Don’t Waste Your Life (Part 4): Daily Work
I concluded the previous article by stating that apart from obvious exceptions such as selling lottery tickets, non-essential work on Sundays or work that requires us to be a member of a labour union, every honest vocation that has been considered with the criteria of being to the honour of God and of service to our fellow man, can form very much a part of that cultural mandate given to us in Paradise.
Rev. van Dijk makes the point in his book (p. 17) that you don’t necessarily have to be a professor or a teacher or a minister or a nurse to take part in fulfilling one’s cultural mandate — this applies just as much to a carpenter, a salesman, a shopkeeper and a sanitary worker from the local council. They all have a task that has significance and a place that cannot be missed in the context of the overall needs of society. This can be demonstrated quite simply when for example workers who many of us may look down on with some disdain such as the council sanitary workers would withdraw their labour for a period of time. We are then suddenly confronted with the realisation that also these workers perform a vitally important function for the well-being of society. The attitude of the worker and the manner in which he does his work will determine whether it is also done to the honour of God.
According to Rev. van Dijk again (p. 18), there are three personal considerations that affect our choice of a career: our inclination, or where our interests lie; our aptitude or skills and abilities; and the circumstances wherein we exist. So from that perspective there isn’t really any difference between his advice and the career advice and counselling given to adolescents in Years 11 and 12 today. Nevertheless this advice was not quite as self-evident in the 1950s as it may be today. It should be a reason for much thankfulness that the choices and opportunities of today’s young people are in many ways so much greater than it was for young people seeking employment in the 1950s. Having the option and the means of studying at a university and gaining a degree was then far more limited than what it is today. There were many young people whose wage packet was needed by the family as soon as they were old enough to work! Their choice of vocation was determined very much by the circumstances wherein they existed, despite their inclinations and aptitude. But as Free Reformed Church people in Australia, we were nevertheless richly blessed by our Heavenly Father — and that also had a lot to do with our attitude and the manner in which we did our work! “Those Dutchies” very quickly developed a reputation for being hard workers and much sought after by employers for these skills. And thankfully even today many secular employers are keen to employ students from the John Calvin Schools for their honesty, commitment and work ethic.
However, we need to be ever vigilant that this “Calvinistic work ethic” doesn’t become a means to an end in that it serves purely for the acquisition of earthly treasures and pleasures — for a mansion on a large block with a boat and a four wheel drive and a caravan enabling us to “escape” on extended holidays. When our work becomes something that we need to endure to finally get to the weekend when we can relax and enjoy ourselves — then perhaps we need to reassess our priorities and thinking. When we wish each other, “Have a good weekend”, but seldom think to wish each other, “Have a good day at work”, then again, perhaps we need to reassess our thinking on this score. It’s so easy for us too, to fall into the trap of looking upon our daily work as a necessary evil, something to be endured rather than something to be seen as the purpose and fulfilment of our cultural mandate as co-workers of our Heavenly Father in developing the resources He has placed in creation to His glory and the benefit of our neighbour and society. And while it is certainly much reason for thankfulness that we may enjoy our “weekends” and our holidays to relax and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation and our family time, this ought never to be a purpose in itself; it must never be placed next to or even opposed to our daily labour. To labour with the talents God has given us and so to serve our Heavenly Father, this gives our relaxation and rest its proper purpose and value when it is used to better equip us for a re-energised and revitalised focus on our daily work.
I think I can be confident in assuming that the vocation of a housewife does not need to be stressed among us as another vitally important role within society. Nevertheless it may be helpful to mention here that our girls too should develop their talents to the best of their ability in whatever academic or vocational area their interests and abilities lie. Even when the circumstances wherein they exist lead to marriage and a family with children – and this certainly cannot be taken for granted, then the knowledge, skills and abilities they have acquired will surely also be of great benefit to the extremely responsible and onerous task of raising their children and caring for their family at home.
Rev. van Dijk (p. 29) points out however, that a woman should never consciously choose a career that will enable her to achieve a feminist model of independence, but that in her choice of vocation there should always be the willingness to give up the career she has chosen if the LORD opens the way to the married state. But no less than that of a man, her career choice should primarily be determined by the question: “How can I do the most for the LORD and His service?” and not, “What is for me most enjoyable?” Might I dare to suggest then that a traineeship as a beautician should not feature on a possible list of career choices that meets this criteria, even if it might be something our daughters would enjoy? There is no room for such a mentality in our Covenant relationship with God.
I mentioned previously that how we do our work, our attitude and the manner in which we do our work will distinguish us from our unbelieving colleagues who quite often do as good a job as we do. The classic statement of the ethics of the kingdom of God can be found in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. Here Christ explains so clearly that God’s commandments address both inward motives as well as outward conduct. And then in the verses 13 to 16 Christ gives an unequivocal charge to believers regarding their conduct in this world. He teaches us, His people, that:
13You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned? It is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.
14You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put in under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.
In his lengthy but invaluable Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Eerdmans, 1974), D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones makes what I believe a valid claim that these words of Christ apply in the first place to the individual Christian, and not to the Christian church as such. He writes:
There are those who say that the Christian should act as salt in the earth by means of the Church’s making pronouncements about the general situation of the world, about political, economic and international affairs and other such subjects. Undoubtedly in many churches, if not in the vast majority, that is how this text would be interpreted…
Now as I see it, that is a most serious misunderstanding of scriptural teaching. I would challenge anyone to show me such teachings in the New Testament … I suggest to you, therefore, that the Christian is to function as the salt of the earth in a much more individual sense. He does so by his individual life and character, by just being the man that he is in every sphere in which he finds himself. For instance, a number of people may be talking together in an unworthy manner. Suddenly a Christian enters into the company, and immediately his presence has an effect. He does not say a word, but people begin to modify their language. He is already acting as salt; he is already controlling the tendency to putrefaction and pollution. Just by being a Christian man, because of his life and character and general deportment, he is already controlling that evil that was manifesting itself, and he does so in every sphere and in every situation. He can do this, not only in a private capacity in his home, his workshop or his office, or wherever he may happen to be, but also as a citizen in the country in which he lives … Think of great men, like the Earl of Shaftesbury and others, who, as private Christians and as citizens, worked so hard in connection with the Factory Acts. Think also of William Wilberforce and all that he did with regard to the abolition of slavery. As Christians we are citizens of a country, and it is our business to play our part as citizens, and thereby act as salt indirectly in innumerable respects. (pp. 154-55)
For those of us who are familiar with our Dutch history I could also mention men such as Groen van Prinsterer who, as the father of the Anti-Revolutionary Party, wrote and spoke and worked so hard to hold back the forces of revolution and anarchy unleashed by the French Revolution ideals of liberty, fraternity and equality in the Netherlands in the 1800s, and also of Maurits van Hal who worked tirelessly to gain the right of existence and equality of funding for Christian schools. These men used their God-given talents to the honour of God and the benefit of their neighbours as a salting salt in an increasingly salt less society. And they did this with the fervent and prayerful support of “ordinary” individuals like you and me.
That is another way in which we can make a not insignificant contribution to our cultural mandate. There are similar if not greater evils than exploitation of the workers or slavery, evils such as legalised abortion, homosexual “rights” and the breakdown of the marriage that also have their root in that perverse and satanic lie given voice by the French Revolution that threaten the very foundations of our society. Do we recognise and meet this challenge, or do we “leave it up to the experts” and relax in front of our mind-numbing TV screens?