What about the Other Six Days? 

R. J. Umandap

 

One of the questions that gnawed at me while I taught Chemistry at a Christian school and while I worked in water treatment (and when I started out as a pastor) was “What about the other six days?” I had the sense that all of life belongs to God but I didn’t know how my being a Christian made a difference for my career. Like many sincere believers, I thought of my life as if it were a backpack with sacred and secular compartments sealed off from each other.

 

In 1 Corinthians 7:17-24, Paul addresses questions about marriage from the Corinthian congregation by referring to the call of God. He alludes to two calls: the call to salvation (v. 18) and the call to “lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him and to which God has called him” (v. 17), which is a necessary implication of one’s call to salvation. This is not by any means unique to Paul. As Stevens points out,

 

Summarizing the entire New Testament witness, “call” is used for the invitation to salvation through discipleship to Christ, the summons to a holy corporate and personal living, and the call to serve. All are called. All are called together. All are called together for the totality of everyday life.[1]

 

The Corinthian believers, influenced by the status-conscious culture in which they lived, thought marriage was an impediment to godliness. Paul tells them that their status didn’t make them any more or less acceptable to God. After all, God saved them while they were in that condition (v. 20). To make this point, he uses two comparable situations: circumcision and slavery. Their ethnic status as Jews or Gentiles did not matter; what mattered was obedience to God (v.19). Thus, both Jews and Gentiles are sinners before God; the basis of their acceptance before God was the redemptive work of Jesus, not their ethnic identity. By the same token, one’s social status as slave or free did not factor into their salvation; rather, their salvation transformed their situation in life.[2] A believer who was a slave was free in Christ; a believer who was a free man was a slave of Christ (v. 22). Their identity was defined by their belonging to Christ. God’s call to salvation transformed their status.

 

Because they belonged to Christ, they could see their situation in life as “the life the Lord has assigned” (v.17). God put them there to live as His saints. Paul recognizes that God created us and has equipped each of us with our unique blend of gifts and abilities. Furthermore, He is the one who has given us the jobs that we have [3]. For that matter, God’s providence encompasses more than our work; it encompasses all of life. We can thus see our daily tasks as the way we submit to the lordship of Jesus. As a consequence of the Fall, they may be hard and frustrating (note how Paul applies this truth to slaves), but we can fulfill our responsibilities knowing that they were assigned by Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. God’s providence gives all honest work dignity. Our salvation has transformed our mundane lives into the stage on which we enact our calling as saints.[4] This is wonderfully expressed in George Herbert’s poem “The Elixir”:

 

Teach me, my God and King,
In all things thee to see,
And what I do in any thing,
To do it as for thee:

 

Not rudely, as a beast,
To run into an action;
But still to make thee prepossessed,
And give it his perfection.

 

A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heaven espy.

 

All may of thee partake:
Nothing can be so mean,
Which with his tincture (for thy sake)
Will not grow bright and clean.

 

A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,
Makes that and the action fine.

 

This is the famous stone
That turneth all to gold:
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for less be told. [5]

 

Moreover, Paul asserts that God has not simply called each person to the life He assigned; He has called each person to that life to serve God’s purposes. That is implicit in our calling to be saints: we are set apart for God. That’s why he said “You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men” (v. 23). Their salvation meant they belonged to Christ to serve His purposes alone. Beyond our families, supervisors and clients, we serve the Lord Jesus Christ (Col. 3:22- 24). God is our Audience of One.[6]

 

Thus, whatever our situation might be, we can be content, though not complacent. Paul tells each Corinthian believer to “remain in the condition in which he was called” (v. 20). In a world that always wants more, we can be satisfied with where we are because we know God put us there to serve Him. No job title or promotion can top the privilege of serving the King of Kings. At the same time, while he advised slaves not to be concerned about their status, Paul also told them to avail themselves of the opportunity to gain their freedom (v. 21). After all, we don’t know God’s purposes for us. Students graduate and start working in their fields; workers retrain and change careers; you can get promoted. All of that is under God’s providence.

 

Regardless of what we do, we should be driven by the commitment to serve God’s purposes rather than the pursuit of wealth, status or even a sense of usefulness. We must see our work as our God-given share in the cultural mandate to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28) as God’s image bearers. “Every legitimate human occupation (paid or unpaid) is some dimension of God’s own work: making, designing, doing chores, beautifying, organizing, helping, bringing dignity and leading.”[7]

 

Hence, it is necessary for us to be committed to bring biblical truth to bear on the way we conduct our work. We must think of it as service for the common good, with good being defined by God and our methodologies being shaped by the word of God. Tim Keller suggests that believers in the same profession get together to study the Bible to understand how Christianity impacts the way they work, since “Christianity is not simply a set of beliefs to be held in order to save my individual soul. It is also an interpretation of (and a distinct way of understanding) everything in the world. It brings a distinct perspective on human nature, right and wrong, justice, beauty, and character.”[8]

 

Moreover, understanding that we serve God and His purposes gives us hope that motivates us to excellence. Not only does Paul remind us that our Master has guaranteed us an inheritance as our reward (Col. 3:24), he also tells us the death and resurrection of Jesus assures us that our labour is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). On one hand, we know that the reward we receive is guaranteed, not by our performance, but by the grace of God in Christ. On the other hand, as we see our work in this fallen world as part of our calling from God who is accomplishing His redemptive purposes through His people, we know that our work is meaningful. We don’t necessarily see how it contributes to God’s grand scheme; but we can trust that God knows what He is accomplishing through our efforts. Thus, we have ample reason to give our best for Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.

 

Seeking to serve Christ through our work in this fallen world is tough; but Christ enables us to be faithful. The central reality of Christ’s redemption drives Paul’s concluding statement: “in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God” (v. 24). God’s call is first a call to Himself. We live out our calling in life out of our primary call to be in relationship with Him. Our circumstances in life are part of God’s means of drawing us to Himself and conforming us to the character of Christ. At the same time, we will be faithful in our calling only as we remain in relationship with God.

All of this can be summed up in this statement by Os Guinness: “Calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion, dynamism and direction lived out as a response to his summons and service.”[9]

 

R. J. Umandap is the pastor of Living Hope Baptist Church in Etobicoke. He and his wife, Joelle, are both TBS graduates and have two sons.

 

[1] R. Paul Stevens, The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work and Ministry in Biblical Perspective (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 88.

[2] Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 307.

[3] Anthony C. Thiselton, 1 Corinthians: A Shorter Exegetical and Pastoral Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 111.

[4] Fee, 309.

[5] I encourage everyoneto read the discussion of this poem in Alister McGrath, The Passionate Intellect (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 45-55.

[6] Os Guinness, The Call (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1998), 73.

[7] Stevens, 119.

[8] Timothy Keller with John Lin and Sam Shammas, Gospel in Life Study Guide (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), Kindle edition.

[9] Guinness, 4