Biblical Christianity, especially as expressed by leaders of the Reformation, had an enduring influence on the establishment and development of the American Republic and in the Biblical world-and-life view held by ordinary Americans. One of the key points of Reformation theology that stimulated Americans to engage in high levels of beneficial economic production throughout our nation is the idea that all work is "a holy calling from God." Thus, the low-paid work of a day laborer, in God's eyes, is just as important and honorable as the work done by the owner of a business firm. God calls both the laborer and the owner into work that will build God's Kingdom through that individual's covenantal calling. And God demands a high level of integrity for any kind of work.
The general weakening of the "holy calling" concept in modern America has had an adverse effect in many lines of work; but some individuals, thankfully, are still led by the Spirit to follow Biblical principles in their work. They serve as encouraging guideposts to all who would strive to serve our Lord faithfully in their economic activity, to the mutual benefit of all concerned. A few examples will illustrate.
- Recently the attorney general of the State of New York charged a national brokerage firm that owns a large family of mutual funds with illegal and unethical practices that gave unfair advantages to large investors at the expense of small investors. The charge is that the managers of a hedge fund were allowed to trade shares of the brokerage's mutual funds after the markets cl osed. This allowed the hedge fund to make illegal profits by selling shares at higher -than-market prices after prices had declined, or by purchasing shares at lower-than-market prices after prices had risen. This is called "late trading," and the practice is blatantly illegal. The brokerage firm was able to earn large brokerage commissions by doing so, and the costs were borne by small investors who are long-term holders of mutual fund shares. The hedge fund manager "settled the charges for $40 million in penalties and restitution without admitting wrongdoing." There is more to report, but it is too long to do so here.1
- The State of Massachusetts has brought charges against mutual funds headquartered in that state for similar practices that hurt small investors.
- A past president of our country was repeatedly depicted driving his convertible Cadillac through stop signs while drinking a can of beer. Another used the White House for sexual liaisons and drug escapades, which were covered up by the news media. Whatever happened to the old idea of leaders strictly adhering to the law and moral standards as an example to the people?
- My wife and I contracted for work at our home, but the concrete mix was faulty. After many attempts to convince the concrete company to rectify the problem, we finally gave up. Also, a subcontractor, after stating a price for his work, came back repeatedly for more money because he had underestimated his labor costs.
- Another time we contracted to have work done on our home and got a firm price range. The work was done perfectly, but it was evident to us that the contractor took much more time to do the work than he had estimated. In spite of this, he presented us with a final bill that was at the low end of his bid. We suggested that he resubmit the bill at the high end of his bid. We were happy to do so because the quality of his work was so good and we felt that he had earned it! My point is that this gentleman made a contract that turned out to his disadvantage, but nonetheless he followed the Biblical principle of adhering to his word (Ps.15:4).
- An old pastor related what a farmer said to him during a pastoral visit to the man's farm. "Look!" he said, pointing to his young son who was struggling to plow a straight line behind two horses. "Look how prayerfully Jamie is plowing!" In spite of working at a task that was almost beyond his strength, his son was working faithfully to please his father.
What Makes the Difference?
What causes so many individuals to perform shoddy work or to engage in dishonorable or illegal activities to benefit themselves, while some faithfully strive to fulfill their callings to honor God? The world is made up of two groups of people: the large majority (at the moment) who are unsaved covenant breakers (Rom. 1:31), and those who are the called by God to live out their lives in faithful service to Him. But a more complete answer can be found by considering the Biblical principle of vocational calling.
I still remember as a young boy, how my teachers continually encouraged students to search and prepare for the vocation that God would lead them to. This Biblical idea of listening for God's call to enter a vocation where we might serve Him is often missing in young people's lives today. Too many young people today are misguided into chasing after the highest paying jobs instead of asking, "Lord, how may I serve you?" and then trusting that personal fulfillment and monetary reward might follow.
I once counseled a graduating college student, a lovely spirited Christian who walked closely with the Lord. She was trying to decide between job offers. "My parents tell me, 'Go after the money!' What should I do?" I was reluctant to offer advice contrary to her parents, but in this instance I did just that. I suggested she pray about the matter and search her heart, after asking God to lead her concerning the vocation He was calling her into. I explained that true success in life does not come from chasing after money, but rather from seeking God's will in life and being of godly service to others; and that monetary reward generally follows.
The apostle Paul wrote about God's gifts and calling to mankind:
But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men (1 Cor. 7:17, 20-23).
John Calvin wrote about the Lord's calling as a basis of our way of life.
[T]he Lord bids each one of us in all life's actions to look to his calling; he has appointed duties for every man in his particular way of life. A man of obscure station will lead a private life ungrudgingly so as not to leave the rank in which he has been placed by God. Again, it will be no slight relief from cares, labors, troubles, and other burdens for a man to know that God is his guide in all these things. The magistrate will discharge his functions more willingly; the head of the household will confine himself to his duty; each man will bear and swallow the discomforts, vexations, weariness, and anxieties in his way of life, when he has been persuaded that the burden was laid upon him by God..2
Marriage and a Man's Calling
Excerpts of R. J. Rushdoony's insights also highlight how a man should choose his vocation because Rushdoony relates man's vocational calling to his wife as a helper, to the family, and to man's covenant calling in his vocation as God's vice-regent on earth:
According to Genesis 1:26-28, man was created to exercise dominion over the earth and to subdue it,
This then was man's holy calling under God, work and knowledge toward the purpose of subduing the earth and exercising dominion over it.
Man realizes himself in terms of work under God, and hence the radical destructiveness to man of meaningless or frustrating work, or of a social order which penalizes the working man in the realization of the fruits of his labors.
Men find an exaltation in a task well done, and in knowledge gained, because in and through work and knowledge their dominion under God is extended.
Man was required to know himself first of all in terms of his calling before he was given a help-meet, Eve. Thus, not until Adam, for an undefined but apparently extensive length of time, had worked at his calling, cared for the garden and come to know the creatures thereof, was he given a wife.
[T]he role of the woman is to be a helper in a governmental function. She is a helper to man in the subduing of the earth and in exercising dominion over it in whatever terms necessary to make her husband's life and work more successful.
Because man is to be understood in terms of his calling under God, all of man's life is to be interpreted in terms of this calling also. When work is futile, men cannot rest from their labors, because their satisfaction therein is gone. Men then very often seek to make work purposeful by working harder.
A basic and unrecognized cause of tensions in marriage is the growing futility of work in an age where apostate and statist trends rob work of its constructive goals.. Dostoyevsky pointed out that men could be broken in Siberia, not by hard labor but by meaningless labor, such as moving a pile of boulders back and forth endlessly. Such work, however slowly or lazily done, destroys a man, whereas meaningful work strengthens and even exalts him.3
Note especially Rushdoony's emphasis on the mutually supportive relationship between husband and wife in their joint role in building the Kingdom of Christ . It is not a relationship of antagonistic goals, as is so often depicted by pseudo-intellectuals and the media today. Rather, it is a Biblical relationship of mutual love and respect between husband and wife regarding each one's role in their covenantal call in working out the husband's God-given vocation.
I thank God every day for my wife Ruth, the helpmeet He gave me! Her attitude has always reflected her namesake's statement to Naomi in Ruth 1:16. In my calling she has faithfully served as my most valuable helper and loyal critic, spiritual booster during times of trial, and endless source of suggestions, ideas, and constructive criticism. As the years have gone by, I have learned to give more weight, rather than less, to what she has to say, because I know that my best interests are at the center of her heart. Yes, we do sometimes disagree, and sometimes strongly, but we have learned to work differences of opinion out, because we always keep in sight our joint call to work in building the Kingdom of Christ.
Let each of us inspect our own life to evaluate how well we are responding to God's covenantal call, and make corrections where necessary. As Rushdoony says, "[T]here is no true dominion for man in and through work apart from God and His law-order."4 Let us be challenged by God's Word, and the insights given by Calvin and Rushdoony, to instill in our children and grandchildren the grand ideal of serving God through our vocational calling to the building of His Kingdom.
©Tom Rose, 2003
1. For a fuller report see: Jason Zweig, "The Great Fund Rip-Off," MONEY , October 2003, 51. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) opposed the action of the New York attorney general on grounds that his action invades the regulatory territory given to the SEC. Note that the illegal wrongdoings happened under the "watchful eyes" (?) of the SEC. So much for the effectiveness of government "watchdog" agencies!
2. John T. McNeill, ed., Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion in two volumes (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977), 724.
3. Rousas John Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (n.p.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1973), 342-346.
4. Ibid., 346.