Growing up in rural Florida in the early 60s, our television had only three channels and two of them didn’t come in very well. But every Sunday night we watched the Ed Sullivan show.
Today, when I hear someone mention multitasking, I always think of the guy on Ed Sullivan who spun the plates. So the title of Bernard Howard’s recent article published by The Gospel Coalition, 3 Plates to Spin in the Vocation Conversation, caught my attention.
In this thought-provoking article, Howard suggests:
…to understand the Bible rightly we need to be like a circus performer who keeps different plates spinning on sticks. If we focus too much on one biblical truth, others will begin to wobble and fall. This is certainly the case when we connect our faith to our daily work. Three biblical “plates” must be kept spinning simultaneously.
Understanding All that God Has Called Us to Do
Howard describes the three plates as:
- God’s creation mandate (Gen. 1:28): We were called to cultivate and subdue the earth, originally and in this current age, “realizing creation’s inherent potential.”
- Our individual calling: To follow Christ and our vocational calling or “our unique life situation with its various responsibilities and duties.”
- Gospel work’s eternal significance: Referencing Luke 5:10, Howard writes, “…many have great gospel effect through mainly plate 1 or plate 2 work. But…catching fish in itself doesn’t have the same eternal significance as catching people.”
This last statement is troubling. If some work is better than other work in God’s sight, then it follows that God would also see some jobs as having greater importance.
I don’t see anything in the scriptures to support this last claim, and it also goes against the reformers ideas of faith and work.
To paraphrase Martin Luther, the work of the milkmaid is just as important to God as the work of the priest. And Calvin added that all work can serve to love and glorify God, not just the work of the clergy.
Faith and Work: Three Questions Help Us Get the Right Understanding
At IFWE, we would suggest a different model for understanding all God has called us to do. It is based on the teaching of scripture and three simple but important questions.
- Why did God create us and the rest of creation?
God created the entire creation to glorify himself (Isa. 43:6b–7, Rev. 4:11). As the painting of a master reflects the glory of the artist, all of creation was made to reflect the glory of the Creator. The old Scotch catechism rightly says that man’s chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
- What are we called to do in order to glorify God?
In the Garden of Eden, God came to Adam and Eve and gave them their job description (Gen. 1:28), telling them to fill the earth with God’s images and to subdue the earth. In spite of the Fall, we are still called to fill the earth with God’s redeemed images (evangelism).
We are also still called to subdue the earth. According to Wayne Grudem, the Hebrew word translated subdue in verse 28 (the Hebrew word kabash), in this context, means to make the earth useful for human beings’ benefit and enjoyment (work).
These two things are the “what” we are called to do in order to glorify God. The gospel call is a redemptive return to these two lost and forfeited callings. They are both important—nowhere in scripture is one more important than the other.
- Where do we do this God-glorying work?
In his classic book The Call, Os Guinness says that our primary calling is to become disciples of Christ, but that it should lead without fail to four secondary callings. Our primary calling is “to be” and our secondary callings are “to do”—they represent God’s call “to be” fully integrated into all areas of life.
Secondary callings should lead us to find our unique life purpose, using our particular gifts and abilities for God’s glory and to serve the common good.
Secondary callings can be summarized in four descriptive categories that encompass everything we do—both evangelism (filling the earth) and work (subduing the earth):
- Our call to the church—The Apostle Paul tells us that we are to bring our gifts and talents to the church to build it up (1 Cor. 14:26). This is not just the responsibility of the pastor and his staff. We all work to edify the body of Christ on Sundays as the church “gathered” so that we can be salt and light the rest of the week as the church “scattered.”
- Our call to family—God established the family in the garden before the Fall as the means by which Adam and Eve would fill the world with God’s images. He also gives the multiplying family a significant role in the history of redemption. God uses the family of Abraham to bless the nations (Gen. 26:4; Gal. 3:29; Gal 4:6-7). The Apostle Paul shows how, in marriage, husbands and wives resemble Christ and the church (Eph. 5:22-33). We all have numerous roles: fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, cousins. All roles are important in raising and training God’s image bearers.
- Our call to community—As Christians we are called to be “salt and light” in the world (Matt. 5:13-16). Chuck Colson writes, “In Hebrew times salt was rubbed into meat to prevent it from spoiling. In the same way the citizen of the kingdom is ‘rubbed in’ to society as its preservative.” Transformed by the power of the gospel, Christians can “illuminate and ‘salt’ every area of the culture around them—from education to economics, from medicine to the media.”
- Our call to vocation—God uses our vocations to impact culture, working toward the ultimate goal of redeeming culture. So the significance of the believer’s work goes far beyond its visible results. The process, as much as the products, is significant to God. There is no distinction between spiritual and temporal, sacred and secular. All work, however seemingly insignificant, can glorify God and be an act of praise. So work glorifies God, serves the common good, and is the medium for human creativity.
Our faith makes itself real in the world through our efforts in these four areas. As we read in the Book of James: “…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17).
So both “filling” and “subduing” have eternal significance and you don’t have to worry about plates wobbling and falling. Sometimes these efforts overlap, sometimes they don’t, but God’s grace is sufficient for them all.
Editor’s Note: Read more about the intrinsic value of work in How Then Should We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work.
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Photo credit: fonso