The Mission of God's People, Session 13: People Who Live and Work in the Public Square
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in this session we are thinking about mission and people who live and work public square that is in the workplace in the ordinary everyday world that we sometimes call the secular world the world of family and home and work and leisure and sport and business the public arena I was in church one Sunday at all souls when one of the clergy one of the ordained pastors who's no longer there at the church said these words in the course of a sermon referring to his earlier life before his ordination he said I used to work in a newspaper office what's that got to do with the kingdom of God and I felt I felt like standing up and saying actually rather a lot who newspapers journalism they have to do with reporting what's happening in the world with seeking after truth sometimes with exposing falsehood and lies and corruption hasn't that got something to do with the god of truth and the kingdom and the reign of God and his conflict with evil in the world but the suggestion was that somehow that world of journalism and the newspapers in the press that wasn't anything to do some high with with God or God's work or God's kingdom on another occasion in the church someone who had arrived as as a new minister was being interviewed about his life story and the question was asked as to why he had chosen to be ordained into the pastoral ministry and what he had been before was a schoolteacher he had taught maths and he said he said but I discovered that I love Jesus more than I love maths and again I thought what is that saying to the people in our congregation who are school teachers is it saying that somehow if you really love Jesus you ought to get ordained and be a pastor and somehow that teaching maths teaching children being involved as a school teacher is really lesser not really quite so important not even really ministry that kind of thinking flows through this whole discussion about mission also sometimes that world mission events or a missionary conference or things like that you will hear someone say ever I'm only an engineer or I'm only a businessman or I'm only a housewife or only this or only that the implication being well that's not really ministry is that that's that's not really mission because God isn't interested in those things he's really only interested in people who get really fired up about God and then they either go out into ministry or mission and what we're talking about when we use the words like that are approximately 2% of the whole people of God that is those who are supported and paid and sent and ordained by the church into the specific tasks of pastoral ministry or cross-cultural mission but what about the rest of the church what about the other 98 percent who spend their lives their working lives in this world in the public world of work has that got nothing to do with mission and ministry the problem with the views that I quoted earlier is that it generates this so-called secular sacred dichotomy that there's a part of life that God is interested in that's the religious part of life ministry mission all the things that we do for him and there's another part of life that we call secular which somehow has nothing to do with with God and yet that of course is where most people including most Christians have to spend most of their time so the the end result is that many people end up with this rather disheartening and almost paralyzing idea that I have to spend most of my time doing something that God isn't interested in and the thing that God really is interested in I'm only able to give a fraction of my time some of my your time and of course whatever money I can spare to give to the real work of ministry and mission and I think that that is such a false and in many ways unbiblical distinction that it's interesting that the Cape time commitment which I've referred to earlier in these sessions actually picks it up this is in part to section a and it says this that the Bible shows us God's truth about human work as part of God's good purpose in creation the Bible brings the whole of our working lives within the sphere of ministry as we serve God in different callings by contrast the falsehood of the sacred secular divide has permeated the church's thinking and action this divide tells us that religious activity belongs to God whereas other activity does not so most Christians spend most of their time and work which they may think has little spiritual value so-called secular work but God is Lord of all of life quotes whatever you do work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord and not for men said Paul and Paul was talking to slaves in the pagan workplace so we name this secular sacred divide as a major obstacle to the mobilization of all God's people in the mission of God and we call upon Christians worldwide to reject its unbiblical assumptions and to resist its damaging effects we challenge the tendency to see ministry and mission both local and cross-cultural as being mainly the work of church paid ministers and missionaries who are a tiny percentage of the whole body of Christ and we encourage all believers to accept and affirm their own daily ministry and mission as being wherever God has called them to work and we challenge pastors and church leaders to support people in such ministry in the community and in the workplace quotes to equip the Saints for works of service or ministry in every part of their lives and quote from the Cape time commitment so what then does the Bible say about the workplace the world of everyday work in relation to God and God's purposes in the world well here are four things that we could think of which all seem to me to be affirmed by the Bible first of all God created work and the workplace it was God's idea when God created human beings made in his own image what is the image of the God whom we have seen in Genesis 1 he is a God at work thinking planning executing and assessing what he has done so God says let us have a creature to be like us like God and so human life on this earth is a purpose filled created world of work now of course we also know that work has fallen victim to the realities of our sin and God's curse so work is not just a good thing because we were created in God's good creation and workers what we were created to be and do but also it's a broken thing and so work becomes a tool of oppression it becomes toilsome there's sweat and labor and suffering and exploitation so many ways in which work is corrupted by sin but work itself is God's intention God's purpose and will be eternally because even the picture of the new creation sees us as human beings serving God and living and working with in his new creation so God created it and secondly God audits the world of work an auditor of course is someone who is an independent Assessor who is able to open all the books and see and inspect whatever is being done in a company or a business or even in a not-for-profit and God is the great auditor not just of the religious life of his people but even more emphatically of the everyday social working life of his people that's what a mosques for example had to insist upon that God was not just interested in what was happening in the temple or in the shrines or in Bethel or the places where they were gathering to worship God God says I want to see what's happening in the gate and of course the gate meant the public square it was the place within the town or village where all the public business was conducted legal business commercial business family business it all happened in that public square and God says I can see I know I hear what's being said so God inspects and audits the economic life of people and so we need to ask the question if we're Christians in the quotes secular workplace do we see our work as something that is ultimately working for God and under God's inspection that we are accountable to him and not just to our boss so God created it God ordered said thirdly God governs it the Old Testament shows that world economy that is the economic relationships within a nation and between nations are at one level yes the result of human choices human beings make their decisions they devise their policies they do what they do at a local level at a national level and international but the Old Testament clearly says through the prophets and indeed through the history that over all that process of human working together God is in charge God governs what goes on so for example the story of Joseph shows us Joseph engaged in the economy of Egypt but what the story also shows that Joseph's decisions implemented by Pharaoh were actually God's plan and God's policy for the saving of life not only Egyptian lives but ultimately the lives of his own people the children of Israel or you look at the way in which the Prophet speaks of Israel later X in the book of Isaiah chapter 19 where that nation of Egypt is put under God's judgment because God is in control in charge and every aspect of Egypt's life political economic the universities their agriculture the industry the whole culture is put under God's governance and God's Authority and God's judgment or you look at the way Ezekiel speaks about tyre and portrays that great trading nation of tyre who traded right across the Mediterranean as a great ship a ship of state but it's not a warship it's a merchant ship it's a ship which is filled with the the trade and the cargo of the nations but when it sets out to sail God blows on it with his wind and it sinks in other words the economy of Tyre is destined for God's judgment God governs the world of economies we need to think about that when we look at the world economy today in what sense do we see the hand of God the governance of God in the rise and fall in the ways in which markets operate we tend to think that somehow the market is autonomous Capital m we almost turn it into a god in itself what the Bible says is that that world of human work the whole public arena God created it God ordered set and God governs it but here's the fourth thing that the Bible affirms about the world of human work is that God will redeem it that God will not simply take everything that human beings have ever done in the whole history of the world and simply trash it just throw it in some great cosmic incinerator know what the Bible affirms is that God is going to take that human world of work and redeem it so that it becomes again that which brings satisfaction and life fulfillment and joy and also productiveness two passages which helped me to see that one from the old and one from you in Isaiah 65 is where God actually says the words the very first time it said where God says see I am creating new heavens and a new earth a whole new creation now when you read from Isaiah 65 verse 17 to the end it's a wonderful picture of ordinary everyday human life freed from the realities of sin and curse and unfairness and injustice and death so it talks about how families will live together without people dying young or without children dying just as they're born it talks about people building houses but being able to live in them rather than having them snatched away by injustice it talks about how people will live with the fruit of their own labor and enjoy it and it also talks about environmental harmony and safety as well it's a wonderful beautiful passage talking about human life human work in the redeeming purposes of God I think that it's that passage which John has in mind when you come to the very end of the Bible and you see that great picture of the new heavens and the new earth in Revelation chapter 21 and 22 because there is a description of that new creation in which we read these astonishing words John tells us that in that City of God that he's been describing the city does not need the Sun or the moon to shine on it for the glory of God gives it light and the lamb is its lamp and then he adds the nations will walk by its light and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it on no day where its gates ever be shut for there be no night there and the glory and the honor of the nations will be brought into the City of God nothing impure whatever enter it nor anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life so what is this saying it is saying yes there will be purging there will be judgment there will be the exclusion of those who are evil and continue to be evil but what will be brought into the city remarkably will be the product the glory the accomplishment of nations and kings now that's interesting because in the whole of the rest of the book of Revelation the nations and the Kings have been you might say boo words the nations are in rebellion against God the Kings are in lead with the beasts they are disobeying God they are in fact bringing their wealth and their produce to the great prostitute city the city of Babylon the whole of human economic life in the world as we know it is as it were being directed towards the sinful greedy covetous prostituted ends of human sinfulness but now says John in the new creation it's not that all of that is simply going to be eliminated but rather the nations and kings in this redeemed sense will bring the fruit of the work of human civilizations over many centuries and purged redeemed cleansed of all that is evil it will be brought into the City of God to glorify him interesting that word glory is used both of the glory of God which will be the light of the city and the glory of the kings and nations of the earth it's the same word what it is saying is that in the end that which is glorifying to human creativity because we were made in the image of God that which we have been able to accomplish which is good and beautiful and creative as human beings will in fact be glorifying to God himself so that there will be no dichotomy between the glory of God and the glory of humanity because in his redeemed creation they will work together that's a beautiful thought that no longer will the glory humanity be us exalting ourselves in pride and arrogance and rebellion but rather all our work all that we do all that we will have done will ultimately be for the glory of God and the benefit of the new creation so the biblical message about our work our everyday work is that somehow in some way what we do will contribute to God's new creation I don't know how I can't explain what this exactly means but I believe it's what the Bible is talking about that just as you and I will be there in the physical reality of resurrection bodies like the risen Lord Jesus Christ so that what we will have done in life God is capable of redeeming it purging it cleansing it and restoring and renewing it for the new creation so God created work he ordered sit he governs it and he is capable of the relief redeeming it through the Lord Jesus Christ for the glory of God and the City of God so what then does the Bible say about our role as Christians in the workplace the world of work I want to divide well how to say here into two parts one that we are called to engagement we are to be in the world but secondly that we are called to distinctiveness because we are not of the world the world doesn't own us so there's a being in but there's also being different and getting the balance between those two is is never easy in fact sometimes it takes a lot of thought and struggle and suffering to really be in the world and not of it first of all we are called to engagement the Bible gives us many examples of how people could be operating within the public service of the state for example there is Joseph serving in the court of Pharaoh and involved in the political and economic ruling of that country there's Daniel involved in the government of Nebuchadnezzar the Babylonian Empire and then later of Darius and the Persian Empire here are people who were in aged in a secular as we might call it a pagan state Egypt and Babylon in the New Testament we have the example of somebody we don't often think about a man called Erastus you read about him in Romans chapter 16 verse 23 it's clear that for part of his life he was a companion of Paul on some of Paul's missionary journeys but he was also Paul speaks of him in Romans 16 the mayor or governor of the city of Corinth which probably means that he was the Roman aedile which was a civic duty with very major responsibilities for the peace and the security and the provision of water and food supplies and so on for the city it was a public duty and Erasmus was a Christian brother who was doing that so we can be engaged through public service the Bible gives us examples of that of course we can also engage in the public arena through prayer again we see that happening in in the Old Testament Jeremiah told the people of Israel when they were exiled in Babylon to pray for the city where God has put you to pray for Babylon which probably surprised them that they even thought they could pray in Babel and let alone pray for it but that too has picked up not just in the old but Paul tells Christians and 1 Timothy chapter 2 verses 1 2 he says I urge he says this is important that Thanksgiving and intercessions and prayers of all kinds should be brought up to God on behalf of kings and governors and magistrates all those who were in quotes secular authority praying for our government we should also be seeking the welfare that's what jeremiah says in his letter to the exiles in jeremiah 29 verse 7 he says seek the Shalom of the city where God has put you do good things engage in that which will ultimately be for the benefit of the people around you and we do that of course as Paul urges Christians repeatedly in the New Testament we do that through our ordinary daily work which leads us then to do good in society and to pay our taxes it's interesting that working paying taxes living as good citizens is part of New Testament teaching I think many Christians forget that and not many churches teach that in fact when Paul tells the Christians in Thessalonica some of whom had seemed had decided that they would just stop working and be lazy he tells them no you need to keep working because that will not only enable you to support your family but also be a commendation of the gospel the walls in a sense a missional purpose to it this is what Paul says in 1st Thessalonians chapter 4 verses 11 and 12 he says make it your ambition to lead a quiet life you should mind your own business and work with your hands just as we told you so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and that you will not be dependent on anybody when the respective outside as Paul says Christians should be people who are respected for doing a good day's work I was at a preaching seminar of langham partnership in in Argentina one time and I was observing three of the men who were engaged in some of the biblical preaching in that seminar none of them were pastors they were all in what we would call secular professions I think one was a university lecturer and one was certainly an engineer but they were preaching the Bible well and I said to the leader of the seminar a lady called Sylvia I just mentioned this over breakfast that these three men were really good preachers and she said yes but they're not only good preachers they're good husbands and good fathers and good citizens and I said why did you add that third one good citizens he said well she said they're here they're here still in Argentina they haven't used their qualifications to escape to get out of the country and go to the United States where everybody else wants to go no he said they're here they're doing their day's work they're paying their taxes they are a blessing to our country and I thought hi marvelous that's abrahamic they are preaching the Word of God and they are doing good in society they are a blessing to our country that is part of what it is to be a Christian in the public arena we are called to engage to be there and to do good stuff for God have you ever noticed in Paul's letter to Titus which is one of his shortest letters that he uses the expression about doing good seven or eight times he says we must devote ourselves to doing good and that doing good word was a technical term in the Roman Empire in Latin it was Benny factor the person who makes a public contribution to the good of society in Roman society perhaps by building a theater or swimming baths or a temple and that person would that be known as somebody who was a good doer in society and Paul says that's what Christians should be in their daily lives so we're called to engagement but of course we are also called to distinctiveness because we are called to be holy as we saw in an earlier session and to be holy means to be different and being different from the world we have to be because the world also as well as the place of God's creation God's good creation where we work because we are fulfilling God's purposes also the place of idolatry and sin and corruption and rebellion against God and therefore in that workplace we will come up against all those realities of sin and evil there will be a confrontation there will be a conflict which we can't avoid and so therefore in our work there has to be a a worldview distinctiveness because we have a different story we are not living by the ideology of consumerism or by the idolatry of personal success and achievement or by the any of the other idolatries and stories that the world tells us to follow like my son-in-law who is working in an accountancy firm and was told one day you know in this place you're either on your way up or on your way out that that's the kind of ideology that governed his workplace which he find very difficult as a Christian so we are called to resist idolatry we are called to live lives of moral distinctiveness of integrity and of honesty in order to bear witness to the story that we believe in to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and often that distinctiveness from the world will lead to suffering in the world and the New Testament recognizes that recognize it especially in the book of Revelation that the time will come when those who bear testimony to the Lamb of God and the Word of God will face exclusion the ostracism and persecution and suffering and that of course is something that I know very little about as many of us who live in the relative comfort of the West have not experienced much of that although it may welcome but we need to recognize that so many of our sisters and brothers around the world are living in situations where every day they go out into the workplace they're going right into what is a hostile environment often an environment of which they will suffer sometimes persecution sometimes even death we should be praying for them as we engage for God in our work by living in the public square for him

I thank God for your life Christopher Wright and ask Father God to continue to increase your knowledge and wisdom to glorify the name of our Lord Jesus in the workplace.

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