Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Purpose of Our Vocation - Don't Serve God, Serve People?

As someone who works in the marketplace, I know that it can sometimes be challenging to understand the significance of a "marketplace calling". As I'm reading through God at Work, Gene Veith is offering me fresh perspectives on how to view my vocation.

Veith makes the point, that as Christians, we are citizens of two kingdoms - the spiritual kingdom of God where He rules the hearts of His people and the earthly kingdom where God rules over His creation. Understanding the difference between the two kingdoms is vital to shaping our approach to vocation.

Christians are citizens in both of God's kingdoms. In His spiritual kingdom, we rest in Christ; in His earthly kingdom, we serve our neighbors. The greatest commandments as affirmed by Christ Himself, are thus fulfilled: "Love the Lord your God" and "love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:30-31). p.38

Veith's point is that in the spiritual kingdom, we must not relate to God on the basis of our works but rather by grace alone. In this realm, our works have no merit, it is faith that pleases and "serves" God.

It is dangerous according to the Reformers to confuse the two realms. We dare not come before God trusting in all the good works we have done. We come before God as sinners. If we trust in our works...we feel no need for Christ's forgiveness. This is why all vocations are equal before God. In the spiritual kingdom...peasants are equal to kings. p.38-39

He goes on to tell us that the point of our vocation is not to serve God but to serve our neighbor.

Again, Luther said that faith serves God but works serve our neighbor. We often speak of "serving God"... in the spiritual realm, it is God who serves us. "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). In our vocations, we are not serving God - we are serving other people. p.39

OK, let me get this straight - the purpose of vocation isn't to serve God? Just in case, I might have misunderstood, he clarifies by repeating the assertion a little later.

In vocation, we are not doing good works for God - we are doing good works for our neighbor. This locates moral action in the real messy world of everyday concrete interactions with other people. The purpose of vocation is to love and serve one's neighbor. This is the test, the criterion and the guide for how to live out each and every vocation anyone can be called to...who are my neighbors in my particular vocation, and how can I serve them with the love of God? p.39-40

Do you agree with Veith? Is the point of our working, not so much to serve God but rather to serve our neighbor? If so, who are your neighbors in your vocation and how do you serve them?


Dave Chang said...

How abt serving God by serving our neighbors in a godly way? :)

Every Square Inch said...


I understand what you mean and that's why Veith's comments in the book surprised me. But I think what he's saying is that our vocation before God is not primarily as ones who do work as service but rather as ones who receive from God. He "serves" us by giving to us freely what we cannot obtain on our own - namely, Himself. Our response, in terms of our vocation isn't so much service but worship.

However, through our vocation, we are serve our neighbors, friends and society at large.