Can You Do This Job to the Glory of God?
As we consider in this theme how to maintain a Clear Conscience, keep in mind that the best ethical decisions at work and elsewhere are the decisions that shape our character to be more like Jesus. Ultimately, by God’s grace, "we will be like him."
Wouldn’t it be nice to pluck from a bookshelf a “complete book of rules based on Scripture that will speak to every conceivable ethical dilemma?” Why can't we consult a resource that tells us precisely which jobs a Christian is free to take and which he should turn down? Sorry, but that resource—that book of rules—doesn’t exist. It can’t.
The Theology of Work Project says twenty-first century people aren’t the only ones desiring such a resource—the scribes and Pharisees also craved this kind of rule book and ran into trouble, because “[n]o set of commands can be vast enough to cover every issue that arises.”
And yet, the Bible “does offer clarity on many issues: stealing, lying, loving the other person including our enemies, acting justly, caring for the poor and oppressed, etc.” These principles can be applied to our decision to take or turn down a job opportunity—or any opportunity, for that matter.
Can You Do This Job to the Glory of God?
John Piper offered 12 questions to consider when deciding about your next job—questions to help a person establish principles that maintain a clear conscience regarding ethical issues. “Saturate your mind with the centrality of Christ in all of life. He made you to work. And he cares about what you do with the half of your waking life called ‘vocation.’ He wants you to rejoice in it. And he wants to be glorified in it.”
1. Can you earnestly do all the parts of this job “to the glory of God,” that is, in a way that highlights his superior value over all other things?
“It almost goes without saying that a job that requires you to sin will not be done to the glory of God,” Piper says. “Sin is any feeling, word, or action that implies the glory of God is not supremely valuable. So you can’t sin to the glory of God. But things are often not that clear. A job may involve me in questionable practices that are not clearly sin. Then the question becomes: Is my conscience clear? And the crucial text becomes Romans 14:23 (ESV), ‘But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.’”
2. Is taking this job part of a strategy to grow in personal holiness?
3. Will this job help or hinder your progress in esteeming the value of knowing Christ Jesus your Lord?
4. Will this job result in inappropriate pressures on you to think or feel or act against your King, Jesus?
Piper ends with number 12: “Does this job fit together with the ultimate truth that all things exist for Christ?” He observes, “If all things exist for Christ, can there be any wrong jobs? Yes. Because humans try to use things for purposes other than the glory of Christ. Everything God made is good. It exists to communicate something of his greatness and beauty. Will this job free you to take what he has made and turn it for uses that honor him?”
Should a Christian Work for the Government?
Roger Olson on his Patheos blog raises the question, “Should a Christian Work for the Government?” He said some government roles would be fine, like a position in the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, but an episode of 60 Minutes caught his attention when a former top US spy revealed he provided pornography to foreign diplomats and agents in exchange for information. Olson responds, “I knew that as a US secret agent you might have to kill people, but provide them with pornography? … Can a Christian do that with a clear conscience—for whatever payoff? Does any end justify such an immoral means?”
Olson explains that, for the most part, Christians of the first three centuries did not participate in war or serve in the military. “Can anyone imagine the Apostle Paul, just to choose one first century Christian, providing pornography to anyone for any reason? Participating in torturing someone for any reason? Taking up arms to kill someone for any reason? I can’t.”
Raising and discussing these questions and issues will generate ways to consider the work we do.
What Vocations Are Off Limits to Christians?
Gene Edward Veith, provost and professor of literature at Patrick Henry College, has considered this at length in his book God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life. In an article entitled “Which Vocations Should Be Off Limits to Christians,” Veith writes: “The Reformation doctrine of vocation teaches that even seemingly secular jobs and earthly relationships are spheres where God assigns Christians to live out their faith. But are there some lines of work that Christians should avoid?”
New members of the early church had to resign as gladiators and actors, Veith says, and people have argued whether or not Christians should enter military service or hold a political office. New York Times columnist David Brooks proposed that Christians should not become professional athletes because “the moral ethos of sport”—centered on pride—“is in tension with the moral ethos of faith”—based on humility.
Does This Extend Blessings and Serve our Neighbors?
Veith seems to disagree with Brooks. “Athletes too have their talents and abilities from the hand of God. Of course it is legitimate to use them. And they can use those gifts in bringing pleasure to those of us who marvel at them, just as musicians play for an audience and so bless them, and just as the hundreds of people listed in the credits of a motion picture can in a powerful film bless those of us in the audience." He recommends asking “whether or not God extends blessings through a particular line of work.”
That question brings to mind Olympic runner Eric Liddell depicted in Chariot’s of Fire, saying “I believe God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.” Both the film and the athlete extended blessings to the viewers.
Veith writes, “The purpose of every vocation, in all of the different spheres in which our multiple vocations occur—the family, the workplace, the culture, and the church—is to love and serve our neighbors … So we can ask of every kind of work we doing, ‘Am I loving and serving my neighbor, or am I exploiting and tempting him?’
“Obviously,” he continues, “those who make their living by robbery are not loving their neighbors. Heroin dealers, hit men, con artists, and other criminals are hurting their neighbors and have no calling from God to do so.”
Veith notes that how the world compensates for certain jobs does not always reflect its true importance and impact. “I am ready to concede that the professional athlete and the movie star have legitimate vocations in giving brief moments of pleasure to millions of people. But the love and service rendered by the men who pick up our garbage every week or the women who clean up our hotel rooms is far more immediate and far more important.
A Christian blackjack dealer may argue that she is giving her customers the entertainment of a game of chance in exchange for what she takes from them. Still, this job may be morally problematic. A defensive lineman may execute a good hit on the opposing quarterback—that is the nature of his job—but to injure the quarterback on purpose, as in the current NFL bounty scandal, is clearly to sin in one's vocation.
To Be Like Jesus
Veith points out, “Since vocation is about God's work as well as human work, it has to do not just with the law but with the gospel; since vocation is where the Christian life is to be led, it will be an expression of Christian freedom.”
And that brings us back to the verse John Piper highlighted: “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23, ESV). Follow a faith-focused conscience.
Our friends at the Theology of Work Project remind us that a list of unethical jobs Christians should avoid simply doesn’t exist. “For most of us, the most effective way to become more ethical is probably to give greater attention to how our actions and decisions at work are shaping our character. The best ethical decisions at work and elsewhere are the decisions that shape our character to be more like Jesus’. Ultimately, by God’s grace, ‘we will be like him’ (1 John 3:2, NLT)."