Our Business

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There are two books my family reads together at Christmas time. One is Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales; the other is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

I imagine most of us remember how the Dickens' tale begins. After grudgingly giving his employee, Bob Crachet, one day off for Christmas, and pronouncing “Humbug!” on anyone who would wish him the returns of the season, Ebenezer Scrooge trudges off to his dim and austere lodgings only to be confronted by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley. Scrooge would like to dismiss this disconcerting presence as a hallucination produced, perhaps, by an ill-digested bit of beef. But the fearsome rattling of the chains wrapped about the shadowy figure convinces him otherwise. Next he tried to placate the specter: “You always were good at business.” But the compliment touches a raw nerve. “Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but one drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Upon his death, evidently, Jacob Marley acquired a broader view of his calling. His repentant statement from beyond the grave should serve to remind us too that our vocations go far beyond the simple discharge of our occupational duties.

The Bible should remind us of this as well. If we consider the occurrences of the word “calling” in the New Testament, we will see that the primary, if not exclusive, meaning of this term refers to the calling of the gospel, pure and simple. We are called to repentance and faith (Acts 2:38); we are called into fellowship with Christ (1 Cor. 1:9); we are called out of the darkness and into light (1 Pet. 2:9); we are called to be holy (1 Pet. 1:15, 1 Cor. 1:2). Indeed, we are called to be saints (Rom. 1:7). In these passages, we are not asked to choose from a variety of callings, to decide which one is right for us. Rather one call goes out to all—the call of dicipleship. For it is incumbent upon all Christians to follow Christ and, in so doing, become the kind of people God wants us to be.

What kind of people would that be? A people who bear the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). Preparing our souls through prayer for the produce of the Spirit is what the reformer John Calvin called the chief work of faith; and, as the ghost of Jacob Marley reminds us this season, it is also our most important business.

Questions for discussion:

• What is the difference in the Christian life between the gifts of the Spirit and the fruits of the Spirit?

• Most of us are very skilled in pursuing our “calling” understood as an occupation. We have received years of professional training. Are we as skilled in pursuing our central calling, the calling to becoming conformed to the image of Christ? Have we received, or sought, training here as well?

Reprinted from “My Heart I Offer,” c2000, Calvin Alumni Association, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan