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Christ and the Workplace by Dr. Michael Horton

You know it’s interesting the cartographer Martin Waldseemüller (I probably butchered his name but it doesn’t matter because he’s not alive anymore). He lived in 1507 when he created a new map of the world. It was the most famous and most important map of the 16th century (of any map even up till then) [It] is the first map that had America on it. 

So I’m particularly interested in that map. What’s interesting though is you if you look at that map you have Israel at the center with Mt Zion. And you have God, (so we shouldn’t have pictures of God but this was the Middle Ages), picture of God on the top of the mountain, and then all of the geography was spread out around Mt. Zion. Now it wasn’t a very good map. Because of course that’s not how the geography is laid out (we now know). But what is really fascinating is, that is how medieval people saw the world. They saw the world in relation to God. That’s why the reformation sparked such a controversy. If nobody had been interested in doctrine, or the question how can we be saved ,or is the church our ultimate authority, or is the Word of God the Creator of the church itself. No one would even asking those questions if that map didn’t make sense.

What we have today is a new map. We have a new map in which God has been wiped completely from the horizon. A new map in which the self is now at the center. I’m at the center. And even in the church unfortunately (when we come to church) we often come as consumers, or we come as individualists. We want to come and express ourselves, or we want to come, and learn how we can be a better me. Instead of coming to say, what I would love to do is hear God speak to me, and hear God’s Word form a community of people. 

That’s how the world views have changed. Friedrich Nietzsche, in fact, said that “God is dead”. He said that we wouldn’t actually want God to be around because that would mean that we would have someone who would stand against us, and would know us, and our consciences couldn’t bear his presence. Well that’s what happens of course when we don’t have a mediator. I think a lot of people have just gotten rid of God completely because they’ve really never heard the gospel. They’ve never heard the good news. 

And so basically no longer inhabiting the highest place in the cosmos as on that map of Waldseemüller. The enchanted world has come to occupy the deepest recesses of the inner self. That’s where the sacred is. I feel the sacred when I go to watch my team play, my professional team play, and when I hear my national anthem, or when I see the flag of my country, or I am stirred by a beautiful opera or rock concert. Those are enchanted moments but I experience it in my inner self. I don’t really sense that I’m experiencing it with other people. And I’m certainly not experiencing something really that is outside of me. It’s something that wells up from within me. It’s a very different outlook, different worldview. Our question now is not how can I be right before a holy God? But how can I have my best life now? And that is in Christian circles as well. 

You see my point is it was really hard at the time of the Reformation for a lot of people to get along because they did take that worldview of Waldseemüller seriously. That was a God-centered world view. It mattered questions like how can a holy God accept me mattered. And all of this gets to the question of vocation. Because a lot of historians have said that not only the doctrine of justification but the doctrine of vocation or of calling, was of central and importance at the time of the Reformation. 

See at the time of the Reformation, (you really) if you wanted to be close to that mountain in the middle of that map, you were a priest. If you were a priest, maybe you were a monk, or a nun and then eventually you go down the ladder. And you simply get to the average person who goes to work, and tries to make a living, and is supposed to give to the church. But it’s not really a part of what is spiritual. What’s spiritual is what you do as a cleric, what you do as a monk, or as a nun. And that’s what the Reformation challenged. 

Reformation said no we’re all priests, and we’re we’re all given callings by God in the world, not by virtue of redemption, it’s not because we’re Christians that we have callings, but by virtue of creation. Christians and non-Christians alike God gives us callings. God gives us vocations. Did you know non-Christians are called by God just as much as Christians? You know, called in the sense that they are given a vocation, called in the sense that they’re created in the image of God to be able to go out, and image him in their lives. 

Now of course, all this has been corrupted. It’s been twisted and in many cases non-Christians shake their fist in God’s face rather than imitate him in their labors in the world. But we have a wonderful map in Scripture to show us how central God and his redemptive purposes are in restoring our vocation as prophets, priests, and kings.

First Distinction: Dual Citizenship

The reformers emphasized that only in Israel was the church also a nation. So that’s the first point I want to make: dual citizenship. We are dual citizens. If you were an Israelite, you were not a dual citizen. You were a citizen of Israel and if you were a citizen of Israel, you were a citizen of heaven on earth. That’s what Israel was. It’s God’s kingdom, God’s footstool. 

That’s why he took righteousness and holiness so seriously because this was actually heaven on earth. Every vocation was sacred subject to detailed laws for society as well as worship. There was a blueprint for everything that you did in life but in this time between Christ’s two comings, the kingdom of God isn’t identified in any way with any nation: Israel, America, the Philippines any nation. It is a spiritual nation taken from every tribe, and kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation, as we read in Revelation 5:9. 

Like Augustine, Martin Luther, emphasized the distinction between things heavenly and things earthly, true righteousness before God and civic or civil righteousness before each other. Luther put forward this view of two kingdoms in in great detail in his important work on “Temporal Authority”. In 1523, he compared the relationship of the civil and spiritual realms to the relation between the body and the soul. He complained, “…The devil never stops cooking and brewing these two kingdoms into each other…”. 

This is what at a time when you know knights would would write off with crosses all over them, and lop off the head of a Muslim yelling, “Christ is Lord!” You know they thought they were in Israel. They thought they were driving out the Canaanites. They had they’d completely gotten the plot wrong. All of that in the Old Testament pointed forward to the victory the triumph of Christ without the shedding of blood except his own. But the Medieval church had basically said let’s redo the the holy wars of the book of Joshua. 

No, Augustine (Luther) says the devil’s always cooking these two kingdoms together. In the devil’s name, the secular leaders always want to be Christ’s masters, and teach him how he should run his church and spiritual government. Similarly, false clergymen and systematic spirits always want to be the masters too though not in God’s name, and to teach people how to organize the secular government. Thus the devil is indeed very busy on both sides, and has much to do. 

Well, I don’t know what it’s like in the Philippines right now but in the United States, this is just all over us. You have the government wanting to in essence run the church, and you have preachers wanting to run the government. Just melding these two kingdoms together. Luther goes on to say: “No ruler ought to prevent anyone from teaching or believing what he pleases whether gospel or lies. It is enough if he (proves it) prevents the teaching of sedition and rebellion.” “When Paul came to Athens, he didn’t destroy idols by force”, Luther says, “He just proclaimed the Word.” Luther says, “…for the Word created heaven and earth, and all things the Word must do this thing, and not weep poor sinners.” 

Calvin also exhorts, “…therefore in order that none of us may stumble on that stone, let us first consider that there is a two-fold government, one as whereby the conscience is instructed in piety and reverencing God, the second is political whereby man is educated for the duties of humanity and citizenship that must be maintained among men.” “The question is not of itself very obscure or involved”, Calvin says, “…it simply requires the distinction between outward conformity to the laws of society and the ultimate surrender of the conscience to God assured of god’s grace in Christ. These two kingdoms must be distinguished. 

And on that basis, Calvin challenged the medieval view that the state lower in rank must take its cues from the church higher in rank. As well as the Anabaptist rejection of the secular as such. You see what I’m saying here. The reason why secular wasn’t secular for Rome was because they ran it. The sacred smothered the secular. The problem with the Anabaptists is they denied the secular completely, and thought that they could leave this world as it were, and form their own communes. And the Reformers stepped into this and said No, there’s a place for the sacred ministry of the church, that is the purpose really of God’s plan in history, the formation of a bride for Christ, a bride he chose in Christ before the foundation of the world.

And yet God also created and preserves non-Christians as well as Christians by his common grace. And that’s where our callings are our callings are rooted in creation, not in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus but in our being created together in the image of God. The New Testament therefore lacks anything like the civil legislation of Israel. I know a lot of people try to go to the Bible, to the New Testament to find laws for common nations today. You can’t do that. You can’t you can’t go to the Old Covenant laws because as Hebrews 8 says, “…the old covenant is obsolete.” 

There is no nation anymore that belongs to the Lord. Israel alone had that special relationship with the Lord. There is no nation in covenant with God today so we can’t go to the Old testament laws that are now obsolete, and there are no New Testament laws about running nations. Instead, we’re only told to pray for our rulers for those in government. And so the glory of Jerusalem with its walls and towers was but a type of the greater glory of the spiritual gifts that adorn the church. All of that was fulfilled in Christ.

So just as the national constitution, what we call the “law”, the covenant of Israel at Mount Sinai, just as that national constitution was stapled, as it were as an appendix to the moral law. Calvin, in fact, said that the ten commandments is nothing more than a restatement of the moral law that we already have in our conscience by virtue of creation. See that’s why Christians and non-Christians can agree on so many matters in terms of morality and politics so forth because non-Christians are still created in the image of God. 

I read recently a wonderful essay by one of the the Jordanian princes, a marvelous essay on how if we just follow the ten commandments, or the golden rule, or the Islamic path, then we wouldn’t have troubles. And he lists what those are and they’re very similar when it comes to the law, when it comes to how we should run our business, or how we should conduct ourselves in public, how we should care for each other, love each other. You know you don’t have to be a Christian to have a lot of wisdom about those things. Because we’re all created in the image of God. 

Now the Sermon on the mount is stapled to the New Testament the way the civil and ceremonial laws of Israel were stapled to the Old Testament, and now the Appendix for the New covenant. As it were, the Sermon on the mount calls for a global church in every nation to preach the gospel even to the point of suffering [and] persecution. No longer are we to say, let’s you know eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, we’ve got to drive out the Canaanites, the Hittites, the termites (whatever). We’ve got to get rid of these, cleanse the land. (We never) we don’t do this anymore. Jesus said no, “the Father sends his rain upon the just and the unjust alike.” And you do the same. If you have to suffer persecution rather than then fight physically for the gospel. 

It’s really amazing isn’t? (How different it is) Jesus even said, “You’ve heard it…”, and he quoted the Old testament law, “…but I say…” because now things have changed. It’s a new regime. And those are the things that he had said, “You know you’ve heard it said…I said it back there…I was the one who wrote the ten commandments….but now I say now in this era….” It’s no longer an era where God has taken one nation unto himself. But he’s forming a spiritual nation from every nation on earth. [It is] very important that we recognize “dual citizenship”. 

Second Distinction: Law and Gospel

The second thing I want to mention is the distinction between the Law and the Gospel. You know (I know) I’ve spent a lot of time emphasizing this over my ministry, and the reason is because it is it is the most important distinction when it comes to interpreting Scripture. You know the whole Reformation was what was over Rome’s confusion of the Law with the Gospel and the Gospel with the Law. It’s the easiest thing for us to confuse because that’s what we’re like by nature. We keep returning to this attitude of self-confidence. You know we’re like the plumber who took a look at Niagara falls and said, “Give me a minute, I can fix it.” We think we can fix this thing, and we can’t. But we keep going back to the law thinking there’s good news there. 

Think of just for a moment Joel Osteen. I know many of you know who Joel Osteen is. You know he smiles when he says it, and he says it in a very nice gentle inoffensive way, “Be a better you! Here are 10 tips if you do this if you follow this, you’ll have your best life now!” That’s basically his message. That’s all law. There’s no gospel in that. There’s no announcement of what someone else did for me that he lived his best life then for me. So that I can be reconciled to a holy God forever now (that’s not the message). The message is rather: “You know if you do this, you do that, be you can be a better you, and you can have your best life now.” 

That’s the message in a lot of churches today. That’s a confusion of the Law in the Gospel. Maybe an easy listening version, a soft-soothing commercialized version. But it’s still a confusion of the Law, [and] of the gospel. It’s really the Law masquerading as the Gospel. And so we have to distinguish between God’s commands in scripture and God’s promises. We embrace both, we recognize both as God’s Word but there are two different kinds of words, both the Great Commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself”. (both the Great Commandment), and the Great Commission, “Go in all the world preach the gospel, baptize them, and teach them to observe everything I’ve commanded, both of them are imperatives. They’re things for us to do Jesus calls us by those words to go out and do something but they’re two different things

The Great Commandment is a call for us to go out and together with non-Christians, love our neighbors, this neighbor. Love that’s what you do in your callings when you go out in the world. You’re just you’re loving and serving your neighbor. Some people have trouble going to work unless they can evangelize. Well if you get an opportunity to evangelize, it’s wonderful. But the Great Commission is important, and the Great Commandment is also it’s important, that we go to work to love, and serve our neighbors. 

That means as Luther said, “…making a good watch and selling it at a fair price”. That’s that’s glorifying to God and it’s good for our neighbor. Luther said (it’s beautiful), he says, “…our good works can’t go up to God.” As Paul says in Romans 11, “…who has given God a gift that he should be repaid….for from him and to him and through him are all things, to whom be the glory forever”. James says that “…all good gifts come down to us from the Father of lights”.  So the direction is one way. God gives the gifts. We don’t give God gifts. We don’t do anything for God you know. We can’t serve God and get something back from it. Well then how do we serve God? How do we glorify God? How do we? Where do our good works go? Luther said, “…out to our neighbors they’re the ones who need them. God doesn’t need your good works”.

And so this transforms our doctrine of vocation. Now we can say that a ditch digger, digging a ditch to the glory of God, realizing that what he or she is doing is serving a neighbor is its own reward, is its own justification. If you get a chance to to share Christ with the prisons wonderful. But you’re fulfilling that calling called, your vocation simply by doing your work well on time, and in a way that glorifies God and not yourself. So you see a tendency today to confuse these two mandates where people think, a lot of Christians think, well if we just go dig wells in Africa that’s the gospel. No, that’s actually obeying the Law, the Great Commandment, not the Great Commission. The Great Commission is to go out into all the world, and preach the Gospel, baptize and teach them to observe everything I’ve commanded you.

There are two different missions. The church as an institution has a mission to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth, and to care for those who belong to Christ, whereas all of us as Christians, the church as all of us, are scattered into our callings on Monday. And that’s where we’re able especially to respond to Jesus command to love and serve our neighbors. You [don’t] have to be a monk. 

In fact the Reformers said quite understandably, “A poor monk. They (I mean) don’t really serve anybody. They don’t serve God because he doesn’t need their good works, and he’s angered because they actually believe that their merits can supplement his Sons merits, so God isn’t pleased. They don’t even serve their neighbor who you know their neighbor is the one who needs them and they’re locked up in a cell spending their whole day trying to work, their way up the ladder of spiritual ascent. And they don’t serve themselves. Because if they’re trusting in their spirituality, and their piety in what they’re doing all day hoping that they can get a peek at the the beatific vision, then they’re not serving themselves because they’re lost they’re without hope they’re not trusting in Christ.”

But a shoemaker (a cobbler) who makes good shoes and sells them at a fair price is doing exactly what God wants. God wants to send that cobbler out there into his neighborhood to help people with with their shoes. He’s serving his neighbor who needs the shoes, and he’s serving himself by feeling the reward of actually fulfilling (something you feel like you’re made for you). 

Remember in “Chariots of Fire”, if you’ve seen “Chariots of Fire”, there’s that great moment when  central character tells his sister, as a he’s a runner and wants to run in the Olympics. And he says, “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure…” You see that’s what we’re meant to do. When I install plumbing, I feel God’s pleasure, when I am helping build a house for somebody, I feel God’s pleasure, when I am a nurse helping heal someone, I feel God’s pleasure. You know you don’t necessarily feel a lot of accomplishment in a lot of callings. In the course of a day, especially moms. You know you feel like it’s just do it all over again the next day. What we’re doing cannot itself give us a sense of dignity. There has to be something greater within which we interpret these particular things that we do during a given day. 

John Stott told a great illustration. He says, “One day, there were these construction workers. And a person walked by (and they were you know, he was building this building). The person walking by asked the first person, ‘What are you doing?’, and he said,  ‘I’m hauling bricks’. I looked at another person said, ‘What are you doing?’, he says,  ‘Well actually, I’m a carpenter so I’m trying to get these boards to line up.’ Ask another person. ‘What are you doing?’, and this person said, ‘I’m building a cathedral.'”

What’s the difference? Well the difference was the first two were focused on their tasks. That’s their identity – what they do. The third was focusing on what God worded him to be: What God said he was. What God gave him in a calling, in a vocation with particular gifts. God made him a cathedral builder. That changes our outlook when we go out into the world, and we see that “…You know what I don’t know if anything that I did today makes more sense than a tangled web of events..” except I can say, “My neighbor was served. God was glorified because my neighbor was served today, and I can think of the ways in which God used me as an instrument of his love.” Because that’s what he wants to do. He wants to love our neighbors including our non-Christian ones through us. What a privilege that is! Now that’s our identity. That makes our callings so much more meaningful.

Third Distinction: Saving Grace and Common Grace

And then we also need to distinguish between Saving Grace and Common Grace. This is a distinction it’s not a dualism. We  are ourselves both heirs of both of these callings – calling to love our neighbor, and a calling to preach the gospel. We don’t oppose these things to each other. Rather in every Christian, these two callings meet. These two callings are actually part of our whole. We have to distinguish them. 

Common Grace is wonderful. Common Grace is wonderful against the Protestant Radicals, the Anabaptists who railed against all secular learning and culture. Calvin exhorted, “…but if the Lord has willed that we be helped in physics, dialectic, mathematics, and other like disciplines, by the work and ministry of the ungodly, let us use this assistance. For if we neglect God’s gift freely offered in these arts, we ought to suffer just punishments for our sloths…” And then after giving examples from science, and philosophy, and medicine, he concludes, “…let us accordingly learn by their example, how many gifts the Lord left to human nature even after it was despoiled of its true, good…” Do you have that view of your non-Christian neighbors? That even after the fall, they’re human beings are ornamented with marvelous gifts, creativity, integrity, beauty, wisdom, skill. That there are so many gifts that are still left to non-Christians even though they have lost the greatest good which is a true knowledge of God in Jesus Christ.

But Common Grace isn’t Saving Grace. As wonderful as Common Grace is, it’s not Saving Grace. Your work in the world can’t say (people see this is a problem), when people say I’m going to dig ditches in Africa to save people that’s part of evangelism, it is not a part of evangelism. It may be part of your calling, but it’s not part of evangelism. Go dig a hole for people to have safe drinking water. How about that! Just to have safe drinking water. Do it in the name of Jesus, but the goal is this is my calling right now to go dig wells so people can have safe drinking water. What’s wrong with that? Why do you need to to make that more valuable than that simply to help your neighbor? Keep from dying of thirst but it’s not spreading the kingdom of Christ. It’s not the Great Commission. It’s the Great command[ment]. But it’s not the Great Commission in this time between Christ’s two comings. God is patiently allowing secular powers to keep reasonable order, some degree of justice.

As bad as it looks folks, if there were no government, if God had no secular order, governed by his providence, it would be total anarchy and chaos. As bad as we think it may be now, it would be, it would be so much worse, if God did not give us even imperfect governments. And yet this isn’t the same as coming to the Wedding Feast. Going to a voting booth is not the same thing as going to the Wedding Feast. If we’re looking for miracles, for signs and wonders, then we’ll find them in the Ministry of the Word and Sacraments. Those are God’s signs and wonders. God speaks his gospel, and and people who are spiritually dead come to life. They’re born again through the preaching of that Gospel, and then Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the signs and seals of that covenant. If you want to see God come to church. If you want to hear God come to church. If you want to to be transformed by God, to be justified, to be assured that you’re reconciled, come to church. This is his embassy (the embassy of grace on earth).

But because of God’s Common Grace, human beings even the unregenerate can contribute to the welfare even of Christians. Right so Christians can contribute to the welfare of non-Christians through their callings, and then also through evangelism giving them the best news they could ever hear. But non-Christians also serve us in their callings even if they don’t look at it as a calling necessarily. As Paul explains in Romans 1 and 2, even idolatrous gentiles sometimes do good things. That show God’s law is written on their conscience. Even as those who claim God’s law and claim to know it, transgress it but that’s not Saving Grace. 

Paul says for that we need a gospel, good news, an announcement of what God has done, not instructions about what we’re to do, but an announcement about what God has done for people who’ve blown the instruction list, and that announcement is that “…God justifies the wicked.”

Being justified before a holy God, regenerated made alive in Jesus Christ, bearing the fruit of the spirit, we’re able to love each other, and to love and serve our neighbors, and our callings in ways that we never could before. 

So the churches that people who go out in their callings during the week, and also the place where they come back to every Lord’s Day to be re-salted as it were. Because “….if the salt loses its savor”, as Jesus said, “…it’s good for nothing but to be thrown out.” If we just become like the world, then we’re (you know) always having church versions of everything we find in the secular culture. Then why be a Christian? The church just becomes absorbed into the bloodstream of the secular culture. Unless it has something different to say, and the church not only has something different to say, it has something different to hear. 

What makes a church the church is that it’s the place where sinners hear the God of the universe tell them, “Go in peace. Your sins are forgiven.” That’s the church. The church is the part of the world that hears the gospel, and believes it. So now it’s Monday again. You’ve all been relocated in Christ through Word and Sacrament. Now what happens when you’re shaken out of the salt shaker into the world? Gathered by God through his gospel, you’re scattered by God to do his law to love and serve your neighbors, and where do your good works go? Your good works go out to your neighbors who need them. 

I’m [thankful for] this opportunity to talk to you about this marvelous subject of vocation or callings. Our calling in Christ, our high calling in Christ as his chosen people redeemed by Christ, called by the Spirit, formed by the Spirit into one body the church, and also the callings that we are given out in the world that non-Christians are given as well because [of] his goodness, and his Common Grace comes to the just and the unjust alike in this time between the times. 

I hope this helps. I hope these categories, these distinctions help. Don’t upset them against each other, but just distinguish them. And know when you’re dealing with this kingdom, and dealing with that kingdom so that we don’t jumble things together, and end up finally, at the end of the day, in our efforts to Christianize everything actually secularizing even the Christian things. Thank you for listening.

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