Vocation and Work

The doctrine of vocation is a natural lead into a discussion on work. Work is one facet of vocation. It is one context where God calls an individual to worship him, serve his neighbor, provide for his family, utilize his heart, head, and hands  and  benefit humanity. Robert Barnett is a pastor who teaches a course on work at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. In a helpful article, he boils down the contents of his class for easy reading. He begins the article with this statement.

“If we are to help ourselves and others integrate Christian faith with the daily activities of the workaday world, the purpose of work and vocation must be adequately understood within the larger contours of our theology and world view. Therefore, I have identified and briefly summarized several ‘theologies of work’ that, in my view, represent various evangelical and mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic traditions.”

Barnett identifies the following models of work and seeks to briefly describe each of them.

VOCATIONAL MODEL (LUTHERAN)


 Selected article
Veith, Gene Edward. “The Doctrine of Vocation: How God Hides in Human Work.” Modern Reformation 8:3 (May/June 1999).
Quote from article
“The Reformation doctrine of vocation teaches that God himself is active in everyday human labor, family responsibilities, and social interactions.”
Key points of the article
  1. God uses every day work to providentially care for human beings through their talents, opportunities, and stations in life; Luther called this the “mask of God.”
  2. People are providentially called in to various vocations based on the God-ordained circumstances of their life. For example, a man may be simultaneously a farmer, citizen, churchman, husband, and father, and is thus called by God to those vocations.
  3. The purpose of one’s vocation is to serve other people.
VOCATIONAL MODEL (REFORMED)


 Selected article
Hart, D. G. “Work as (Spiritual) Discipline.” Modern Reformation 11:4 (July/August 2002).
Quote from article
“The doctrine of creation and providence, in the reformers’ hands, elevated work that was once thought to be tainted because of its “worldliness” into a calling blessed by God.”
 Key points of the article
  1. Work is founded upon Providence: God cares for His creation through our work, thus all legitimate vocations are significant to God.
  2. Work involves Worship: We worship God through obedience toHim in all areas of life; thus our attitude makes work meaningful.
  3. Work provides a context for Sanctification: Work cultivates godliness (especially moderation and self-control); thus any job can transform us.
 TRINITARIAN MODEL

 Selected article
Meeks, M. Douglas. “God and Work.” In God the Economist: The Doctrine of God and Political Economy. Fortress Press, 1998.
 Quote from article
“A humanizing economy depends on the creation of meaningful work for every person who is able and wants to work. This is necessary for the formation of a community that can realize human rights and redistribute wealth.”
 Key points of the article
  1. Each person of the Trinity engages in distinctive personal work- the Father creates,the Son redeems, and the Spirit empowers the mission of the Father and Son. Thus, all people have a right to meaningful work according to one’s abilities.
  2. The Trinity engages in cooperative work; each Person of the Trinity engages in work that coinheres in the work other the other Persons. Thus, human work must contribute to the life of the community.
  3. The Trinity engages in egalitarian work- the work of one Person of the Trinity is not elevated higher than that of the other Persons. Thus, all forms of work that exploit or dominate are wrong.
  4. The Trinity engages in self-giving love toward each other. Incentives to work that are dehumanizing are wrong (e.g., denigration of toilsome work over and above leisure; or exaltation of success without regard for the position or welfare of others in the community).
 CHARISMATIC MODEL

 Selected article
Volf, Miroslav. “Human Work, Divine Spirit, and New Creation: Toward a Pneumatological Understanding of Work.” Pneuma 9 (1987):173-193.
 Quote from article
“When God calls people to become God’s children the Spirit gives them both callings and capabilities in the form of charismas to do particular tasks either in the Christian fellowship or in the world.”
 Key points of the article
  1. Work is the exercise of one’s Charisma (spiritual gifts, talents, and abilities) toaccomplish God’s purposes both inside and outside of the Church; both Christians and non-Christians are given such spiritual gifts.
  2. Work can have lasting significance when it is involved in the Spirit’s instrumental purpose to transform creation (there is continuity between the old and new creation). Thus, work does not have significance if it is not clearly transforming culture.
  3. Work has an ethical implication: “Occupation should create the social space for the free exercise of one’s gifts in the service of one’s neighbor; occupations that do not meet such criteria should be changed.” Hardy, “Review of Work in the Spirit.” 193.
ONTOLOGICAL MODEL


 Selected article
Cosden, Darrell. “The Threefold Definition of Work and Its Application,” pp. 153-161. In Theology of Work. Ph.D. thesis. St. Andrews University, 1998.
 Quote from article
“Human work is a transformative activity essentially consisting of dynamically interrelated instrumental, relational, and ontological dimensions: whereby, along with work being an end in itself, the worker’s and others’ needs are providentially met; believers’ sanctification is occasioned; and workers express, explore and develop their humanness while building up their natural, social and cultural environments thereby contributing protectively and productively to the order of this world and the one to come.”
 Key points of the article
  1. Work is instrumental (work is a means to an end).Work provides sustenance to the worker and to society and enables personal spiritual formation.
  2. Work is relational (work is a means to an end). Work provides for personal self-fulfillment and is a context for social relationships. Work enables the development and improvement of societal structures.
  3. Work is ontological (work is an end itself). Work has value through its relationship to creation. Since we are created in the image of God (who is a worker), our work is significant because we model God’s nature. Thus, all legitimate work has significance, no matter how mundane or ordinary. Work has value through its eschatological status (its relationship to the new creation as work is transformed and glorified along with all of creation in the consummation). Thus, work has significance because it is related to God’s ultimate purposes.
COLLABAORATIVE MODEL (ROMAN CATHOLIC)


 Selected article
John Paul II. “Work and Man” and “Elements for a Spirituality of Work.” Chapters in Laborem Exercens: Encyclical Letter of the Supreme Pontif John Paul II on Human Work. Catholic Truth Society, 1981.
 Quote from article
“Sweat and toil, which work necessarily involves in the present condition of the human race, present the Christian and everyone who is called to follow Christ with the possibility of sharing lovingly in the work that Christ came to do. This work of salvation came about through suffering and death on a Cross. By enduring the toil of work in union with Christ crucified for us, man in a way collaborates with the Son of God for the redemption of humanity. He shows himself a true disciple of Christ by carrying the cross in his turn every day in the activity that he is called upon to perform.”
 Key points of the article
  1. Work has an objective meaning. Humans share in the activity of the Creator through cultural and economic activity to sustain and improve the worker, the worker’s family, and the community. Thus ordinary activities and work contribute to God’s work.
  2. Work has a subjective meaning. Humans are created in the image of God and are persons capable of self-realization – work is valued because of the worker rather than the product of work. Thus, work has meaning only when it allows men and women to realize their humanity.
  3. All work is linked with toil and difficulty. Through work, men and women are able to collaborate with Christ in His labor to redeem humanity.
 
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Gospel and Vocation

Like any other doctrine, vocation must be brought into dialogue with the gospel to grasp its depths and beauty. I have chosen only a few conversation points between them. I want to look at vocation through a Trinitarian lens, gospel shaped vocation, and gospel need in vocation.

The Vocation of the Triune God


When we speak of God we speak of a Triune Being. God the Father, Son, and Spirit—one God in three distinct persons. Vocation is an idea rooted in the Trinity. God takes upon himself various roles in his engagement with the world. These roles fall underneath the categories of creation and salvation. The biblical narrative is clear that the Triune God engages his tasks with the utmost zeal, precision, and efficacy. A brief look at each of the three persons in action will shed light on the vocational God.
The Father
God the Father is the architect of creation. He is attributed with the design and execution of all that has been made. In the first few chapters of Genesis we observe a God who creates with skill, power, creativity, and joy.  In salvation, the Father continues in his role as the designer. To him belongs the plan of salvation. He plans, promises, elects, and sends the Son and Spirit in this work. In each of these areas he is filled with grace and intentionality. His work of salvation is as perfect as his work of creation.
The Spirit
The Spirit plays a vital role in creation. He hovers over the unformed world and breathes life into it. He gives and sustains life. He is the life source for all created beings. In the work of salvation he continues to be the life-giver. He empowers the sent Son to accomplish his saving task. He then is sent by the Son and Father to breathe regenerative life into those trusting the gospel. He sustains new life in people and conforms them into the image of the Son. The Holy Spirit is a mighty laborer who fulfills his tasks with passion and care. 
The Son
The Son is the “word” of God in creation. He is the means through which all things are created. He is God’s mediator. He is also the mediator of salvation. He is sent by the Father to bring his salvation plan to fruition. The Son is said to be the clearest revelation of God. He vividly reveals the vocational God. As the God-man, he also reveals how humans are to engage vocation. In other words, Jesus is the cardinal figure for understanding divine and human vocation.
The short statements about his childhood reveal something of the vocation of children. They are called to obey and honor their parents. They are called to schooling and learning. They are called to serve God above all else. In his later years, we learn that he followed in the footsteps of Joseph and worked as a carpenter. I imagine he engaged his task the same way he worked with his Father in fashioning the earth. The divine work ethic revealed in creation was surely manifest in Christ. It definitely was in his ministry.
In his ministry Jesus took on many roles. He was a teacher, preacher, healer, miracle worker, friend, and ultimately a Savior. His greatest work occurred at a cross and a tomb outside of Jerusalem. God punched the clock before he carried the cross to Golgotha. He was still on the clock when he strolled out of the grave and defeated death. Oswald Bayer hits it on the head when he connects divine vocation to creation and cross. 
“The common rule is: ‘God gives you office that you may serve.’ God’s action is determined by his self-proffering love, which seeks the lost and the fallen. For to Luther God himself, when he is described as Creator, becomes utterly like a human being faithful to his vocation, who gives himself to the lowly. God creates out of nothing, i.e. gives heed to the helpless who are at the point of death. In the crucifixion of Christ on Golgotha, he who was despised by the world showed himself a true Creator, one who makes his costliest work out of that which is nothing.”
The upshot of this is that divine vocation comes to a head in the gospel. In the gospel we see the most vivid demonstration of God fulfilling his role as Creator and Savior. Therefore the gospel is the richest resource for understanding vocation.
The Gospel Shape of Vocation


The gospel is the blueprint for our vocational endeavors. In it we learn these valuable lessons that should translate into our various stations in life.Vocational identity shifts throughout the seasons of our lives
  • Vocation is earthly, normal, and gloriously mundane
  • Vocation is the means by which we love and serve others
  • Vocation is to be engaged with whole hearted excellence
  • Vocation requires suffering, sacrifice, and pain
Vocation Drives us to the Gospel


The gospel shapes vocation, but it also supports us as we engage vocation. As we noted in the last post, our stations in life have a way of exposing our sinful tendencies. We also recognize that though we try our best to execute our vocations with integrity, faithfulness, and selflessness, we fall short of that quite often. We recognize that the gospel example is impossible to follow with our own resources. This is where God uses the gospel standard to drive us back to the gospel promise.
Gospel shaped vocation requires continual gospel support. God’s grace is woven through every facet of vocation. In his vocational activity he rescues us and provides the pattern for our callings. He then undergirds us in our endeavors by gospel strength and cleansing.
 

Salvation by Vocation (2)

In the last post, I argued that God uses the common stations of life to work his saving grace in us. We saw that God uses child rearing uniquely in the life of women. His saving concern is also lavished on men in their work place and in their homes. Every station of life is transformed into an arena where God is now present to work his salvation: marriage, parenting, manual labor, business, public service, education, etc.

How exactly does God work his grace into these life contexts? I understand him to do this in a few different ways. This list captures a few of the main ways.

  • Vocation exposes our sinfulness
  • Vocation curbs and kills our sin
  • Vocation drives us to the gospel of Christ
  • Vocation is utilized to train our character
  • Vocation forces us outside of ourselves and into the service of our neighbor
  • Vocation is where God works through us to shape culture
  • Vocation is the context where we magnify God with our heads, hands, and hearts

Remember that vocation was a term that was only applied to priests and monks during the time of the reformation. It was a high calling to denounce the mundane life of working a 9-5, getting married, and taking care of children. The real holy and spiritual folks were those who spent their days praying and reading their bibles. Into the fray of all this, Luther asserted that every station of life is worthy of the title vocation. Once Luther stated,  “when God wants to save a monk, he compels him to occupy himself with earthly things.” Gustaf Wingren is correct in the reason for such a statement, “in the cloister one is removed  from the anxieties of vocation and from the transformation of vocation.”

It is in the regular, normal, every day existence of people that God is present. A 9-5 is hallowed ground. Parenting is a holy endeavor. Gustaf Wingren captures the sacredness of the mundane.

“Thus a Christian finds himself called to drab and lowly tasks, which seem less remarkable than monastic life…and other distractions from our vocations.  For him who heeds his vocation, sanctification is hidden in offensively ordinary tasks, with the result that it is hardly noticed at all that he is a Christian.  But faith looks on simple duties as tasks to which vocation summons the man; and by the Spirit he becomes aware that all those ‘poor, dull, and despised works’ are adorned with the favor of God ‘as with costliest gold and precious stones.’  The monk is always uncertain about his works; but in work which really contributes to the neighbor’s well-being and is commanded by God, peace and certainty are found.”

It is in these “offensively ordinary tasks” that God exposes, curbs, and kills our sin. Mark Kolden says this about the doctrine of vocation and the mortification of sin.

“Luther speaks of the work of the law (second use) as putting us to death, and he says that this is the way that God carries out our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection. According to Luther the Christian ‘dies daily’ (is ‘drowned through daily repentance’, as the Small Catechism puts it). The idea of daily dying has often been spiritualized, to the effect that dying is only understood metaphorically as being penitent for sin. Yet the more realistic emphasis to the effect that each day we actually die a bit seems equally true to Luther, because he also thinks of the eventual physical death of the old sinful self when he uses the phrase ‘dying daily.'”

“Where does this dying happen? In one’s vocation, in which the ‘cross’ of family, hard work, demanding times, etc., gradually (or more suddenly) puts us to death. In addition to being our participation as co-workers in God’s ongoing creative activity (according to the law in its first use), our vocation is also the location of God’s sanctifying work of mortifying the flesh, of putting to death the sinful self (the work of the law in its second use); all of this is so that on the last day only the self that is righteous in Christ will live.”

Gustaf Wingren addresses this same issue in his own words and from his own angle.

“Different aspects of external circumstances serve their function in the crucifixion of the old man. According to Luther, ‘these are true mortifications, not in deserted places apart from the company of people, but right in the social and political order.’ It is in the external and earthly that the slaying of the flesh is to be effected; the crucifixion of Christ was certainly not something inward and refined. Fellowship with Christ is realized in something apparently very unspiritual…We are disciplined in vocation, in labor, and in the demands of social life. Vocation is earthly, just as shockingly earthly as the humanity of Christ, apparently so void of all divinity.”

Sin is put to death in and through vocation. Godliness is also fostered there. Vocation by nature forces us outside of ourselves. It bends our inward focus outward toward our neighbors. Here is Wingren again.

“We have noted above that vocation is so constituted that it is conducive to the well-being of neighbors; it servers others (love). Now we see that it compels one to look to God, to lay hold of his promise (faith). Man is thereby put into right relation both to earth (love) and heaven (faith). God’s complete work is set in motion through vocation: he changes the world and sheds his mercy on hard-pressed humanity.”

Marriage is a perfect illustration of how God works his grace in vocation. Luther said that marriage is of such a character that it “teaches us and compels us to look to God’s hand and grace, and simply drives us to faith.” Wingren states, “Marriage has the function of compelling one to work for the good of others. And when that happens, man generally stands empty-handed and helpless before God; that is to say, faith then has a chance to be born.” Here is Wingren one more time.

“The human being is self-willed, desiring that whatever happens shall be to his own advantage. When husband and wife, in marriage serve one another and their children, this is not due to the heart’s spontaneous and undisturbed expression of love, every day and hour. Rather, in marriage as an institution something compels the husband’s selfish desires to yield and likewise inhibits the egocentricity of the wife’s heart. At work in marriage is a power which compels self-giving to spouse and children.”

Marriage shows us our sin, pushes us to Christ, pulls us outside of ourselves, creates character, fosters godliness, and absolutely transforms an individual. This is God’s design. These things are true because God is in the midst of marriage to save. This is true in every vocation—if we would open our eyes and recognize what God is doing and desiring to do.

In my opinion, this view of vocation infuses all of our roles and tasks with significance and value. It also roots godliness in the every day existence of most people. Mark Kolden captures this well.

“Just as God’s redemptive act in becoming incarnate affirms that salvation is not an escape from creation but a restoration and fulfillment of it, so also the Christian life will not be an escape from creaturely life but a calling to it. The call to follow Christ leads not to any religious vocation removed from daily life, but instead it transforms the attitude and understanding one has of the situation in which one already is.”

On a personal note, my own exploration into the doctrine of vocation has changed me in significant ways. The doctrine is like a reset button regarding our perceptions of every day tasks. It has helped me engage my various roles and tasks with fresh vigor. It has caused me to view all areas of work and responsibility as holy and important. I hope this little exploration has been helpful to you as well. I encourage you to continue researching the topic.

Salvation by Vocation (1)

At the outset, let me say that I believe that salvation is the gift of God accomplished for us by the Triune God. We add nothing to his saving grace. The provocative title of this post is intended to draw the doctrine of vocation into the orbit of how God works out his saving purposes in us by means of our specific stations in life. Vocation is God’s chosen arena for extending his grace to us and through us.  God progressively sanctifies us, perseveres our faith, and pounds out our salvation in the present by our vocations. I believe this is a sound biblical assumption. To get at this idea, I have chosen an intriguing scriptural entry point: 1 Timothy 2:15.

The context of this verse is about leadership and teaching in the local church. Paul establishes the proper parameters for both men and women in this regard from God’s creational intentions. He also touches on the dynamics of the fall narrative in relation to both Adam and Eve. Then Paul transitions with this statement,  “Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”

This is a strange verse at first glance. Some have argued that it is one of the most baffling texts in the New Testament.[1] There is much debate over every aspect of this text. In my opinion, there are definite challenges in the interpretation of the text, but there is one view and interpretation that seems straightforward, simple, and sound.

The gist of the view is that this text is speaking of the unique vocation of a woman in her ability to bear and raise children. I want to provide you a selection of quotes from a few solid biblical interpreters who hold this position. Here are the thoughts of Martin Luther from his lectures on 1 Timothy.

“It is a very great comfort that a woman can be saved by bearing children, etc. That is, she has an honorable and salutary status in life if she keeps busy having children. We ought to recommend this passage to them, etc. She is described as ‘saved’ not for freedom, for license, but for bearing and rearing children. Is she not saved by faith? He goes on and explains himself: bearing children is a wholesome responsibility, but for believers. To bear children is acceptable to God. He does not merely say that bearing children saves; he adds: if the bearing takes place in faith and love, it is a Christian work . . . This is the comfort for married people in trouble: hardship and all things are salutary, for through them they are moved forward toward salvation and against adultery.”

John Calvin writes this from his commentary on 1 Timothy.

“To censorious men it might appear absurd, for an Apostle of Christ not only to exhort women to give attention to the birth of offspring, but to press this work as religious and holy to such an extent as to represent it in the light of the means of procuring salvation. Nay, we even see with what reproaches the conjugal bed has been slandered by hypocrites, who wished to be thought more holy than all other men. But there is no difficulty in replying to these sneers of the ungodly. First, here the Apostle does not speak merely about having children, but about enduring all the distresses, which are manifold and severe, both in the birth and in the rearing of children.

Secondly, whatever hypocrites or wise men of the world may think of it, when a woman, considering to what she has been called, submits to the condition which God has assigned to her, and does not refuse to endure the pains, or rather the fearful anguish, of parturition, or anxiety about her offspring, or anything else that belongs to her duty, God values this obedience more highly than if, in some other manner, she made a great display of heroic virtues, while she refused to obey the calling of God. To this must be added, that no consolation could be more appropriate or more efficacious than to shew that the very means (so to speak) of procuring salvation are found in the punishment itself.”

Andreas Kostenberger made this statement in  an article he wrote on the topic.

“The view that has found considerable support among commentators in recent years is the one that interprets the reference to “childbearing” in 1 Tim 2:15 as a synecdoche. Women, it is held, will be spiritually saved by adhering to their God-ordained role in the domestic sphere. The future tense of σωθήσεται is usually taken to refer to women’s eschatological salvation at Christ’s second coming. As has been seen above, this was essentially the view of John Calvin, and many conservative interpreters such as Alford, Barclay, Bowman, Foh, Hendriksen, Kelly, Moo, Schreiner, Scott, White, and Witherington follow this approach.

Of all the interpretations surveyed thus far, this reading perhaps does most justice to the text in context. Moreover, this view is attractive particularly for conservative (and here especially Re­ formed) interpreters since it appears to harmonize well with Pauline theology elsewhere…Moreover, in line with 1 Timothy 5:14, one should view procreation as merely the core of the woman’s responsibility that also entails, not merely the bearing, but also the raising of children, as well as managing the home (synecdoche; cf. also Titus 2:4-5). The sense of the injunction in the present passage is thus that women can expect to escape Satan under the condition of adhering to their God-ordained role centering around the natural household.”[2]

You get the thrust. These interpreters hold that Paul is articulating an important principal about vocation. God calls us all to unique things and he uses these things to work out his saving purposes in our lives. John Calvin actually uses the language of vocation as he thinks about this text. He states, “Let us who know to what end we are made learn to bear the yoke God has laid upon us, i.e., let everyone of us follow his vocation.” Women are in a unique position to have children and raise them up. It is not given to men to bear children; this is a glorious gift that belongs to women alone. And it is one arena where God is at work in a powerful way.

Terri Moore wrote a helpful 90 page dissertation on this one verse. She concludes that the interpretation we have been discussing is the most faithful to the context, the book of 1 Timothy, and Pauline theology. She makes this statement in her conclusion about the saving significance of the vocation of child rearing.

“Many women have testified that the responsibilities of motherhood bring a depth to the spiritual life of a woman that no other duty brings. The task of nurturing and caring for the life God has graciously given is a sanctifying process that deepens the desire to live a godly life and the necessary dependence upon God for the power to lead such a life.”

A few qualifications are necessary at this point. First, I believe that underneath Paul’s teaching is a principal. That principal is that God works his saving, sanctifying, and persevering grace into the lives of his followers through their specific stations of life. In my view, this verse points to a much broader topic that is applicable to everyone in the human race. Second, this text does not mean that women who are unable to have children or choose not to have children are outside of the saving influences of God. This is a principal not a command. There are many other vocations that women participate in outside of child rearing where God is pleased to work his salvation. Proverbs 31 is a case in point on this topic.

I have been long winded….I will pick this up in the next post. There we will build on what we have discussed here. Any thoughts, disagreements, or comments on this topic? It is an intriguing one to me.


[1] David Kimberley, “1 Tim 2:15: A Possible Understanding of a Difficult Text,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (35:4, 1992), p 481-486.

[2] Andreas Kostenberger, “Ascertaining Women’s God-Ordained Roles: An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:15,” Bulletin of Biblical Research 7 (1997): 1-38.

Implications of the Doctrine of Vocation

In the last two posts, we focused on defining the doctrine of vocation and exploring its focus on the neighbor. I think it is important to think through some of the implications that follow from grasping and applying this doctrine to our lives. From my perspective, the ripple effect of these truths are quite liberating and life giving.

All roles and stations in life are significant and important. The doctrine of vocation undercuts any spiritual hierarchy that would elevate one role above another. The role of the mother is no less valuable than the role of the pastor. God is no less present in non-ministry roles. In one sense, this was the whole point of this reformation doctrine. The reformers pulled together justification by faith alone, the priesthood of all believers, and the doctrine of vocation. This trio was a destructive force against any system of thought that would degrade the common every day tasks of most people.

In Luther’s words, “As long as the shoemaker or blacksmith clings to these two, to the Word of faith toward God by which the heart is made clean, and to the word of understanding which teaches him how to act toward his neighbor in his station in life, everything is clean to him, even if with his hands and his whole body he deals with nothing but dirt.”

Vocation is the primary arena for loving and serving our neighbor. As finite creatures we are granted a limited existence. We only have so much time, so many relationships, and so much influence. We live out our lives in a few very small geographical locations. We find ourselves in a few different stations in a few different places among a few different people. Vocation helps us grasp that the people, places, and stations of our lives are the arena for fulfilling the command to love.

We are responsible for our little spheres of influence, nothing more. As Wingren says, “One important fact in God’s providence is that I have the neighbor I have.” This perspective frees us from unrealistic thoughts on our roles, responsibilities, and abilities. It also sharpens our focus and beckons intentionality for engaging our actual callings.

Vocation is the context where God spills out his grace to us. This perspective will help us recognize that God is behind the people that love us, serve us, and bring good into our lives. The world will open to us in fresh ways if we can see it with this lens. Worship and gratitude will fill our hearts when we see God behind the activity of our neighbors.

In the words of Wingren, “if he ponders what he receives through the faithfulness of others to their vocations. He receives the good gifts of God love through both prince and preacher.” In other words, God is hidden in the road construction workers and the automobile manufacturers that make your commute to work possible and smooth. He is with the farmer, preparer, and server of the chicken sandwich you eat for lunch. He is disguised in the loving smile and supportive companionship of friends that meet your basic human needs.  His grace is coming at us from all directions. Vocation gives us eyes to see it.

Vocation is the context where God spills out his grace through us. Our stations in life do not exist for our self-satisfaction though they may provide fulfillment. We are parents, children, and employees for the sake of other people. Vocation is the vehicle of God’s love and kindness to the people in our lives.

Wingren asserts that man must look at his “position in his own vocation, not asking what he receives but what he is to do, what God requires of him…Christ frees neither the hand from its work nor the body from its office. The hand, the body, and their vocation belong to the earth. The purpose is that one’s neighbor be served. Conscience rests in faith in God, and does nothing that contributes to salvation; but hands serve in the vocation which is God’s downward-reaching work, for the well-being of men.”

Vocation is the context where God works his grace in us. It is my contention that God uses vocation to persevere his people in the work of salvation. The first post in this series discussed the three temporal aspects of salvation. I will argue in the next couple posts that the present aspect of God’s saving work is accomplished, in part, through the various stations where God places us. God does not just use vocation to benefit us and others. He uses it to rescue us.

Resources on Vocation
The following are some helpful resources on the topic of vocation. My favorite of these is Gustaf Wingren’s work on vocation. Gene Veith has done some excellent work on communicating the concepts of vocation in a contemporary manner. Keller’s work on vocation is also very helpful. 
 

Vocation and Neighbor

In the last post, we sought to define the doctrine of vocation. We saw that the language of vocation/calling was a technical term during the Reformation era for clergy. Luther took this language and applied it to every station in life thus destroying the distinction between sacred and secular, holy and mundane.

Vocation teaches that God transforms every arena where we live, move, and have our existence. Our stations in life are important. God works through them for the good of his creatures. In this post, we will look at how vocation is intended to serve others and then flesh out some implications of the doctrine. Gustaf Wingren does a good job articulating the “otherness” that should characterize vocation.

“In his vocation man does works which effect the well-being of others; for so God has made all offices. Through this work in man’s offices, God’s creative work goes forward, and that creative work is love, a profusion of good gifts. With persons as his ‘hands’ or ‘coworkers,’ God gives his gifts through the earthly vocations, toward man’s life on earth (food through farmers, fishermen and hunters; external peace through princes, judges, and orderly powers; knowledge and education through teachers and parents, etc., etc.).

Through the preacher’s vocation, God gives the forgiveness of sins. Thus love comes from God, flowing down to human beings on earth through all vocations, through both spiritual and earthly governments…So vocation belongs to this world, not to heaven; it is directed toward one’s neighbor, not toward God. This is an important preliminary characteristic. In his vocation one is not reaching up to God, but rather bends oneself toward the world. When one does that, God’s creative work is carried on. God’s work of love takes form on earth.”

Vocation has been termed a “mask of God,” meaning it is a place where God is at work in tangible ways though we don’t see him or connect that work to him. Wingren says, “God does not come to man in thoughts and feelings which well up in him when he isolates himself from the world, but rather in what happens to man in the external and tangible events which take place about him.”

God hides himself in the farmer and provides us food through him. He hides himself in the judge through whom he executes justice through. He is behind the doctor who provides healing. He is working through the carpenter to build and provide shelter. He is disguised in the pregnant mother bringing new life into the world.

God is working for the good of the world in and through people. Common grace makes this true for all people. Specific grace makes it uniquely true for the one who responds to the call of salvation. As Robert Kolb says, “For Luther the situations and responsibilities which structure human life are part of the doctrine of creation. God places all people, not just Christians, in these situations; He assigns all people these responsibilities. Only those who trust in Him, however, recognize His hand in the construction of their situations. Only those who recognize His lordship perceive that their responsibilities are personal assignments from God.” Thus eyes are opened and every arena is now full of meaning, opportunity, and purpose for the Christian. Every station is transformed. Luther captures this idea with his usual winsomeness.

“If you are a craftsman you will find the Bible placed in your workshop, in your hands, in your heart; it teaches and preaches how you ought to treat your neighbor.  Only look at your tools, your needle, your thimble, your beer barrel, your articles of trade, your scales, your measures, and you will find this saying written on them.  You will not be able to look anywhere where it does not strike your eyes.  None of the things with which you deal daily are too trifling to tell you this incessantly, if you are but willing to hear it; and there is no lack of such preaching, for you have as many preachers as there are transactions, commodities, tools, and other implements in your house and estate; they shout this to your face, ‘My dear, use me toward your neighbor as you would want him to act toward you with that which is his.’”

I love the breadth of this perspective. Every skill and tool that God gives us is to be pressed into the service of our neighbor.  The posture of vocation is outward looking. It calls us to use what we are and have for the good of others.

Defining the Doctrine of Vocation

The doctrine of vocation is yet another imprint left by the reformation. I have benefited greatly from thinking and studying about this reformation gem. I encourage you to take a season of time to immerse yourself in this topic if you have not done so. I am pretty certain you will not regret it. In this post and the next, I want to define the doctrine of vocation and provide a few links to resources for further study. Gene Veith has written many helpful things on this area. Here is his definition of vocation.

“The word ‘calling,’ or in its Latinate form ‘vocation,’ had long been used in reference to the sacred ministry and the religious orders. Martin Luther was the first to use ‘vocation’ to refer also to secular offices and occupations. Today, the term has become common-place, another synonym for a profession or job, as in ‘vocational training.’ But behind the term is the notion that every legitimate kind of work or social function is a distinct ‘calling’ from God, requiring unique God-given gifts, skills, and talents. Moreover, the Reformation doctrine of vocation teaches that God himself is active in everyday human labor, family responsibilities, and social interactions.”

God is at work in and through the every day roles and activities of human beings.  What does it mean to have a vocation? Luther would answer, “that you occupy a station, you are a husband or wife, son or daughter.” He would argue that vocation is true of every station in life and that each station is a context where God is at work.. This is true for the lawyer, soldier, nurse, farmer, preacher, and janitor. Luther’s thought on this topic was influenced by 1 Corinthians 7:17-24. Take a look at this text and keep an eye to the language of calling.

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.

Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.

Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.

Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can  gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men.

So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

The theme is unmistakeable. Paul sandwiches the text with the same exhortation and then inserts that same word of encouragement into the center of the passage. God calls us. This calling is to salvation. His calling comes to us in various seasons and stations of life. He calls us out of sin and to him, but not out of these roles.

As Luther says, “the faith and the Christian station are so free a thing that they are bound to no special orders, but are above all orders, in all orders, and through all orders, wherefore there is no need for you to take up or leave any station in order to be saved it is all free, free…man is not to give up his station when he is called. He is to remain in his office. One is called to faith and love in these stations.”

The three-fold imperative in the passage is clear that the person should not leave their station when they are called to Christ. In between these commands, the body of teaching instructs the readers to not equate salvation with their activities or their stations. The question of circumcision, economic status, and work mean nothing when it comes to getting right with God. The call of God does not rip people out of their stations, it transforms how they are in these contexts. The station of the individual now becomes the place where God wants to work in, through, and for the sake of others.