THE CHRISTIAN and HIS CAREER


Do not be mistaken! Work is not a consequence of the Fall. Work is a good activity ordained by God. God sets the example when He created the world in six days. And then He commanded Adam to name the animals and to tend the garden: making the most primitive occupation that of a taxonomist cum gardener! Work is part of our moral obligation towards God. The Fourth Commandment, which we usually associate with rest, actually involves a command to work too: “six days shalt thou labour” (Ex 20:9). Work was not a curse that came with the Fall, but the hardship associated with work is. It is in view of this fact that the Apostle Paul mandates work for the Christian: “if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thes 3:10).


It must be admitted, however, that though the Bible has much to say about the theology and ethics of work, it does not say much,—at least not directly,—about career development as we understand it today. The Bible was written at a time when society was not as complex as today. Most people in days covered by biblical history simply did what their parents or guardians were doing unless God called them to do something else. Jacob and his family were shepherds just as Isaac and Abraham were. Joseph became prime minister only because God providentially ordered that he be sold to Egypt. David was a shepherd too as were all his brothers. He became king only because God specially sent Samuel to anoint him. In the New Testament, the Lord Jesus was a carpenter for the greater part of His earthly life as was Joseph, his adoptive father. Peter and Andrew were fishermen because their father was a fisherman. Paul was probably a tent-maker because his family was in tent-making business. Nevertheless, the Bible gives us many principles, which we may apply in the matter of handling our career. What are these principles? Let us consider them under four mnemonic heads: Calling, Choice, Control and Change.


Calling


The first principle concerning his career that should be clearly understood by the Christian is that every legitimate occupation is good and important, and is therefore not to be despised.


It is a biblical notion to think of the job that God has appointed to us by His providence as being God’s calling for us. Writing to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul says: “But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk” (1 Cor 7:17). It is therefore not wrong for a Christian to encourage another to walk worthy of his vocation, meaning that he should give of his best as a Christian in the occupation that God has called him into. This is despite the fact that Paul is not primarily referring to our occupation in Ephesians 4:1, where he exhorts us to “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith [we] are called.” Rather, Paul is referring to our call to be a Christian—individually and corporately. The Christian conduct must be consistent with his calling to be Christ’s. However, God does individually appoint to us temporal estates and circumstances to live in. The Christian must walk worthy of the Name of Christ in whatever estate or occupation that God has set him in.


Thus, every legitimate occupation must be regarded by the Christian as good, and not to be refused or regarded as unimportant. Not everyone is called to be a minister of the Gospel. It is wrong for para-church leaders to tell their impressionable student members during emotional rallies that they should consider “full-time ministry” as their first career choice, or that unless God indicates otherwise they should “enter the ministry.” It is a fallacy to think that the “full-time ministry” is a higher calling if, by that, you understand that all other callings are unimportant. Every call is a call of God. It is by God’s divine appointment and decree. Calvin says it well:

The Lord bids each one of us in all life’s actions to look to his calling.… each individual has his own kind of living assigned to him by the Lord as a sort of sentry post… no task will be so sordid and base, provided you obey your calling in it, that it will not shine and be reckoned very precious in God’s sight (ICR 3.10.6).


Some of us may be called to be manual labourers, delivery persons or clerks. We must not despise these callings. Some may be called to be systems engineers, lawyers, doctors or managers. We must not esteem ourselves better than others.


Realise that God calls us differently because He makes us differently. Our duty is to determine our own calling. But how? This is a subject that cannot be answered in a few sentences, but simplistically, three things should be considered. Firstly, consider your gifts or talents. For example, if you find yourself having a logical mind, then you may want to consider a career in computer science. Secondly, consider your personal interests and inclinations. If you are a person who loves nature but hates to deal with machines, it would appear that a calling in engineering would be unlikely. Thirdly, consider the needs of the society that God has set you in. If more persons would bear this in mind there would probably not be so great a shortage of nurses in this nation and around the world.


But what if you are already in a particular career line: How do you know if this career represents God’s calling for you? Well, remember that the occupational calling is not a permanent calling, unlike your calling to be a Christian. In other words, you must work in whatever job you are in as God’s calling for you for the moment, and so serve “heartily, as unto the Lord, and not unto men” (Col 3:23). However, I believe that there is a sense in which a Christian can discern, albeit subjectively, that God is calling him to a different career. This is the way in which a person called to the Gospel ministry today may be prompted to take the first step towards preparing for the ministry. The same would apply, to some extent, in a call to change career.


A friend of mine, who was doing his masters in science, was convinced that God was calling him to be a lecturer in the polytechnic. His reasoning was noble, and included the fact that a teaching career would afford him more opportunities to witness for Christ. Not too long after launching into a teaching career, however, he was convinced that God was calling him to a different vocation altogether. How so? Because he was by nature a very reticent person who has difficulties expressing himself verbally when called upon without preparation. He was good at writing, and presentations. But he found it difficult when it came to answering questions or teaching interactively. He felt like a salmon trying to swim upstream. In the end, he relented, and took up a research position which suited him much better.


Choice


Although the choice of career is often tied to one’s choice of available job openings, it is helpful for us to distinguish the two aspects in regards to our career development. We have spoken about choosing a career in very broad terms, and about the call of God as it pertains to the kind of occupation that one may take. But in reality, the call of God (cf. 1 Cor 7:17) pertains not just to the kind of occupation that one may choose, but to the actual job instance that one is working in.


So, after considering our occupational calling in so far as the kind of career is concerned, it is necessary for us to consider whether we should take up a particular job that we are being offered, or which job we should take up if we are given two or more options.


Again, as the Scripture does not have direct statements on how we are to choose, I would like to suggest a few guidelines.


Firstly, you must consider if taking up a particular position may force you to compromise on the ethical and moral standards of the Word of God. For example, a Christian should as far as possible shun jobs that will require him to work on the Lord’s Day. Similarly, a Christian should not take up any public relations job if it is known that he will be required to entertain clients according to their fancies.


Secondly, you must consider the effect of a particular job upon your responsibility as a member of the church. The Christian must not dichotomise his calling to be a Christian from his occupational calling. As a Christian, he must give great priority to his place in the local assembly. In other words, a Christian ought not to be attracted to any jobs that would take him away very frequently on short business trips over the weekend. I have personally known of a brother in the Lord who had backslidden because his frequent travels took him away from congregation worship and fellowship much of the year.


Thirdly, the Christian with a family must also consider if the particular job will involve much overtime so that there is little time left to spend with the family. Christian fathers must remember that they are not only to be the provider, but the pilot, pastor and policemen at home. A father who is an excellent provider but fails in all the other duties is a failure overall.


Fourthly, it would be wise to know if there are other believers, hopefully with like convictions, in the company before considering a particular company. The advantage of having believers as colleagues is rather obvious for they would at least share some similar values with you, and in times of crisis, you could have someone to confide in, who can understand the situation intimately. Now, of course, this does not mean that you should take a job only if you know that there are other believers in the company. But unless you know that the unbelievers are not openly antagonistic to Christianity, difficulties will sooner or later surface.


Fifthly, it would naturally be prudent to compare the material remuneration such as pay, leaves and other benefits. This should not be the primary consideration, but it would be irresponsible not to consider it at all, unless it is not going to be the primary means of your livelihood.


Control


No matter how carefully we choose our careers and jobs, however, there is always the likelihood that after a while things are different from what we have expected when we enter into the job. It is helpful therefore for us to regularly pause to examine where our jobs are bringing us and how our Christian walk is being affected. Yes, our jobs are bound to have an influence on our Christian walk since we probably spend more time at it, than at home or at church.


May I suggest the following questions to ask when we pause to evaluate our jobs: (1) Do you have to work overtime or bring work home frequently so that you have little time for your family, for personal Bible reading and study, or for the stated appointments in church? (2) Do you find that you are now travelling so frequently that you are experiencing harmful disruption to your family and church life? (3) Are the pressures at work so great that you are bringing your frustrations back home, and therefore are becoming short-tempered towards your spouse, parents or children? (4) Is your mind pre-occupied with work all the time so that your thoughts tend to wander during private or public worship? (5) Do you find yourself having to return to the office regularly on the Sabbath days? (6) Are you loosing interest in your job or finding it difficult to do your work “heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Col 3:23)? (7) Do you find your job to be something which is rather redundant or contributes nothing at all to the well-being or needs of society?


If you answer positively to any one of the above, you know that all is not well, and you should take positive steps to do something about it. For example, if you have so much work that it is beginning to affect your Christian walk, it would not only be prudent but responsible to request for an assistant.


Of course, while waiting for the situation to change, you should commit the matter to the Lord in fervent prayer; and also make some time commitments to church and home so as to minimise the detrimental impact of the poor situation at work. This may mean some compromise on quantity and even quality at work. Of course compromise should be a last resort, but as Christians we should realise that it is more dangerous to compromise our spiritual well-being than to compromise our performance and increment at work.


Change


But what about a change of job? I once heard someone preach that “if you feel like changing job, just go ahead, don’t think too much.” I do not think that this is the right attitude for a Christian. Loyalty is a virtue which the believer ought also to cultivate. Loyalty to employers is certainly implied in the command to serve our employers in “singleness of… heart” (Eph 6:5; Col 3:22; cf. 1 Pet 2:18). Changing jobs should not be taken lightly as it often involves disruption to the company as well as ethical questions of moral obligations that may arise because of the expenditure involved in training, etc.


With this in mind, some reasons for changing jobs are not quite justifiable. For example, it would not be right to change to another job simply because the other job pays more. We must watch out against covetousness (1 Tim 6:6). Another poor reason for changing jobs is encapsulated in the excuse: “I do not like my colleagues.” As believers we must make every effort to “live peaceably with all men” (Rom 12:18).


Good reasons for considering changing jobs are: Firstly, when you are convinced that the Lord is calling you to a different career or when there is an opportunity for career advancement. Remember that it is not wrong to make use of opportunities which may better your outward estate. The Apostle Paul suggests this when he says: “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather” (1 Cor 7:20–21). Paul was referring to opportunities of freedom for slaves, but the principle applies also to opportunities for career advancement by employees. Secondly, it may be time to consider changing job if your Christian walk is being adversely affected by your workload, and no re-arrangements could be done in your current company to rectify the problem. A third and excellent reason for leaving your current job is,—in the case of a woman,—to be a homemaker; and—in the case of a man,—to prepare for the Gospel ministry.


Naturally, as far as possible, all plans to leave a current employment should be discussed candidly with our present superiors or employers. Also, as far as possible, all obligations of training, handling over, bonds, etc., should be settled way before the “last day” at work.


Conclusion


Though the Christian is not “of the world,” he needs be in “in the world.” And being in the world makes the question of career development not irrelevant. Christians must not succumb to the principles and motivations of the world, such as fame, honour, wealth and luxury, when making decisions and evaluations concerning our careers. Rather, let us seek the Lord’s wisdom that we may know how to handle our careers in a Christ-honouring way that we may indeed remain not of the world, but rather salt and light of the world.


J.J. Lim