Blog - Grasping Vocation

A War Film and the Work World

Friday, May 31, 2013

What does a bit of dialog from a classic war movie say to Christ-followers in the work world? The film, Twelve O’Clock High, focuses on the fictitious 918th Heavy Bombardment Group, U.S. Army Air Forces, during World War II. Their workplaces: B-17 "Flying Fortresses.” Their work: daylight precision bombing, made more hazardous by the absence of fighter-plane escorts. Their mission: to destroy the ball-bearing factories of the Third Reich.

Early in the film, Gregory Peck, who plays Brigadier General Keith Savage, is sent to revive the demoralized unit which had become known—even to the Nazis—as "the hard-luck group.” Pilots, navigators, gunners, and bombardiers are faking illnesses, getting drunk on duty, and applying for transfers to safer assignments.

In his first address to them, General Savage refuses to coddle the downcast crews. Hard luck? He doesn’t believe in it. Maybe it’s partly the way they’re flying. "You think you oughta have a rest,” he tells them. "You’re sorry for yourselves.” He reminds them: "We’re in a war. Some of us have got to die.” And then this: "Consider yourselves already dead.”

Harsh words? Perhaps. But they call to mind Paul’s words to believers: ". . . consider yourselves to be dead to sin” (Rom. 6:11, NASB).

Like those in the 918th, we Christians in the work world are in a war. Instead of anti-aircraft guns, we face the flak of the "sin that so easily entangles” us (Heb. 12:1). In their book, Taking Your Soul to Work, R. Paul Stevens and Alvin Ung say, "The workplace is a major arena for the battle of our souls.” They identify what they call nine deadly work sins: pride, greed, lust, gluttony, anger, sloth, envy, restlessness, and boredom.

So navigating the workplace war zone calls for considering ourselves dead to these work sins. Is this just a figure of speech? Mere hyperbole? No—Paul was basing this instruction on solid spiritual reality. The fact: "we died with Christ” (Rom. 6:8). The fact: "one [Christ] died for all . . . therefore all died” (II Cor. 5:14).

Paul did not tell us to consider ourselves dead to our personalities, our intellects, our talents, or our work skills. Even though Paul described himself as having been crucified with Christ, he still kept the basic character traits God had created him with. His ability to make tents remained even after his spiritual transformation. What changed? The life at his core.

Like all of us, Paul [Saul] was born with a grasping-life. That life had to die so that Christ’s giving-life could rise up in him. As Paul told the Colossian believers, "you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). Thanks to God’s including us in his Son’s death and resurrection, we are now free to bury our lives of self-serving and to spring up in new lives of stewardship—serving God and serving others.

Some of the hostility we believers face in the work world is "out there,” the anti-Christian forces gunning for us. But it’s all too easy for us to forget that perhaps most of our defeats come from the sin-enemy that still has a foothold within us. The bomber crews in Twelve O’Clock High began winning their outer battles after dealing with their own inner enemies.

General Savage’s message was initially no more popular than "consider yourselves dead to sin” is among believers today. But when those in the 918th put the words into practice, it transformed them. How much more will putting God’s words into practice transform our experience in the workplace?

Comments (8)

Christian Overman (5/31/2013 1:04:08 PM)
How interesting. Just today I was reading in Hugh Whelchel's book, "How Than Should We Work?" about the same basic idea, on pp. 86-91. "Come and die, the Master calleth, Come and die." By the way, Whelchel's book, published in 2012, is one of the best TOW books I have ever read. I highly recommend it.
Larry Peabody (5/31/2013 1:15:59 PM)
Thank you for the recommendation, Christian. I do have the book--and would also recommend it!
John (5/31/2013 1:52:05 PM)
Larry--I liked this thought. Helpful to me where I am at.
V. CARROLL (5/31/2013 5:56:03 PM)
New I must think of the job as a battlefield and we must ALWAYS die to self.
Florine Dalgety (6/2/2013 4:54:30 AM)
Dr Peabody it is so true that we always have to deal with ourselves before we tackle external forces and situations. I am learning to focus on my motives for doing things at work that I never considered before. This piece is helpful. Thanks
David Rupert (6/3/2013 10:24:03 AM)
I'm old enough to remember singing, "Onward Christian Soldiers" in church
Larry Peabody (6/3/2013 7:02:50 PM)
David--me too! Now that's OLD.
Henry Paasonen (6/4/2013 11:16:19 AM)
Thank you. The message is clear, isn't it? The work place can be the Lord's chosen anvil on which He shapes us -- and sometimes the heat is near unbearable -- to bring us to Christlike living. First, in the market place of "secular" work and then, in the pastorate, I sought to deal with that "heat" with all the affirmative and "reckoning" calls of Scripture truth. Good. However, it was not until late I began to more fully appreciate the means of spiritual disciplines and spiritual formation that I began to see much more clearly the Lord doing his work in me. The insights of that great best-seller, The Divine Conspiracy, was a great encouragement.

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