Blog - Grasping Vocation
Religious Ruts in Your Work World: Part 18Friday, July 23, 2010
YOU HAVE HEARD: STAY CLEAN BY AVOIDING THE WORK WORLD
BUT SCRIPTURE MAKES IT CLEAR: PENETRATE THE DARK WORK WORLD AS A LIGHT (Read Part 17)
"The workplace is no place for a Christian woman,” said one pastor. "It is too hard to be spiritual there. . . . Stay out of the world.” You don't often hear this stance toward the work world expressed so openly. But even if not stated outright, the attitude continues to smolder in many places. Just the other day, I came across these words on a website:
"We need to work for Jesus, which means we can't work in most areas of the mainstream system because you have to disobey God to do it. For example if you work for a mainstream bank you have to encourage greed and charge interest. This is strictly disobeying God. . . . I would not work for a supermarket. . . . if you are stuck with the same unbelievers for a long period of time such as day after day in a regular job. . . .they have an influence on you.”
Does this retreat-from-the-world thinking echo of the way ancient Israelites related to Gentiles? Their Scriptures (such as Lev. 20:24) said, "I am the Lord your God, who has set you apart from the nations.” In time, they came to interpret their being set apart as a duty to steer clear of Gentiles. As John's gospel puts it, "Jews do not associate with Samaritans” (4:9).
True, the New Testament instructs us to keep ourselves "from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). But in the same New Testament Jesus sends us into that world (Jn. 17:18), noting that he is sending us out "like sheep among wolves” (Matt. 10:16). Jesus—who held to God's intention and not man-made religious tradition—did associate with Samaritans (such as the woman at the well). And in the home of a Gentile, Peter said, "God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean” (Acts 10:28).
Under the Old Covenant, touching a leper made the Israelite unclean. But when he touched lepers, Jesus did not become unclean; he remained set apart for God. Instead, the lepers became clean. Today, because the life of Christ resides in each believer, we too have the power to remain uncontaminated even while we work elbow-to-elbow with unbelievers. If Christ's life—and his death—are working in us as they should, our influence on unbelievers will prove more influential than theirs on us. ". . . the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (John 4:4).
Workplaces have become the social centers our culture, the spheres in which most relationships take root and thrive. For Christians to withdraw from the work world, fearing contamination, would defeat the clear purposes of God revealed throughout the New Testament. For example:
In one of Jesus' parables, a farmer (representing God) sows wheat and an enemy sows weeds in the same field. The hired hands ask the farmer if they should pull up the weeds. His answer: "Let both grow together until the harvest” (Matt 13:30). God favors putting his children side-by-side with unbelievers.
"Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may be innocent and pure as God's perfect children, who live in a world of corrupt and sinful people. You must shine among them like stars lighting up the sky, as you offer them the message of life” (Phil. 2:14-16, TEV). Our shining is to be "among them,” not at some distance from them.
In speaking of his second coming Jesus used two workplace illustrations that show a believer and an unbeliever working right beside each other (two of them women, by the way). "Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left” (Matt. 24:40-41).
You, Jesus told his disciples, are the light of the world. That includes the work world, with all its darkness of dishonesty, corruption, temptation, distorted values, and greed. Stay clean by avoiding the work world? No way! Instead, let's trust the Christ within us to work in us as our spiritual immune system.