Don’t Waste Your Life (Part 3): Called to Serve
I recently came across the following description of our cultural mandate by Prof. K. Schilder from his book, Christus en Cultuur. Freely translated from Dutch it reads:
Culture is the striving of all mankind to discover all the present powers in creation, to develop them and place them in the service of others nearby and far off. This needs to occur in obedience to what the LORD has commanded us about that in His Word. Everything that in this way has been obtained from creation is to be used for the service of man, who works in the kingdom of God. And the final purpose is that man will place the fruit of his development work (ontginningsarbeid) at the feet of God, so that God will be all in all and that all work will praise his Master. Quoted in De Bazuin nr 17-26 August 2015 p. 261
It is telling that Schilder places priority emphasis on the service of others. God has not placed us here on earth to serve ourselves and further our own interests in the first place, but to serve each other — to His glory and honour! There are many Scripture texts that emphasise the call to serve, rather than be served, and to use out talents for the benefit and well-being of each other, rather than laying up goods for ourselves. For example, on reading Schilder’s description, my thoughts went to what our Lord taught us in Matthew 25:31-46 concerning the judgement day of the Son of Man. On that day He will separate the nations into sheep on His right — those who obediently followed where He led them, and goats on His left — those who stubbornly went their own ways.
We read in verse 34: “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me’.” And when the righteous ask in surprise when this happened, Christ answers them: “Assuredly I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”
Before we jump to the conclusion that Jesus is teaching us that when we serve the hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked or prisoners, we are automatically doing this to Jesus, we need to engage with these verses a bit more deeply. In his Welwyn series commentary on Matthew, John Legg comments: “If that were true, then Jesus would be teaching that everyone who engages in good works, supports charities and does his bit for the needy of the world is ‘righteous’ and will inherit eternal life … Christ’s brothers are not all men, nor just Jews, but Christians, disciples. He has referred to them already in this Gospel in 12:48-50 and will do so again (28:10) … The New Testament lays especial stress on love of our brothers, Christian brothers … Love, like charity, begins at home, in the family of believers. This is evidence of our redeemed status as the children of God. It is implied that we are doing this because we are our Lord’s brothers. This shows our allegiance to him and our love for him and, therefore, our position as his true disciples. More general works do not have this motivation and so do not provide this evidence. We should note that Jesus refers to ‘the least of these brothers of mine.’ They may be unattractive, humble or unimportant, but they are Christ’s … Our motivation must not be what we get out of it, but simple devotion to our Saviour” (2004, pp. 471-72).
Back to our topic, this element of serving others also comes out clearly in the writings of both John Piper and Rev. van Dijk about the purpose of our life on earth. Piper’s emphasis is unreservedly on reaching out to others with the Gospel. He writes, “By gladly pursuing the gladness of others in God — even at the cost of our lives — we love them and honour God. That is the opposite of a wasted life” (p. 103).
Within the context of his book You Are God's Co-Workers, Rev. van Dijk places his emphasis on our responsibilities within society as covenant children of God. He states: “You perform your work, in obedience to the Godly charge, as member of the Church, as member of the society, and as citizens of the state” (p. 99). He goes on to warn members of God’s people who appear to have little understanding of this calling and are content to leave the work in God’s Kingdom up to others. He writes: “As if this labouring at the development and welfare of Church, State and Society was just a personal hobby-horse which you may pursue if that is where your interest lies, but from which you may also freely withdraw yourself in good conscience. And so they just let others labour, but keep themselves at a distance” (p. 100).
He laments that such men are often critical about matters in Church, society and state that displease them, but they go no further than that. Every evening they are engrossed in some magazine or TV programme that quite possibly brings all sorts of interesting things to their attention, but seldom in something that engages their thoughts and understandings in a positive direction. And although they often use the excuse that their family needs them at home in the evenings, it is also often true that when their children seek their attention for guidance and direction and support, they respond with something like: “Keep quiet please, let me just watch this programme.” That’s wasting our life! Fathers, please realise your responsibilities, first of all to the purpose God has placed you on this earth to develop your talents to His honour, but also to the children God has placed in your care and the promises you made at their baptism!
But let’s commence our assessment of the choices we make at the beginning of our careers. Having completed a series of professional development sessions on career counselling, I’ve received much experience in guiding adolescents in making career choices based on their abilities and interests and connecting that to careers that meet their criteria, have a shortage of skilled applicants and are likely to remain in demand in the foreseeable future. Students often seek further information on beginning expected salaries, but seldom on whether a possible career enables them to use their talents to the honour of their Creator and for the benefit of others. And I guess that’s only to be expected, as they also need to have their thoughts on these matters shaped and moulded to think in such a direction — something that seldom happens in a government public school — but hopefully does occur in our John Calvin School system.
I can relate to Rev. van Dijk’s observation that more often than not a career choice just sort of “happens”. And sure, in hindsight we confess that God leads all things including our choice of employment. Often the son follows his father in e.g. the building trade where he is able to make good money or Dad is able to set him up in a lucrative business that has excellent prospects. In itself there is certainly nothing wrong with any of this, provided it is done with the right motives. Rev. van Dijk makes the point that the correct criterion for a parent to consider with the choice of a career is the consideration, “How can I, how can my child, be most effective and productive as God’s co-worker?”
He then goes on to acknowledge, “I know that by speaking in such a manner I am so far removed from what is considered to be practical that many will claim: ‘That is foolishness, that is something you will never attain. By far the majority of people have no other purpose in their career than earning their daily living; making lots of money; if possible, becoming rich; obtaining a good position; being honoured and respected’” (p. 14).
But unfortunately, if we also think in this way then we are fostering a dualism in our lives which will have as consequence that we will lead a double life. In one part of our life, that is in the Church building on Sundays and in the Bible study Society meeting room and in our “inner chamber”, and if we are called to the office in Consistory meetings and home visits, we will serve the Lord, but in the other part of our life we are no different from the world and their striving for selfish ideals, and ultimately we serve only ourselves. Rev. van Dijk points out that the first mentioned part of our lives should serve to give us the wisdom and strength to enable us to be faithful in our daily work and career in full accord with what the LORD requires of us.
Time and again we hear from the pulpit that all of life is one, and that we must love the LORD with all our heart and with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength. It is then only logical that we must also choose our vocation with the question: “In which career will I be able to work most fruitfully in fulfilling the task which God placed on the shoulders of mankind in Paradise?”
It then becomes very obvious that there are many vocations that can never be ours by choice; we can never be engaged in work that infringes on God’s commandments such as selling lottery tickets or working on Sundays in employment other than essential services, or where our employment requires us to be members of antichristian organisations such as trade unions. But apart from such exceptions, every honest vocation that has been considered with the above criterion in mind, can form very much a part of that cultural mandate given to us in Paradise.