The Spiritual Value of a Secular Job

time card

I recently read an article about people who didn’t want a regular 9-5 job because they wanted to do more with their lives than be tied to a desk (or garage or store or whatever). That got me to thinking.

It certainly sounds nice to be free to be involved in worthy projects rather than a boring, seemingly dead-end job. I’ve known some people who could do that. One man in our former church worked hard and regularly but had his own business and enough freedom in his schedule that he could go on mission trips many summers.

But not everyone can do that. Here are some points of value of regular secular jobs:

1. God ordained work. Adam and Eve were to “to dress and to keep” the garden (Genesis 2:15) and have dominion over the other creatures (Genesis 1:26-28) before they sinned  and faced the consequences. Work was not ordained as a punishment for sin: it was a God-designed activity even in a perfect world. It was just made harder after sin entered the picture when thorns and thistles grew up and Adam was told, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” (Genesis 3:17-19). These days some jobs call for sweat of the brain rather than the body, but we can’t escape the fact that life involves hard work.

2. Biblical instruction. I Timothy 5:8 says “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” The Christian life is not ethereal or theoretical or philosophical: it is intensely practical. Yes, we trust the Lord to meet our needs, and sometimes He does that miraculously, but the way He usually does that is through regular work. Here are some other passages about work:

“And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing” (I Thessalonians 4:11-12).

“Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord; that walketh in his ways. For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee” (Psalm 128:1-2).

“Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished: but he that gathereth by labour shall increase.” Provers 13:11.

“In all labour there is profit: but the talk of the lips tendeth only to penury” (Proverbs 14:23).

“The desire of the slothful killeth him; for his hands refuse to labour” Proverbs 21:25).

“I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life.And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God” Ecclesiastes 3:12-13.

“Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion.” Ecclesiastes 5:18.

“Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth” (Ephesians 4:28). Here we’re instructed to work not just to meet our own needs but also to be able to give to others.

Add to that the instruction in Proverbs about the diligent man vs. the slothful or sluggard. True, the principles involved apply to what we might think of spiritual or ministry work, but many of the examples are secular work, like planting and harvesting. Colossians 3:23 (“And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men”), though applying to everyone, was written in context to servants.

3. Biblical example. Yes, Jesus’s twelve disciples were called to leave their fishing nets and tax collecting and follow Him. But other believers were slaves, soldiers, tentmakers, merchants, carpenters, and in various other occupations. Even Paul sometimes made tents and “labour[ed], working with our own hands (I Corinthians 4:11). God calls secular rulers His ministers (Romans 13:3-5). Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, a task that was usually done by a servant, and apprenticed as a carpenter. And the Bible opens with God working (Genesis 2:2-3).

There is an interesting passage in Psalm 104 that touches on man’s work as part of God’s manifold works and wisdom:

21 The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God.

22 The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together, and lay them down in their dens.

23 Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening.

24 O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.

4. Mission. One does not have to be in “full time Christian service” as a pastor or missionary to be “missional.” Those in secular work have the opportunity to work side by side with unsaved people who would not be interested in coming to church or would be on their guard if a pastor came to visit them. I should say here that the first best testimony a Christian has at work is doing his job well. No one is going to respect him if he’s slothful and sloppy or doesn’t get his work done because he is using company time to “witness.” I don’t know that someone even necessarily has to organize Bible studies during lunch break, though I’ve known some who have done that. A Christian on the job can be a  witness by how he conducts himself and his business and his genuine interest in others, and talking and befriending coworkers and customers can often lead to opportunities to share more about one’s faith.

5. The world depends on it. Where would our country or indeed our world be without doctors, truckers, cleaning people, or any of the multitudes of other jobs that all work together to provide an economy? Even if your work seems to be a minor cog in the whole machinery of the country’s economy, you can be confident that you are providing a useful service in some way.

6. It provides the means to give to others. Ephesians 4:28, mentioned before, says, “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth” and I Timothy 6:17-18 say, “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate.”

I’ve shared before my own testimony that in camps or meetings for teens,  there was an emphasis on salvation, surrender, and full-time Christian service. Being surrendered to full-time Christian service was presented almost as the next natural step after being saved, or the highest and best calling. Those who were really sold out to the Lord, or at least thought to be, were the ones that went on to some kind of ministry occupation.  Thankfully by the time my sons were teens, the general emphasis seemed to be more on taking the next step one needed to take spiritually, whatever it might be, yet the surrender to full-time Christian service still seemed to be urged as the highest and best, the ultimate calling. I’ve known sweet Christian girls who only wanted to marry preachers and parents who were disappointed that their sons did not become preachers. I’ve known Christian college graduates who felt looked down upon by their peers for being in a secular job and not out “serving the Lord.” Sometimes the kids in the youth group who do plan on training for ministry are given something of a special status or special responsibilities or opportunities. I wonder if this is where some of the “let the preacher do it” mindset gets started. Every teen should be training for ministry, because we all have ministry, whether it is in a paid professional capacity or not. If God called someone to preach or be a missionary, that is God’s highest and best calling for them, but He does call some to be scientists and teachers and office workers and truckers and grocery store clerks and many other occupations, for His glory.

There are many other Bible passages that pertain to work, like not trusting in our riches but rather being willing to distribute to others’ necessities (I Timothy 6:17-18), not laboring to be rich (Proverbs 23:4), and not letting the practical obscure the spiritual (John 6:26-29), taking God’s will into account (James 4:13-16), and seeking first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33). But the Bible speaks of the church as a body, with each member having a different part (I Corinthians 12, Romans 12:3-8) and different gifts. Not all are called to be full-time paid professional preachers or missionaries, but we are all called to be full-time Christians, doing everything as unto the Lord, serving Him with the gifts and calling He has ordained for each of us.

LET me but do my work from day to day,
In field or forest, at the desk or loom,
In roaring market-place, or tranquil room;
Let me but find it in my heart to say,
When vagrant wishes beckon me astray—
“This is my work; my blessing, not my doom;
Of all who live, I am the one by whom
This work can best be done, in the right way.”
Then shall I see it not too great, nor small,
To suit my spirit and to prove my powers;
Then shall I cheerful greet the laboring hours,
And cheerful turn, when the long shadows fall
At eventide, to play and love and rest,
Because I know for me my work is best.

~ Henry Van Dyke, Poems of Sentiment: VI. Labor and Rest: Work

Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.

See also:

You Do Not Labor in Vain.
5 Ways Pastors Can Affirm Faith, Calling, and Vocation.
Bosses Don’t Give Gold Stars – And Other Career Advice.
When It Feels Like Your Work Doesn’t Matter.
7 Motives in Our Work.
How to Glorify God at Work.
Do You Bring Meaning to Your Work?

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5 thoughts on “The Spiritual Value of a Secular Job

  1. Hey.
    Trying to email you and failing miserably. This was the best way for me to contact you. By all means, delete this in the monitoring phase so it doesn’t have to show up under your post. Just wanted to introduce myself after having found your blog.:) I’m saving the email message to send if I can get your email address. Thanks!

  2. I can get really passionate about this issue!

    My husband has had many opportunities to be a Christian testimony – both his life and his words – at the nuclear station where he works. He’s been a light to many who would never darken the door of a church or listen to a pastor.

    Furthermore, I often think of a successful businessman at our church who often donates paper products, chicken, and other items he sells at his restaurants, to church functions. His financial support in this way and others is highly important to the full-time ministries of our church and to other missionaries/ministries who come through here or are represented here.

    Just think of where all the money to support missionaries comes from. People in secular work!!

  3. Pingback: My favorite posts of the year | Stray Thoughts

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