Nurturing/ Teaching Courses
Christian Spirituality in the Marketplace
Dr Alex Tang
John is a marketing executive in a multinational company. He is also an elder in his church. He loves his work and he also loves his ministry. John has this conflict in his mind that somehow his involvement in his church is more ‘spiritual’ than his ‘secular’ work. This conflict is intensified by the Christian books he read, by his pastors and other Christians. His impression is that Christian spirituality can only be found in church, not in the marketplace or his workplace.
Perspectives Christian Spirituality in the Marketplace
Spirituality is a much abused word. When we use the word spirituality, we think of Hinduism, New Age spirituality or transcendental meditation. We, Christians, should redeem the term because true (Christian) spirituality is a relationship with the triune God.
The fact that we talk about the marketplace showed the Greek influence in our thinking. The Greeks has a dualistic worldview- spirit which is good and matter which is bad. Hence we differentiate working in the marketplace which is dealing with the materialistic realm as compared to ministering in a church which deals with the spiritual realm. It implies some work or vocation has more virtue than others. Consciously or unconsciously, we place the work of a missionary or pastor at the top of the least, followed by that of the caring work like doctors and nurses and the blue collar workers at the bottom of the list. Therefore we have a two tier system for our concept of work. The first class Christians are in full time service while the rest of us are in secular work with part-time, flexi-time or left-over time Christian service. The question we need to ask ourselves is whether the Bible has such a hierarchial list of occupations. Our Lord Jesus was a carpenter. His disciples are made up of fishermen, a tax collector, and an unemployed millionaire (Mark).
To understand the Christian perspective on work or the marketplace, we shall look at Genesis, the first book of the Hebrew Bible and Matthew, the first book of the New Testament.
A. The Creation/Cultural Mandate (Gen. 1:27-28)
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
The key here is that with the image of God, we are to care for and develop the earth. God works. The Old Testament is rich in metaphors to describe God as a worker (Gen1-2; Job 10:3-12;Ps.139:13-16), as builder/architect (Prov.8:27-31), teacher (Matt.7:28-29, composer and performer (Deut.31:19), metalworker (Isa.1:24-26), garment maker and dresser (Job 29:14), potter (Isa31:9), farmer (Hos.10:11), shepherd (Ps.23:1-4), tentmaker and camper (Job 9:8). Being in His image means that every legitimate human occupation (paid or unpaid) is some dimension of God’s own work. Adam and Eve was given the work of caring for the Garden of Eden. GE 2:15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. The work for work, ābad combines the meaning of ‘to work or to make’ and later ‘to worship’. Therefore the work of Adam by caring for the Garden is offering worship to God. The Fall have affected the whole creation but the Creation/Cultural mandate still holds.
B. The New Creation/ Great Commission Mandate (Matt. 28:19-20)
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
We often understand that the Great Commission is only concerned about saving souls. But I believe that it is more than that. The commission is also about rescuing the created order. Being a disciple is also a call back to the original mandate given to Adam and Eve – to care for and develop the earth. This means that every aspect of a disciple’s life is involved to fulfill this mandate- his or her life, spouse, family, church and work. All work is good work. There is no division in the Bible that some work are more spiritual than others. There is no ‘higher calling’. There is no ‘second class Christians’ We are all given the same mandate.
We need to understand this if we are to be good disciples of Christ. We are called to the marketplace as much as some are called to ‘full-time ministry’. Our work in the marketplace is a Christian calling and Christian ministry. Hence it must be emphasised that all of us are doing work. Some are paid for it while others are not paid (housewife, grandparents). As long as you are working, you are in the marketplace. In the past, the marketplace was the center of all social, economic, religious and political activities of a city.
The Basis of Christian Spirituality in the Marketplace.
A. The Cross (Col. 2:13) - Redemption
COL 2:13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross
We must start with the cross. There will be no Christian spirituality in the marketplace without the cross. The wood is hard. The nails are hard. The dying is hard. It is on the cross that Jesus died for us and redeem us. It is through the cross that not only us but the whole created order has been redeemed. It is God who loves us and calls us to Him. It is God who sends His Son, Jesus to die on the cross. Without the cross, we will still be darkness. Life will be meaningless. Our jobs will be meaningless routine, like heavy chains around our necks. It will a rat race, where everyone trample each other to get to the top, only to find that at the top it is lonely, empty and meaningless.
True spirituality is a relationship with God who loves us and calls us to Him. It is a personal relationship. It is a living relationship. It is a growing relationship.
B. The Yoke (Matt.11:29) – Living-Changing
29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
Being yoked to Jesus Christ will definitely be a life-changing experience. This experience is known by many names: discipleship, spiritual formation, growing in Christ. Jesus said, be yoked to Him and learn from Him. And the training ground for this learning is the marketplace. When the road is level and smooth, it will be easy to carry the yoke. It is only when the road is rough and bumpy that we find the yoke difficult. Yet Jesus said we will find rest for our souls. It is only in obstacles that we learn more about God and more about ourselves.
Our Christian growth is a journey during which we learn to deny our old selfish nature and put on the nature of Christ. It is not easy. Our old nature will never go away. It will always be there to tempt us, calling us to go back to the old ways: lust of the flesh, pride of the eye, temptations of the world. We must learn to reject and ignore them. And what better place to do that but in the marketplace. The marketplace is the incubator for spiritual formation.
C. The Towel (Eph.6:7) - Service
7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.
Our Lord, though God came to serve. As we grow in our spiritual lives, we would want to serve others; out of love, not duty or obligations. True spirituality is not only vertical but also horizontal. It is a relationship with God and relationships with other people. This is where our understanding of work and marketplace comes in. Our calling to be in the marketplace is where God wants us to be. We are His agents in the government departments, the offices, the schools, the homes and many other places. We are part of His overall plan to redeem the world. It is not easy to serve with love in a place hostile to us, our values and our beliefs. Yet, the observable part of true spirituality is in service to others – whether in a community, a company or an organisation. We often think that true spirituality happens when we leave the world and join a monastic order.
Thomas Merton did just that. He thought he could achieve a higher level of spirituality by joining the Trappist and spend his life in meditation and prayers. Yet in the end, he found that the deeper he went into spirituality, the more it led him back to the world. And he left a lasting legacy in his writings, his interfaith dialogue and his influence on the counter-cultural movements of the sixties.
Christian Spirituality in the marketplace is redemptive (the cross), life-changing (the yoke) and serving (the towel). The trinitarian approach to the marketplace should be that
(1) The Father gave us the cultural mandate to subdue and develop the earth.
(2) The Son calls us to discipleship and summons us to the Great Commission.
(3) The Spirit equips us for the task.
Soli Deo Gloria
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