Last week I mentioned that the common evangelical view of kingdom theology has led to errant thinking about Christian work in society that either dismisses the validity of work other than “full time Christian service” or (more recently) validates work in society by insisting that it is “kingdom work.”
A proper understanding of the two kingdoms and individual Christians’ relationship to each kingdom contradicts both forms this errant thinking takes. Since God is the one who ordained human institutions, common vocations are valuable means through which God is ruling and preserving the universal common kingdom. And since Christians are citizens of this common kingdom alongside every other human being, all legitimate human vocations are worthy and valuable in and of themselves without any need to “redeem” them or motivate them through some tenuous connection to the redemptive kingdom.
This is why the New Testament very directly teaches Christians how they should view their various vocations. For example, Ephesians 5 and 6 present specific instructions for how Christians should act in various callings such as wives, husbands, parents, children, masters, and servants. Colossians 3 has similar instructions and says that with each of these vocations, “You are serving the Lord Christ.” Husbands, wives, children, parents, business owners, and workers are serving the Lord through their everyday, common vocations as part of the way God is preserving his world. Perhaps most remarkable of all is that in verse 22 Paul addresses bondservants. A bondservant in the time Paul wrote this was one of the worst stations of life in which someone could find himself. Bondservants usually owed some kind of debt to their masters, had to do the dirtiest most menial kinds of work, and were often paid very poorly. And yet, Paul looks at these individuals whose jobs include some of the most mundane, earthly, secular work, and he says to them, in your job as a bondservant, you are serving the Lord Christ. Paul is intentionally choosing the lowliest of all professions and calling it service to Christ as a way of saying that all legitimate human vocations in life are service to the Lord Christ. There is no legitimate profession that is somehow inferior in its ability to serve Christ than another. In other words, being a pastor or a missionary is no more glorifying to God than being an accountant, a garbage man, or third chair second violin in the Fort Worth Symphony; they are just vocations in service of God’s rule over the common kingdom rather than his rule over his redemptive kingdom. All legitimate vocations can be full time service for God, not in the sense of somehow working to actualize the Messianic reign on earth, but rather in the sense of mediating the Universal sovereign rule of God over the created order.
Here again, the sixteenth century Reformers articulated some of the most helpful explanations of this biblical theology of vocation. Martin Luther was particularly brilliant in arguing that God works through every legitimate profession. He used Psalm 147:13, for example, to prove this. The verse reads, “For God strengthens the bars of your gates;” How does God strengthen the bars, Luther askes? By city planners and architects; by politicians who pass good laws to protect the city. The psalm continues, “God blesses your children within you.” How does he bless our children, Luther askes? Through the work of teachers and pediatricians. The psalm continues, “God makes peace in your borders.” How? by means of good lawyers and policemen. “God fills you with the finest of the wheat.” How? By farmers and factory workers and grocers. Luther went on to say this: “When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to ‘give us this day our daily bread.’ And he does give us our daily bread. He does it by means of the farmer who planted and harvested the grain, the baker who made the flour into bread, the person who prepared our meal.” God answers our prayer for daily bread through each of these vocations. Our legitimate professions, Luther said, are like the “masks” God wears in caring for the world. They are God’s work as part of the Universal sovereign reign of God.
Because of this reality, the New Testament tells Christians how they should act in each of these vocations, and none of it is triumphalistic eschatological language. Colossians 3 says to “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for man.” Christian bakers should bake the best bread possible. Christian bankers should invest their clients’ money with the highest integrity. Christian auto mechanics should fix cars to the best of their abilities. And Christian musicians should make music that best reflects and expresses the glory, beauty, and splendor of God. They must do so in a way that is holy (e.g. 1 Peter 1:15), considering how their beliefs and relationship with God necessarily affect all aspects of human life in society, and they should “do good unto all men” (Gal 6:10), loving their neighbors as themselves (Mark 12:31) simply as fellow members of the human race. This good work is valuable in its own right without the need for some sort of eschatological or redemptive motivation, but simply because in so doing, they are serving the Lord Christ. They are acting as members of God’s Universal Kingdom alongside other members of that kingdom.