In which we conclude the “battle of the books” between my God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life (Focal Point) and Ben Witherington’s Work: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor and also get into some other issues:
WITHERINGTON: Why do both Jesus and Paul talk about rewards in heaven or in the Kingdom, and the lack thereof for those who are less profitable servants, shall we say? Do you think virtue is its own reward, and how does virtue relate to your notion of vocation or calling?
VEITH: Of course we are rewarded. God awards abundantly. And I have no problem with the notion that the great saints, the true heroes of the faith, will receive a greater reward than someone like me, though we are also told that the first will be last and the last first and that there will be lots of surprises in Heaven. (Some will put forward their “mighty works” only to have the Lord say, “I never knew you” [Matthew 7:22-23].)
Virtue is to do God’s will. We are to do God’s will in every part of our lives – in our families, in the workplace, in the church, and in our culture; that is, in our vocations.
The underlying question is, how do we become virtuous; that is, how do we do God’s will? We must know God in order to know His will–which means we must know and trust His Word–and to actually do His will, we need to be saved from our sinful condition through the life-changing work of Jesus Christ. Now we are in the realm of faith. To say that good works are the fruit of faith, which Matthew 7 also teaches in the passage immediately before the one cited above, is a very literal truth. Knowing what Christ has done for us and personally trusting and depending on Him makes us want to do His will.
I totally agree with you when in your book you indicate that coercing someone to do something has no moral value. And when we do something good just to be rewarded, that also compromises the work’s moral value. The politician who shows up at a soup kitchen for 15 minutes while the cameras roll is not necessarily showing virtue, if he feeds the hungry only to boost his image and his polling numbers. The woman who really feels compassion for the homeless and the hungry and so gives up Thanksgiving dinner with her family to serve at the soup kitchen, she is showing virtue and she will have her reward. She is following God’s will and thus is co-operating with God in His love and care for His children. He uses her as His hands and feet, as you say, and He honors that. (Now He may also have used the politician to give food to the hungry during that 15 minutes, and perhaps beyond in drawing attention and building further support for the soup kitchen. The politician himself didn’t do anything particularly virtuous, but God did something good with him anyway, though not by any kind of coercion into virtue.)
God wants us to serve Him and our neighbors because we want to (there is your free agency!) and out of love. And love and good works grow out of faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6). The key is “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). And this happens in vocation.