THE PROTESTANT ETHIC. We hear that phrase a lot. Usually, people speak of the protestant ethic as something that belonged to the American (or British, or Dutch) people GENERATIONS ago, but which is dead today. We have to admit in all honesty that the remnants of the protestant ethic are threadbare in our day. Humanism was progressive from the 1860’s through the 1960’s, but then the stolen capital of rotestant culture began to run out. The drug culture, the counter culture, the collapse of public school “performance results”, the apathy of workers, and the increasing hostility between generations, all combined to shake people’s faith in humanist culture. YET THEY HAVE NOT RETURNED TO THE FAITH OF THEIR GREAT GRANDPARENTS: ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY.
What can we do to reverse these trends? THE OBVIOUS THING to do is TO PREACH a full orbed GOSPEL OF REDEMPTION. The work ethic is a PRODUCT of Christian faith; where faith is restored, that ethic will reappear. We need to have an understanding of THE CALLING. THE CALLING was a basic component of protestantism in the sixteenth & seventeenth centuries. People knew what the words meant.
THE BIBLE TEACHES US THAT THERE IS A “SPECIAL” CALLING OF GOD. He calls to faith in Jesus Christ. This involves turning away from the evil life style or from dead religious works of the past. God calls men to A NEW WAY OF LIFE. IT IS A CALLING TO SALVATION. There is also a “GENERAL” calling. This is a call to labor under the general sovereignty & providence of God. THE GENERAL CALLING IS A MAN’S VOCATION: HIS LIFE’S WORK, a form of service to God.
THE GENERAL CALLING TOOK ON GREAT SIGNIFICANCE during the PROTESTANT REFORMATION. LUTHER & CALVIN stressed that ALL Godly, honest labor is acceptable to God, and that THERE SHOULD BE NO DISTINCTION OF AN ETHICAL NATURE between the minister and the farmer. There ARE functional distinctions, of course, which is why the Bible establishes certain personal requirements for men to serve as church leaders (1 Tim. & Titus) but there is NO ETHICAL DISTINCTION. NO MAN IS MORE HOLY IN THE SIGHT OF GOD BECAUSE OF THE KIND OF WORK HE DOES. THIS DOCTRINE FREED MEN FROM THE PSYCHOLOGICAL SUPPRESSANT OF FEELING INFERIOUR because of their work. If ANY man’s labor is acceptable to God, then it pays a man to work as well as he can. God honors competence, and grants more competence to those who humble themselves before Him and who try to improve their performance. A GOOD PLUMBER GAINS MORE RESPECT FROM HIS WORK THAN A LAZY PREACHER. THE QUESTION RELATES TO DILIGENCE, not the KIND of work.
THIS IS CLEARLY A LIBERATING DOCTRINE. It calls ALL men to labor hard and honestly. It teaches men that no matter what they do for a living, they can please the Lord in it if they do it well. This in turn increases economic output, for men strive to work more intelligently and less wastefully. They strive to GIVE A GOOD ACCOUNT OF THEMSELVES BEFORE GOD, and in doing so, they give a good account of themselves before men. WHAT THEY DO, THEY DO AS UNTO THE LORD. This means greater benefits for all, for everyone is a beneficiary of efficient labor; everyone except those who are inefficient, lazy, or incompetent, who face greater competition than before.
BUT THIS DOCTRINE MUST BE MADE PERSONAL. Which calling is YOUR calling? What should YOU do for a living? This must be made a definite matter of prayer. Ask God to make it clear. Here are some rules to think about:
1. CAPACITIES: Evaluate them carefully. The more you have, the harder the decision. The man with limited capacities except for one skill has an easy time of it. He knows what he ought to be doing. But someone who has multiple talents has some hard evaluating to do. What kind of work APPEALS to me? What are the ones I would be willing to do for the remainder of my life? What are the ones that I could not stand to do for very long? You must be RIGOUROUSLY HONEST HERE. Don’t overestimate your talents, nor underestimate them.
2. JOB IMPORTANCE: If a man can do several things well, he must make a CHOICE. If he can speak five languages fluently, what should he do with his talent? Teach school? At what level? Translate for a corporation? Translate for the government? Do book translations for a publishing company? Join a Bible translating team? THERE ARE MANY, MANY OPPORTUNITIES. Salary levels are only one small way to make a decision. TRY TO SEE AHEAD 40 to 45 years. When you look back at your life, what will you think of your life’s work? Was it God honoring? Did it provide for your family? Did your children grow up with the right kind of moral & spiritual training? Did you give a lot of money into the Lord’s work? Did you give your LIFE away in the Lord’s work, instead of money? Was it a good decision when you accepted this calling as your life’s work? If you even TRY to answer these questions in advance, you are far more likely not to be disappointed when you ask them 40 years from now.
3. REPLACEABILITY: This is something to be considered. If a humanist could do a Christian’s job just as well, then perhaps God has something better for your life’s work. Seek a job that God might want to fill with a strong Christian. If the job market is very limited, such as in times of depression, etc. and you must be satisfied with less, (perhaps temporarily), then be the best worker that it is possible for you to be. THIS WILL GLORIFY THE NAME OF THE LORD. Few Christians think about how IMPORTANT THEY ARE, as Christians, TO THIS WORLD. They do not understand how to provide UNIQUE, EXCLUSIVELY CHRISTIAN SERVICES to their employers. They do not think as CHRISTIANS. Go where your presence will elevate that field, or where a strong witness is needed. Go where you as a Christian, will be a blessing, and where you will generate imitators, even among non believers. Replaceability is one way of testing your place in life. You do not want to be just another cog in a vast, impersonal machine. You want your life to count for eternity; to be a BLESSING and not a waste.
A SALARIED JOB is not always YOUR CALLING. It may be a MEANS to a calling. You may use your 40 hour a week job to SUPPORT YOU IN YOUR CALLING. Your income from your 40 hour week allows you to give most of your time and energy to YOUR CALLING. Remember your calling may be different from your source of income. IN THAT CASE YOU MAY DISTINGUISH BETWEEN THE TWO.Under normal conditions you should work NO MORE than 40 hours for an employer. You would be giving your time away (selling it too cheaply). That extra 10 or 20 hours should be invested in the Lord’s work, or in the building of a family business, or in getting a better education, or in building a family relationship, or in building up the church. Don’t give your extra hours to some employer who is turning your labor into profit for a corporation. No one with good sense works a 60 hour week for someone else, just for the money. NEVER GIVE TO AN EMPLOYER WHAT YOU SHOULD BE GIVING TO GOD, especially TIME.
Scripture: 1 Cor.3:13; 4:12; 7:21 23; 9:1; Eph.4:12,28; 6:5 9; 1 Th.4:11 12; 5:13; 2 Th.3:6 12; Gal.6:4; 2 Tim.4:5; 1 Tim. 5:17; 6:5 11,17 19; Col.3:22 4:1; Tit.2:9 10; 1 Pt. 2:18; Acts 6:2; etc.