The Bible exhorts us to work diligently. God’s original command to people is “fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over [it]” (Genesis 1:28, ESV). How could this be done without engaging in work of benefit to mankind? Work is elsewhere demanded in harsh tones: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10, ESV). Caring for one’s own family is directly commanded: “if anyone does not provide for his relatives … he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8, ESV). Paul and those who worked with him are given as examples of those who did not “eat anyone’s bread without paying for it … that [they] might not be a burden” (2Thes. 3:8 ESV).
Some Christians belittle work for profit, but this concept is utterly foreign to the Bible. Abraham is cited as an example of a rich man (Genesis 13:5). King Solomon, another hero, is rich enough to greatly impress another prominent queen (1 Kings 10:4-5). Jesus himself commended the accumulation of riches through entrepreneurial endeavors in two famous parables (Matthew 21:33-43, Luke 19:11-27). Of course, when we have done our best, we are exhorted to avoid greed and “be content with what we have” (Hebrews 13:5, ESV). We turn now to Luther.
Martin Luther’s approach destroys the distinction between ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’ vocations. In the movement Luther led, “Every kind of work, including what had heretofore been looked down upon – the work of peasants and craftsmen – is an occasion for priesthood, for exercising a holy service to God and to one’s neighbor”(Vieth 2002). When secular vocation had begun to be treated as a mere job, Luther’s own words were “An official who governs well pleases God. A mother who cares for her children, a father who goes to work, and a student who studies diligently are all servants of God” (Luther 1998 November 11). Each and every morally upright activity engaged in is an honor of God through service to our fellow men, whether for profit or not.
Each act of work is engaged in for the benefit of other people. God does not need our help, so our service is to others (Psalm 50:12). As Gene Edward Vieth, a Lutheran author, says:
God healed me. I was not feeling well, so I went to the doctor…in no time I was a lot better. But it was still God who healed me. He did it through the medical vocations…God fed me…with what the teenager working at the fast-food joint gave me…God clothed and sheltered me, with the help of my employer. God protected me, though I wish the highway patrolman hadn’t pulled me over. God gave me pleasure, thanks to the talents He gave that musician playing on my new CD. (Vieth 2002)God works through us to serve others, and all work done for the benefit of others can be for God’s glory and for his pleasure. Of course, business must be engaged in honestly (Leviticus 19:36).
God does not guaranteeing our success in business. Luther wrote: “God tells us to do the best we can and leave the rest to him. He didn’t promise that everything we do would be successful” (Luther 1998). God is not a vending machine who automatically delivers to us what we pay for. Our true benefits are guaranteed in the world to come, heaven (Matthew 25:40, 46).
As for me, my true calling is to support manufacturing operations in the role of a Safety and Environmental Manager. The night before my last final exam in industrial engineering I was praying about what I would do after earning my undergraduate degree. I was reading through 1 Corinthians 15 as part of my prayer and devotional time when I ran across verse 26: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” For the next few days, I could not get the verse out of my mind. How does an industrial engineer combat death?
I had taken and enjoyed a course in industrial safety in my undergraduate curriculum. I had been the financial means to go on to graduate school, and I took coursework in human factors engineering (ergonomics) to prepare for the role I felt called to. I have spent some time in the field of quality engineering, but my primary calling is safety and health.
To summarize my philosophy, we are to engage in honest work for the benefit of others and in obedience to God’s command. This honest, ordinary work is honored, and we are to be rewarded for our efforts. Profits earned through business that serves others are ours to enjoy. Meaningful work that benefits others is ours to pursue.
Luther, M. (1998). In J. C. Galvin (Ed.) By faith alone: 365 devotional readings updated in today’s language (p. November 11, April 10).Iowa Falls, Iowa: World Bible Publishers.
Vieth, Jr. G. E. (2002). God at work: your Christian vocation in all of life, kindle edition (position 111, position 163-165). Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV) (2001), Wheaton, Illinois: Good News Publishers.