INTRODUCTION: MODERN MISCONCEPTIONS
In the modern world system, there are many misconceptions regarding Christian concepts, particularly, the proper relationship between work and worship in the relevant context of the Christian life of faith.
One such misconception is that worship is sacred as usually to be done in the church, while work is secular as usually to be done at one’s occupation. Even believers are in this kind of belief, where they dichotomize, compartmentalize, and separate the sacred and the secular spheres of their lives. But we will later show in this discussion that in the Christian life, there is actually an underlying unity between the sacred and the secular, worship and work, and the inward belief and outward behavior so to distinctly define their belongingness to their Lord who called them out from the darkness of the world system into His marvelous light. In relation to the call of God, the unity between work and worship gives the essential expression of God’s nature and image as God originally created in mankind as God’s image and likeness, not our fallen selfish natures, as God lives His life in the believers through the power of His Spirit. God providentially weaves the threads of His call into and through the fabric of the lives of the believers with their behaviors, and only we, as believers, can distinguish them if we are sensitive to God’s still small voice in our hearts. Later in our discussion, we will show that secular work is sacred worship, and sacred worship can transcend to secular work, and that there should be no separation between the sacred and secular spheres of our lives, particularly in the unity between work and worship.
A particular misconception as offshoot from this earlier misconception is that we work to live, not live to work. Usually, in the world system, people live to work, spending almost all of their waking hours at work, even apart from worship, when God originally ordained even way back at the Garden of Eden for man to work with worship and worship with work for Him to live out the life God has instilled in man. The Fall ruined everything that God originally ordained for man to walk and live.
For us to appreciate the proper relationship between work and worship in their biblical contexts, we need to study the etymology of these words, which is the study of the history, evolution, sources, and progressive development of words.
Actually, in the bible, work and worship have the same Biblical meaning(s)! In the Hebrew Old Testament, abad in Hebrew can be translated either as work or worship, depending on the context(s) of the author. On the other hand, in the Greek New Testament, leitourgein can be translated either as liturgy, to mean as sacred service of worship, or as purely secular service as work or service to the sovereign or to society or to a slave driver, or also in military service. With wonderful fecundity of the ambiguity of meaning(s) which can only be clarified by their proper context(s), a communicator or translator can select the contextual meaning(s) of the biblical etymology of work and worship. In essence, these words are interchangeably synonymous. In short, it can be viewed as having one word but with two meanings, or two words but with one meaning. An analogous example is on the concept of the Trinity, though not defined in the bible, which is an enigma, wrapped inside a mystery, surrounded by contextual perplexity, such that human language can not really fathom its fullest meaning as to approximate the quintessential meaning of the uniplurality of the names, characters, and personalities of the entities in the Trinity. If we would define a word to describe the unity between work and worship in their synonymous quintessential biblical etymology, work and worship can be defined as a binity or duonity, or a unity of two meanings and two words.
Thus, from their biblical etymologies and contexts, work and worship can be viewed as two liturgies, where worship is contextually usually for sacred service, while work is contextually usually for secular service. And relating to the Old English etymology, worship is basically worth-ship in its Old Anglo-Saxon roots, viz. weorthscipe or wyrthscype, to mean “honor,” from Old Anglo-Saxon weorth or wurth, to mean “worthy” or “honorable,” and scipe to mean “ship”. So, etymologically, worship is an honoring or putting value and worth to something worthy and honorable, usually, in context to putting value or worth to higher or greater things such as the concept of God and His multifarious names, contexts, characters, and personalities. In other words, worship is putting value and worth to something or someone that may owe and cause love in the worshipper. Worship is the feeling of deep devotion, love, and admiration to the object of worship. It can become unquestioning and uncritical love and excessive admiration to the object of worship. A clear example of which is on people so madly in love with one another, as can be seen like in the lyrics of love songs where the lover worships the beloved. Also, one says that a ship is seaworthy if it is fit for voyage as to brave through storms, i.e., a ship is worth its value and use if it can brave through storms. An unseaworthy ship is not worth riding, else, one can lose his valuable life. So, worship is like riding a seaworthy ship which carries all valuable things for the rider. The worshipper is like a rider of a seaworthy ship of beliefs and behaviors that define his belongingness!
There are degrees or hierarchies of worship. The highest form is the worship of God or gods. Lesser forms are on anything or anyone that dazzles a worshipper. True spiritual worship is the supreme worship of the True God as revealed in Jesus Christ, who said in
23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.
24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
True worshippers are those who repented of their sins, and realize that Jesus is the Truth of God (see John 3:21; 14:6) as the one and only Way to the Father (see Acts 4:12). Worship in truth is the worship of the Truth, the God revealed in, by, and through Jesus Christ, the Lamb sacrificed for the redemption of mankind. Worship in spirit is the worship in the new realm revealed by God to the people only in, by, and through Jesus Christ. God the Father has been seeking true worshippers, because He has wanted people to live in the truth and in reality, not on lies and falsehoods manufactured by the Adversary who enslaved the sinners with their rebellious sinful natures, which fell at the Garden of Eden. God has always wanted to form His spiritual family of born again, born from above believers in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Everybody, even an atheist or an agnostic, is a worshipper (see Romans 1:25). But sin so blinds the false worshippers to constantly put their empty hope and meaningless trust like a slave on worthless objects of worship! As declaring His invisible and indivisible nature, God is not just one spirit among many, but the Supreme Spirit who created all other spirits being worshipped by the false worshippers. Worship of God can be done only by and through the One and Only Jesus who revealed and expressed God’s invisible and indivisible nature, as God Incarnate (see John 1:18), and most of all, by virtue of His Holy Spirit, who opens the believers’ spiritual eyes to His kingdom of marvelous light and life (see John 3:3,5; 7:38,39).
For a worship so elevated beyond and above the God as revealed in Jesus Christ is tantamount to idolatry, such as hero-worship in pagan mythologies, where the pagan worshippers so admire devotedly to their great heroes, be they historical or just mythological. Idolatry does not limit just into worship of idols or icons, but anything or anyone other than the true God. Idolatry can be invisible, such as worshipping concepts against God. Martin Luther said that the heart of man is an idol factory, always inventing and creating idols. So, Jeremiah lamented in
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
about man’s problem of his heart. The heart of all human problems is the problem of all human hearts! That’s why, God so commanded in His Ten Commandments to worship and love Him, first and foremost over anything or anyone else, as He said in
3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
6 And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
7 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
That’s why, we can so read in the history of Israel that God had so punished their repeated idolatries when they worshipped other gods than the God who had chosen them out of the darkness of the world system. They were sent into exile in Babylon to purge them of their endemic national sin of idolatry, particularly worshipping the gods of the Gentile nations. The Lord Jesus Christ re-echoed these commandments in
37 Jesus said unto him,
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
And a much clear, pointed, emphatic statement is what Christ said in
35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
36 And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.
37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
38 And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
39 He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.
Both in the Old and New Testament, scriptures attest to the jealousy of God over His chosen people that if they would have worship much higher than Him, His consuming fire would devour the idolaters. This is clearly echoed again by the glorified Christ in His scathing rebuke of their subtle and secret sin of falling from their first love of Him to His disciples at the Church of Ephesus, which historically represents the early apostolic church, as can be read in
4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
Here, we can read that the Lord exhorted the rebuked church to remember, restore, and revive their first love to be manifested by their doing the first works, which were works of loving worship of Him who was sacrificed for their redemption. In other words, again, we can see the unity of work and worship in expressing the life of the Spirit inside the believers as expression of the deep devotion to their Divine Lord and Savior.
To expound further on the practical meanings of the etymology and ambiguous synonimity between work and worship in their biblical contexts, we discuss here the biblical basics to define further the beliefs and behaviors to give clear meanings of the belongingness of the elected believers as God’s special chosen people He gathered for Himself, in His search for those who would worship Him in spirit and truth.
So, for believers to develop a deeper life of meaningful worship and work in, by, and through Christ, St. Paul admonished believers to put on the virtues of their new life in Christ, as he said in:
And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.
As inspired by the Holy Spirit, it is clear here that Paul did not give any distinctions nor splittings of the sacred versus secular compartments of the life of the believers and their behaviors. Before God, the Sovereign over all, everything in the believers’ words and works (work as synonymous to “deed” and “do” in this text), should be all in the name of the Lord Jesus, while giving thanks or worship to God and father by Jesus’ name, the Name above all names in God’s economy.
Then, in a related text:
1 Corinthians 10:31
Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.
the apostle admonished the believers to make their outward behavior to match their inward beliefs, so as to clearly proclaim the testimony of their belongingness to Him. In succeeding verses, their behaviors should build up the church of Jesus by attracting some to the new birth (v.33b), others to further their maturity in the progressive process of continuous salvation (justification, then sanctification, and ultimately, glorification, cf. 1:30) and discipleship as a lifestyle. The testimony and behavior of the believers, to show their belongingness to Him, should be beyond reproach so as not to cause divisive offenses and stumbling blocks in the church of God. All is to be done in the spirit of love, as commanded by their Lord. Believers are to show by their behaviors of the same spirit of love as exemplified and exampled by their Lord and His earlier disciples and apostles. Paul was one of the excellently exemplary example of the unity of beliefs and behaviors to define his belongingness to his Lord. So, in his epistle to the Corinthians, Paul encouraged the believers to follow his example, in particular, in the matter of food coming from pagan sacrifices. Their new freedom in Christ should be motivated by love, as Paul defined in 1 Corinthians 13.
Then, in a related text, we have
1 Peter 2:9
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light:
Here, Peter exhorted the believers to live holy lives. To contrast with the disobedient destined for destruction, as God’s chosen people, echoing Isaiah 43:20 as applied to Israel only in the Old Testament, but now applied to the church in the New Testament, God’s peculiar people, a holy nation of royal priesthood, should represent the world to God by their intercessory ministries, so as to have now the responsibility originally given to Israel (cf. Exo. 19:6) to display God’s greatness by reflecting His life in them. Like Israel, the church as elected by God is to be the New Testament holy nation first as priests, then kings to rule with Him, just as God originally ordained Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. As belonging to solely God, Christians are such special people before God and the world, because God has so chosen and preserved them for Himself by translating them from the kingdom of darkness of the world system into His kingdom of marvelous light. Not to replace nor supplant Israel, the believers belonging to God are to display and declare before the world the awesome praises of Him, His eminent and excellent qualities or virtues by the holy lives they live in the power of His Spirit. That is, the believer-priests should evidence His exemplary excelencies by their lives as His servants or witnesses of the life He gave them. As former pagans, ignorant of God’s provision of salvation, formerly not His people to receive His mercies and graces, the church now receives His illuminating light, mercies, and graces. In practicing holy lives by serving as a nation of holy and royal priesthood, extolling His eminence and excellences with offerings of spiritual sacrifices is the proper response to the mercies and graces they have received from Him. In short, they are to live lives of definitive and distinctive difference, but not indifference, from the world system which represents the kingdom of darkness.
We can go back to the Book of Leviticus to give the new believers some model or pattern of what the life of work with worship and worship with work, as admonished by Peter and Paul in their epistles. With similarity but not the same identity as Israel, the New Testament church should live and work as worshipful witness before the world. From
“Keep My decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD”.
it can be seen that worship is honoring God. We honor the LORD by praising Him, as admonished by Peter and Paul, particularly in a kind of “thanksliving” kind of lives of continuous and constant thanksgivings to the One who gives them life. But we also honor the LORD by keeping His decrees and laws, and choosing to live holy lives. Worship is a form of service as also seen in:
“Moses said to the assembly, ‘This is what the LORD has commanded to be done’”.
This described the initiation of Aaron and his sons into Israel’s priesthood, a kind of foreshadow of what the New Testament believers’ lives should be as His Chosen People. In a significant way, offering to the LORD dedicated service is one way in which we can worship, such that our work of ministry must be performed in full accord with God’s commands.
As ordained by God for man to reflect His image He created in mankind, human work was a part of God’s original intent for His people. A divine gift and blessing, work is not to be viewed as a punishment, as usually can be seen in the discontentment about wok in the secular system. In human work, God shares a part of His responsibility to care for and sustain the world He created. Labor is a normal part of the responsibility of God’s people in their raison d’etre, or reason of existence, after their creation by God.
On the other hand, as the Chosen People’s way to define their identity and belongingness to the God who called and covenanted with them after translating them from the kingdom of darkness into His kingdom of marvelous light, true worship is their distinction from the ungodly unbelievers, as a form of spiritual separation of the kingdom of light from the surrounding darkness of the ignorance, iniquity, inequity, immorality, and idolatry of the unbelieving world, as can be seen in.
“You must distinguish between the unclean and the clean” (Lev. 11:47).
A number of Old Testament laws seem to have as their main purpose in establishing a unique lifestyle for God’s people to showcase their definitive and distinctive difference from their surrounding neighbors. The Israelites were reminded constantly of their covenantal relationship with their jealous LORD, and their definitive and distinctive difference from all other peoples on earth.
And to show that worship as assurance of their divine favor in their covenantal relationship with God, we can read in
“He will make atonement… because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been”.
Here, sin offerings dealt only with unintentional sins. On the Day of Atonement, a sacrifice was offered which assured the Israelites that they could be forgiven for all their sins. And since the Old Testament was only a foreshadow of the fulfillment of Christ of all the laws through His once-and-for-all sacrifice on the cross, the New Testament is to be the fulfillment of what God promised in
26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.
Only the sacrifice of Christ’s shedding of His precious blood on the cross can this promised be fulfilled in the lives of the believers, since it would be God’s Spirit which will make them alive in the spirit for them to fulfill His laws to be written in their hearts.
However, what accounts for the seeming conflicts, discontent, and schizophrenia between work and worship?
To trace the devolution of the unity between work and worship, we start with the book of origins, Genesis, which tells us about this problem. From
And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.
we can see that God purposely created mankind with His image and likeness to be a steward of His creation, particularly, in dressing and keeping the Garden of Eden. However, man fell from his original purpose when our first parents violated God’s simple test of obedience as can be read in
6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
8 And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.
17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
Here, we can see the breaking of the fellowship between God and man, when man sinned against God. And from here, sin separated work and worship. Before his fall, man was intimately in fellowship with God. But sin poisoned and ruined mankind’s fellowship and worship of their Creator. He started to even get ashamed of what God created (when he became ashamed of his nakedness), and so he has been hiding from God to cover his shame with his manmade rags. And from then onwards, till the end of time, the underlying root of problems at work and worship is the problem of sin, not the salary, nor the system, nor society, nor the sovereign, nor the slave driver. The heart of the problem at work is the problem of the heart at work. The spiritual sickness of sin that had contaminated all spheres of human existence has the symptoms characterized by struggle, stress, greed, anxiety, futility or vanity of the purpose and meaning of one’s work, in particular, and of existence, in general. As God warned in
16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:
17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
man’s separation from fellowship with God because of the spiritual death that followed his fall, the contamination of the curse of death resulted to work with the shedding of blood, sweat, as well as oppressive toil, troubles, tears, resistance, opposition, oppression, not only between mankind versus mankind, but even mankind versus the rest of God’s creation. And his wrestling with work is equivalent to wrestling with death and decay that mankind was cursed with after his fall.
Now if ours job are enjoyable to bring out our creativities, then it is a big blessing in our day and age, a close approximation to what work was to Adam and Eve before they sinned – their work was fun, fulfilling, and fruitful. When they sinned, however, God’s curse sat in motion a series of deadly consequences of decay that continues to hound us today. Death and decay invaded into the universe. Sin affected our parents’ and, consequently, our relationship with God and with each other. Our intimate fellowship with Him died to separate us from His blessings. Sin also affected our function in ruling the earth – our work. The curse of thorns and thistles made work frustrating, and at times, fruitless and foolish. People today erroneously think of work as the curse, but Genesis clearly says that God cursed the ground that man had to work to earn his living (Gen 3:17). Work already existed before the Fall as part of God’s original design, but after the Fall its nature changed.
To compare and contrast of man’s status as a worker before his fall versus after his fall, we can have the list as follows:
before his fall versus after his fall
a gift, a blessing vs. a punishment, a curse
a “may” vs. a “must”
work and eat vs. don’t work, can’t eat
rulers, a little lower than angels vs. a slave to death and decay
Before the fall, man lived to work, but after the fall, he has to work in order to live!! So, because of God’s curse of death, work and worship got separated which was originally united when mankind was still in full fellowship with his Maker. After his spiritual death, man is no longer capable to acceptable worship even with all the work he could muster, because everything he touches was accursed with decay and death. His flesh profits nothing, because only by the spirit can worship and work become meaningful.
Now, when Christ came to sacrifice Himself for our redemption, He restored that broken fellowship between mankind and God. With His restoration of the intimate fellowship back to God, Christ redeemed also the broken unity between work and worship. And so, because of Christ’s work on the cross, worship transforms work, and vice versa, as originally the gift and blessing of God for the raison d’etre of mankind’s creation. That is, to bring back the value and worth of work, mankind has to go back to the heart of worship, which is the worship of the heart. Why? Because even after the end of time in the eschaton, we can see like in the Book of Revelations that creatures (angels, saints, etc.) in heaven continually worship God. Whether we can imagine it or not, worship is forever! Our finite minds in this of eternity can not yet imagine what that form of worship will be. It can be imagined that the worship there will be the work of the believers, and vice versa. We can see this in
8 And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.
9 And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,
10 The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
11 Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.
A similar vision was seen by Isaiah when he received his call from God for Isaiah to speak for God as His prophet about the Messiah’s coming to redeem Israel. Isaiah realized and repented of his own sinfulness in the presence of the holiness of God.
Because work is to do something essential to our humanness, be it sacred or secular, God so called the chosen believers to be His co-workers, but not His co-equals. We can never be God’s co-equal, particularly, never can equal His omniscience, omnipotence, and other attributes He never shared with man, despite man’s ethical and moral likeness with God. God essentially works in, by, and through the workers in whatever He wills. For example, God authored the bible through the different writers who were inspired by the Holy Spirit, as God’s way of revealing Himself to His people. The inspired writers wrote, not of themselves, but “from God,” as one of the modes in which God made known to men His being, His will, His operations, His purposes. As distinct mode of revelation as any mode of revelation can be, and therefore the writers’ inspiration performed the same office which all revelations were performed. That is, in the expressed words of Paul, the inspired scriptures makes men wise, and makes them wise unto salvation. All “special” or “supernatural” revelation, redemptive in its essential idea to occupy a place as substantial element in God’s redemptive processes, has precisely this for its end. Holy Scripture, as a mode of the redemptive revelation of God, finds fundamental purpose just in this: if the “inspiration” by which produced the Scripture renders it trustworthy and authoritative, then it renders it trustworthy and authoritative only that better serve to make men wise unto salvation. From the perspective of the writers of the New Testament, Scripture was conceptualized, not merely as the record of revelations, but as itself a part of the redemptive revelation of God; not merely as the record of the redemptive acts by which God is saving the world, but as itself one of these redemptive acts, having its own part to play in the great work of establishing and building up the kingdom of God.
As a holy nation of priests first, then kings who co-work with Him, as called first to be like HIM, then to reflect Him, this can only be fulfilled by the believers by being good stewards of God’s manifold riches. Stewardship defines human dignity or worth, as can be read in
5 For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
6 Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:
7 All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field;
8 The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.
9 O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!
This gives the raison d’etre of man’s creation by God. This translates to managing what God created and gifted man, particularly, the time, treasure, talents, truth, testimony that God has given and worked out in His worshippers. And stewardship can only be meaningful if the elected would have the perception and perspective that to work is to do a godlike thing, a kind of the creature imitating the Creator. This is just an echo of what God ordained in
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
To rule and manage the earth as God’s stewards, man is fulfilling the image and likeness God has instilled in him. Even in the first chapter of Genesis, God is seen as a worker who worked by creating the universe, particularly, the heavens, the earth, mountains, seas, lakes, rivers, forests, the Garden of Eden, and everything that lives and breaths. In creating mankind, God makes mankind as workers too just like Himself. The reformer Ulrich Zwingli said:
“There is nothing so like God as the worker.”
The work does not matter, but on the faithfulness in what the worker is working on, be the worker be a master or a slave. The dignity or worth of a worker in not what he may have, but what they do with what they have. To be a good steward defines the dignity of a worker, not the salary. A slave who may receive low or no salary is more dignified than a highly CEO who is a bad steward. Not the profession, possession, and position, but how the worker acts a good and faithful steward, as Jesus commended repeatedly in the parable of the talents in
21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
but a scathing rebuke for the bad and unprofitable servant in verses 26-30:
26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
And God is still working even up to this time with the recreation of the fallenness of man by regenerating the new believers with the workings of His Holy Spirit. And those He recreated, He calls as His co-workers in proclaiming the gospel of salvation by grace only in, by, and through His Son who sacrificed His blood on the cross to redeem mankind from spiritual darkness, death, and decay and bring them into His marvellous kingdom of light and life.
God actually gifted mankind with everything he needs to be good stewards of His creation, but sin ruined the originally ordained plan and purpose of God for the believers, as promised in
2 Peter 1:3,4
3 According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:
4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
“Power” in this text is dynameos in Greek, from which came the word dynamite into the English language. So, Christ’s divine power (i.e., dynamite power) provides everything believers would need to live the godly life God intends them to live. Such dynamite power is the power they would need to destroy all strongholds of the enemy who originally enslaved them in his dark empire. The believers have all the spiritual vitality or life for godly living, particularly, in proper and true work and worship acceptable unto God. Such life is attainable through the knowledge of Him, an intimate “full knowledge” as the life-source of spiritual power and growth, just as what Christ said in
5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
which the Apostle Paul re-echoed in
7 That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
The promises of God are all because of His GRACE, which is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. And by faith can those promises be fulfilled, as expressed in His kindness to us in, by, and through Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. It is God’s appropriate or suitable expression of His love to those spiritually dead in their trespasses and sins to give them life. Faith is not a “work” man can do to save himself, because it is all God’s work from His graciousness. Work of man can not merit salvation, because salvation is offered as a free gift from the gracious riches of Christ’s once-and-for-all work on the cross. Salvation is purely on the basis of God’s grace, by means of faith on the believer. The source of salvation is all from God, and man has no part whatsoever in the work of God in saving him. Man died when he fell and no amount of his empty work can save him from his death. That’s why, no one can boast of being saved solely by grace through faith. It is all God’s workmanship to showcase God’s masterpiece, as in art, which differs from man’s workmanship all done in the flesh and in pride, which are not acceptable to God. As God’s workmanship, believers are created (more of regenerated and recreated) in Christ Jesus for the purpose of God working out His salvation He has worked in the believers for them to do true good works acceptable to God. God’s masterful workmanship can not be achieved by man’s good works, but to result in good works. God prepared in advance for the believers to do good works as fruits of His working in them in order that they walk, talk, and live in them. In other words, God has prepared a path of good works for His chosen people which He will perform in, by, and through them as they walk in faith in and obedience to Him. Not as working for God, but God working out His workmanship in, by, and through the believers. And as His co-workers, we are to work out our salvation He already has worked in us, as Paul said in
12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
14 Do all things without murmurings and disputings:
15 That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;
16 Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.
17 Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all.
18 For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me.
This path of good works in practical terms is later expounded by Paul in chapters 4 to 6 in his Ephesian epistle. So, though the chosen people were spiritually dead deserving only God’s wrath, God in His marvellous grace, has provided salvation through faith in Christ.
So, from this path of good works, the believers are to be good stewards by their faithfulness even in small things, as they rule the earth as His stewards (or managers). This has been God’s ordained plan and purpose for mankind, for them to live to work, not work to live. To live to work is to be motivated by God’s graces, while to work to live per se is usually motivated by selfish independence from God’s graces. Thus, we can see that the proper end of work is to glorify God as His good stewards, not motivated by the salary nor profits, the usual cause of discontent in the workplace, be it sacred or secular. It is to work so as to be used for building His kingdom on earth, not to build the kingdom for one’s own ultimatized self. We can never play gods in life. Thus, salary should not be the motivating reason for work, but only as fruit of good stewardship. If salary is THE reason for work, then that work does not glorify God, because it only manifests the sin of greed, envy, and covetousness. In particular, Paul warned and admonished in
1 Timothy 6:10-12
10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
11 But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.
12 Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.
Here, money has only temporal values, and those who worship money can wander from the faith by being trapped in many temptations and foolish and harmful desires that can lead to destruction and ruin if one’s possessions will possessed him to become corrupted by greed, envy, and covetousness that usually come out as toxic fruits of the evil love of money, making money a god. The believers should not be possessed by their possessions but by godliness with contentment, as Paul said in the preceeding verses:
1 Timothy 6:6-9
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.
7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
8 And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.
9 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
Godlinesss may not always lead to financial gain, because godliness itself is gain if accompanied by contentment. The believers’ sufficiency is all due to the sufficiency of God, the Sovereign Source of all good things for life and godliness. Godliness with inner God-given sufficiency does not depend on material gain, which the false teachers Paul warned about were obsessed and possessed with.
It’s not that important how God uses His stewards as instruments of His righteousness, but that they are fit for His use, as what Paul said in
2 Timothy 2:19-21
19 Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.
20 But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour.
21 If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.
It does not matter what type we are or where we are used in His work. It is simply a matter of being usable to Him. Not the ability, but the availability.
And this can only be fulfilled if the disciples would follow what Paul admonished in
1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
The service here basically is the work with worship and the worship with work of the believer, be it in the sacred or secular sphere of their lives. And this can be elucidated and emphasized in
17 And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.
23 And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;
And even in the trivial deeds in life like eating and drinking as said in
1 Corinthians 10:31
31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.
can be a form of worship if all done for the glory of God! This can be all done if people would pursue their utmost for His highest for the greater glory of God, and always aware of His inescapable presence and notice! We may run from Him, but we can never hide from Him! This was the singleminded purpose and focus of Paul’s life of faith, as he said in
According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.
We will all be very much ashamed if we do not yield to Jesus the areas of our lives He has asked us to yield to Him. Paul were saying, “My determined purpose is to be my utmost for His highest—my best for His glory.” To arrive up to that level of determination is a matter of the will, not of debate or of reasoning, as absolute and irrevocable surrender of the will at that point. An excessive thinking and consideration for ourselves is what keeps us from making that decision, although we cover it up with the delusion that it is others we are considering. When we think seriously about what it will cost others if we will obey the call of Jesus, we will tell God He does not know what our obedience will mean. We keep to the point—He does know – and shut out every other thinking and keep ourselves before God in this one thing only—our utmost for His highest. We should be determined to be absolutely and entirely for Him and Him alone.
Paul also admonished an unstoppable Determination for His Holiness. “Whether it means life or death—it makes no difference!” (see 1:21). Paul determined that nothing would stop him from doing exactly what God wanted. But before we choose to follow God’s will, a crisis must develop in our lives. This happens because we tend to be unresponsive to God’s gentler nudges. He brings us to the place where He asks us to be our utmost for Him and we begin to debate. He then providentially produces a crisis where we have to decide—for or against Him. That forked-raod moment becomes a great crossroads in our lives to follow or forsake Him. If a crisis has come to us on any front, we should surrender our will to Jesus absolutely and irrevocably.
Most Christians see little relationship between what they do on church on Sundays and what they do for most of the week. And yet the bible has a lot to say about work even outside the church service. In the New Testament, of Jesus’ 132 public appearances, 122 were in the marketplace; of 52 parables Jesus told, 45 had a workplace context; and of 40 divine interventions recorded in Acts, 39 were in the marketplace. Christ’s life did not show separation between the sacred and the secular.
In the Parable of the Talents, we can observe how the landowner rewards his faithful servants: “Take charge of ten cities.” Just as His original intent was for man to join Him in creative rule, God will ordain His children to rule with Him in the new Kingdom. We do not have a detailed biblical revelation nor idea of what work of this kind of rule will entail, but as we have previously observed it will be a kind of work where we “share in the Master’s happiness” – a work no doubt full of creative excitement. We can not wait for the day when the Father will show us the unspeakable beauty of a renewed earth, the millions of stars and the vast expanse of the universe, and will ask us to join Him in creatively managing all of these with our new bodies and spirits.
When reflecting on all of these things, we can really get excited about eternity. Yes, there will be worship and work there, which may no longer be distinguishable nor separable in our new natures. We will be gazing at the Father, but there will be so much more. This perspective can help us put our present work in a new perception and perspective. Not that we go through this present life to grit our teeth and sit out the trials and tribulations at work in this present age so that we can get on to the next with all the scathes and cuts of temporal existence, and then have a grand retirement for all of eternity. It’s doubtful or imaginable that vacations are good but for all of eternity. Kingdom life starts in the here and now, the abundant life promised by the Savior! The Father expects us to live in kingdomly ways, as preparatory precursor to His coming Kingdom, to be witnesses to the present world about what life will be in the Kingdom to come. Even in this very day, He wants to work by, in and through us, His children, to redeem and to restore work back to His original purpose. The lifestyle of Christians today’s life and work should be a foretaste of the coming Kingdom, a real witness to people around us, the light in the midst of the surrounding darkness of ignorance, immorality, iniquity, inequity, and idolatry. We can ask ourselves, “What aspects of work at present has God given us and how can we best make use of the talents God has given us to do Kingdom work?” The parable of the talents should both be an encouragement and a warning to us in this regard.
Many godly and noble reasons exist for working. We can see that God works to this very day to sustain His creation, as well as recreating His believers to come out in the image and likeness of Christ. Psalms 104 is an excellent witness about how God works to meet the needs of His many creatures, as He also continues to work out His foreordained plans and purposes in history. Jesus said in
My Father is always at work to this very day, and I, too, am working.
Furthermore, God created man to be His co-worker in sustaining His creation. Nothing in the Scriptures indicates that God changed His intentions regarding work, even though sin changed the nature of work. We can safely conclude that legitimate work in its various forms is an extension of God’s work – a means of sustaining God’s creation and meeting the needs of people – as He works in and out of His co-workers. Meeting people’s needs brings us to the Great Commandment in
37 Jesus said unto him,
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
to work toward the ultimate purpose of serving people because we love God and we love others.
We can see the biblical perspective of work can impact our motives for working. We work not just to earn a living but also to serve others in fulfillment of the Great Commandment of Matthew 22:37-40: to love God and to love our neighbor. Our motives for work in turn affect the way we work. We should work in life to bring life in work! In
Colossians 3:22 – 4:1
22 Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God:
23 And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;
24 Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.
25 But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.
1 Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.
the apostle Paul addressed the attitudes and actions of Christian slaves toward work, as well as that of Christian “masters” or employers. There is much we can learn from this passage regarding the way Christians should go about their daily tasks in the workplace.
Paul encouraged believing slaves to “work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” When we are involved in church or any other form of Christian ministry, we instinctively give our best because we know we are serving God. Can we translate this same attitude to our nine-to-five work? Paul implied that it is really the Lord we are serving in our day-to-day job. Do we put our whole heart into our job as Paul admonished the Colossians? This means pursuing excellence in the way we approach our daily tasks. This also implies that we cooperate with our co-workers and employers with a strong sense of teamwork, practice diligence and honesty, and take the initiative to improve the quality of our work.
If we put our whole heart into our job, we will embrace menial and even undesirable tasks, because they are opportunities to serve God and love others. We will do the best work we can – even in small and unseen things when no one else is watching – because we know that the Father, our Ultimate Boss, is always watching over us and will ultimately reward what is done in secret. Of course, in our fallen world, not every task is thrilling and fulfilling, but God views every task as having dignity and importance. Slaves during Paul’s time probably had the most undesirable and demeaning jobs and could not do traditional “ministry work.” But if they gave their best at their work, the Lord promised them a reward – an inheritance. This is an indication that God regards even a slave’s task as important. Service to the King at any level and forms counts when we are motivated by love. If we have to worship with the heart, so do we have to work with the heart!
Joseph in the Old Testament had a very unrewarding job. Sold into slavery under Potiphar, and subsequently thrown unjustly into prison, Joseph could have chosen to remain static or even rebel against the system. Instead, he accepted his situation and chose to serve his masters with diligence. In the end, he became the equivalent of a prime minister in one of the most powerful nations of his day, and was used by God to save his own people. The story of Joseph’s life and work is an excellent illustration of the principle of Colossians 3:23,24, which will will help us resolve the tension between the Christianity we learn and practice on Sundays, and our onerous “secular” day-to-day work. Too often Christians believe that their nine-to-five jobs do not count for eternity, at least not as much as more “spiritual” activities like evangelism, discipleship, prayer meetings, and Sunday worship (which probably explains why many believers are not so motivated at work). But because this same passage of Scripture implies that it is really the Lord we are serving in our daily tasks, we should learn to look at our work as service to God and to pursue it wholeheartedly. Contrary to what many of us have heard from well-meaning people, our daily work counts for eternity. Our work is a primary means of expressing our faith and living out the Great Commandment. We go to work for the same reason we are involved in church: to worship and serve Christ. We “seek the Kingdom of God” in our work and business by working for God and by working to meet the needs of others, to love and serve them.
Though not to be observed by extreme formalism as done by the hypocritical Pharisees, to keep the Sabbath is to keep God first and foremost over other kinds. Sabbath-keeping expressed in worship is actually a spiritual kind of work, where the believers will work out the spiritual grounds of their hearts with like hearing the words of God, which will work out His will in their lives through, say, in the preaching and the teaching of His words of life. The Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath! As Lord, He created the Sabbath and ordained its sanctity as separation from all kinds of works, so that the believer can focus on working out their spiritual lives as they fellowship in the words of God. Therefore, The Lord controlled the regulations pertaining to it (see Mark 2:28). Joy in Sabbath observance is brought by a simple acquiescence in the Lordship of Christ, not by a pharisaical ritual. Jesus had showed the people that the OT does not uphold the extreme legalistic ritual of Judaism as interpreted and practiced by the Pharisees. Sabbath keeping is to separate from secular services and concerns so as to rest to refresh and recuperate with focused with worship to God, a sacred spiritual service or work. It is a time to enjoy fellowship with the spiritual family and friends. Worship at Sabbath preceeds the workweek in the New Testament! In the Old Testament, the Israel’s Sabbath was the end of the 6-day workweek. But in the New Testament, the Christian Sabbath is the start of the 6-day secular workweek. Worship recharges the believers with remembrance of the beliefs and behaviors they have to observe as they live out their lives after the communal worship at church. Sabbath keeping is resting from secular work to focus on sacred work of worshipping the Great Worker who has blessed mankind with work as His co-workers in being stewards to His creation. The inspirations the believers can get from the worship of the words of God in Sabbath service will give them directions and power to do the secular or even sacred works awaiting them after their fellowshipping with God and His spiritual family.
We can read in
He moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.
which means worship gives God the best that He has given us. We should be careful what we do with the best we have. Whenever we get a blessing from God, we should give it back to Him as a love-gift. We should take time to meditate before God and offer the blessing back to Him in a deliberate act of worship. If we hoard it for our own selves, it will turn into spiritual dry rot, as the manna did when it was hoarded (see Exodus 16:20). God will never allow us to keep a spiritual blessing completely for our selves. It must be given back to Him so that He can make it a blessing to others. Christians are to be conduits of His manifold blessings, because He has been blessing the believers to become blessings to others. Such should be the expression of worship.
Bethel symbolizes fellowship with God, while Ai symbolizes of the world. Abram “pitched his tent” between the two. The depth of the intimacy of our private times of fellowship and oneness with Him measures the lasting worth of our public service for God. Hurrying, and rushing in and out of worship are wrong every time—there is always plenty of time to worship God, anywhere and anytime. God has never been in a big hurry to work out His plans and purposes in the world. He always works out His will in His perfect time. Days set apart for quiet can trap, detracting from the need to have daily quiet time with God. That is why we must “pitch our tents” where we will always have quiet times with Him, however chaotic and noisy our times with the world may be. Basically, there are not three levels of spiritual life—worship, waiting, and work — because all of these are supposedly to come in one harmonious mix in the life of believers. Yet, some of us seem to jump like spiritual frogs from worship to waiting, and from waiting to work, and from work to worship. God’s idea is that the three should go together as one united whole, not compartmentalized components of the believers’ life. They were always together in the life of our Lord and in perfect harmony. It is a discipline that must be developed, because it will not happen overnight.
In light of the pregnant biblical ambiguity on the synonymity dependent on contextual clarity between work and worship, we, the believers, can live to work with worship while we worship with work. And since worship will be forever, especially in the escathon, this actually, then means that there will be no retirement, even after the believer may retire from secular work. Even up to old age, we believers can continue to work with worship while we worship with work, because even when we will all be with Him in eternity, we will be worshipping Him forever, which may mean that God may have some works He may still give us in eternity, which is not clearly revealed in the sacred scriptures, as what Paul said in
1 Corinthians 2:9
But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
an echo of what Isaiah said in
For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.
which is related to what is said in
For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.
and in what our Lord promised in
1 Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.
2 In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
which is further re-echoed in
1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.
2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. 5And he that sat upon the throne said,
Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.
The believers’ work and worship in this side of eternity is only a prelude to the eternal work and worship they will work out with God in the new heavens and new earth, after the old were no more. In that new kind of existence, work and worship will no longer be separated by sin, which ruined their unity after the fall of man.
So, while we are still here waiting for that new heaven and new earth He has prepared for us, in contexts and relation to this present world system destined to be destroyed by Him to bring in His new heaven and new earth, work is secular worship, while worship is sacred work. In His new universe, the sacred and the secular, the work and worship will be separated no more! And in preparation for our work and worship in that new universe, the believers will have to redeem the fallenness of work and worship, to bring in their original Edenic unity in the spirit and substance of His words. It will be to go back to the heart of worship which is the worship of the heart. Because after we believers would experience our new birth, God will fulfill what He promised in
26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.
28 Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God.
29 I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses.
31 Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good; and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight, for your iniquities and your abominations.
The new heart and new spirit of believers now will be a preparation for the new heaven and new earth. With new perceptions and new perspectives, believers can have the love of labor with the labor of love, i.e., the work with worship and worship with work.
And while we work with worship while we worship with work in this side of eternity, we should not base our worth on “confidence in the flesh” and religious endeavors, for we should have “counted all of them as loss and dung in his quest to know Christ”, as what Paul’s life verses said in
3 For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.
4 Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more:
5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;
6 Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
7 But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.
8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,
9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:
10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;
11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.
12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
For Paul, at this temporal side of eternity, all work and worship would only find their quintessential meaning in his life verse “That I may know Him and the power of His Resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death” (v.10). It was all about “knowing Him”—i.e., that personal, intimate, firsthand, experiential knowledge of Christ—that mattered most. And, it was—and still is—“knowing Him” that enables us to experience His Resurrection power, which is only experienced in our willingness to “enter into the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death”, as we live our lives with work and worship.
Another way to try to understand what Paul may mean is to consider the code of ethics of the Samurai warriors of Japan, who described themselves as followers of “The Way of the Warrior” or Bushido. Christ’s believers are in spiritual warfare with sin, self, and Satan, considered as the evil trinity. Bushidō is defined by the Japanese dictionary Shogakukan Kokugo Daijiten as a unique philosophy (ronri) that spread through the warrior class from the Muromachi (chusei) period. From the earliest times, the Samurai believed, behaved, and felt that the path of the warrior was one of honor, emphasizing duty to one’s master, and loyalty unto death. For them, their raison d’etre is to live and die to honor their master by their warrior ethic. Comparingwise, Christians are virtually spiritual warriors whose weapons are not carnal like those of the Samurais’.
Hojo Shigetoki (1198-1261 A.D.) wrote:
“When one is serving officially or in the master’s court, he should not think of a hundred or a thousand people, but should consider only the importance of the master.”
Feudal lords, such as Shiba Yoshimasa (1350-1410 A.D.), expressed further that a warrior looked forward to a glorious death in the service of a military leader or the emperor:
“It is a matter of regret to let the moment when one should die pass by….First, a man whose profession is the use of arms should think and then act upon not only his own fame, but also that of his de¬scendants. He should not scandalize his name forever by holding his one and only life too dear….One’s main purpose in throwing away his life is to do so either for the sake of the Emperor or in some great undertaking of a military general. It is that exactly that will be the great fame of one’s de¬scendants”
Shiba also emphasized that warriors should not expect compensation for their service:
“There are men who believe that when one is serving the lord, he first receives the lord’s favor and only then makes endeavors in loyalty and his duties. They have understood the matter in reverse. Being able to live in this world is from the beginning by the grace of one’s lord. It is a sad thing for men to forget this and, while setting their ambitions yet higher, envy their masters and the world at large.”
“First of all, a samurai who dislikes battle and has not put his heart in the right place even though he has been born in the house of the warrior, should not be reckoned among one’s retainers….It is forbidden to forget the great debt of kindness one owes to his master and ancestors and thereby make light of the virtues of loyalty and filial piety….It is forbidden that one should…attach little importance to his duties to his master…There is a primary need to distinguish loyalty from disloyalty and to establish rewards and punishments.”
Another feudal lord Takeda Nobushige (1525-1561 A.D.) said:
“In matters both great and small, one should not turn his back on his master’s commands…One should not ask for gifts or enfiefments from the master…No matter how unreasonably the master may treat a man, he should not feel disgruntled…An underling does not pass judgments on a superior.”
Similarly, Nobushige’s brother Takeda Shingen (1521-1573 A.D.) observed:
“One who was born in the house of a warrior, regardless of his rank or class, first acquaints himself with a man of military feats and achievements in loyalty.”
Pagan the Japanese people may be, their samurai ethic is very Christian in essence, which Paul, the “samurai” of Christ, excellently exemplified by his life and death in service of his master. The samurai’s service is basically his life’s work and worship of his master, which should also be the kind of service the disciples should perform for their Lord and Saviour!!!
As God’s fellow co-workers, we should beware of any work for God that causes or allows us to avoid concentrating on Him. Many Christian workers worship their work, even religious work. The only concern of Christian workers should be their concentration on God, so that all the other boundaries of life, whether they are mental, moral, or spiritual limits, are completely free with the freedom God gives His child. Thus, a worshiping child is not a wayward one who wanders away from focusing on Him. A worker who lacks this serious controlling emphasis of concentration on God is apt to become overly burdened by his work. He is enslaved to his own limits, having no freedom of his body, mind, or spirit. Consequently, he burns out and gets defeated. There is no freedom and no delight in life at all. His nerves, mind, and heart are so overwhelmed that God’s blessing cannot rest on him.
But equally true is the opposite case: once our concentration is on God, all the limits of our life are free and under the control and mastery of God alone. There is no longer any responsibility on us for the work. The only responsibility we have is to stay in living constant touch with God, and to see that we allow nothing to hinder our cooperation with Him. Just like a cellphone, once we will sense that our spiritual batteries are ebbing low, we should recharge our focus back to God to refresh and revive us. The freedom coming after sanctification is the freedom of a child, and the things that used to hold your life down are gone. But we should be careful to remember that God freed us for only one thing—to be absolutely devoted to Him, our co-Worker.
We have no right to decide where we should be placed for work and worship, or to have preconceived ideas as to what God is preparing us to do. God engineers everything, such that wherever He places us, our one supreme goal should be to pour out our lives in wholehearted devotion to Him in that particular work, as what the Koheleth said in
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might.
While earlier encouraging the readers of his wisdom to enjoy life as God enables them, Solomon also encouraged them to work diligently while they can. Idiomatically, this text means “whatever you are able to do” (cf. 1 Sam. 10:7). Thus, we are to do it with all our might by expending all our energies. This advice was that when death will come, all opportunities for work and service on earth surely will cease. When a person will die, he will no longer have the energies to work. After physical death, with the dead body, the body can no longer work, nor plan, nor know any wisdom. It would be a different kind of work in the eternal presence of the Lord!
Finally, as believers, we need to keep in mind Paul’s great admonition to righteous living of the transformed life as he gave in
1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
Here, Paul based his exhortation on the mercies of God, or compassion, which he described in the earlier eleven chapters of his very great treatise on important orthodox doctrines for the New Testament believers. He urged the Roman believers to offer their bodies (cf. Romans 6:13) as living sacrifices (as opposed to the usual sacrifices of killed animals, as we can read in the Old Testament). The body of the Christian is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19,20), and in this text, the body represents the totality of one’s life and works, of which the body is the vehicle of expression of the inward realities, i.e., the works can speak louder than the words. Such offering of living sacrifices is holy (i.e., set apart for God’s purposes) and pleasing to God. Furthermore, such offering is spiritual worship (latreian in Greek). Latreian refers to any ministry performed for God, such as that of the priests and Levites in the Old Testament. It is also related to the word “idolatry”, where the idolater will worship an idol. Christians are the New Testament believer-priests, identified with the great High Priest, our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Heb. 7:23-28; 1 Peter 2:5,9; Rev. 1:6). A believer’s offering of his whole life as a living sacrifice to God is therefore sacred service or worship. So, even all his works are part of such worship. From his earlier clearly logical and perfect arguments in the earlier eleven chapters on the mercies of God, such an oblation or offering obviously gives a desirable response for believers. This idea is the inspiration of the icon of the University of the Philippines, where the statue of The Oblation shows a naked person with wide arms as a prayerful of his whole life and works to God!
As Paul generally implied to believers to offer his life as living sacrifice to God, such oblation represents a complete change of lifestyle, involving both positive and negative aspects. Firstly, he commanded “Do not conform” (cf. 1 Peter 1:14) any longer to the pattern of this world. The world system will always squeeze the people into its Procrustean molds of conformisms and uniformisms, and persecuting those who dissent from such squeezing; i.e., to live not according to the lifestyle of “the present evil Age” (Gal. 1:4; Eph. 1:21). So, Paul rather commanded for them “to be transformed (metamorphousthe in Greek) by the renewing of your mind”, i.e., instead of conforming to the patterns of this evil world, they were to transform by the metamorphosis of their minds from which all their beliefs and behaviours will steam out. The key to the metamorphosis is the mind, the control center of the attitudes, thoughts, feelings, actions (cf. Eph. 4:22,23). To keep one’s mind on being made new by the spiritual seeds of God’s Word to influence their beliefs and behaviours, prayer, Christian fellowship, etc… so as to transform their lifestyle and testimony.
Paul also concluded “Then you will be able to test and approve (dokimazein in Greek to mean prove by testing) what God’s will is, viz., His good, pleasing (verse 1) and perfect will. God’s will is itself what is good, well-pleasing to Him, and perfect. “Good” is not an adjective (God’s good will) but a noun (God’s will is what is good for each believer). As a believer is transformed in his mind, and is made more like Christ, he comes to approve and desire God’s will, not his own will for his life. Then, he will discover that God’s will is what is good for him, and it pleases God, and is complete in every way. It is all what he need, but only by renewing spiritually by the mind can he ascertain, do, and enjoy God’s will.