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There is work related to earning our livelihood and also work related specifically to the kingdom of God. For many who are involved ‘full-time’ in Christian work, there is obviously an overlap. But for the majority of Christians, there is a ‘secular’ work which they do for most part, while some of them also do some form of ‘Christian service’ or ‘ministry’ in addition. Actually it is not right to separate these two types of work in this manner because that might give us an impression that the way we do these two things can also be different – we carry out our secular work in the same way as non-Christians, but when it comes to ministry we need to employ a different set of values!
Once we become children of God, our entire life comes into the ownership of God. Our whole life becomes accountable to God, and integrity has to become a major aspect of our life. We cannot have any double standards, one for our secular work and another for our ministry or spiritual life. We cannot behave in one way in the church and another at home or workplace. God tells us that whatever we do, including eating and drinking, we ought to do it recognising that it is for Him that we do it, and He is our Master whom we serve and to whom we have to give an account (Col.3:23,24;1Cor.10:31). So everything is to be done in a way that is pleasing to Him.
When we look at our secular work in this way, we can see that it is not any less important than our ‘ministry’. If God has placed us in a secular position, that is where He wants us to be, and what we do there is one of the things He wants from us. In connection with the anointing God gave Bezalel and Oholiab for making the tabernacle for the people of Israel in the wilderness, God says, “In the hearts of all who are skilful I have put skill, that they may make all that I have commanded you” (Exo.31:6). Whatever ‘secular’ work people do for the benefit of mankind, it is God who has equipped them with knowledge and skills. So ‘secular work’ and ‘secular workers’ are not to be belittled or looked down upon by Christians. Just imagine how the world would run if all the people were only reading the Bible or praying, and not doing any work! There are thousands of different things to be done, and many people are required to do them, and that is why God has equipped different people to do them. For example, even an atheistic medical doctor is using the intelligence and skills God has given him to cure sicknesses even for believing Christians! Once we understand things in this way, we can glorify God in whatever we do.
Many Christians who are in secular work feel bad thinking that they are spending a lot of their life in doing worthless work, while they would have been happier to be doing some ‘ministry’. This is because of a misunderstanding. Once we understand that if we do ‘secular’ work or ‘ministry’ as unto the Lord, both are equally valuable to Him. How would it be if He wants us to work as a farmer or office clerk but we resign from all such things and become evangelists? We would have failed in life! There are comparatively only a few whom God calls to serve Him ‘full time’ in His ministry. Such people will hear the call clearly, and God will also clear the way for them to go forward. But there are others who feel like they want to serve God because of the gratitude for what He has done for them, and jump into ministry without hearing any call from God. This leads them and others into a lot of confusion that needs to be avoided.
There is a divine purpose God has even when He calls us to secular work. When God chose the nation of Israel to be a special people in the midst of heathen nations, one of His goals was to let it shine as an example for all the other nations. He wants us to be examples of how someone ought to work faithfully in the different settings He places us in. People around us should be able to see us and wonder what makes us different (Matt.5:16). They should see us being faithful to our work even when the boss is not around, careful about punctuality, not wasting time with unnecessary chatting or the internet, showing carefulness in dealing with people of the opposite gender, impeccable in handling money, not pilfering things for personal use, etc. If they can also see as friendly and genuinely willing to help, and not who are sticklers with religious rules, it may draw their heart to us and then to our Saviour. When they see the difference and asks us about it, it gives us an occasion to share our testimony about what God has done in our life. In many places of work rules may not permit open evangelistic activities, but personal conversations with colleagues may still be possible. On occasions like Christmas and Good Friday, it is natural that people may ask us about them, and then again we get opportunities to share the Gospel in an inoffensive way. We ought to be careful not to be crude or unwise in bringing up ‘religion’ in our work setup, for which we can be even penalised.
One thing that commonly happens in a secular setup is that Christians are made to suffer for being Christians. In some cases we may be mistreated, mocked or side-lined just because we are Christians. Or we may be asked to do things that are unrighteous or unethical when we will have to choose whether we will fear God or man. This gives us an occasion to tell our boss or colleagues why we take such positions. But it may also happen that we lose our promotion, certain benefits or even our job. We ought to be wise in the way we do things, and we do not have to be foolish or naïve in the way we show our religion! But when our trust in our Lord, we don’t have to live in fear of what man may do to us but focus on what is pleasing to the Lord.
Among the Beatitudes there is this promise of God’s rewards coming to those who suffer persecution, insults or slander about them for Christ’s sake (Matt.5:10-12). We pray for our protection, but if God allows us to face such things we can believe that He will cause them to work something for our good (Rom.8:28) and learn to bless those who curse, hurt and trouble us (Matt.5:44). Our eternal rewards will far outweigh what we might lose here.
Once we accept God’s standard for every part of our life, another thing that confronts us is how we handle our secular work, family life and ministry, priority wise. Some people float a simplistic formula, “God first, family second, work last.” Even though this is good as a general guideline, we cannot use it as a rigid law. We need to keep it as an overall goal, but we must also be flexible in the short term, depending on the immediate requirements. For example, if there is an emergency requirement at work we may have to skip church or a family commitment, keeping in mind that this should not become regular and that the greater priority is indeed for God and the family. It may be that it is the family that needs immediate attention in a difficult situation because of which work and church may need to be put aside temporarily. When the emergency is over, we can return to the normal set of priorities.
At the same time, if the work situation becomes so demanding that the church or family is getting neglected overall, then perhaps it would be good to consider moving to another job.
We must keep in mind that there is going to be a pressure from the workplace to give it the maximum priority, in the form of wanting to impress the boss, get better appraisals, create a great personal record, earn more money for the family, etc. Here is where we must recognise that there are more important things in life such as our relationship with God and our family. It may be noted that when people come near their death, what they wish for is to be right with God and the presence of family members.
From the time of the end of the Second World War where millions of men died and wives took on the extra role of working outside their home, it is now commonly accepted that in most homes both husbands and wives may be working. For the wives this is somewhat empowering, because they will no longer be at the mercy of their husbands financially, they gain respect in society for their work and their voice gets heard in the family as well as elsewhere. At the same time, the cost they pay is extra stress, having to deal with managing the home and also the job in the workplace. This stress comes because the woman was designed originally only to manage the home as a wife and mother (Tit.2:4,5). They must not forget that their primary responsibility is towards their husband and children. But now she has to take on additional responsibility at work too. By taking on this double responsibility, she also loses her time to relax and enjoy her family moments with her husband and children. It is not that she is not capable of handling work that is generally done by men (except when it comes to hard physical labour), but that the effect of double stress without relaxation can make her suffer psycho-somatic problems and also impact her relationships at home.
If her husband recognises what she is going through, and instead of taking advantage of her (or abusing her) starts shouldering some of her home responsibilities (helping with the kitchen, washing, taking care of children, etc.), then there is a chance that this pressure is kept under control and everyone is more or less happy. But if the case is that the husband insists on her handling all her load by herself, there will be a very unhappy wife and an unhappy home.
A Christian husband who takes responsibility over the home and loves his wife sacrificially will take on extra responsibilities on himself to make things easier for his wife and children. But the sad thing we see in many families is that children who have grown up in a self-centred way, who are used to getting their own way from the parents who have pampered them, expect their spouses to take care of them without they themselves lifting up their hands to help each other.
Couples will have to examine themselves to see what is driving them – is it a desire for luxury and entertainment or is it a determination to do everything as unto the Lord?
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