This article by Rev. S. de Marie is based on a speech titled ‘Christian and Career’ which he presented January 14, 2017.
Our society pays much attention to earthly gratification: money, consumption, sex, entertainment. Career paths are directed – where possible – towards enjoying a luxurious life, nice holidays, and much free time. Many people focus on personal development, wealth, food, leisure and entertainment. They work to eat and enjoy life, rather than eat and enjoy working to the glory of God and to serve the neighbour.
How do we as Christians find our way in this consumerism? This is where we must follow the rule: You be totally different, for you know Christ! If we are serious about living as Christians we will always have to make responsible choices.
For example, children and parents choosing the right job training course will also keep in mind the future employment this could lead to. It’s not only practical issues that play a role, such as: what are my strengths, can I handle that work, what training subjects are meaningful and useful; and, regarding a job, will I earn enough, is there a future in it or can I change direction? Always of greater importance with respect to courses of study is the question: Does this contribute to my development as a Christian? And regarding a job: Is this a calling for me as a Christian; can I serve and honour the Lord in it? I may well conclude that a particular course of study is totally unsuitable or even dangerous; or that as a Christian I must avoid or even shun this particular job.
What must, in all of this, be the standard by which I measure things? What is most important? Who will help me with this?
To provide some basic guidance I will spell out five ‘frameworks’ which are also mutually related.
FRAMEWORK 1: The ultimate goal of your life
The first framework deals with the goal of your life: to be image of God.
He created you to represent Him as His image on earth, to glorify Him in your life and your work (see Genesis 1:27). Whilst the fall into sin affected this ability to represent God as His image bearer, in Christ this goal has again become possible.
If you believe in Him you may know that He not only paid for your sins, but has also become the perfect image of God in your place. Moreover, He grants you as a believer His Spirit to live and work again as image of God and, in that way, to present yourself to the Lord as a living sacrifice, holy and well pleasing before Him (Rom 12:1, 2).
Thus the ultimate goal and the great sense of your whole life on earth is to be image of God. If things are right, being a ‘Christian’ is the same as being ‘image of God’. It means that in all areas of your life, you set out to perform the office of all believers: to be prophet, priest, and king in the service of Christ, to imitate Him in everything.
This includes your faith, your exercise in godliness, your church attendance and participation in the communion of saints, your choice of a life’s marriage partner, your open-handedness. And it certainly also includes your studies, your training and your work! Adam was commissioned to be fruitful and subdue the earth to the glory of God. It is within the framework of being God’s image that you must pursue your education, your work, your career.
FRAMEWORK 2: The big picture
The choices you make in your life as a Christian involve your whole person, your whole life. You cannot, before the Lord, carve up your life into pieces from which to make individual selections—for example, by exclusively focussing on your career. No, everything falls under God’s call in this order:
- You are destined by God Himself to focus on Him, for you are His image.This involves especially your faith, your religion, your place in the church and lending your support in building it up.
- Related to this, God also requires that you as a Christian have the interest of your neighbour in mind; first of all in the communion of saints and your (future) family, but also in the wider community.
- Then, also related to the above, you will seek your own interest. You may and must develop yourself, but never apart from God’s honour, the wellbeing of the neighbour and the care for your family.
With your income you will be in a position to support church and school, but should also let others who are in need share in your abundance.
Keep in mind that life is one because God gives you one life in His service, for His glory. Since He is master over all areas of life, He also demands your whole life for Himself. He equips you for it with every necessary ability and strength. But He also asks you to give an account of what you have done with those gifts in your service to Him and for His kingdom. Thus everything in your life must work together, be brought in tune and the proper balance.
So you should not think: I’m first of all going to apply all my energies for several years to studying and completing a training course; then I will devote everything to building up a career; and thereafter – when I am around 35 – there will still be time for setting up a family, for faith and the church.
With that kind of program you are thinking only of yourself, of your own development, and not of the great job God gave you to do as a Christian and member of the church. That way you would not be image of God, and you would not be following Christ but yourself and this consumer world.
FRAMEWORK 3: Different gifts and powers
The one person has received more, the other fewer, gifts from the Lord. In the fields of thought and action these can strongly diverge. The one person can and does much more with his hands while the other has more brain power. Some have been given and have developed greater social skills than those who prefer to work by themselves. You will notice these differences in the communion of saints (see 1 Cor 12), but also in general society.
Now the question is: Do you actually use the talents the Lord has given to you? Do you make use of the gifts you received from Him, or are you sloppy and even indifferent about them? Consider the parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30.)
At creation God also made a distinction between the man and the woman. He gave them different abilities, physical but also psychological, directed at the respective tasks God allocated to them. So the woman focuses on the man and the family and the man can be head of the family.
The Marriage Form, in addressing the man, says: Be faithful in the exercise of your profession, so you are able to support your family and help other people. And addressing the woman it says: Be a help to your husband and take good care of your family.
But today’s society no longer accepts this distinction. It emphasises that men and women have equal rights everywhere and must have the same opportunities in whatever field they choose. Womanhood is not orientated at man, family and children.
This ‘liberating’ idea is given much attention, and promoted in particular by the government. Think of those taxation rules that place single-income families at a disadvantage!
FRAMEWORK 4: Guidelines
God’s Word is our yardstick, our standard and guideline also for choices regarding school and work. Of course, the world has very different norms and values, and a very different perspective than that given by God’s Word. Therefore, as a Christian you will often find yourself standing alone. That may also apply to your studies, and in particular your chosen profession, bringing you into situations that are in conflict with God’s Word. When planning your career and its implementation you will always let yourself be guided by God’s Word and Law.
That Law – God’s commandments – provide answers to many day-to-day questions, such as:
First Commandment: Does Mammon, the love of money, play a role in my plans? What is my goal as regards financial and material possessions? Is it my goal to earn as much money as possible, if necessary by sacrificing even my family and church activities?
Second Commandment: Do I love the Lord while I’m on the job? Do I pray before having lunch? Do I behave as a Christian during and outside of working hours? Do I serve the Lord as a wife and mother when I take a fulltime job?
Third Commandment: What do I do if at school or work there is blasphemy? What example do I set?
Fourth Commandment: Can I take a job if on Sunday I have to attend a conference or exhibition or perform other non-essential work?
Fifth Commandment: Do I join in with strike action? Do I obey my teacher or boss?
Sixth Commandment: Do I cooperate with euthanasia in healthcare? How do I deal with alcohol at a work social? Do I seek promotion to the detriment of others?
Seventh Commandment: Do I participate in dancing at a work outing or school party?
Eighth Commandment: Am I honest in business? How do I complete my tax return? Do I fake deductions? Do I also give from my earnings to a needy neighbour?
Ninth Commandment: Do I partake in gossiping about my boss, supervisor or colleague?
Tenth Commandment: Am I satisfied with my work or just jealous of a colleague who is better paid?
FRAMEWORK 5: Priorities
We face many questions about school, training, work, society, family, leisure and church! How do we as Christians respond to them in a way that is pleasing to the Lord? What comes first? What must we sometimes let go? How do we find our way in setting priorities, in determining what must come first? It is so important in our hectic society that our younger members, too, learn to think carefully about these things!
Your study or your work can be so demanding that you hardly have time to spare for Bible reading, Bible study and prayer. Then you will easily decide to skip the Bible Study Club or congregational meetings. Or you do so much for the church on top of your daily work that you no longer pay attention to your wife and children. You’re happy to leave the upbringing of your children to your wife, because she is also better at it. In both instances the priorities are not placed correctly and you do not meet your responsibilities.
The goal in life is not that you should squeeze every field to the last drop. You will have to set priorities, as you will have to answer to the Lord for all the tasks He has given you. First things first – also when it turns out to be detrimental to your exam, your wallet or your leisure.
It is essential that our youth learn at home from their parents that preparing for and attending Catechism class is of greater importance to the Lord than achieving a high grade in school. They must be told: you do not study on Sundays, even not if you cannot otherwise get ready for an exam. You do not secretly do some work on Sunday in order to make your boss happy. No, it is really true: “Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord your God. Then you shall not do any work.” Are you not the image of God in all areas of life?
In setting priorities is also very important that you keep your promises. Just think of the promise you gave to the Lord when you publicly professed your faith. Then there are the other vows we make, vows of a married couple to live in accordance with the gospel; the promise parents make at the baptism of their child(ren) regarding the instruction in the doctrine of the church; the promises made by the office-bearers at their ordination. All these are precious promises sworn to the Lord that you are not allowed to shirk.
You can also not absent yourself from the communion of saints on the ground that you must urgently be promoted at work. If you have been chosen to become an office-bearer you may not ask to be relieved from that calling on the same grounds.
To be sure, there are sometimes very special circumstances which justify the need to decline being an office bearer. The general rule is, however, that God’s call commands top priority!
If as a wife you are obliged to work, you are not allowed to leave the care of your family largely to your husband because you happen to be able to get a better paid job. You will also not together spend so much time at your jobs that the upbringing of your children needs to be significantly out-sourced to childcare or helpful grandmothers. You must fulfil what you promised to the Lord.
One pitfall is that people around us are setting such different priorities. They rank career, free time and entertainment first in their list of priorities. But for us the rule is what the Lord teaches in Matt 6: 33: Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.
How can you now plan to do justice to everything the Lord gives and asks assuming that as a Christian you chose and are pursuing the right career?
By taking into account all five mentioned frameworks:
- Keep the great goal in mind, that is: be image of God, live as a Christian and work to God’s honour.
- Servethe big picture: see life as a coherent whole intended for service to God.
- Take into account yourpersonal distinct talents and duties.
- Use the universal guide andstandard of God’s Word and Law.
- Evaluate and choose the required priorities.
All this is not easy if important choices are to be made. You will need advice from others, your parents or maybe from office-bearers. But especially needed is a thorough knowledge of God’s Word and wisdom from above. The latter requires daily prayer for guidance by the Holy Spirit to decide the right priorities by the light of God’s Word and to make the right choices.
It often happens that you will still have to make an adjustment during the planning process. But if you want to serve the Lord in this manner in love to Him and the neighbour you may expect His blessing upon your life.
*This article was translated from church magazine De Bazuin, number 7 of 5 April 2017. Where the article reflected the unique Dutch situation, it has been slightly amended.