Loving Neighbor through Vocation
“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”- Ephesians 4:28
For generations, Christians have thought about the purpose of work. In particular, the Reformed tradition has focused on labor as a creation ordinance, something that God built into the very fabric of the created order and that therefore, apart from the taint of sin, is inherently good (Gen. 1:28; 2:15). The idea of vocation, that the Lord has appointed people to different callings in which they glorify Him and love their neighbors, has also been a focus in Reformed discussions of work.
Today we will consider what it means for vocation to be a means through which we love our neighbors. Scripture addresses this from a number of different perspectives, but most basic is the idea that working in a vocation enables us to help meet the needs of our neighbors. For example, today’s passage instructs former thieves to do honest work in order that they “may have something to share with anyone in need” (Eph. 4:28). Because of the nature of their former sinful practice, Paul singles out those who used to steal from others, but we should not think his words are limited only to former thieves. It is not as if only former thieves have a duty to assist the poor, for God has called everyone in the covenant community to do what they can to meet the basic needs of the impoverished (Deut. 15:7–8). The key point is that one of the reasons we are to labor diligently in our vocations is so that we will have resources to share with those who cannot meet their own needs (Eph. 4:28). We love our poor neighbors by earning a living that enables us to provide for our own families and to help alleviate the suffering of the poor.
But if we think about it, engaging in lawful vocations is also a means by which we love those who are not impoverished. All of us need food to eat, but not all of us can be farmers. The farmer who works hard to grow good food and then sells it to his non-farmer neighbor at a fair market price has loved his neighbor by providing food to the one who cannot grow it himself. The computer programmer who designs word processing software serves his neighbor who cannot program software and yet needs it to write a report. When in our vocations we produce goods and services for other people, we are loving them.
Finally, we love others in our vocations by serving those who work alongside us. If we are called to go the extra mile for our enemies (Matt. 5:41), how much more should we go the extra mile for those working right next to us?
Christians are called to love their neighbors as they love themselves (Matt. 22:34–40), and one of the ways we can do this is through our vocations. As we use the resources we earn to help those in need and work hard to serve others in our workplaces, we are fulfilling the call to love others through our vocations.
Passages for Further Study
1 Timothy 6:17–19