1: Not according to Martin Luther, the German priest, theologian, and leader of the Protestant Reformation.
Back in the middle ages, “the only way to be called by God into service was as a monk, priest, or nun,” writes Timothy Keller in Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work. “They were called ‘the spiritual estate.'”
Everyone else? Their work was seen as worldly and a “demeaning necessity,” similar to how the Greeks saw manual labor.
Martin Luther viewed things differently: “It is pure invention that Pope, bishops, priests, and monks are called the ‘spiritual estate’ while princes, lords, artisans, and farmers are called the ‘temporal estate,” he writes. “This is indeed a piece of deceit and hypocrisy.”
He believed that salvation does not come from the good works we do, but rather by grace through faith in Christ. So, in his view, all believers in Christ are equally part of the spiritual estate. “There is no difference among them except that of office,” he writes.
2: Martin cites the Old Testament passage: “God strengthens the bars of your gates” (Psalm 147, verse 13). “By the word ‘bars’ we must understand not only the iron bar that a smith can make, but . . . everything else that helps to protect us, such as good government, good city ordinances, good order . . . and wise rulers. . . . this is a gift of God.”
The same thinking applies today. How does God provide security for a city? “Isn’t it through lawmakers, police officers, and those working in government and politics?” Tim asks. “God cares for our civic needs through the work of others, whom he calls to that work.”
When we pray for our “daily bread,” we pray for everything that produces that bread. We “must open up and expand [our] thinking,” Martin writes, “so that it reaches not only as far as the flour bin and baking oven but also out over the broad fields, the farmlands, and the entire country that produces, processes, and conveys to us our daily bread and all kinds of nourishment.”
Once again, the same logic applies to the present reality. “How does God’ feed every living thing’ (Psalm 145:16) today?” Tim inquires. “Isn’t it through the farmer, the baker, the retailer, the website programmer, the truck driver, and all who contribute to bring us food?”
“Even their seemingly secular works are a worship of God and an obedience well pleasing to God,” Martin writes.
3: Martin Luther believed God sees our work just like parents approach raising children. Yes, we want to provide for our children. And, we want them to become responsible, industrious, and determined. So, we give them chores to do.
We could do these tasks better ourselves. But that’s not the point. We give our children chores because we want them to develop character and a work ethic.
God is at work in our work for the same reason: “What else is all our work to God—whether in the fields, in the garden, in the city, in the house, in war, or in government—and just such a child’s performance, by which He wants to give His gifts in the fields, at home, and everywhere else?
“There are masks of God, behind which He wants to remain concealed and do all things,” Martin writes.
The work we do, Tim notes, be it writing software, analyzing a spreadsheet, or plowing a field, is a “mask” through which God cares for us.
As are the other social roles and tasks we perform, such as “voting, participating in public institutions, and being a father or mother,” writes Tim. “These are all God’s callings, all ways of doing God’s work in the world, all ways through which God distributes his gifts to us.”
Reflection: How can I choose to see my work as a calling?
Action: Discuss with my spouse, a colleague, or a friend.