First we must begin with a statement of our problem. Many glorious truths were recovered in the Reformation, and one of them was the doctrine of vocation. Unfortunately, this is part of our Protestant heritage that we have shamefully neglected, and have almost lost. One of the principal indications that we have lost this doctrine is that we speak so easily and readily of “full-time Christian work,” as though there were anything else for a Christian to do. The reestablishment of two “holiness” layers of occupation in Christendom has been a terrible loss.
The holiness of any given calling is affected by an unholy pursuit of it. If a man goes to the mission field in disobedience, he is being unholy in it. And if a man becomes a rancher in obedience then he is being holy in it. The calling does not trump the call.
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship” (Exodus 31:1-5).
Summary of the Text:
So the word of the Lord comes to Moses (v. 1). A particular man was called by name out of the tribe of Judah. His name was Bezaleel (v. 2), and the Lord filled him with the Spirit of God (v. 3). This is the first instance of anyone being described as filled with the Spirit in the Bible.
And what were the indications of the Spirit’s filling? They were wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and craftsmanship (v. 3), which gave him the ability to do cunning work—as a goldsmith, a silversmith, a worker in brass (v. 4), as a jeweler (or possibly a mason), a woodworker, along with any other similar work.
So when the Spirit descends to fill a man for the first time in the Bible, it is surprisingly not to come down upon a theologian reading a big, fat scroll. He does do that, since being a scholar is also a lawful calling, but that comes later.
Now the important thing here is that Bezaleel was called. The Latin verb that means “to call” is vocare, from which we get our word “vocation,” calling. This is not to disparage the importance of a call to the mission field, or the ministry—of course not. But all Christians are called, and are called to labor self-consciously and faithfully in their calling, whether it is law, real estate, carpentry, medicine, brick-laying, shop-keeping, changing diapers, writing novels or songs, digging latrines, or planting trees. All of God is in all of it. Christians who think like Christians should function in terms of calling, and not in terms of “a job,” or even worse, “just a job.”
We do not hold to this on the basis of a mere assertion. There is a doctrinal foundation for it. We must fix it in our minds that God is in everything, and works through everything. If God is sovereign in all things, which we affirm, this means that Christ is hidden in the artisan, and Christ is hidden in the customer. Christ is hidden in the one behind the counter, and He is hidden in the one in front of the counter. He is hidden in the dentist, and hidden in the patient in the chair.
First, God provides for us through means. We benefit from the work of the farmer, the fertilizer salesman, the trucker, the grocery store clerk, the dairyman, and when we bow our heads to thank God for the breakfast cereal, we are thanking Him for His work in and through all of these people, whether they know Him or not. This truth does not depend upon everyone involved being regenerate. We receive from God through the work of others. We acknowledge this when we pray for our daily bread (Matt. 6:11). We know that God is working in and through all things (Rom. 8:28), and this includes all of our countless daily kindnesses.
Second, Christ receives from us as we work in each of our vocations. God gratefully receives from us through the work we do for others. “Lord, when did I ever give you hot French fries when you were famished?” “Don’t you remember? It was that time at the drive-through window.” This is the other side of vocation, the flip side of it. God keeps track of every cup of cold water (Matt. 10:42), and He reckons everything we do for others as done to and for Him (Matt. 25: 34-46).
This means that Christ is hidden in our vocation, and He is hidden in our neighbor. We are to discover Him there with the eye of faith. We were created for work (Gen. 2:15), and called to work diligently six days out of seven (Ex. 20:9-11). We are to render all our work to Christ, and not just to the boss when he is present. “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Col. 3:23). Christ is in your boss, and Christ is in your customer, Christ is in the merchant who sells to you, and Christ is in you. In Him we live and move and have our being.
And so we are to receive all the work done for us through the rest of the human race as a gift from Jesus Himself (Matt. 6:11). The mother gives milk to the child, but who fills her breasts with milk in the first place? When the farmer first planted the wheat, he did not know he was making milk for the baby. But this truth does not depend upon our awareness of it in the moment. Our joy and thanksgiving is dependent upon our awareness of it in the moment. Always and for everything giving thanks . . . (Eph. 5:20).
What Vocation Does Not Mean:
All work is full of glory but it is a glory apprehended by faith. This faith does not necessarily mean that a Christian carpenter pounds nails differently than an unregenerate carpenter does. But it does mean that he should understand the meaning of what he does, and, over time, this should result in differences in craft competence. We must be done with the rationalization that assumes that if our work is done before (a forgiving) God, this provides us with additional excuses and evasions. Rather, this must be a gracious spur to excellence.
Neither should this doctrine be taken as an excuse to become a one-trick pony. Your vocation is varied, and extends to every aspect of your life. This means that you are not only called to be, say, a software designer, but you are also called to be a son, a student, a husband, a brother, a citizen, a churchman, and a putter of model ships into bottles. Incidentally, parents, this means that education should be equipping your child for his or her vocation in this broad sense, not the narrow sense. And this, incidentally, is the meaning of a liberal arts education.
And vocation is not a talisman against worldly difficulties. Americans love “three steps to automatic success,” but that is not what the Scriptures promise. Diligence in this vocational way of thinking will generally result in long term satisfaction with what you do—instead of the constant flitting from job to job that is so common in our day—but don’t think that God-given changes are a sign that something is necessarily wrong.
And don’t think that vocation means that you will just float through your work day—the diapers can really stink, the customers can really be unreasonably irate, the promised shipments really can be subject to exasperating delays. Rain falls on the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45). And Christ is in all of it.
Finding Your Way:
We are called, all of us, to live in the will of God. But remember the difference between His revealed will for all Christians, and, after that, what are your abilities, your opportunities, and your desires. The first is a function of obedience. The second is a function of wisdom.
When those three things line up, then go for it. “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps” (Prov. 16:9). And as you go, remember this: “Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men” (Prov. 22:29). This is not carnal ambition—it is what enables us to see death and resurrection in our daily callings.
A message on this subject would be grossly deficient if we did not quote Luther at some point. His wonderful grasp of vocation, the most heavenly and earthy of truths, was remarkable. “God Himself milks the cows through the vocation of the milkmaid.” And amen.