Some of you may be aware that I was once a part of a fellowship that took literally the teachings of Jesus, including the one that is the title of this post, by refusing to work in a job for money. They are/were called the Jesus Christians, and I recently shared about my experience with them. I joined the group because they were the only ones I knew who were passionate about obeying Jesus’ commands, even selling all they had and living communally like the early disciples.
You may have noticed that my perspective on many things have not changed much, even though I have been out of the group for more than ten years now. My reasons for breaking away from their fold had nothing to do with no longer believing the teachings of Jesus, but being no longer able to deny the spirit of control and self-righteousness, that was prevalent within the group. Though having much truth, grace was evidently lacking in their approach to others outside their fellowship, and even within. Of course, there is no perfect Church, so that is hardly a reason to leave a good one. I actually didn’t decide of my own volition to leave…after the group disbanded, and tried to regroup, I had no more conviction to follow them.
However, since leaving, I’ve tried not to be so critical of the Churches, nor judgmental of other Christians. I’ve tried not to be so sure about what I believe concerning Jesus’ teachings on forsaking all, living by faith and not working for money. I’ve tried to have an open mind that is understanding of other people’s perspectives on these things, and believe that God will lead us all to the truth by His Spirit, which not only resides in me, but in those who truly believe in Jesus. Knowing how much I have needed God’s grace, I’ve tried and continue to be gracious with others too.
I am, however, realising that the convictions I’ve tried to put aside, are what the Spirit is leading me to once again. Gradually, I’ve come to the undeniable realisation that it does matter what you believe (Read That Loaded Word: Believe), not simply that you believe in Jesus. It also does matter what you do, and if you actually obey Jesus or not. Faith has as much to do with believing as it does with doing. We are told that Abraham was commended for his faith, by his act of obedience to God (Heb 11:17-19, James 2:21-23), not simply by sitting and saying, “God will make a way, because He must be joking about me killing my own son”.
So here I am, back to trying to conform my life to the teachings of Jesus, and appealing for others to do the same, however radical they may be. I know that if Jesus has commanded it, that He is the One who will make a way for me and everyone who chooses to act in obedience (Read Do You Believe Peter Could Have Walked On Water?). There are just two teachings that I am still trying to wrap my head around, which I notice that even the early disciples did not appear to practice faultlessly. One is the title of this piece, and the other is the command to call no man on Earth Father or Teacher etc and to not be called by such titles (Matt 23:8-10).
We see that Paul referred to himself as Timothy’s father in the Lord (1 Tim 1:2, 1 Cor 4:15). So did Timothy call him ‘Father’, as many Christians now address Priests? And if Paul and Timothy did this, ignoring Christ’s teaching, should we also ignore Christ’s teaching, or could it be that Christ meant something else altogether? Were they being disobedient or did they have a superior understanding? Was it merely an expression of love and respect, like we call our earthly fathers and mothers? Are we also not to call our parents Mom or Dad or refer to elders with titles of respect? I don’t know about all these things, but I do believe that they (if Paul allowed himself to be addressed as ‘Father’ by Timothy) and the Church have been disobedient on this issue, though we would all like to think the Apostle, Paul, was without sin!
“Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed” (John 6:27).
So, how do we take this commandment of Jesus not to labour for the food that perishes…but for that which will endure until eternal life? Is Jesus telling His disciples not to work for food necessary for their survival? That they shouldn’t work with survival in mind, but only to concentrate on preaching the gospel, and trust Him to provide what they will eat and wear…just like the birds and the flowers (Matt 6:33-34)? Is Jesus saying that His disciples shouldn’t work for wages, for money, for another employer other than Him?
“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt 6:24).
We are all familiar with this verse, though I doubt many of us have considered that we could be working for mammon and not for God. We think that because we are Christian (by religion or by faith), we are already working for God. But I don’t think that even unbelievers think they work for mammon! Nobody thinks they worship or serve mammon, they are just making a living. Does that mean everyone is working for God??? Obviously not.
You should know that even when you have a job, if you are spend your office hours playing games, checking your social media, shopping, doing your side business or even sleeping…that you are technically not WORKING for your employer, but you are cheating on them with your other interests… You are employed, but not working! You are stealing time and money, because you are being paid for not doing what you have been paid to do. In the end, you lose out because the company wouldn’t grow like it is supposed to, if you were actually diligent in your work! You thought you were being smart juggling so many things, but you will most likely end up without a job, or being stuck in a company that is not growing, because it is filled with people like you.
That unfortunately is how many of us are with regards to God. The Church is filled with people who are not serving God and building His Kingdom, but serving mammon and building the empires of the world. We are working for money, for mammon, on His time and at His expense. We are trying to serve two Masters, and cheating God. What God tells us to do, we put aside for later to do what we want to do now, being short-sighted, because we didn’t realise that obedience to God will result in our prosperity, while chasing other fast means of prosperity will lead to destitution. If not in this life, certainly the next.
As part of the Body of Christ, we all have our work to do for the Kingdom of God. We are all called to be disciples, commissioned to preach the gospel to the whole world (Matt 28:19-20). Some of us may know our work and what it entails, and some of us may still be waiting on revelation or understanding. We are all working together for the same aim, with diverse ministries. The aim is to build up the Kingdom of Heaven by calling men to repentance, and teaching them to obey Christ. However, like Paul said, not all are teachers, not all are evangelists, not all are prophets (1 Cor 12:28-31, Eph 4:11-12). We will know our ministry by the gift that God has given us through His Holy Spirit.
However, are there a group of believers who are not supposed to be working in any of the five ministries mentioned by Paul, but who are supposed to be working in regular jobs to support those who engage in ministry? This seems to be the belief of the Church at large. This is the justification for why 99% of Believers hold or seek steady jobs and careers, while 1% commit themselves to the gospel work only, and look to the other believers to provide for them, through tithing or giving (1 Cor 9:11).
I think it is interesting that the scale is tipped in favour of working for money, rather than working for God full-time. I think many people think it takes great faith to work for God full-time, but it only takes obedience. There are many people who should be working for God full-time, who are not, because they are afraid to trust God to meet all their needs. They also probably love their independence, their wealth and the privileges they enjoy…and maybe also love their work too! These, however, are not legitimate reasons to disobey God.
We have to be honest with ourselves and consider if we are really working for the Kingdom in our place of work, or if we are working for the food that perishes… Are we working to store up riches against tomorrow? Are we storing treasure on Earth or in Heaven? If God demanded everything we have worked for now, to be dedicated to His Kingdom, would we readily obey? If God tells us to drop everything and go and preach the Good News of the Kingdom in one remote village in Africa, would we trust Him and do it? If God calls us to minister within our community and at a Church, and desires more of our time from our employer (who pays our wages), would we forsake the job, or work less hours and forsake the extra pay and the potential for promotion, so we could serve God as passionately as He has called us?
Or we are all supposed to stop working for money or labouring for food full stop?! Are those who work for money, even when they give the bulk of their salary back into the building up of the Kingdom of Heaven, being disobedient by trying to serve two masters? Are they being faithless and distrusting of God, by labouring for their food rather than going out on the field to harvest the souls of men (Matt 4:19-20)?
What was Jesus’ intent with this commandment? Was it merely a suggestion, an advice or a directive? Was it a calling to the Apostles only, or to the Body of Christ as a whole? If it is for the Body of Christ as a whole, then it would mean that the disciples have been disobedient in regards to this teaching from the very beginning…because the evidence shows that they continued to work, if not for their previous employers; but they worked the land for their sustenance, and made furniture and clothing as well. Is God against such honest labour? Are we supposed to live on supernatural provision until Christ returns? Should we expect to be fed and clothed by a world that continues to work – in disobedience to Christ – while we teach them to obey this commandment?
“For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread” (2 Thes 3:10-12).
What are we to make of Paul’s teaching here? It is a true saying that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop”. The Jesus Christians practiced what they termed “working for love”. So, rather than money being the motivation, love was the motivation. So they would occasionally work for people for free, because working is not bad in itself, but the motivation and whom we serve as we work. They also cultivated and ate from the land, because it is loving to work to feed the community and the poor. But what about profit? Would it be right to sell excess food for profit? Is profit a blessing to be enjoyed from this kind of labour? What if the labour of love is not as primitive as farming? Is any form of profit wrong? If we work for the right motivation, and we are blessed with profit, should we reject it – so as to keep our motivation sincere? Should we not seek to be profitable?
I have always wondered what Jesus expected us to preach to the poor, when we have sold everything and gone to them to distribute the proceeds or even distribute the things we couldn’t sell to them. Clearly, if we picked one poor man to dump all our riches on, that would be quite unfair on the poor man, if the riches were the problem. The poor man will now be rich beyond his imagination and unless we teach him what to do with his riches, we have cursed him. Certainly, the distribution of our wealth with the poor, is to alleviate their suffering, so that they will be attentive and receptive when we teach them the Gospel. If every professing Christian distributed their wealth with the poor, I am quite sure there would be no such thing as poverty now, just like when the disciples forsook all things and shared their wealth, there was no poor among them (Acts 4:34). What a witness that would be!
I have also always wondered if we sell our possessions and give to the poor, and we drop out of school (like I did at the time) or from stable jobs to start living by faith in God’s provision, what message we will be preaching to the poor. Is the message that poverty is righteousness? Are the poor righteous because they are poor and uneducated? Should we not teach the poor to seek gainful employment, so that they too can help others in need? If we are not trying to elevate people from poverty, but create more poverty by dropping out of the educational, vocational and labour systems, why should the poor think we have a message worth listening to, when we are hungry just like them?
These are just my thoughts as someone who is trying to understand the will of God, through the teachings of Jesus. I think these are all legitimate questions that need pondering on and righteous answers. But most times, such reasoning keeps us from obeying God’s word. I also believe we won’t know what the truth is until we become people of faith like Abraham, who hear God’s instruction (though it sounds out of His character, and even ridiculous against worldly wisdom) and do it. Jesus said: “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17).
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).
Abraham was sure it was God who asked him to kill his son, because he had a relationship with God and knew His voice. He went ahead in obedience, and when God intervened, he saw God’s graciousness, and he was even more able to trust God, knowing that God is faithful to meet the needs of those who love Him and live by faith in Him. Let us likewise heed Jesus’ command to forsake everything and follow Him. Yes, even our jobs. Let us lay everything at His alter, and see if God will be as gracious as He was to Abraham. If we cannot forsake everything, if we doubt His teaching…or His voice, we cannot claim to have faith or even to be His disciples.
“So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).
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