Blessed professions—Ephesians 4:11-13

Some of us are sometimes tempted to think that God uses only ministers in the more technical sense. But God appointed ministries of the Word to equip all the saints for their respective ministries, to be lights in the respective places where they serve and live and study (Eph 4:11-13). “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-12, NRSV)

Some of those other skills, such as health work and agriculture, address some of the very issues that Jesus cared about (as demonstrated by his healings and feeding multitudes). (That Jesus would have approved of doing what we can to provide outside of miracles is suggested by him telling his disciples, after the feeding miracle, to gather up the leftovers. That is, they wouldn’t need a miracle for their next meal.) Thank God for a prophetically insightful public administrator like Joseph, who was able to save many lives from famine (Gen 45:5, 7; 50:20). Priests became dermatologists when they had to examine people for what were believed to be contagious skin diseases (Lev 13:2-43). Somebody presumably took care of safety inspections (Deut 22:8).

Granted, in the Old Testament, we especially see the Spirit empowering God’s servants to prophesy or lead (e.g., Deut 34:9), and of worship worship leading (1 Chron 25:1-5) and other songs (1 Kgs 4:32; Song of Solomon). But we also see the Spirit filling Bezalel for artistic and architectural activity that honors God (Exod 31:3; 35:31; 36:1). The seven new officers of the church in Acts 6:3 initially must be full of the Spirit and wisdom for their work in administration and finance. God also gave Solomon special wisdom for judging (1 Kgs 3:9-28). Let’s not forget the Spirit filling Samson with superhuman strength (though the purpose was delivering Israel and not just winning prizes in competitions). God’s Spirit came on Mary to be a Mom (though in a special way for the virgin birth, which was for only one occasion in history).

Are you interested in biology, genetics and the like? Many discoveries in these areas can lead to improvements in health care. But of course the sciences hold their own interest. Proverbs 25:2 might speak of those who had leisure (i.e., not farming or other responsibilities) to seek knowledge: “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out” (NRSV). (Even though we will never run out of hidden things, Deut 29:29.) Solomon had a passionate interest in biology and its applications; this was part of his God-given wisdom: “He spoke about plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also spoke about animals and birds, reptiles and fish” (1 Kgs 4:33, NIV)

There are plenty of military officers, though this was closer to their calling and empowerment in Old Testament periods where God’s purposes were closely tied to a nation (in Acts, we see many following the Lord but not so much specifically because of them being in the military, since the Roman military was not used only for just wars and certainly not for holy ones).

Even for other kinds of subsequent ministry, God used people’s various backgrounds as models for what they would do, such as shepherds (of sheep and then people), fishers (of fish and then people), accountants (tax collectors), scribes (Matt 13:52), carpenters, and the like. (Pastoral counseling counts as a pastoral/shepherd gift; cf. e.g., Ezek 34:2, 4.) (If plumbers and aeronautic engineers don’t appear on this list, it is because they didn’t exist in the biblical cultures yet. Only rich people had indoor plumbing, and hiking up the Acrocorinth, which I got to do once, was the closest anybody got to physical space travel.) Paul, of course, was sometimes bivocational as a leather worker (or tentmaker, depending on how you translate that); given what we know about this profession, that probably included sales also.

These are just a sample of the sorts of callings that God used, partly limited by the range of examples available in antiquity and partly because I thought these examples should suffice. (I could have listed many more). Further, many other callings are implied; our advanced economies and information technology allows us to specialize in ways not possible in antiquity. Community concerns for law enforcement, sanitation, and the like were handled differently but were matters of concern then as now. Given ancient values on hospitality and the making and selling of textiles even from homes, the polite behavior we expect in service industries was probably shared more widely in the culture.

So if your particular area isn’t in the list, don’t feel like it shouldn’t be. Obviously there are some spheres in which Christians cannot work, such as drug dealer or pimp (gangster boss Mickey Cohen, converted in a mid-twentieth century evangelism meeting, didn’t persevere in faith when he realized it would cost him his profession). But for the most part, God uses us in a range of professions, always in our witness for Christ and often even through the ways we serve through the profession itself.

Those of us who are called to use Scripture to equip the saints for their ministries (Eph 4:11-13) should remember this and encourage people in our congregations to flourish in their range of professions.

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