Just a Job?
As Free Reformed Church people in Australia, we have been richly blessed by our Heavenly Father in establishing ourselves as a hard-working people with a canny business acumen resulting in a consequent growth in personal and corporate wealth. 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" (even on a Monday morning!), 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 the fulfilment of our cultural mandate. We are co-workers of our Heavenly Father called to develop the resources He has placed in creation to His glory and the benefit of our neighbour and society. And while it is a blessing 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.
In an effort to set the context of our purpose and function as God's people on earth, I believe it will be helpful to drill deeper into what Scripture reveals about what God had in mind when He placed Adam and Eve on the newly created earth. Genesis 1:28 gives us insight into this where we read: "Then God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth."
In his book, "Gij Zijt God's Medearbeiders" (You are Gods' Co-Workers), Rev. van Dijk explains that the word "culture" comes from a Latin word that means: build, tend, and care for. God gave us the mandate to populate the earth and develop it. That implies that God's plan for this earth was not yet completed. God wished to bring it to completion together with mankind — with man as His co-worker! He gave man many talents to fulfil this task so that he would reflect God's image as he set about on his three-fold office on earth; talents that would enable the earth to be developed through man's exertions in agriculture, production and mineralogy, building and construction, scientific discoveries, medicine, design and technology, art and music and so much more! God has put us to work using our God-given talents in discovering and developing these riches that He has placed in this earth to His glory. That is our cultural mandate! That must determine the context of our studying and working, but also of our leisure time and our retirement. Thus, to not develop and use our talents and our time to the best of our ability to the honour of God implies, I believe, a serious waste of our lives!
It is telling that Schilder in his book, "Christus en Cultuur" places great emphasis on the service for 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 our talents for the benefit and well-being of each other, rather than laying up goods for ourselves.
And within the context of his book, Rev. van Dijk places the 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." (p99).
Rev van Dijk also makes the point (p17) that you don't necessarily have to be a professor or a teacher or a minister or a nurse to take part in fulfilling your 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 (p18), 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. Having the option and the means of studying at a university and gaining a degree was at that time far more limited than what it is today. Then, 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. We are so much richer today — let it never testify against us!
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 can obviously not 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 in the fear of the LORD and caring for their family at home.
Rev van Dijk (p29) points out however, that a woman should never consciously choose a career that will promote the achievement of 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 or gets me the highest pay-packet?"
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. May we always be conscious of demonstrating to our children and to all with whom we come into contact, that our employment is not just a job, but the fulfilment of our cultural mandate in God's service.