NEW YORK – Pastor Tim Keller challenged a crowd of New York City professionals Sunday to rethink how they view work and to debunk the notion that spiritual vocations matter more to God than secular work.
Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, explained why all work matters to God and why God matters to work in a lecture held at the Hunter College auditorium for members of the church’s vocation groups. The lecture is the fourth entry in an eight-part lecture series organized by the church’s Center for Faith and Work, which represents professionals from at least 15 industry sectors, including the arts, business and healthcare.
In making his case that all Christians are “priests” in their respective fields, Keller contrasted the approach to work by the medieval church and the radical reformation with that of the 16th century protestant reformer Martin Luther.
The Medieval Church took a “triumphalism” approach to society that attempted to dominate and make all things Christian where as those in the Radical Reformation encouraged “withdrawal” from society, which they believed to be “Satan’s world.”
Both approaches, according to Keller, had a tendency to look down on the work out in the world and only consider work in the church as God’s work.
He explained that Luther’s theology offered a “middle way” and a biblical approach to work, in which there was no dividing Christian work between “spiritual estate” and the “temporal estate.”
“He says, hey, do not say only people inside the church are doing God’s work. Oh no. We are all priests. Therefore, every Christian is doing God’s work,” said Keller, citing Luther’s reference to the passage in 1 Peter 2:9.
Keller said that God could easily give us His gifts without our help but it is through our works that He wishes to involve, train and include us as part of the family. Quoting Luther, he went on to point out that although man’s work is “child’s performance,” they are the “masks of God” by which He works.
“God doesn’t have to do it that way but He is. He’s loving you through other people’s work. He goes as far as to say that the baker and the farmer in work is God in disguise. These are the masks of God. God is loving you and distributing His gifts through work,” said Keller.
The New York pastor also put the value of work in perspective by looking at Jesus’ occupation.
“There is no menial work. Jesus came not as a philosopher, not as a general. He came as a carpenter,” said Keller. “The Bible says that all works matter to God. All works. Not just works that make money.”
Christians, meanwhile, should always reflect upon how God matters to their work, added Keller.
He cautioned against serving idols in work, whether it be profit in business or self-expression in art, instead of serving God.
Belief in the Gospel, according to Keller, should impact one’s motivation of work, work ethic and treatment of others around them in work. He urged listeners to continually gather together and through talks and prayer, accumulate wisdom on how God can have a greater impact in their field.
“You are in a very big city, New York. It is an exhausting city. It’s a very hard place to work. It’s a secular city so it’s very hard to bring your values onto the way you work,” said Keller. “Therefore, because of the power of the Gospel, I call you to think like a prophet, serve like a priest, and plan like a king. It means getting together to think, think, how does the preeminence of God reign in my field. It means serving each other and serving people around you in the city.”
The “Gospel & Culture” series seeks to prepare the congregation for effective engagement in the culture of NYC. Organized by the church’s Center for Faith and Work, the lecture series will be held one Sunday every month and will culminate with the first Faith & Work conference this fall.