Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Marketplace Calling

Marketplace calling? by Dr Leong Tien Fock, Influencers For Christ

A Christian executive working for a non-Christian boss once said, “As a Christian, I wonder if it is right for me to be giving my best to help an unbeliever become wealthier”. Can it be right? And can it be spiritual for Christians to enjoy conspicuous luxuries like a company-provided chauffeured Mercedes as “benefits” for making unbelievers “filthy rich”? During this time of soul searching, brought upon us suddenly by the economic crisis, it is appropriate to pause and ponder.

These questions cannot be answered biblically without first looking at God’s overall purpose for Christians in this world and in the marketplace: to be salt of the earth and light of the world. This involves making a spiritual impact in the marketplace in line with the calling to “seek first His kingdom [submit to God’s reign] and [thus] His righteousness [conform to God’s will]” in answer to the prayer “Thy kingdom come, [resulting in] Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (NASB, Matt 6:33, 10). The Church has the calling to promote God’s reign and righteousness on earth. Marketplace calling is simply living out this calling in the marketplace. And this involves much more than just sharing the Gospel and winning individuals to Christ!

Currently the term “Christian leader” refers to either a “full-time worker” in leadership position or a “lay Christian” in leadership position in a Christian context. So when we think of the making of a Christian leader we think of the (often painful) process whereby God raises up Christians to give leadership in and through a local church or parachurch context. But to fulfill God’s purpose in this world, and in particular the marketplace, Christians must also be raised up to give leadership in and through a non-church or secular context!

In the Old Testament, Joseph was just such a leader. God called and raised him up to accomplish His purposes solely in and through a “secular job” as Prime Minister (PM) of Egypt (Genesis 37, 39-47).

When God promised Abraham that his descendants would possess Canaan, He qualified that they would first be in a foreign land (turned out to be Egypt) for 400 years because the Canaanites were not yet wicked enough to be dispossessed (Gen 15: 16). Actually even if the Canaanites were “ripe” for destruction sooner, the Israelites were not ready to take over Canaan; there were too few of them. They needed the time to “be fruitful and multiply” to become “a great nation”. But Canaan itself was not a suitable place for that purpose. Besides being mere sojourners in that very immoral land they would be too exposed and could easily be wiped out by hostile groups.

God thus needed to provide them with a safe haven. He first allowed Joseph to be sold into Egypt, at that time the most powerful nation in the biblical world. Through the occasion of a 7-year abundance followed by a 7-year famine, first revealed to the Pharaoh through a dream, God enabled Joseph to rise up to become a powerful PM. From the secular perspective he was a great blessing to Egyptian society; he not only saved the nation from starving but also laid a strong socio-economic foundation for Egypt through his wise policies. But from the spiritual perspective his role as PM enabled him to fulfill God’s purpose by bringing his family to Egypt and providing them with a safe haven. And when it was time for them to leave for the promised land God first allowed them to be oppressed (Exod 1:8ff). Otherwise they would not be convinced to leave their safe haven for an uncertain future.

But it was not by accident that Joseph became such an effective PM: he was called and carefully raised up for the job. His calling to be a ruler came through dreams when he was a youth of 17 years. His sharing of this calling with his family actually contributed to his being sold into Egypt making him first a slave and then a prisoner before becoming PM. His 13 years as slave and then prisoner was God’s training programme for his calling. It not only honed his character as well as equipped him with the competence to be ruler but also deepened his conviction of God’s call (Ps 105:17-19). It gave him the 3 Cs needed for effective leadership.

When sold as a slave he chose not to be emotionally crippled by the betrayal of his brothers but worked his way up to be the CEO of his master’s estate; similarly when he was unjustly imprisoned for doing the right thing he did not allow bitterness to cripple him; he again rose up to be the virtual warden of the prison. Ironically in was behind prison doors that he found the path to PM-ship. The Bible tells us that “the LORD was with him” all the way and He prospered all his ways. All this happened totally in a secular context. Today God can similarly use “secular jobs” to raise up Christians to give leadership to His work in the marketplace.

Joseph’s experience also helps us answer the questions above. His unbelieving boss experienced increasing wealth under him: “from the time he made him overseer of his house, and all that he owned, the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house on account of Joseph; thus the LORD’s blessing was upon all that he owned, in the house and in the field” (NASB, Gen 39:5). So God Himself enriched Joseph’s unbelieving boss because Joseph was faithful to Him! But it must be added that God also glorified Himself in the process; Joseph’s unbelieving boss “saw that the LORD was with him and how the LORD caused all that he did to prosper in his hand” (NASB, Gen 39:3), which led him to promote Joseph as CEO with total freedom to run his estate. As a result he was able to promote God’s reign and righteousness in and through his “secular job”.

As PM, Joseph had access to all kinds of conspicuous luxuries, even during the famine. But this came as part-and-parcel of his being the PM. In most societies, both ancient and modern, it would be unbecoming to the image of the PM and what his office represents if he had no access to conspicuous luxuries. To Joseph the main thing was God’s calling; but in his case God’s calling came with conspicuous luxuries. His enjoyment of conspicuous luxuries was, in a sense, part of his job! Whether Joseph was spiritual in this enjoyment depends not on the action but his attitude. It is thus possible to enjoy conspicuous luxuries to the glory of God.

As for Joseph, God had also honed his character that he could be entrusted with extreme wealth and power. According to Max Weber, power is the “ability to control the behaviour of others, even in the absence of their consent”. (Since the value of money lies in its ability to get what one desires through “controlling” the behaviour of others, wealth is also power.) And “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. John Acton said this privately (in a letter) in the 1800s; it still has widespread appeal because it is so true. People who lust after power are already corrupt; innocent, even Christian, people not ready for power will be corrupted and abuse it. Christians in influential positions in the marketplace may have a ready platform to impact society for Christ, but to be a true leader, besides having other spiritual qualities, they must be uncorrupted and incorruptible by power.

Thus the making of a “marketplace Christian leader” is no less rigourous or spiritual than that of any Christian leader. It is high time that the meaning of “Christian leader” be expanded to include a Christian with a “secular job” who lives out his faith in his personal and professional life and who exerts significant Christian influence in the secular world. (Whether he is also a leader in a church context is beside the point.) He will not only himself be salt and light to society but will also be influencing other Christians to fulfill their marketplace calling. The current lack of Christian impact in society is reflective of the lack of marketplace Christian leadership. Thus, if the Church is to be salt of the earth and light of the world, this type of Christian leadership must be recognised and multiplied.


Anonymous said...

What do you think, please, of Obadiah Shoher's interpretation of the story? (here: samsonblinded.org/blog/genesis-37.htm ) He takes the text literally to prove that the brothers played a practical joke on Yosef rather than intended to murder him or sell him into slavery. His argument seems fairly strong to me, but I'd like to hear other opinions.

Daud said...

Dear Alex, Hope this helps!


"As it turned out, ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to Egypt to purchase grain . Benjamin stayed home with his father, being the only remaining son from Rachel. As soon as they bowed before him, Joseph could recognize them but maintained his composure to hide his real identity . Perhaps it was anger for their past misdeeds and the desire to detect repentance in their heart, Joseph accused them harshly for being spies and put them into custody. On the third day, he summoned them and demanded that one of his brothers stayed in prison while the rest brought the grain back to their starving households. In order to prove that they were not spies, they were required to bring Benjamin, the youngest brother to him (Genesis 42:20). Simeon was chosen to languish in prison possibly because Reuben the eldest had tried to rescue Joseph earlier. In doing so, Joseph recognized the partial fulfillment of his dreams (Genesis 42:9) and set in motion the events which would lead to its consummation.

D. A. Carson made the observation that Joseph’s action replayed the earlier situation when they went home, after abandoning a brother. Simeon was held hostage to “see whether they would trade food for him, as they had exchanged Joseph for cash. The brothers sensed the analogy, and their guilty consciences prompted them to see divine judgment in their predicament and to describe details of their sin ” (Genesis 42:21–22)."