How does calling relate to Christian hope?
Paul assures us that “in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” What is labor in the Lord? It includes what we do to strengthen the body of Christ and its mission. It also includes all Christian work outside the church, whether that work be one’s career or paid work or one’s non-paid work in the home and community. If this work is done “as unto the Lord,” it is “not in vain.” This work, too, has significance and purpose not only for this life, but for the life of the world to come.
Work is a crucial part of God’s purpose for human beings in the pre-fall creation. Through the “work” of being fruitful and having dominion (Gen. 1:26) and of tilling and tending the garden (Gen. 2:15), human beings express the image of God. Work was intended to be full of significance, an avenue of service to God and others, and a way of developing our potential as image-bearers of God.
The fall into sin radically altered human work. Under the conditions of sin, work becomes meaningless toil (Gen. 2:17-19). Work now stands under the shadow of death. Exploitation, slavery, unemployment, monotonous and meaningless labor, and every other feature of work that contradicts God’s original purpose have their origin in sin and its penalty.
Grace extends “far as the curse is found,” even into our work. Because Christian hope is for a new creation, Christian labor in all spheres of life is not in vain. Everything Christians do for the Lord has significance not only for this life, but for the life to come. Vital hope for the new creation expands the scope of what has eschatological significance. Not only the work of pastors and evangelists, but also the work of mothers and fathers, artists, musicians, businesspeople, farmers, builders, politicians, and all the rest has importance for the life of the world to come.
Whatever is beautiful, true, and good in human cultures will be cleansed from impurity, perfected, and transfigured to become a part of God’s new creation. Those transfigured things will form the building material from which the glorified world will be made.
But if sown in Christ, prayerfully and patiently devoted to the glory of God, Christian work will participate in the resurrection life of the world to come. “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58, NRSV).
About the Author
Douglas J. Schuurman is a professor of religion at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn.