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Vocation: Talents & Work

In his parable of the talents, Jesus spoke of three men whom their master entrusted with his money. In this context, the word "talent" (Greek: talanton; G5007) refers to a 75-lb (34-kg) weight used for currency exchange, not "talent" as a God-given ability to do something unique. Jesus narrated:

The kingdom of heaven is like a man who was leaving on a trip. He called his servants and handed his possessions over to them. To one he gave five valuable coins, and to another he gave two, and to another he gave one. He gave to each servant according to that servant's ability. Then he left on his journey. After the man left, the servant who had five valuable coins took them and went to work doing business with them. He gained five more. In the same way, the one who had two valuable coins gained two more. But the servant who had received the one valuable coin dug a hole in the ground and buried his master's money. Now after a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five valuable coins came forward with five additional coins. He said, "Master, you gave me five valuable coins. Look, I've gained five more." His master replied, "Excellent! You are a good and faithful servant! You've been faithful over a little. I'll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me." The second servant also came forward and said, "Master, you gave me two valuable coins. Look, I've gained two more." His master replied, "Well done! You are a good and faithful servant. You've been faithful over a little. I'll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me" (Matt. 25:14-23).

However, the typology may be applied to both money as well as to vocation. It is just as important to use the natural gifts and talents that God gave us as it is to be good stewards of material things. In fact, our daily lives involve a constant interaction between our vocations, work, talents, and mammon. We must exercise self-control in how we choose our careers that allow us to have property and finances in the first place! However, there are negative results in life if we fail to exercise self-control, which may lose us a good job or then our goals. God also deals consequences for fraud, waste, and abuse of the natural talents he gives us. Consider the rest of Jesus' parable: 

Now the one who had received one valuable coin came and said, "Master, I knew that you are a hard man. You harvest grain where you haven't sown. You gather crops where you haven't spread seed. So I was afraid. And I hid my valuable coin in the ground. Here, you have what's yours." His master replied, "You evil and lazy servant! You knew that I harvest grain where I haven't sown and that I gather crops where I haven't spread seed? In that case, you should have turned my money over to the bankers so that when I returned, you could give me what belonged to me with interest. Therefore, take from him the valuable coin and give it to the one who has ten coins. Those who have much will receive more, and they will have more than they need. But as for those who don't have much, even the little bit they have will be taken away from them. Now take the worthless servant and throw him out into the farthest darkness." People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth (Matt. 25:24-30).

Between Work & Vocation

Merriam-Webster defines vocation as "a summons or strong inclination to a particular state or course of action, especially a divine call to the religious life." This is what the Bible refers to as a "calling," meaning that God calls someone to minister and/or serve in the Christian church. The biblical Greek word for "calling" is klēsis (G2821), which is the noun form of kaleō (G2564, "to call, summon"). This is significant because the Greek word for "church" in the New Testament is ekklēsia (G1577, "called out"), a compound derived from the same verb form. Altogether, a vocation is a life devoted to Christian ministry and/or service that God sovereignly calls a person to do. It is not just any and all forms of employment, though some church leaders teach this erroneously. Paul of Tarsus wrote, 

Therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together (Eph. 4:1-3).

God is the one who saved us and called us with a holy calling. This wasn't based on what we have done, but it was based on his own purpose and grace that he gave us in Christ Jesus before time began (2 Tim. 1:9).

In both of these passages, Paul used the noun klēsis. The main calling that all disciples of Jesus receive is salvation, which then sets us on a course toward a holy personal life, which then results in us helping others learn about God. The Holy Spirit imparts his fruit and gifts to assist us with these  kingdom efforts (cf. John 14:26). This was the reason Paul warned, 

I laid a foundation like a wise master builder according to God's grace that was given to me, but someone else is building on top of it. Each person needs to pay attention to the way they build on it. No one can lay any other foundation besides the one that is already laid, which is Jesus Christ. So, whether someone builds on top of the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, grass, or hay, each one's work will be clearly shown. The day will make it clear, because it will be revealed with fire—the fire will test the quality of each one's work. If anyone's work survives, they'll get a reward. But if anyone's work goes up in flames, they'll lose it. However, they themselves will be saved as if they had gone through a fire (1 Cor. 3:10-15).

Here, Paul compared himself to a blue-collar construction worker whose attention to detail resulted in a successful project. Vocation is a form of work, but for a higher godly purpose. Although healthcare and service industry jobs require a dedication to helping others, a vocation is explicitly completed in the name of Jesus. That said, a believer can very well turn an otherwise mundane job into a vocation by turning into a Christian ministry. For example, a medical professional can go to work in a mission hospital, or a psychiatrist open a center for Christian counseling. There is nothing wrong with regular employment, but a vocation is an eternal devotion to God. This was the reason Paul testified that some work legacies will survive God's refiner's fire while others will be destroyed. 

Sabbath: Made for Us, Not Us for the Sabbath

 

Consider the sabbath, in which God required the Israelites to stop working each seventh day of the week, seventh year, and each seven of seven years—the jubilee after the conclusion of forty nine years (cf. Exod. 23:10-12; 31:12-17; Lev. 25). Jesus taught us that we were not meant to work, but to be at rest (cf. Mark 2:27). The sabbath was a reminder that humankind had it easy in the Garden of Eden before we chose to sin. Remember, work is a condition of the fall, a consequence: "By the sweat of your face you will eat bread—until you return to the fertile land, since from it you were taken; you are soil, to the soil you will return" (Gen. 3:19a). However, the scriptures do not justify being lazy and irresponsible just because God once intended for us to rest. Paul said, "Even when we were with you we were giving you this command: "If anyone doesn't want to work, they shouldn't eat" (2 Thess 3:10). He also admonished us,

 

Don't just obey like people pleasers when they are watching. Instead, obey with the single motivation of fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do it from the heart for the Lord and not for people. You know that you will receive an inheritance as a reward. You serve the Lord Christ (Col. 3:22-24). 

 

Conclusion

For some people, God calls them out of the workforce to do ministry. However, for others, God calls them to minister and serve while they do a main job to earn income (i.e., "bi-vocational"). In fact, most rabbis and first-century church leaders were bi-vocational. For example, Paul was a tentmaker (cf. Acts 18:3). Throughout his letters, Paul called his fellow ministers "co-workers" on eight occasions (see here). One main takeaway from this article is that vocation is work; however, work is not vocation. Paul worked with Priscilla and Aquila making tents, but all three of them made sure to have time left for teaching scripture (cf. Acts 18:26). Spiritually, those of whom God calls to ministry and service help us on our way to Jesus' final sabbath rest on the last day! In Revelation, while in exile at Patmos, John testified, 

Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven saying, "Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord." "Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them" (Rev. 14:12-13).

 

Then, the Father will give every single righteous person a vocation in his kingdom of heaven (cf. Rev. 22:3). However, the work in heaven will be restful, not the fatigue-producing toil we experience right now. The prophet Isaiah foresaw this restful labor in the New Jerusalem:

They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD—and their descendants as well (65:21-23).

Prayer

Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the universe, by whose Spirit the whole body of your faithful people is governed and sanctified: Receive our supplications and prayers which we offer before you for all members of your church, that in our vocation and ministry we may truly and devoutly serve you; through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Bibliography

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Common English Bible (CEB). Nashville: Christian Resources Development Corp., 2011.

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​​Dobson, Kent, ed. NIV First-Century Study Bible: Explore Scripture in Its Jewish and Early Christian Context. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014.

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Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, s.v. "Vocation," accessed 2022, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vocation.

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​Strong, James. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: Updated and Expanded Edition. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007.

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⸻. How Then Should We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work. Tysons, VA: Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, 2012.

Wright, N. T. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2008.