“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
I ended yesterday’s devotional with this passage Colossians, whicj is a companion to Ephesians 4:1. It provides additional specificity to what God calls us to do with regards to work. It describes the mindset—the attitude—that we as Christians should bring to all our daily activities.
Colossians tells us that whatever we do, we should “work at it with all our heart.” It’s unfortunate that most of the translations use the word “heart” or “heartily” here, because in the Greek text the word is “soul.” Kardia is the Greek word for heart, but that is not the word used in this verse. The Greek word used here is psuche, which means “soul.”
Our soul is our life, our inner being, the combination of our thoughts and feelings and will. The Hebrew equivalent is the word nephesh, which is used in Genesis 2.7: “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being (nephesh / psuche / soul).” Since our soul is the life that is “breathed into us” from God, it is very closely tied to God’s image within us.
As a follower of Jesus, I find the Colossians passage incredibly inspiring. The Lord is instructing and encouraging us to bring our “soul and mind” to what we do every day. He wants us to bring the fulness of our soul to bear on our work, our marriage, our parenting, and our friendships. Everything we do should be done with a focused mind and fully engaged soul because we are serving the God who has breathed his very life into us.
What comes to mind is an athletics coach challenging players to give relentless effort on behalf of the team. This is essentially what the word psuche / soul means in this passage. Give yourself fully and selflessly to what you do every day, whether it is your job, your family, or your friendships. Hold nothing back, give everything … and do it for the Lord and for the people you are serving.
The athletics example is very appropriate, because in order to give max effort in a game, you must be prepared. Strength development, technique training, film study, nutrition, and rest are all necessary in order to perform with selflessness and relentless effort on game day. Talent by itself isn’t enough. You can’t just show up on game day and perform. You must practice and prepare.
That is precisely how the Christian life works. The process of spiritual growth is literally the development of the soul, that is, the development of the life that God has breathed into us. His presence within us is like “talent.” We have it by virtue of our relationship with him, but it needs to be developed and cultivated. Being saved is one thing, being mature in Christ is something else altogether.
Let us then go about our activities with a “fully engaged soul.” Let us meet the challenges and opportunities of the day selflessly, with relentless effort, and with the fullness of our soul.
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3.17)
Calling in the bible is a central and dynamic theme. To be a disciple of Jesus is to be a “called one.” In our study of the Upper Room Discourse in the gospel of John, and now here again in Ephesians, it has become abundantly clear that Jesus first calls us to Himself and then calls us back into the world so that we might live and work to fulfill His purposes.
Again, Os Guinness is helpful. Guinness says that in responding to God’s call on our life, it is important to make a distinction between primary calling and secondary calling. The primary calling is to Him and for Him. It is Jesus’ summons to repent of sin, believe, and follow Him in every aspect of our lives. Guinness writes: “First and foremost we are called to Someone (God), not to something (such as motherhood, politics, or teaching) or to somewhere (such as the inner city or Outer Mongolia).”
The secondary calling is the activity that we choose to focus on in the world, the job that we choose and the daily work that we do. “We can therefore properly say as a matter of secondary calling that we are called to homemaking or to the practice of law or to art history,” Guinness writes. “But these and other things are always the secondary, never the primary calling. They are our personal answer to God’s address, our response to God’s summons. Secondary callings matter, but only because the primary calling matters most.”
The vital distinction between primary and secondary calling carries with it two challenges—first, to hold the two together and, second, to ensure that they are kept in the right order. In other words, if we understand calling, we must make sure that first things remain first and the primary calling always comes before the secondary calling. But we must also make sure that the primary calling leads without fail to the secondary calling.
One mistake is a spiritualized form of dualism that elevates the “spiritual” at the expense of the “physical.” This error emphasizes the primary calling and de-emphasizes the secondary calling. In this approach, believing in Jesus is the only thing that really matters, and doing your daily job is simply not a priority. Working is necessary in order to put food on the table, but it is not a point of focus, and not really part of God’s kingdom plan.
Martin Luther spoke out strongly against this de-emphasis of daily work. “The works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks, but that all works are measured before God by faith alone. . . . Indeed, the menial housework of a manservant or maidservant is often more acceptable to God than all the fastings and other works of a monk or priest, because the monk or priest lacks faith.”
A second mistake is a secularized form of dualism that elevates the “physical” at the expense of the “spiritual.” This error emphasizes the secondary calling and de-emphasizes the primary calling. It severs work from faith altogether. It separates daily work from faith in Christ. With this error, work itself becomes the calling, and people do daily work with no consideration for the principles and standards and disciplines of the kingdom of God.
The secularization of calling is revealed in how the word vocation has changed over the years. “Vocation” is actually the Latin word for “calling,” and originally it had a deeply spiritual meaning. It referred to the work someone did as called by God. Today, however, it is simply used to describe work with no connection to God. In other words, slowly but surely secondary callings swallowed up the primary calling.
People go to work every day, but they have forgotten why and for Whom.
But there can be no real vocation or calling without a Caller. God first calls us to Himself, and then He calls us into the world. We must keep the primary calling just that — primary. Only then can we truly understand and respond to our secondary calling. We must do our jobs and pursue excellence in our daily work because we are working for the Audience of One.
The great British army officer General Charles Gordon was a man who responded to God’s call. A friend once described Gordon this way: “What at once and always struck me was the way in which his oneness with God ruled all his actions and his mode of seeing things. I never knew one who seemed so much to ‘endure as seeing Him who is invisible.’” Gordon, the friend concluded, seemed “to live with God, and for God.”
May this be what our friends say about us when they observe our lives and our daily work.
God created us to be workers. Work is one of the primary ways we fulfill the dominion mandate that the Lord gives in Genesis. We are uniquely equipped and empowered to do the work required to have dominion. When we do our jobs in a way that is consistent with God’s image, we fulfill God’s purpose for our lives.
Here is what happens when we “work heartily for the Lord.”
- Collaborate with God in the project called “earth.”
- Display his glory. We reflect his image and represent his kingdom.
- Provide for our families.
- Produce things that society needs and uses.
- Express our identity and experience fulfillment.
- Bring order and structure to society and its institutions.
- Restore and repair broken things.
- Attract people to God’s kingdom.
The work that we do every day is important. Look around you and consider all the things that are the product of human labor. The houses we live in, the clothes we wear, the roads we travel on and the cars we travel in are all produced by the work of people.
Work is required to get food on the table and running water and electricity in our homes. The computers and phones we use, the TVs we watch, and the radios we listen to are all created by work. The pens and paper we write with. The chairs we sit in. The shoes we wear. The list could go on.
Virtually everything we interact with and/or use every day is produced by people doing work.