Monday, April 30, 2007

The Purpose of Vocation

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.

Vieth 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?


L.L. Barkat said...

I definitely think writing serves my neighbor, if I manage to write things that stir the heart, promote healing, encourage or challenge. But I feel like it serves God too, in the sense that my writing is a form of worship (do we "serve" him with worship? don't know if that makes sense)

The Gyrovague said...

In the traditional sense of work, my neighbor was neibhbor. those who are close by and who I had the benifit of knowing and sharing with.

Now work takes us all over the globe very easily... but they are still our neighbors as well.

Bottom line is this, love your neighbor as yourself. God would not have us love some and not others.

Every Square Inch said...


Reading your blog regularly, I know that your writing does indeed serve your neighbor. It often stirs the heart and provoke thinking.

Does our worship serve him? If service is performing a work to benefit the recipient (my loose definition), does our worship serve God? Or does it please him but serve us?

This idea of our works "not serving God" as Gene Veith suggests - is something I'm still digesting. I tend to agree with the line of thinking but I've never quite phrased it that way. I also wonder what to do with verses like Colossians 3:23

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

What do you think? How does this verse fit in with Veith's comments?

Every Square Inch said...


Work does offer us an opportunity to bless our neighbors...and we are to love all our neighbors as you correctly remind us.

Thanks for your comment

Ted Gossard said...

For me, at this point, faith and works certainly go together and service to God and humans likewise. Maybe I'm missing something.

Faith is directly oriented to God and results in the good works God ordains for us. Works seems directly related to humans and comes from the love and working of God in our hearts.

All my work should be done for the benefit of others. This is why God in Christ has come. And why we remain, primarily. In all of this, I believe we're to love God with all our being and doing (our goal) and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Not so sure I like what seems to come across as a cut and dried formula from the Reformers, though theologically as a rule there better than we are today (at least in depth and trying to work through all of Scripture). Though not true of all today, who, like all the rest of us, really stand on their (and other's) shoulders.

Ted Gossard said...

Thanks for the thought provoking post!

Every Square Inch said...


I may have unintentionally and unnecessarily made this confusing for you and others. My point is simply this - we often speak of our vocation as working "for God" or that we do our work to "serve God" but what do we mean by that phrase? Veith says that we should not relate to God through our works (and God is not impressed by the nature of our work).

The substance of our work doesn't serve him - it serves our neighbor.

I was simply trying to draw out this principle that the essence of what pleases God in our vocation is faith toward him.

Now, why didn't I simply say that in my original post? ;-)

Anonymous said...

This was a great post! I started out thinking of verses like Col 3:23. Then, as I read through your comments, I think I get the point more in your final comment to Ted.

The work itself serves our neighbor. The faith to do neighbor-serving work as an act of obedience is how we serve the Lord. Is this what Veith is saying? If so, I get it!

When we only serve the Lord through our work, we totally ignore the very specific commands to serve one another.

Every Square Inch said...


That's exactly the point. It's a subtle point perhaps but I think it's important to know that when we "serve God", it's faith that pleases him, not the actual work itself. So in a way, the type of work and whether or not we are "successful" in it is of little importance as it relates to God.

The substance of our work though, does bless our neighbor.

Thanks for your comment - I think it clarified things as well.

L.L. Barkat said...

I guess I am trying to think about what "service" means. Serving is probably not always linked to need (God doesn't need our service in the sense that it makes or breaks him.) But service at its best is linked to a sense of giving and affection and humility in the server.

Jesus took the form of a servant towards us and God too. So I'm also chewing on that! (Isaiah calls Messiah, prophetically, "My Servant.")

Ted Gossard said...

ESI, Yes. I thought I was getting the main point of the post which of course is good. And you verify that here.

I may not see the nuancing going on around it very well. I do believe God in his grace receives our works of faith in Jesus as a pleasing and acceptable sacrifice to him. But this is getting away from the main point of your post which is well taken.

The Hedonese said...

i gave this book to many students/friends, and the almost universal response was it blessed their lives and changed their outlook on work/life :)

Veith is a reliable guide esp on how the gospel relates to culture at Cranach

Every Square Inch said...


Thanks for your thoughts. If you know of other books that you would recommend on vocation or engaging the marketplace as a Christian, please share that with us.