More than what, more than how . . . but why you do what you do will ultimately determine the success of your “doings.”
This sort of thinking has been championed recently by various thought leaders, but the principle goes back to the Bible itself. God does not just look at the outward appearance, he looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). Moreover, the command to circumcise your heart (Deuteronomy 10:16), was followed up with a promise that God would circumcise the heart (Deuteronomy 30:6), thus trading out the heart of stone for a believing heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26–27). In short, God’s work of salvation has always targeted the heart and why we do what we do.
And in this week’s sermon, we saw that Paul’s message to servants focuses on the same truth. Instead of giving a laundry lists of “how’s” or “what’s” for servants (or modern day employees) to follow, he gives three reasons why we should persevere in doing good work.
You can listen to the sermon online. Response questions can be found below.
** In preparation for the message, please consider reading about Paul, slaves, and the church or listening to the sermon on Ephesians 6:5–9. It will provide a necessary backdrop for understanding Paul’s words to Timothy.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds Continue reading
Paul is unashamedly Christ-centered. And it seems that in whatever subject he is discussing, he brings it back to the Lord who saved him and commissioned him to preach his gospel.
On this note, we see in Ephesians 6:5–9 how Paul teaches us to bring Christ to work. In five verses written to slaves and masters, he gives us at least five motivations for the workplace. While we have to think carefully about how Paul’s context is similar and different from our own, these verses give us many practical applications for doing work to the glory of God.
You can listen to the sermon online. Discussion questions and additional resources, including how to think carefully about Paul’s approach to slavery, are included below. Continue reading
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
— Matthew 6:24 —
Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6 not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, . . .
— Ephesians 6:5–6 —
Ephesians 6:5–9 calls “slaves” to obey their earthly masters, which at first sounds like it contradicts Jesus words in Matthew 6:24, where our Lord states that men are not to be divided in their allegiance and service—you can either serve God or money.
A careful reader may ask, Does Paul’s instructions contradict Jesus’ words? Or does he help the worker go further in understanding how our primary allegiance to Christ leads to improved service to earthly masters?
I believe it is the latter. And on that point, Wolfgang Musculus, a sixteenth-century pastor-theologian, answers well: Continue reading
In Ephesians 6:5–9 Paul finishes his “household codes” by addressing slaves/bondservants and masters and how they ought to work as unto the Lord. In fact, in five verses Paul makes five explicit references to Christ. Thus, as with marriage (Ephesians 5:22–33) and parenting (Ephesians 6:1–4), he gives hyper-attention to the way Christ motivates Christians in the marketplace.
Acknowledging the cultural differences (and challenges) between masters and slaves in Ephesus and our own modern free-market, post-slavery context in America, there are numerous ways Paul’s words continue speak to marketplace Christians today. In what follows, I’ll list seven ways Paul puts Christ in the cubicle, the shop, the council chamber, and the medical office.
Indeed, by walking through these five verses, we can see how Christ motivates, supervises, evaluates, and coaches his followers. Rather than bifurcating Sunday from the rest of the week, Paul teaches us how Christ should be present with believers as they enter the work week. Continue reading
[This post depends largely on yesterday’s exegetical consideration of Psalm 46.]
If the first step in troubled times is to take refuge in the Lord, it is not the last step. Only by reading Psalm 46:10 (“Be still and know that I am God”) in isolation from the historical context of the Psalter or the whole counsel of God found in the rest of Scripture could we walk away from Psalm 46 and believe passivity is proper.
Rather, the best reading of that classic devotional verse is to see that it is a word spoken by God to the nations that he will subdue them (cf. vv. 8–9). For us, in other passages then he tells us to take up arms—the sword of the Spirit and the prayers of faith (Ephesians 6)—to engage in the battle we find all around us.
Indeed, to believe in God is not “nothing.” Rather it is the foundation of all good works (see Galatians 5:6; Ephesians 2:8–10; James 2:14–26). Likewise, Word-inspired intercession is not “nothing.” To the world, prayer seems like pious but powerless chore. Yet, James 5:16 rightly corrects us: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Therefore, as we abide in the shadow of his wings, we find that abiding in his Word and prayer are two powerful actions. Still ,such Godward devotion is not a cul-de-sac but a rest area that leads God’s people from the church gathered to the church scattered, from worship to work in the community, the state, the nation and beyond.
Indeed, with that centrifugal framework in mind, we are ready to move from the safety of God’s refuge into a sin-cursed world desperately in need of redemption. And to help us think about how to move into the culture from the firm foundation of refuge in the Lord, let me suggest five ways to labor from rest. Continue reading
In 1 Corinthians 7:17–24 Paul speaks of our calling before God. In all of his writings, this may be one that most directly deals with the doctrine of vocation. On Sunday, we will consider this subject at length. In preparation, here are seven truths that relate to “vocation” and our calling to live for and before God in all we say and do.
1. Your vocation begins with the Lord’s calling unto salvation.
Made in the image of God, there’s a sense in which everyone has a “vocation.” The world’s bounty is not cultivated by Christians alone. God has blessed the world with the lives and services of many non-Christians.
That being said, only Christians can pursue their work for the glory of God. Only Christians can give thanks to God and pursue their vocations motivated by God’s love. In this way, a true vocation stands in continuity with one’s calling to Christ. The Father effectually calls his children and then assigns them to do good works.
Ephesians 2:10 says that believers are “created in Christ for good works, prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Likewise, 1 Corinthians 7 defines our assignment in life by God’s effectual calling. In 1 Corinthians 7:17, 20, 24, Paul tells the Corinthians to abide in their earthly status and serve God, not worrying about changing their position. In truth, this way of thinking (and living) can only be achieved by those who have the Spirit of God. Therefore, the Christian homemaker or construction worker are animated by the same principle—God’s effectual call (re)defines your earthly occupation. Continue reading
Eight times in eight verses the apostle Paul speaks to the Corinthians about understanding their various vocations in light of God’s effectual “call.” These instructions about one’s calling before God broaden Paul’s focus in chapter 7 from marriage, singleness, and sexuality to matters concerning circumcision (Jew vs. Gentile) and slavery (bondservant and free).
All in all, Paul’s heavy emphasis on the Christians upward call in Christ make these verses a cornerstone for understanding our earthly labors at home, in the marketplace, or the church. You can listen to the audio from Sunday’s message (shortly) or peruse the sermon notes here. For those who want to go deeper, there are discussion questions below and links to a few other resources on the doctrine of vocation. Continue reading
“Vocation” is a word that comes from the Latin word for “calling” (vocare). In modern vernacular it often is an unimpressive synonym for work, i.e., vocational training. However, in Scripture, the word is filled with significance, even dignity. God calls us to himself, out of darkness and death, into the life and love of his beloved Son. Therefore, Christians must understand “vocation” not as a mundane description of work, but rather a dignified “calling” to serve God and the creatures who bear his image. Truly, to ignore or minimize this vocation is to miss a significant facet of the Christian life.
When the Reformers like Martin Luther threw off the shackles of Rome, they restored the doctrine of justification by faith alone. However, contesting the clergy-laity divide, they also esteemed the priesthood of all believers and the doctrine of vocation. In fact, in church history any study of vocation must consider his writings, for he wrote so much and so well about this doctrine.
Taking this into consideration, Gene Veith an evangelical Lutheran has captured much of Luther’s doctrine, make that the biblical doctrine, in his excellent book God at Work: Your Vocation in All of Life. Introducing his topic, he writes, “When God blesses us, He almost always does it through other people” (14). This, in a sentence, is the doctrine of vocation. Or more exactly, this is the fruit of the gift of vocation.
In what follows I’ve traced the themes of his book and encapsulated a number of his best quotes. I hope it piques your interest in this topic, even as it paints a picture of why vocation is so important for the Christian. Continue reading
Next week I will begin preaching the book of Titus on Sunday mornings. Although Titus is only three chapters and forty-six verses in length, it contains a great deal of instruction for the church.
Titus is often grouped with two other Pauline epistles—1 Timothy and 2 Timothy. Together these three letters are known as the “Pastoral Epistles.” They are written to two of Paul’s sons in the faith (1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2; Titus 1:4), ministers of the gospel sent by Paul to Ephesus and Crete for the purpose of building up those churches. As a matter of fact, Timothy and Titus are not so much pastors themselves but apostolic delegates who are called to confront error (1 Tim 1:3-7), preach sound doctrine (2 Tim 1:13; Titus 2:1, 15), and further the faith of God’s elect (Titus 1:2).
From this little synopsis, one might get the impression that the Pastoral Epistles are strictly for pastors, or at least for those working in the ministry. One might conclude they only have tangential relevance for the stay-at-home mom or the factory worker. However, such a conclusion would be premature, for the Pastoral Epistles have great application for all Christians. What follows are five reasons why every Christian should read them, study them, and apply them. Continue reading
[This meditation summarizes a number of principles from Matt Perman’s excellent book, What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done.]
Does God Require (Increased) Productivity?
Made in the image of a Creator, God designed humanity to bear good fruit. In Genesis 1:28, he told Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply.” When he put the man in the Garden, he called him to cultivate and keep Eden so that in time the beauty, order, and presence of God’s garden would cover the earth.
Although sin marred mankind’s ability to produce good fruit, there remains a human desire to create, to organize, and to produce. In contrast to the cynicism of Dilbert, work is not a curse; it was and is part of God’s good creation. The trouble is that God’s curse makes work tedious and subject to futility.
Ecclesiastes is a case in point. In that book Solomon teaches us not to put our hope in work. He says that work is a “striving after the wind,” because all laborers will eventually relinquish the produce of their hands. Therefore, the wise man fears the Lord and puts their ultimate hope in God (Eccl 12:13–14).
(Some of) What Scripture Says about Productivity
Still, is that all Scripture says about work? Is it all negative? No, there’s more. Continue reading