The Gospel from 8-5: Talking “Work” with J.D. Greear
What does the gospel have to do with our work? Earlier this year, I sat down with J.D. Greear to talk about “the gospel from 8 to 5.” Here’s the video of our conversation. An edited transcript is below.
Trevin Wax: I’m here with J. D. Greear and we’re going to be having a conversation about the gospel and the work place. This actually started from a conversation that we had a couple of months ago about a sermon you did that was helping people understand how people’s work is connected to the kingdom of God. How it’s not irrelevant to God’s purposes.
J.D. Greear: The title of it was, “What makes business Christian?” I went through some of the epistles and tried to identify what is it that made a business Christian. A lot of times, people think it’s opening a hair salon and calling it His Clips or A Cut Above. A coffee shop called He Brews. That’s what it means to be a, a Christian business. But there’s actually a lot more to this.
I had business men coming up saying, “I’ve been in church for twenty-five years and never heard anybody talk about the fifty hours of my week. How am I suppose to honor God in that?”
Trevin Wax: Why do you think we have neglected this? Because this is where our people are all of the time. If they don’t see any connection to what they’re doing week to week with the gospel then it makes it look like the gospel is for super Christians and everyone else just doing their own thing. Why have we neglected this?
J.D. Greear: I guess you could answer that question on a couple of different levels. I’m thinking a poor understanding of the full scope of biblical theology. The Acts 1:8commandment is preceded by the Genesis 2 commandment to subdue the earth and to glorify God in our business. Maybe a more practical reason is a lot of pastors have a hard time seeing how it affects—and I hate to say it like this—but what we do. Right? Because what I need from my people is to show up and to tithe, so I can do ministry for them. But what if my role as a pastor ought to be seen how to equip our people to do ministry in the workplace?
Trevin Wax: What does that look like though? Because I’m sure a lot of people are hearing this thinking, OK, we need to equip people to be evangelists in the workplace.And I know you do mean that. But you’re going further than this. You’re actually connecting the gospel to the very work that people are doing in, in their different spheres of influence. You’re not just talking about people being honest and sharing the gospel. You’re also talking about the very work that they’re doing.
J.D. Greear: Work is God-glorifying in that it’s done for the purposes of stewarding the talents that God has given you on earth. God did not just put preachers in the garden. He told them to toil the land and to keep it. The architect glorifies God by building buildings. Taking the raw materials of the earth and developing them for the pursuit of humans.
There’s a scene in Chariots of Fire where Eric Liddell realizes that God has given him a talent in running. And he says, “When I run, I feel His pleasure.” There are people in our congregations that feel the pleasure of God when they’re painting a picture, when they’re managing, when they’re doing law, when they’re practicing medicine. There’s a dissonance when the pastor never talks about that being a God-given thing that they’re suppose to glorify Him in. And so that’s why it becomes irrelevant.
One of the principles is that work must conform to the highest principles of ethics. You do it excellently for the glory of God.
Trevin Wax: Something you said there, reminds me of my grandfather. My grandfather was a printer. Started a print shop back in 1966. And now my Dad owns it and runs it.
So now, Grandpa has been retired fifteen years. And he goes to his church. They have a printing press and he’s printing Bibles. So he’s retired and he’s going in every day and he’s still printing. I mean in talking with him, he feels like he was born to print. And he’s going to use that platform, and he’s done it in multiple ways. He sets a certain example as to how to glorify God through the passions and gifts and talents that God’s given you.
I think about that quote usually attributed to Martin Luther when they asked him, “How can I be a good Christian shoe maker?” Nowadays we would be thinking, “OK, I guess you put Bible verses in the soles.” And Martin Luther’s answer was, “You make a great shoe and sale it at a fair price.” There’s where you get your ethics, and your excellence too.
J.D. Greear: Right, as an offering to God. You don’t ever want to separate that from witness. But how much more would the witness of Christ be authenticated if believers were doing their work with excellence and ethics!
Trevin Wax: Do you think it’s dangerous to use this terminology of people being called into full time Christian ministry ? Does that create an unnecessary division or barrier between the fact that all of us are called to be missionaries? All of us are called to be ambassadors for the kingdom of God? Not just people who are called into church work.
J.D. Greear: At that point we’re dealing with semantics a little bit. You’re wise to recognize that there is ah an anointing that comes to people working in the church. I mean Paul talked about that with Timothy and God has appointed apostles, and prophets, and teachers. But you know, the, the word calling, as many people have point out, it comes from a Latin word voca, and it’s where we get our word vocation. That there was a calling that God gave not to an elite group of super Christians, but to every Christian, by nature how they’re created, they were given a vocation to glorify God. They are all to use that for the glory of God, and to use it for the purposes of the great commission.
Sometimes we treat calling like there’s an elite group of special forces in our church that are called to mission. And everybody else is just supposed to do their thing and help pay for that group. I feel like sometimes we’ve invited the language of calling to mask the fact that two-thirds of the people in our churches aren’t living the disciples of Christ all together. Every Christian has to ask themselves, “How can what I have be used to further the purposes of God on earth?” All of us—not a group of us, but all of us.
Trevin Wax: Not just what we have, but where God’s placed us too. God sends us to the workplace. There’s no accidents with God, that we’re just suddenly doing a job that He didn’t know and plan ahead of time that we would be in this place with these people doing this thing. So do you recommend that pastors ever stop by and see their people at work?
J.D. Greear: I think Keller also says, “Your sermon looks like whoever you’ve talked to that week.” And so if all you’ve done is talk to other staff people, you’re gonna end up answering questions that seminary people want to know as opposed to how does it interphrase.
Trevin Wax: One of the questions I wanted to ask you was about motivation for doing work well. How does the gospel affect our motivation so that we want to be the very best we can be? We want to do our work with excellence, but not just for the raise. Not just for the boss’ approval, but that it’s actually deeper and grounded in something that’s bigger than just the approval of man. How does the gospel change our motivations for being excellent in our work?
J.D. Greear: Yeah, when you think about the language that the apostles use about the believer’s life—it’s to be an offering to God. When you think about the quality of the offerings in the Old Testament, I realize that those things were fulfilled in Christ in a very special way. But I also know that my work ought to be done as an offering to God and the same excellence that the Old Testament used with their offerings, I would want about my work as well.
Paul, in Colossians is talking about a slave. A lot of us will complain about having a bad boss. But when you’re physically a slave, that’s about as bad as it gets. You talk about receiving unjust treatment but not doing your work as unto man but unto God, unto the Lord. So that you know, you, if you were my boss, Trevin, what a bad thought that would be. But if I was doing my work, not saying what does Trevin deserve but what does God deserve? Not thinking about, will this benefit a raise for me, but does this go in response to the glory of the One who gave His life for me so that I can now use, leverage my gifts to serve.
Trevin Wax: Not that the raises are nice—but that’s not . . . .
J.D. Greear: No, if you were my boss, I would expect a raise.
Trevin Wax: You can be very thankful I’m not your boss.
J.D. Greear: Thank you. And I expect a raise in my honorarium for doing this right here, which I think is currently at zero.
Trevin Wax: If you’d been on, if you’d been on time, then it might have happened, buddy.
J.D. Greear: Should have done that unto God. Fair enough!
Trevin Wax: Anything else you want to say about this subject. I know this is a subject close to your heart. So?
J.D. Greear: Work done unto God is glorified to God not because you can just witness through it. But it’s glory to God just in the fact that you do it well.
If you study what’s going on around the world, it seems that the next wave of missions is not gonna happen through a lot of professional church planters. It’s going to happen by people who use their business and leverage their business to get in to places where they can just share Christ with people – through the normal business relationships.
If you study Acts, what you see is that Luke goes out of his way to show you that the gospel got to Rome faster through the means of ordinary merchants then it did the Apostle Paul. Luke is going out of his way to show you that the gospel has spread around the world just through normal people that are carrying the gospel with them. What if in our churches, people began to consider how they could use business skill to carry the gospel with them to do their businesses with integrity, to do them for the, you know, to make a profit, and then to carry the gospel with them as they went? That is the unlocked resource of the church.