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Fishing the World – The Practice of Occupation and Vocation

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I introduced our third core value in being and becoming God’s Beloved: fishing the world for God. We live this value by doing four priorities and practices: Occupation & Vocation, Evangelism, Social Transformation, and Church Planting/Missions. Jesus’ generic call to all people, “Follow me and I will form you into fishers of people” (Mk 1:17), was first to fisher-men. If he were calling builders he would form them into builders of people for God’s Kingdom; if mothers, then mothers for the Kingdom, and so on. I.e. Jesus’ call embodies the three core values (follow, form and fish) AND establishes the first priority and practice to fish people: to live our Kingdom vocation (calling) via our daily occupation (work).

Our Kingdom vocation is the call to follow Jesus in relational intimacy, being spiritually (trans)formed into his image through his local community/family of followers, in order to fish people to follow Jesus, beginning where you live and work. How do we do THAT in and through our occupationdefined as that which occupies our daily time and energy, i.e. our work, job, trade, career, profession, etc? What is God’s view of occupation/work?

A Theology of Work (Occupation)

Rabbis say Genesis 1 to 3, the creation story, is reality’s foundation – the rest of the Hebrew Testament is its commentary. Creation gives a theology of work, both before and after the fall into sin. The New Testament gives a view of work fulfilled in Messiah Jesus.

Gen 1 is God’s good creation. The pinnacle or climax is humans made in God’s image and likeness, male and female. They are given the ‘creation mandate’ (vocation) to rule God’s creation as stewards accountable to God – not as proud owners – taking God’s Reign of Shalom (Paradise of Love) to the ends of the earth (work). Vocation & Occupation are one!

Gen 2 is a zoom-lens on the creation of male and female. Before the fall work is a caring cultivation and growth of God’s good creation, the Garden of Delight, in partnership with God, each other, and creation. From Gen 1, God worked (created) for five days – each day his work was “good”. On the 6th day he worked (created) humans as his image-bearers, and it was “very good”. Then he rested – the 7th day, the Sabbath – and all creation with him; i.e. humans begin life by resting in God’s rest together with creation. The 8th day of creation: Adam and Eve worked from rest – with and for God, each other and creation – continuing God’s good work of creation, ‘Shaloming’ the earth. Some key implications:

  • Being made in God’s image means we are created to work God’s creation.
  • Work is good and dignified because God worked, and continues to work (John 5:17f).
  • But we’re made to live and work from (God’s) rest, not to live and work for (our) rest – resting in God enables productive work of eternal consequence.[1]
  • Work is partnership with God – under and for God – then it’s creative, with meaning and purpose, no matter the type or effort of work, as it fulfils our creation mandate.

Gen 3 is ‘The Fall’ – human rebellion against God – and it’s radical consequences for people and the planet. The remainder of the Old Testament is a wrestling with this reality, seeking a return to Eden. Adam and Eve’s sin brought the curse of death, changing all relationships. Death is separation from God (spiritual alienation and physical mortality); from ourselves (guilt and shame); from one another (gender struggle, he rules over her, no longer radical equals ruling complementarily under God over his good creation); from creation (idolatry: we worship creation as God and/or dominate and exploit it to satisfy ourselves, our lusts, as God. See Rom 1:18-23). Work (occupation) ceased to be a divine dance of partnership with God, each other and creation, no longer fulfilling our mandate (vocation) to care for the earth, to enhance God’s Shalom creation. Now, under the curse, Occupation & Vocation separate. Work is a wrestling with the earth, a “painful toil”, jealously competing with one another (Gen 4:2-12) for resources, “by the sweat of your brow (to) eat your food” (Gen 3:17-19). We work, using up our strength, in order to get the resources (money) to make (buy) food and eat, and then to rest, to have the strength to work to earn money to buy food to eat to rest to have the strength… a meaningless rat race or hamster wheel of mind-numbing toil. Solomon reflects on this futility of work, “chasing after the wind”, and on it’s dignity, significance and reward under God’s blessing (Eccl 2:17-26, 12:13-14).

Work Redeemed in Messiah Jesus  

Jesus of Nazareth, God’s Messiah, came to redeem humanity and planet earth from the curse of sin and death. This includes work – liberated from the curse – BUT, in the tension of the Kingdom “already” come and “not yet” fully come. Occupation & Vocation join as one under Christ’s rule and reign. In Christ we find meaning and purpose in work, no matter our type or place of work – unless it’s directly sinful or anti-God! As Christ-followers we learn to live our God-given vocation (the renewed creation-Kingdom mandate) in and through our occupation (whatever occupies our daily time and energy).

How do we do this?

  • By healing the divide between ‘secular work’ and ‘spiritual ministry’ in your mind; as a Christ-follower your work becomes your ministry and mission in the world
  • By seeing our workplace as the piece of earth where God’s Kingdom comes, where his will is done as it is in heaven, because we’re there as Christ’s ambassadors (2 Cor 5:20)
  • By seeing the kind of work we do as our particular partnership in working with God, using our gifts, talents and training to creatively ‘reshalom’ the earth
  • By doing our work for the Lord, not as “eye pleasers” to our bosses, but for our real Boss who sees and knows everything, and rewards us (Col 3:22-25 1 Cor 15:58).
  • Thus, the quality of our work as our daily witness to the world of who God is, of his character and integrity, of Jesus’ love and salvation
  • This naturally and easily leads to evangelism – the growing respect and relationship that you develop at work opens the hearts and minds of those around you to the Gospel

All this is summed up by Paul: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders, and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (1 Thess 4:11) Note his comment on work as witness to the world. He also gives strong instruction and warning regarding idleness and laziness – to eat one must work (see 2 Thess 3:6-15). This raises the painful reality of unemployment in our society and the need for people within the local church to open doors for one another to find work.

For Personal Reflection and Home Group Discussion

What work do you do? What’s your view of, and attitude to, work? Do you like your job?

Do you agree, or disagree, with the ‘theology of work’ in the creation story (Gen 1 to 3)?

How do you personally seek to live out your Kingdom vocation through your occupation? What’s the most significant thing you’ve learnt from this teaching?

[1] It’s not only the Sabbath principle: God created every day to begin at sunset, first evening then morning (Gen 1:5,8,13,19,23,31). We begin each day by entering rest/sleep (evening prayer, Psalm 4). We re-enter the day when it’s half over (morning prayer, Psalm 5), to work out in the daylight what God works in us while we sleep, thus living and working from his rest, his strength.

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