The following is a lightly edited transcript
I live close to here, so I got up this morning at about 6:00 a.m. and put on my cutoff Dockers and a T-shirt, and I ran downtown. I was going to run by here, praying for all of you, saying, “God, give me a message.” I didn’t even start preparing until this morning. I knew I had a book to speak from, but that’s a lot to say. So I just said, “God, please. I want to say something helpful to these folks.” And so, I was running by in front of the Marriott here, and I passed five clustered teenagers, probably 18 or 19 years old, and they were all dressed kind of grungy.
As I ran by them I thought, “Hm, maybe they’ve got the answer.” So I turned around down here at Hennepin, or wherever I was, and as I came running back, said, “Lord, if they’re still there, I’m going to do this little survey.” I was sweating like crazy, and I’m 64 years old, wearing cutoffs, and standing outside a hotel where you’re supposed to have on a suit. It was weird. I said to them, “In about three hours, I’m going to speak to 300 businessmen here, and I want to do a survey. I’m supposed to tell them how not to waste their lives. How would you answer that question? What would you say?”
Well, one of them walked away, as if to say, “This is weird. This is not reliable.” But the others hung out, and I just wanted to tell you one of their answers. The first answer out of one guy’s mouth was, “Tell them to stand on their own two feet.” Well, that’s not the message I’m going to give you. So, I mention it just to put in stark relief how different what I have to say will be, because that’s the message of the world. In business or in life the message is, “Be strong, be competent, be able, and stand on your own two feet.” And of course, that’s better than standing on somebody else’s two feet, but it’s not the message of the Bible, and it’s not the way to make much of Christ. You can make much of yourself that way, big time, and get in all the lists, but not make much of Christ. I want to talk about what is a wasted life for a minute and what is a non-wasted life, and then we’ll turn specifically to the business world.
Lose Your Life to Find It
What is a wasted life? I preached on it three days ago. In Matthew 16:24–26, Jesus said:
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
So Jesus is crystal clear: If you want to waste your life, gain it. Live for gain, and gain the whole world, and then watch how it feels on your deathbed and forever. But if you want to not waste your life, come after him. So that’s pretty clear, I think. If you gain the whole world, don’t make much of Christ, don’t make much of the gospel, live for yourself, and follow the advice of the teenagers, Wall Street, and probably every magazine you read on your desk, you will lose your soul, you will waste your life, and you will help other people lose theirs, and get rich in the process.
Living When Dying Is Gain
What would Paul say in relation to this? I’m in Philippians. He was in prison, and it looked like he was wasting his time. But in Philippians 1:12, he writes to them and says:
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel …
So he’s saying, “I’m not wasting my time here. I am totally engaged in what I live for here.” And then he explains how, saying, “The gospel is going to be preached one way or another by these emboldened people and these rascals who want to make my suffering worse” (Philippians 1:15–18). Then he says that he rejoices and asks them to rejoice with him, and he adds this key phrase in Philippians 1:20–21. Oh, I hope you can speak these words. I preached this text in my candidating sermon at Bethlehem 30 years ago. This is my life. I want to be this way. Paul says:
It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Then, if you jump over to Philippians 3:8 you pick up what he means. He says:
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
In other words, “The way that Christ is life to me and life is Christ to me is that I value him at every moment over what I’m doing. I value him at every moment over what I’m having. I value him at every moment over who I’m talking to. That’s how my life is Christ. And why is dying gain? Because to die is to go and be with Christ, which is far better.” So that if you put your ledger out there, and the assets are Christ, and everything else is loss because you’re dying, and you add it all up, Paul says, “Gain.” That’s how he magnifies Christ in his dying.
Imagine you’re on your deathbed. You’re leaving everything. You’re leaving your family. You’ll never see your grandkids, maybe. You’ll never get the retirement you wanted. Your wife goes, family goes, successful business goes, dreams go, and all you get is Jesus. What are you going to say? Well, Paul said, “Gain.” And if you were watching him at that moment, and we do get to watch him, you would say, at least in his life, “Christ is being made much of.” So that’s how you do it. You treasure him above business. You treasure him above wife. You treasure him above money. You treasure him above the dreams of attention from the world and the guild. That’s the not-wasted life. Jesus teaches against the wasted life, the teenager portrays the wasted life, and Paul portrays the unwasted life.
To the Praise of His Glorious Grace
Now, before I turn to business — your 8:00 to 5:00 experience — let me refine what it means a little bit more about making much of Christ, because God does not leave us in the dark about what he wants you to think and feel about this; he thought it up in eternity. Ephesians 1:4–6 says:
He chose us in him before the foundation of the world…he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace …
What I’m adding with that text is this: Making much of Christ, or making much of God from 8:00 to 5:00, means getting in line with this eternal purpose unto the praise of the glory of his grace. Grace is the apex of the glory of God. He’s glorious in every way — glorious in his justice, glorious in his wisdom, glorious in his wrath, and glorious in his patience. And he is supremely, most-admirably, stunningly, unspeakably, un-human-like glorious in his grace. That’s what Ephesians 1:6 means. The idea of God being magnified for his grace originated in eternity. Listen to this from 2 Timothy 1:9:
[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began …
That’s amazing. Do you see what it implies? What is grace? Grace was given to you, believer, before the world was created. There hadn’t been any sin yet. There wasn’t any need for grace before the world existed. In fact, there was no grace being shown in the Trinity. In order for God to display grace, what had to happen? First, a world had to be created. Human beings in the image of God with moral life and accountability had to be created. Satan had to fall, tempt Adam and Eve, and they had to fall so that there could now be grace. Saving undeserving sinners by grace could not have happened without sin, and this is saying, “I planned grace before the ages.” I just think it’s good to lose your breath every now and then. I think it’s good to be shut up by the Bible every now and then, to read things that just make you go, “Whoa, I don’t think I can even go there.” And then just go to bed and get up and say, “Okay, I’m either bailing on this Bible, Christian stuff, or I’m going to submit to it.”
The Slain Lamb’s Book of Life
Now, here’s just one more refinement of this grace piece. I almost said before that he did it through the cross. Revelation 13:8 says:
And all who dwell on earth will worship [the beast], everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world …
What’s the name of the book in which they were written before the world was created? What’s the name of the book? Anybody remember? Here’s the name of the book: “The book of the life of the lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:8). That’s the plan, because God knows what the apex of glory looks like; it looks like grace. And he knows that the apex of grace is God dying for enemies.
So now we’re a little clearer on what we’re making much of. It isn’t a hazy notion of Christ or God. It’s a certain kind of God and a certain Christ. It’s a certain history of redemption. It’s a certain fall and rescue process, and it’s a certain climactic moment. It happens this week, a day after tomorrow when the son of God, the God-man, the second person of the Trinity, incarnate and virgin-born, living without sin, set his face like a flint to go to Jerusalem and be spit upon, crowned with thorns, stabbed, killed, and mocked.
That’s how God is going to fulfill his purpose to get glory for his grace everywhere on the planet. So when I turn now to making much of Christ from 8:00 to 5:00, I mean this Christ. I mean this grace. I mean this grace most supremely manifest in this moment in history, namely when the Son of God paid a ransom for people like me with a long track-record of failure everywhere in my life. So I love the gospel. I love grace. I love the cross. I love the God who conceived it. I’m happy to let him be sovereign, and I just want to help you, if I can, make him look good at work.
Working for the Lord
Secular work — which may not be a good phrase, but you know what I’m talking about — is a good thing, and I just want to underline that first. It’s a really good thing. To work not in the church is a really good thing. It is absolutely essential. God created the universe in order that you might be salt and light everywhere and not leave the world. In John 17:15, Jesus prays to his Father, and says:
I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.
The last thing on Jesus’s mind was that everybody should leave his job. He never thought of such a thing. I’ll show you some more texts on that, but let me give you a quote from Martin Luther on this topic. I love Luther. I love him because he’s a sinner. He had a mouth that always needed repentance, and he repented well. He loved Christ and leaned on grace, so let him talk. Here it is:
It is pure invention that the pope, bishops, priests, and monks are to be called the spiritual estate, but princes, lords, artisans, and farmers, the temporal estate. That is indeed a fine bit of lying and hypocrisy. All Christians are truly of the spiritual estate, and there is among them no difference at all but that of office.
To make it still clearer, if a little group of pious Christians — laymen — were taken captive and sat down in a wilderness, and had among them no priest consecrated by a bishop, and if there in the wilderness, they were to agree, choosing one of themselves, married or unmarried, and were to charge him with the office of baptizing, saying mass, absolving, and preaching, such a man would as be truly a priest as though all bishops and popes had consecrated him. There is really no difference between laymen and priests, princes and bishops, spirituals and temporals, as they call them, except that of office and work.
A cobbler, a smith, and a farmer each has the work and office of his trade, and yet they are all alike consecrated priests. Everyone by means of his own work or office must benefit and serve every other, that in this way, many kinds of work may be done for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the community, even as all the members of the body serve one another.
So Luther says yes to work. Work was God’s idea before the fall. It’s not a curse. It became sweaty, futile, frustrating, and hard after the fall, but we’re in the business of reclaiming things biblically from that curse, as much as we can in a fallen age that won’t be fully made right until Jesus comes.
Goers and Senders
I do not regard it as one of my high callings, or main callings, to tell businessmen to live their lives for Jesus. I’m doing it here, and I’m loving it. But I feel mainly driven, when I’m outside my pulpit, to talk to younger people and tell them to die for Jesus somewhere, somehow — to really get radical and to dream a different dream than the American dream. I know that I’m talking a different language than the 8:00 to 5:00 job language. I do that, and I’m okay with that because I believe in what you do so much. But I just see the unreached peoples of the world out there — thousands of people groups with no gospel witness — and I’m on a recruitment mission.
But here’s the catch: If you do that in your local church, you can create a lot of trouble because there’s mainly lay-people out there who are working to make a living from 8:00 to 5:00. You can’t preach that way Sunday after Sunday and help the vast majority of the people. It became clear to me about 27 years ago, in 1983 and 1984, that our church was dividing among the really sold-out, overseas people who really believed in it and gave their life to it, and on the other side, the work on the ground, make a name for Jesus here and now in the workplace kind of people. And tensions were emerging.
So I developed messages about that, and just one of the points I made to pull the working people — the people that support all the rest of them — back into significance in the church, was to preach from this text from Romans 15:24, where Paul wrote to the Romans, whom he was going to go to spend some time with before going to Spain. This was a church in Rome, probably made up mainly of slaves, artisans, and business people — whatever they did to make the world work — and in the passage he says:
I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.
In other words, “Don’t go with me.” And I just stressed this idea: “Don’t go with me. Send me. Support me.” So just at that level alone, Paul is endorsing not being pastors and missionaries. Now, here’s a more, I think, penetrating text on this point. In 1 Corinthians 7:17–24, Paul is talking about callings. There’s a Christian calling out of darkness into light, and everybody who’s a Christian has experienced that. God called us. And then there’s a vocational calling, and both terms are used in this passage. Here’s what he says about the condition in which we were called to be Christians. In 1 Corinthians 7:24, he says this:
So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.
I love that phrase — “remain there with God.” That’s the new reality. You might be taken loose from your job and brought full-time into CBMC (Christian Business Men’s Connection), or you might, in the last 30 years of your life, serve a mission agency, or whatever. But for now, this passage says stay there with God.
Making Much of Christ in the Workplace
So here we are. This is the question: What are the ways that you make much of God, much of Christ, much of grace, and much of the cross, by staying there? I’ll just work through these quickly.
1. Abiding Fellowship
You make much of Christ in your secular work by going to work in fellowship with Christ, and enjoying him and his fellowship all day long. That’s your first task. How do you make much of him? Get up in the morning. Do what you have to do to get reacquainted with him. Listen to him. Become thankful to him. Get a promise from him. Strengthen your heart in him. Treat the family well from his strength. Get in your car, enjoy him all day long, and draw strength out of that fellowship and enjoyment. I’ll just mention two pieces regarding that.
One piece is that all day long, you are aware, because God has taught you this, that everything you have, every thought you think, every feeling you have, every word you speak, every gift you have for organization and management, all the movement of your hands and feet, and all your eyesight and your hearing, are an undeserved gift of grace, and you ought to be thanking him in your heart all day long that you’re alive and have these gifts. This is just the demeanor of humility. So that’s the first way you fellowship with Jesus. You’re just saying all day long, “Thank you. Thank you for helping me. Thank you that I can breathe. Thank you that I have a job or don’t have a job. Thank you.”
And then the other piece is, you’re going to be facing challenges all day long that are way beyond your ability, at least if you want something significant to happen. If you can manage it, it’s probably not significant. But if you want something significant — ripple effects for God, ripple effects for eternity, and ripple effects that are huge and are way beyond your ability to think through or make happen — then you need to be trusting promises moment by moment.
So get up in the morning and don’t just vaguely read the Bible; ransack the Bible for a promise. Think, “I have to have a promise. I have to know something to lean on today.” This morning, I finished Deuteronomy just in time to start Joshua tomorrow. That’s the way my reading plan works. I read the last two chapters of Deuteronomy this morning. Here’s the verse. I’m going with this all day. This is my life, even walking up here and doing this right now. This is Deuteronomy 33:26. I had to look up Jeshurun in this passage. It’s another name for Israel. The verse says:
There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty
Okay, that’s it. That’s all I need for today. I’m going with that all day long. He is riding through the skies to the Marriott. I totally believe that. Right now, God is here. There are reasons I should not be doing this and can’t be doing this. God is here. But what makes that verse so amazing to me is that you have two things happening as he rides through the skies — he is coming to my help and in his majesty. Isn’t it awesome to have the kind of God who exalts his majesty in helping the weak? That’s my life. That’s my theology. God makes much of his majesty by helping dependent, weak sinners like me.
I’m at work right now, right? This is my work. I do this all the time, and I am desperate all the time that more would happen than I can make happen. I can talk, but I can’t save your soul and I can’t strengthen your heart. I can’t save your marriage. I can’t put Christ in your work. God can. Therefore, I’m desperate for God every time I stand up like this. So enjoy his fellowship by thanking him and trusting his promises all day long.
2. God-exalting Creativity and Industry
You make much of Christ in your secular work by the joyful, trusting, consciously God-exalting design of your creativity and industry. That’s a long sentence. Let’s think about the words creativity and industry. By industry, I mean work hard, and by creativity, I’m saying every Christian in business should be creative. There’s a zillion ways to be that in your spheres.
But I’m really uncomfortable with that because beavers are hardworking, and spiders produce a beauty more beautiful than anything you will ever produce. If you don’t know spiderwebs, get to know them. They do it all in one night. They’re very efficient at making webs, but mainly their webs are beautiful. Spiders aren’t beautiful, but spiderwebs are beautiful, with dew on them as the sun rises. And then they vanish, which is also a parable. But if spiders and hummingbirds and ants and beavers work their tails off, you’re just animals if that’s all you do. So I can’t state that as one of your goals, which is why I put in front of it the phrase joyful, trusting, consciously God-exalting design.
Do you get it? I’m saying you’re different from a beaver. You’re not a hummingbird. You’re not an ant. You’re not a spider. You are in the image of God Almighty. He created you absolutely unique among all the beings of the world, and the difference is not that you can work hard; animals work hard. It’s not that you can create beautiful things; they create beautiful things. Rather, it’s that you can think about it. You can plan it. You can dedicate it. You can trust him for it. You can praise him in it. You can put it all in a God-context and render praise back to him in and through it. It can be conscious and not just instinctive like with the animals. That’s a huge, huge thing.
The rivers do clap their hands, the hills sing for joy, and the heavens declare the glory of God, so I’m not saying spiders don’t glorify God. That’s why they’re in the world. Everything glorifies God, but they don’t glorify God consciously. So when you go to work, consciously think and say, “I’m going to work hard today, I am going to ask for as much creativity as God would give me, and then I’m going to create things and work hard at it. They’re going to be excellent and creative, I’m going to work hard, I’m going to do it in total reliance on him, and I’m going to dedicate it all to him. I’m going to honor him in it. I’m going to shape it by what I know of him.” So then you will not be like a beaver.
3. Adorning the Gospel
You make much of Christ in your secular work when it confirms and enhances the portrait of Christ’s glory that people hear in the spoken gospel. Our work confirms and enhances the picture that we are depicting of Christ, when we have occasion to speak. One of the reasons I’m going at these points in this way for just a few more minutes is that I don’t want the only focus to be that the meaning of your work is mainly that you get opportunities to witness that way, though it is absolutely true. In fact, I’ll say that working in the world creates a web of relationships that you wouldn’t have any other way. That web of relationships is designed by God, for life and word, to put the gospel out there. Absolutely. Amen. If it isn’t spoken, you won’t glorify God.
But the reason you’re working, building a company, creating a product, offering a service, is, to use the words of Paul, “to adorn the doctrine of God” (Titus 2:10). In the analogy of adornment, the woman is the gospel and the necklace is your work. She’s there, and she’s gorgeous — namely, the cross and Christ. That needs to be spoken. No amount of good work is going to make that plain. That has to be spoken or written. You have to get that into people’s heads somehow — a book, a track, a conversation, or maybe an invitation to church.
They have to get the information about the woman, but your work can make her look horrible, if people see your life and think, “This guy is a jerk. I wouldn’t want to sign a contract with him in 1,000 years or buy a car from him.” If that happens, then the woman is just muddy. You just drug her through the dirt. But if you put a magnificent necklace on her and people say, “Whoa. Now she’s even more attractive,” then you’ve done for the gospel what your work is supposed to do. You all know this. I have a friend who has done this well, and some of you are going to know who I’m talking about. He was in pharmaceutical sales, so he traveled around selling drugs. I don’t know how he did it, but he got really rich and he was really effective.
Then he quit at about age 55, and now he’s serving at Twin Cities Church, so you probably know who this is if you go to that church. He’s radically, totally into missions, and risks his life all over the world. I said to him one day, “How did you get so good at selling pharmaceutical stuff?” And he said, “One word — trust. People trusted me. No sham, no artificiality. What you see is what you get. Every word was kept. Every appointment was on time. There was a total follow through. I was with them all the way. People didn’t need to listen to anybody else’s sales pitch because I was with them.”
Now, that’s an adornment of the gospel, big time.
4. Benefiting People
You make much of Christ in your secular work by earning enough money to keep you from depending on others, while focusing on the helpfulness of our work and our product, not the financial rewards. That’s a tricky one in dealing with money, right? Business is about money. Business is about profits. So I’m saying that it’s right and good to make a living. That’s totally biblical. I could read you texts. I probably should pass over them. Here’s one:
If anyone will not work, let him not eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
You know these texts, okay? You believe in work. That’s why you’re doing it. So God calls you to work. He calls you to make a living. You should make a living. You should make money. Your businesses should prosper, and you should not make that your primary focus. You have a product or you have a service, and you should be thinking, “This product should really benefit people. This service should really benefit people. I want to make the best product.” If you do that, you’re probably going to beat your competitor and you’re going to prosper, but your goal is, “I’m serving people with my product, and I’m serving people with my service.” If you get off of that goal, if you get off the love goal and move onto the profit motive as your bottom line, you will cease to make much of Christ and instead you will make much of dollars for the rest of your days.
The Bible is really clear that we should not work for the bread that perishes (John 6:27), which doesn’t mean don’t work for a living. It means don’t focus on it. Work with an eye that is not mainly toward money, but to usefulness, which means some of you might have to change your job. This is tricky, and I wish there were time to talk more about that if you’re in an industry, you’re not the guy who runs the company, you’re somewhere in the middle, and you think they’re making some bad choices. I don’t think you’re immediately a sinner to stay there. The trickle down effect of accountability in a company can be complicated. Think about the janitor who cleans up at night. He’s paid by the company and the company is selling stuff he wouldn’t buy. Is it okay for the janitor to keep his wife and family alive through that work? I think it probably is. God may open another door, but as you move up in responsibility, the crisis of conscience increases as to whether the business is good for people.
5. Getting to Give
You make much of Christ in your secular work by earning money with a desire to use the money for others. Listen to these texts:
If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8).
In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak (Acts 20:35).
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).
You can either steal to get, work to get, or work to get to give. Do you get that? I’m saying at the profit level, at the money level, make your business creative, industrious, need-meeting, and thus probably successful. And then dream, like John Wesley said, “Make as much as you can and give as much as you can.” The problem with wealth in our country is not that people make it, but that they keep it. You should live a relatively simple life. You don’t need to have all the symbols of making $300,000 a year. Have the symbols of making $80,000 or $90,000. That would be a really comfortable life. Then dream a dream for that capital in your business, or for that foundation, or giving, or whatever. Dream a dream. It is more blessed to give than to receive. When the world sees that, as much as they can see that, Christ will be made much of.
So getting back to the text in Philippians 1:20–21, let your earnest desire be that Christ might be magnified in your body, whether by life or by death, or by your job from 8:00 to 5:00.