JD GreearNote from the editor: This blog post by J. D. Greear originally appeared here at Christianity Today on January 13, 2014

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We need to equip people to live out Christian discipleship in the workplace. Small-group leaders are especially suited for this because they minister to laypeople every week in their groups. Most think about Christian discipleship as something that happens inside the church. Committing to Jesus means volunteering in the church nursery, attending a small group, being a greeter, going on a mission trip, serving at the soup kitchen, or giving money to the church. Work, on the other hand, is simply a necessity that must be endured to put bread on the table. God’s primary interest in our jobs, it seems, is that we tithe our salaries.

Is it possible, though, to make our work “Christian”? Unfortunately, when we think about people who try to do this, all kinds of disturbing images come to mind:

  • Opening a beauty salon called “A Cut Above” or a coffee shop called “He Brews”
  • Defiantly saying “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays” in the checkout line
  • Sneaking “Have a blessed day” into a salutation or in our e-mail signature

Perhaps you remember the 2004 incident of an American Airlines pilot who, in his pre-flight announcements, asked all the Christians on board the plane to raise their hands. He then suggested that during the flight the other passengers talk to those people about their faith. Understandably, it freaked a lot of people out. The pilot of your airplane probably shouldn’t be talking about whether you’re ready to meet Jesus just before takeoff.

While we might think it’s a nice idea to combine our work and faith, we have a hard time believing we could do it and keep our jobs. But the Bible actually has a lot to say about our work. For instance, the majority of the parables that Jesus told had a workplace context. And of the 40 miracles recorded in the book of Acts, 39 of them occurred outside of a church setting. God seems as concerned with displaying his power outside the walls of the church as he does within it.

Five Qualities that Make Work “Christian”

As I’ve studied what the Bible says about this, I’ve found five qualities that make work “Christian.” These five qualities are only possible if our work is done as a response to God through Christ.

Creation-Fulfilling
When God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden, he told him “to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). And that was before the curse. Work was not a punishment inflicted on Adam for his sin. It was part of God’s original design. The Hebrew word abad, translated “work,” means to prepare or develop. It shares the same root word as “worship.” Adam was put in the Garden to be a co-creator. He was to take the raw materials of the earth and develop them for the glory of God and the benefit of humans. Just like contractors take the raw materials of sand and cement and use them to create buildings, and artists take color or music and arrange them into art, we are called to take God’s good creation and make something even better with it. When we do this, God is himself at work through us.

Excellence-Pursuing
If our work is done for God, it should be done according to the highest standards of excellence. Paul writes, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance as your reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24). In other words, we serve a higher boss than our employer; we work for a greater reward than our salary. In everything we do, we put on display the worthiness of our God.

This is one of the things that should set Christians apart. We do our work for the glory of God and how we do it points to an unseen kingdom better than recognition and salaries. The quality of our work should point to the glory of the God. Whether we teach or mop floors or write contracts, we do all to the glory of God.

Holiness-Reflecting
Work that is Christian will conform to the highest standards of ethics, because it seeks to demonstrate the justice and integrity of God. Business ethics really do matter because in them we are displaying the character of God in whose image we are made and according to whose pattern we create. Proverbs 11:1 says that unjust balances—cut corners, fudged balance sheets, skimped time cards, and so on—are an abomination to God.

Redemption-Displaying
If Christians were to act in their jobs with equity and fairness, that alone would set us apart. But the gospel takes us even further. Those who have experienced the gospel become like Christ. We begin to leverage our places of strength to bless and serve others, like Jesus leveraged his for us (2 Corinthians 8:9). A difficult question you must consider is: Where would I be if Jesus had approached his potential and his assets in the way I am approaching mine? We must follow in Jesus’ example to leverage our lives for the kingdom of God. It isn’t a special assignment for a sacred few. It’s a call for all disciples of Jesus.

I recently heard a story about a young college graduate who landed a job on Madison Avenue in one of the advertising world’s most prestigious firms. Shortly after she got there, she made a mistake that cost the company nearly $25,000. Madison Avenue is not a world defined by grace, and she expected to be fired by the end of the day. Her boss, however, went before his board of directors and convinced them to allow the blame for her mistake to fall on him instead. When this young woman heard what her boss had done, she came to him in tears. She asked him why, in that cutthroat atmosphere, he would choose to cut his own throat for her. He answered by sharing that because of the great grace that Jesus had shown him, he wanted to display a similar mercy to others when he could.

That’s what redemption-displaying means for individuals within the workplace, for those who are living by kingdom principles. You think about blessing and lifting up the poor in your business. And that doesn’t mean you have to be anti-capitalism or anti-profit. It simply means you think not just about personal profits in your business, but the blessing of everyone involved.

Mission-Advancing
Work done by disciples of Jesus should be done with a view toward the Great Commission—both in the workplace and around the world. Billy Graham says the next Great Awakening will likely take place in the workplace. Here’s why: less and less people in our culture have the church as part of their lives. Steve Timmis, a pastor friend in London, said that 70 percent of British people say they have no intention of ever attending a church service. Not at Easter. Not for marriages. Not for funerals or Christmas Eve services. 70 percent. He writes,

That means new styles of worship will not reach them. Fresh expressions of church will not reach them. Alpha and Christianity Explored courses will not reach them. Great first impressions will not reach them. Churches meeting in pubs will not reach them … . The vast majority of unchurched and de-churched people would not turn to the church, even if faced with difficult personal circumstances or in the event of national tragedies. It is not a question of “improving the product” of church meetings and evangelistic events. It means reaching people apart from meetings and events.

We have to equip our people to share their faith in the marketplace because it’s the only place we’re going to encounter the unchurched! To empower people to share their faith, we must take away their excuses. We must help people see that they are equipped—by God himself—and that it doesn’t have to add something extra to their schedules. Tim Chester says, “Evangelism is doing normal life with gospel intentionality.” Instead of asking people to do something extra, we must help people look for opportunities to incorporate their faith into their current work. A great place to start is asking people to pray for the people they encounter regularly. It might be praying for the people in your company, the teachers and students at your school, the construction workers on your team, or the children and parents at the soccer game. Pray in general and pray specifically when the opportunity arises. My dad used to get to work early and walk the floor of his plant, memorizing each person’s name, and asking people how he could pray for them.

Beyond empowering people to share their relationship with God in their workplaces, we have to give them a vision to use their business to carry the gospel around the world. I believe the next wave of missions will be on the wings of business. Most of the countries in the world in most need of a gospel presence are also those in the greatest need of business development. If you lay out a map of world poverty and overlay it with one showing the places in the world that are the most unreached, you’ll see an incredible amount of overlap.

The nation of Iran is one example. Iran is an unreached area in desperate need of the gospel. There are 10 million seeking employment in Iran, a number that could eclipse 20 million within the next 15 years. Iran can be reached through the efforts of average Christian businesspeople taking their skills and expertise overseas, and there is huge biblical support for this.

In Acts, Luke seems to go out of his way to demonstrate that the gospel got around the world faster on the wings of businesspeople than it did even with the Apostles! Luke notes that the first time the church went everywhere, the Apostles were not included (Acts 8:1). Additionally, the longest sermon with the most powerful effect (the conversion of Saul) was preached by a layman, Stephen. Steven Neill, in History of Christian Missions, notes that of the three great church-planting centers in the ancient world (Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome), not one was founded by an Apostle.

Globalization, revolutions in technology, and urbanization have given the business community nearly universal access to the peoples of the world. Maybe God made you good at a specific skill so you could take it to places where he is not yet known. And maybe it won’t be the most lucrative bottom line for you, but it will open up a whole nation to the gospel and give you an inheritance in an eternal kingdom. One man in our church was involved in a growing sports marketing firm. When he found out his firm had a branch in the Middle East, he asked to be transferred. He got to go as a missionary on the company’s dime and spreads the gospel as he trains others to do meaningful jobs.

Not every Christian, of course, will be led to perform their business in an unreached area. But disciples of Jesus should always do their work with a missional vision. That requires two things:

  • Do what you do well for the glory of God.
  • Do it somewhere strategic for the mission of God.

Isn’t that a missional vision we should all adopt? If we care about discipling our group members, we must equip them to make their faith part of their work. They must learn to see all things through the lens of following Jesus. Even—perhaps especially—their work.

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J. D. Greear (@jdgreear) is the lead pastor of The Summit Church in North Carolina and the co-author of Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary; copyright 2014 by Christianity Today and the author.

This post, by Matt Smethurst, originally appeared on The Gospel Coalition. View the original here.

What does it mean to be an ambassador for Christ? Among other things, it means being considered crazy. And is that such a bad thing?

“We represent the foreign power of the kingdom of God,” Mack Stiles explains in an interview with Mark Mellinger. “There’s a chain that stretches from the throne of God through us to our friend when we’re sharing the gospel.” Sometimes, Stiles has seen, perceived craziness is precisely what it takes for unbelievers to stop, wonder, and explore.

“As a young Christian I had to learn evangelism isn’t some sort of ‘raid’ on people,” says Stiles, general secretary for the Fellowship of Christian UAE Students (FOCUS) in the United Arab Emirates. “I came to realize what matters most is living my whole life in line with the gospel.”

And what about the tricky issue of calling to missions? “There are three things to understand about calling,” he explains. “You must be inspired by Scripture, informed by the gospel, and confirmed by a church.”

Watch the full 12-minute video to see Stiles, author of the forthcoming Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus (Crossway, 2014), talk street preachers, spousal skirmishes, why he packed his bags for the Middle East, and more. You can also listen to Stiles’s message from our 2013 Missions Conference, Being Ambassadors for Christ: The Ministry of Reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:11-21).

Note from the editor: This blog post by Jonathan Parnell originally appeared here at Desiring God December 2, 2010.

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Paul gives a two-part command in Philippians 3:17—join in imitating me and keep your eyes on those who live like us. This idea of imitating Paul and leaders like him is not unique to this passage (2 Thessalonians 3:7-9; 1 Timothy 4:12; 2 Timothy 1:13; Hebrews 13:7). However, the Philippians 3:18 ground to the command carries a particular weightiness.

Paul tells us to imitate him and those who live like him, “for many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.”

Paul says that apostasy is the basis for why we should imitate him and those who live like him. Paul does not suggest the benefits of having a role model, he narrows the profile of who a role model should be and he declares its essential place in Christian discipleship. I think these two points from Philippians 3:17-18 make up a concise theology of role models.

The Profile of a Role Model in Christian Discipleship

At first Paul simply says “imitate me.” Now that is pretty specific, and maybe a little difficult for Christians who live a couple thousand years later. But Paul does not intend that our functional example only be the inscribed manner of his life in the New Testament. He says, “and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” I have no doubt that Paul wrote that for you and me.

He expands the profile of a role model to being anyone who lives according to his theology and ethos. This is a command for us to seek after and follow men and women in the Church who are like the Apostle Paul. I think this means we keep our noses in Paul’s letters with an eye out for brothers and sisters who exemplify what we’re seeing there.

This is not the same thing as the “I follow ____” controversy in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:10-17). If we don’t have a distinction between role models and a dividing codependency on gifted leaders, then we need to get one. Let Paul give us one. The imitation that he calls for in Philippians 3:17 is a grateful, Christ-exalting recognition that God has put people in our lives, both by community or by podcast, that we should humbly aspire to emulate.

The Essential Place of a Role Model in Christian Discipleship

What is at stake for Paul in this command is that without a role model like him, we make ourselves vulnerable to becoming an enemy of the cross of Christ. There are many people who sadly come to Paul’s mind as those who have forsaken his example and become enemies of Jesus. They went a different route and it ended in destruction (Philippians 3:19).

Notice that Paul uses the same verb to describe them—they walk, too. I highlight this to say that if we’re not walking in Paul’s example, then we are surely walking in someone’s. Maybe we’re trying to blaze our own trail after the shadow of ego, or maybe we’re lining up behind a Pauline stranger, either way we are following and if its not in Paul’s example then it won’t turn out well.

A role model like Paul is not an optional Add-on to our Firefox browser. Following men and women like Paul is not like a scarf that accessorizes our Christian outfit. This is life or death. This is servant or enemy. Having a role model like Paul is indispensable to following Jesus. As Paul imitates Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:1), so do we by following Paul’s example and keeping our eyes on those who walk like him.

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Jonathan Parnell (@jonathanparnell) is a writer and content strategist at Desiring God. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Melissa, and their four children, and is the co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary (Crossway, 2014).

Note from the editor: This blog post by Joel Brooks originally appeared here at The Gospel Coalition January 16, 2011.

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My office is located in one of the poorer areas in the city of Birmingham, Alabama. Even as I am writing this, outside my window I can see two prostitutes standing across the street outside a hotel and a homeless man pushing a grocery cart full of cans. Confronted with scenes like this on a daily basis has made me think a lot about Jesus’ call to serve the least of these. What should this look like in my life? Over the years, I have far more failures than successes when it comes reaching out to these people.

It might not be easy, but our call to help the poor is a scriptural mandate that few would argue against. Deuteronomy 15:7-8 says:

If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.

This is just one of many passages in the Bible that show God’s concern for the least of these.

But any person who has actually spent time serving the poor realizes that it is not for the faint of heart. I have seen many passionate, bright-eyed Christians with a “heart for the poor” burn out in a matter of months or even weeks. This happens because the poor they serve often do not respond in the way they expect. As these generous people give of their time and money, they assume that the poor people they help will be appreciative and kind. Perhaps going into this they pictured a homeless man shedding tears of gratitude for the new coat and warm sandwich he received. Instead they receive not so much as a “thank you” or “God bless you.” Maybe they will even be criticized for the color of the coat or the sogginess of the sandwich. They quickly find out that some beggars can be choosers—and mean ones at that!

I experienced this firsthand recently when a homeless lady approached me and asked for money. I said that I’d buy her a meal instead. She loudly berated me in front of onlookers for this perceived insult until finally agreeing to let me buy the meal. As I walked in to the restaurant, she barked after me, “Combo number six with Dr. Pepper!” When I returned with her food, she got angry with me for bringing her the wrong dipping sauce. All in all, it was not a pleasant experience. I certainly didn’t leave with that “feel-good feeling” from helping the poor.

Certainly not all of the poor are like this. I have found many to be some of the most humble and gracious people I know, but there is no getting around the fact that some are just plain mean-spirited. Many are homeless and hungry as a consequence of their own evil actions. Often they will squander any aid you do give them. Many will never thank you or will even speak ill of you as you give of your time and money.  So does our biblical mandate to help the poor mean that we are we to spend our lives helping out people like this? The answer is YES and without reservation. Jesus Christ calls us to help even the unrighteous poor.

Response Reveals Our Spiritual Condition

There are several places in Scripture we could look to see this call, but recently I found it in an unexpected place—the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Currently preaching through Genesis, I was surprised to find even in a story full of hellfire and brimstone God’s heart for the unrighteous poor.

Almost everyone is familiar with this story of God raining down judgment on these cities because of their wickedness. And most people assume that the sin for which Sodom was judged was sexual immorality. This is certainly how I heard this passage taught when I was younger. But the prophet Ezekiel tells us otherwise. Ezekiel 16:49 says, “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” Sodom was judged for pride, living a life of ease, and neglecting the poor and needy—not simply for sexual sin. I don’t know about you, but suddenly this story just became a little uncomfortable for me. Instead of casting judgment on the people of Sodom, I began to identify with them.

But how does this story give us our mandate to serve the unrighteous poor? The answer is that the neglected poor of Sodom were not considered by God to be righteous. This is why they too were judged. Remember, God told Abraham that he would spare the entire city if just 10 righteous people were to be found, but there were not even 10. They were all unrighteous—rich and poor alike. The sin of Sodom was their lack of concern for the unrighteous poor, and the result of this sin was God’s judgment on both the rich and poor alike.

I have found that helping the unrighteous poor is perhaps also the best way to remind myself of the gospel by which I am saved. I did not receive mercy because I deserved it. Jesus Christ did not give his life for me because I was a good person. No, I was his enemy and full of sin when he died for me. I never did and never will earn his grace. Grace is always unmerited. So when I see how the unrighteous poor respond with bitterness to my acts of kindness, I am reminded of my own spiritual condition. Even now, I often fail to thank God for his continuous and abundant grace towards me. Thank God for the gospel by which I am being saved!

We must see our service to the poor through this gospel lens. Actually, our ability to help those who don’t deserve it is an indicator as to whether or not we have actually received the mercy and grace of God ourselves. As Jesus says in Luke 6:32-33 and 35-36:

If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. . . . But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and you reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

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Joel Brooks attended Beeson Divinity School where he received his M.Div., and is currently the pastor of Redeemer Community Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

Note from the editor: This post by Jared Wilson originally appeared here at The Gospel-Driven Church July 29, 2013.

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But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.

John 17:13

My friend Godwin Sathianathan preached at Middletown Church yesterday morning onMark 12:28-34, and one particular thing he said in his introduction landed on me especially heavily. He was talking about an old friend of his who was very strong for many years in church activities, discipleship groups, Christian conferences, and the like, but who ultimately left the faith, deciding Christianity was no longer for him. Godwin said that one thing that stood out to him about his friend was that his faith always seemed so burdensome to him.

Should it always be so? We all usually agree that to follow Jesus is to take up one’s cross, to constantly be doing battle against the flesh, to constantly be denying one’s self and resisting temptation and pursuing repentance. This is all hard work. Cross-carrying is not “happy go lucky” stuff. And yet, the love of Christ — love for Christ — for the Christian is seen as a more delightful experience than all the world’s charms and flesh-feedings. The very reason we take up our cross is not because dutiful religion is more fun than no religion but because we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, that taking up our cross is better; it’s more freeing, not less. The yoke and burden Christ offers is easy and light.

Discipleship to Christ is very difficult. But it is incomparably joyful. Or ought to be. And the more we walk with Christ, the more sin we find to repent of, but the more joy we experience too. There is fullness of joy in him. The Spirit actually grows joy in us! So if my Christian life has no joy in it — ever — perhaps it is not the Christian life I’m living.

This April 18th, Good Friday, Pastor David Platt will be leading a yearly gathering called Secret Church. And because it will be simulcast, you can plan to participate from anywhere that has a computer and a good internet connection.

We bring this to your attention because it could be a great tool for you to use as you continue to make disciples. Why? This year’s topic, The Cross and Everyday Life, will practically instruct us as to how the gospel affects the routine, regular, sometimes mundane, and often busy aspects of our day to day life. So as you’re encouraging people to trust Jesus with their jobs, be an effective witness on their team, glorify God with their down time, live with purity at their school, or any host of other things they may face each and every day, Secret Church can reinforce what you’re saying as well as challenge you both to go further and walk closer with the Lord.

The below video may help you get a better feel for the topic.

Partner with your local church to host or participate with a small group in your home, and get the word out to anyone else who may be interested. Special early pricing ends on January 23, so REGISTER for the simulcast today!

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