Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation,[1] reminds us that we should resist the tendency to limit vocation or calling to those who, like a Paul or an Apollos, were evangelists or teachers.  I agree with him and Barbara Brown Taylor that there should be no one definition of what counts as a calling and vocation for a Christian person.  At the same time, we cannot ignore that Paul in 1 Cor. 3 and 7 and 9 is not simply saying that any good task is equally crucial to the Kingdom work as any other, not least because he relativizes the normal or mundane tasks in life in 1 Cor. 7, saying we should live ‘as if not’ when it comes to those sorts of matters.  Clearly there is no higher calling or vocation for anyone than sharing Christ, though this can take many forms, both direct and indirect.

What results from these sorts of reflections is three things: 1) there needs to be a priority list for a Christian person. They need to know what is more and what is less important for them to do or work at in life, and this in part depends on what they have been called and gifted to do, or not.  Let me give a personal example.  While I quite enjoy, and derive exercise benefit from, mowing my grass in due season, it would not be the best use of my time, calling, gifting, vocation even during the summer if I did this task so incessantly that I neglected my higher calling to write and teach and preach.  This would not be an example of me using my ‘talents’ most wisely; 2) One needs to be wise enough to see the difference between work of temporal and of enduring value and this requires discernment, and it may require outside advice and wisdom.  Sometimes we get far too close to what we are doing to step back and evaluate it critically, and we get far to wrapped up in it, to continue to be open to new callings, new directions;  3)  Our work should not be seen as our atonement for sins past, nor as our means of earning our salvation.  Just because we need to view our work in a theological light, as calling and vocation, does not provide a warrant for us to view work in either of these ways.  I put it this way in my poem cited in full above—

Task Master making all things new

Who makes the most of what we do,

Let our work an offering be

A timely gift from those set free

From earning our eternity.

4) Obviously whatever we do, we should only do things that we can do to God’s glory and for the edification of others.  And we should derive our satisfaction from doing the work well, not from whether or how much we get remunerated.  But we need to consider this last matter more closely, and in some detail.

WORK FOR HIRE OR MONEY FOR NOTHING?

The issue of getting paid for what one does is of course a sensitive one in a workaholic culture like ours, so much so that people, even Christians, sadly tend to evaluate their eternal worth on the basis of their net worth, or the value of their work on the amount they get paid to do it.   This is without question a huge mistake.  Some people in Hollywood (and elsewhere) get paid enormous sums to do pedicures, which is not high on the list of necessary and meaningful tasks in life from a Christian point of view.  The remuneration is out of all proportion to the merit and value of the work.  And if we think that is ridiculous we should bear in mind that at least in the case of the pedicurist there is a correlation between work and pay, or laboring and remuneration. In too many cases in our culture, the ‘ideal’ is summed up in the words of the popular song by Mark Knopler—“money for nothing, and the chicks for free”.  This is some American males’ view of the perfect life.  At the other extreme from this would be the cliché which suggests “you don’t get something for nothing” which oddly causes some people in our culture to doubt that salvation could be a free gift.

Let us start this part of our discussion with another parable, the parable of the day laborers in Matthew 20–

For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.

3 “At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. 4 So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. 5 So they went to work in the vineyard. At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing.

6 “At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’

7 “They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’

“The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’

8 “That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. 9 When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. 10 When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. 11 When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, 12 ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’

13 “He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? 14 Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. 15 Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’

16 “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.”

First of all, we are indeed talking about day laborers. Those who are hired day to day, and so must sit in the market square hoping to be picked to go into the fields, because otherwise the chances are good they and their family will not eat tomorrow.  This is also why they are paid on a daily basis— ‘give us this day our daily bread’ is the prayer of the day laborer.  The normal pay for a day laborer was a denarius or drachma, and that is precisely what is offered to the first workers in this parable.  To the second group hired he offers to pay them “what is right”, and he says the same to the next two groups hired as well, but not to the last ones hired.

When the grapes are ripe, there is an urgent need to get them picked quickly before they begin to spoil, in order to get the maximum harvest.  The owner goes to the marketplace at dawn, then at 9 a.m. then again at noon, and at 3 p.m., and according to vs. 6 he goes out to market once more at 5 p.m.  He is puzzled to find workers still standing around waiting to be hired at 5.p.m. and he asks “Why have you been standing here all day doing nothing?”  Their reply is the simple and obvious one—“because no one hired us.”  What a heartbreaking remark!  This parable is not suggesting these men were lazy.  They were simply unemployed, and it was a clear sign that they desperately wanted to work and earn a crust bread that they were still in the marketplace near sundown.  Nothing is promised to this last group, but they are given permission to go into the fields and work.  The life of the day laborer was quite literally a matter of living hand to mouth, and so even a little pay was better than none.  From the owner’s point of view he was going to do whatever it took to get that harvest of grapes in, in a timely fashion.  If this story takes place in either June or September then sundown is 6-7 p.m. or thereabouts.

According to Lev. 19.13/Deut. 24.14-15 it was the normal thing to pay the day laborer at the end of the day, so we are not surprised when in vs. 8 the owner told his foreman to call the workers from the field, but then interestingly he tells the foreman to pay them in reverse order of their hiring.  The last shall be first.  But then something surprising happens—the workers hired last are paid a full day’s wage.  It is then not surprising that when it came to paying those hired first, they were expecting more than a denarius since they had worked as much as twelve hours.  Yet these too received a denarius and began to grumble. “These workers whom were hired last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.”   Suddenly we are in an honor and shame situation.  Those hired first feel shamed by not being paid more than those last hired, when in fact their amount of work was not equal to those hired last.  Notice they do not say “equal pay for equal work” though they could have done so, but rather “you have made them equal to us”.  The issue is one of honor and identity, and perhaps they felt like they must have been the better workers, since they were hired first.

In vs. 13 the owner calls them ‘friends’ and reminds them that he had been perfectly fair with them, paying them exactly what they agreed to at the beginning of the day.  The issue here is not one of violation of contract, and so not of justice or fairness in that sense.  The owner then adds that they should take their pay and go asking “Don’t I have a right to do what I want with (the rest of) my money (once the debt of contract has been met)?  Or are you envious because I am generous?”  Generosity of course frequently goes beyond justice, and the owner chose to be generous to those last hired, perhaps because he knew they and their family needed to eat as badly as any one else.  The grumblers then are seen to be reacting to generosity not to injustice.   Of course this parable is not primarily about money matters but about Kingdom matters and it is true that God’s graciousness always challenges those who think strictly on the basis of merit or quid pro quo. Real ministry goes beyond fairness to meeting the need, and no one should be envious when God is generous.

Our interest in this parable is that it upholds the general principle that “the workman is worthy of his hire” (Mt. 10.10/ Lk. 10.7; cf. 1 Tim. 5.18).   The aphorism presupposes a normal connection between work and pay.  What the aphorism means depends on which form you follow. The Matthean form in fact says that the workman is worthy of his maintenance, as trophos refers not just to food, but room and board.  That is, the Matthean form is talking about a living wage not just something that allows one to buy food.  The Lukan form focuses presumably on the contractual aspect—a person is worthy to be paid for what he has been hired for.  1 Tim. 5.18 applies this principle particularly to church elders (‘workers deserve their wages’) and relates it to the principle in Deut. 25.4 which suggests that even an ox should get some personal benefit from all their hard work.   Paul in 1 Cor. 9.7-18 makes perfectly clear that ministers have a right to make their living by preaching the Gospel, as a particular extension of the teaching of Jesus about the connection between work and fair remuneration.  In fact he is more demonstrative than that saying “the Lord has commanded that those who preach the Gospel should receive their living from the Gospel.”(vs. 14).

The specific ministry of the Gospel, as portrayed by Paul in 1 Cor. 9 and elsewhere is hard work, and work that deserves fair remuneration, not least because it is most directly the fulfillment of the Great Commission, the primary task for every Christian.  Here then we have crossed the line from talking about all work as ministry of a sort, to talking about ministry as a particular kind of work that deserves remuneration, fair remuneration.  Of course the world’s priorities will never be the same as Kingdom priorities between now and when the Lord returns, but at least in Christian circles, Paul is encouraging Christians to think in Christian ways about the employment of those who get their living by the Gospel.

It is of course true that sometimes hard work leads to major remuneration, and then the ethical dilemma comes not in defending the issue of equal pay for equal work, or a fair compensation for crucial work, or the like,  but rather the moral burden shifts from the employer to the employee, from the compensator to the one compensated.  By this I mean that what one does, with what one makes is of course an ethical matter, perhaps more so for a minister than for anyone else.  It is not necessary for a person to live a life of conspicuous consumption just because they have been well paid for what they have done. The issue of the accumulation of wealth, is a serious one for a Christian, and I have dealt with it at length elsewhere.[2] The point to be made here is that the minister of the Gospel has a particular opportunity and responsibility to lead by example when it comes to the issue of what one does with what one is paid or earns and to be sure the congregation will be watching.

Sometimes of course the congregation expects the minister to appear to be prosperous, thus providing them with an excuse or reason to live an opulent lifestyle as well, on the theory that they have a right to it, since all good gifts come from God!    It is of course true that Christians who work hard and honestly do often face the dilemma of doing well, a nice dilemma to have.  John Wesley had to deal with this problem with his Methodists at the rise of the Industrial Revolution and so his most used sermon in the second half of the 18th century was “On the Use of Money”.   He himself said his goal was to make sure that by the time the grave beckoned he had dispensed or given away all that he had or owned.   What a different attitude to those ministers who spend their time justify a luxurious lifestyle with the so-called prosperity theology.

Most Christians, when they have had their consciousness raised enough, will agree that there must be some ethical discernment on their part to figure out what is a good and godly job for them to do.  They will perhaps agree as well that work can and should be seen as calling, vocation, even ministry, and that a workman is worthy of his hire, and that includes those workmen and women whom we tend to call pastors, ministers, priests, reverends.   They will understand that what work they do and how they do it provides a witness to the Gospel and the coming Kingdom, and so it can be seen as part of a larger evangelistic enterprise fulfilling the Great Commission.  Making a living is one thing, making a life another, and making a Christian life yet a third thing.

But all too few Christians come to the point of realization that they are called in their work to be culture builders or ethos creators.  All Christians even including, perhaps especially including, counter-culture Christians sometimes take such an antagonistic approach to culture that they approach it purely apologetically as something to be deconstructed.  But what if God has gifted Christians to use their abilities in the fine arts, in the domestic arts, in all creative skills, to build a more Christian world?   Andy Crouch has had some good things to say on this subject, and so in our next chapter we must interact with him in detail on the subject of culture making from a Christian perspective.


[1] Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005.

[2] See Witherington, Money,


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