Working for a Higher Purpose: Soldiers, Farmers, and Basketball Players

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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Call me old-fashioned, but I get nervous when my plumber talks about basketball. He seems more concerned about how Kobe Bryant did last night for the Lakers than about the leak under my sink. And I doubt Phil Jackson wants Kobe worrying about his leaky sink when he is trying to outwit Lebron James. Plumbers and basketball players work better when they focus.

The Bible often uses analogies from sports or military or farming—not only to illustrate some spiritual truth, but also to underline the importance of these practices. They all demand a particular discipline. Paul uses these three vocations to impress upon Timothy the need to give single-minded attention to his ministry (2 Tim. 2:4-6). Soldiers must not be distracted; athletes need to play by the rules; farmers should live by their work. Paul goes on to say: Think carefully about what I am saying, for it is a key to wisdom (v. 7). For only in this way, he says later in the chapter, will you be a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, “rightly explaining the word of truth” (v. 15).

These are familiar verses. We are quick to see their implications for ministry, but we often overlook their importance for all kinds of work, indeed for whatever we spend our time doing. Think about what you do, Paul says. Each job has its own integrity. All work has goals that are integral to the practice. Soldiers are obedient, athletes are faithful, and farmers demonstrate good stewardship. These virtues reflect our Christian commitment. They lead to work that is well done, about which we can be proud, and by which we can live.

We once had a lawyer who was so busy holding Bible studies that he had little time left to be a good lawyer. In the end, he failed to do what we were paying him to do. He surely felt he was serving God, but he wasn’t—because he neglected the goals that were internal to the practice of law. Every vocation carries certain values. Following the rules of one’s vocation is one way to please the Lord. When we are at work, it is the way. Notice Paul's argument: Just as different kinds of work have their own integrity and focus, Christian ministry demands a single-minded focus.

The values of daily work do not rest on the values of ministry. It is the other way around. The integrity of ministry rests on and reflects the integrity of other practices. Every Christian worker belongs to a single calling. Paul summarizes it in verse 19: “Let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord turn away from wickedness.”

To cap his argument, Paul refers to the great variety of furnishings in a household—some more prominent than others. Christian workers who discipline themselves in the way Paul describes will surely become special vessels, dedicated and “ready for every good work” (v. 21). Any work looked at this way is surely a high calling!

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. (2 Tim. 2:15, NRSV).