Vocation as Service

Car Mechanic

Recently I took my Suburban into the local auto shop. The owner was great. After I paid for the work, we sat and talked about old cars and the snow and sons. It was fun. He was in no hurry. My car has run great every time I have taken it to him. I am not sure how that gentleman views his work, but from my end he is a servant. He is not interested in making as much money as possible. He does not push you out the door. He is careful with vehicles and kind to his customers. He has a job to do and he does that job well. It got me thinking, why do we work? What is a job for? There are three common reasons why people get a job.

We Get a Job to Make Money

Probably the most common reason for going to work is to earn money. Why do you work hard in college? So you can get a degree. Why do you get a degree? So you can get a job. Why do you get a job? So you can make money. There is no greater idol in America than money. Naturally, it tops the list of why people work. They want to earn. Now of course, money is part of the reason we work. But if money is the engine that drives our work then we are greedy. If the goal of our work is a paycheck then it makes our work finally about us, not God or our neighbor.

We Get a Job for Self-Fulfillment

Another popular option for why we work is self-fulfillment. We work to fill some hole in our souls. Earlier generations did not think this way so much. But we do. We believe that if we find the perfect job we will come home each day with a deep sense of satisfaction. Again there is some truth here. We are all made in the image of God. God works. Therefore work makes us more human. Dignity is bestowed when we labor. A man who cannot work has lost a part of himself. But self-fulfillment should never be our primary goal in our work. When it is work becomes a way of getting what we need instead of serving others.

We Get a Job to Build our Reputation

One final reason to get a job is to build our reputation. This is closely linked with self-fulfillment and at times money. Our job becomes a way of getting our name out there. The job is important in the eyes of society in general, our community, church, family, or some other group. We want that group to think well of us and view us as important so we get that particular job. This reason for getting a job is often driven by a desire to look good in the eyes of others. Like the ones above this is not entirely wrong. Whatever job we do we want a reputation for hard work, quality, and faithfulness. Whether we are an auto mechanic or the governor we should want our reputation to be solid. But there is a danger when our jobs become a way of building our reputation. If we view our work this way then again ultimately it is about us.

We Get a Job to Serve

While all of those reasons for getting a job have some merit, none of them should be the fundamental reason for getting a job. A job is primarily a way to serve God and our neighbor. We work to serve. In Ephesians Paul reminds the congregation of these two great truths:

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.
(Eph 6:5-9)

Men are to work as to the Lord. That is why any legitimate vocation can honor Christ. You do not have to work in a “spiritual” job to serve the Lord. The auto-mechanic, the computer programmer, the doctor, and the waitress can all honor God in their work. We serve the Lord by laboring in a way that pleases him. We do not lie, cheat, or steal. We are not lazy or half-hearted in our work. We are serving the Lord when we clock in.

But we are also serving our fellow man in our vocation. The key idea in all the reasons listed above is self. If money, self-fulfillment, or reputation are the main reasons we work then the main reasons we work are selfish. But our jobs are there to serve those around us not so we can get what we want, climb the corporate ladder, and make our mark in the world. We are to provide them with hamburgers, a new patio, a sermon, some beautiful music, or a new computer. Our labor and jobs should be a visible demonstration of loving our neighbor, not of selfishly  pushing and shoving so we can get where we want or what we want.

Does this perspective change things? Yes, a man motivated primarily by money will look at his job, boss, customers, and fellow employees as tools that he can use to get what he wants. He will be tempted to cheat, to find ways to get ahead, to make more money no matter the price to his own soul or the harm it does to his fellow man, and to not work as hard when there is no money to be gained. A man motivated by service will look at his job, boss, customers, and fellow employees as neighbors to be served. He knows he has obligations, duties, and responsibilities to those above him, beside him, and under him. He knows the most important person in the room is not him. His work is an offering to God and a service to his neighbor. This changes his attitude and his actions.

As we clock into our jobs let us remember that we are not there to scrounge like animals scratching and clawing for what we want. We are there to serve.  We are there to do our work in a way that pleases our Lord and benefits our neighbor.