Status as a Lawyer
This lesson is part of Issues Christian Lawyers Face, a study guide produced by The Theology of Work Project in partnership with Steven Moe, for the New Zealand Christian Lawyers national conference in May 2017. Click the Table of Contents on the right of this page to see the entire curriculum.
While most people would recognise that lawyers play a unique role in society and they are respected, at the same time there are also a huge number of lawyer jokes. As well as that there is prestige associated with the profession and there can be a certain amount of pride which comes from being known as a lawyer. Many legal jobs are highly paid and there can be a temptation to focus on material wealth and possessions.
John grew up on “the wrong side of the tracks”, but worked hard holding down multiple part time jobs while studying and graduated last year from law school. His parents were thrilled and tell everyone they can that their son is now a lawyer. John even found his dream job back in the city he grew up in, working in construction law. He enjoys walking by the building sites dressed in an expensive suit and tie and stopping to watch the workers out in the hot sun. He feels a sense of pride in having drafted the agreements the very wealthy clients he works for signed and often thinks about his last appraisal: “keep working hard, stay hungry, and you’ll go far”, he was told before being given a significant raise.
One morning an email announces that the annual Christmas party will be held at the home of one of the senior Partners. When the day arrives one of the Associates he works with offers him a lift and they slip into his two seater sports car and move out into the traffic. John can’t help but notice the watch his colleague is wearing, which probably cost more than John’s second-hand car. As they get closer the houses grow larger. When they pull up at their destination John looks at the 4 car garage and realises his childhood home was of a similar size to the garage alone. Inside there is a free flow of drinks, laughs and conversation. John relaxes into a comfortable leather chair and looks around him. He is still a bit surprised by where he is, but hopes that one day he can “make it” too.
Questions for discussion:
- What do you identify with in this story, and why?
- What temptations are there in being a lawyer in the area of (i) reputation and (ii) material wealth?
- Is the image portrayed above the predominant image that you think the general public has, or is it more diverse than that?
- How do we guard against thinking more of ourselves than we should?
- What should form the basis of our identity? Is this something that everyone working faces or is it more acute for professionals?
God wants you to thrive economically. God’s intent is for people to have good things in abundance, which is why he blessed people by saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28).
At the same time, Jesus warns about the spiritual consequences loving wealth and status:
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
These two stories from Mark’s gospel are connected by the theme of status. Children had low status in ancient society, while rich men had a lot of it. Yet Jesus turns the normal status equation on its head, saying that godliness is easier for babies than it is for millionaires. Perhaps this is because status exerts a powerful pull. A high regard for status may keep you from devoting time, talent, and treasure to the other things you recognize as important.
Doing your job well may bring you wealth and status. The only danger is turning away from God when your desires are fulfilled. Material possessions are lovely, but they don’t last forever. The following proverb sums up all of this:
Do you see those who are skilful in their work? They will serve kings; they will not serve common people. When you sit down to eat with a ruler, observe carefully what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you have a big appetite. Do not desire the ruler’s delicacies, for they are deceptive food. Do not wear yourself out to get rich; be wise enough to desist. When your eyes light upon it, it is gone; for suddenly it takes wings to itself, flying like an eagle towards heaven.
(Proverbs 22:29 – 23:5)
Discuss: What are the key principles from this study that could be applied in your situation?