Theology & Worship, Work

Erasing the Sacred-Secular Divide

In their book, The Gospel at Work, Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert write that “Work is not just a way to pass the time and make money. Your job is actually service that you render to the Lord himself!”1 It’s easy to look at a pastor and see how his job reflects this statement. Of course his work is service to God—serving God is literally in his job description! But this statement is true of all our jobs, and the call to serve God through our work has been placed on every believer, not just on those who are employed by a church or other Christian organization.

For the majority of Christian history, there has been a divide between work that is considered sacred and work that is considered secular. If you were employed by the Church, then your work was sacred; every other kind of work was considered secular. We continue to see this sacred-secular division today. Even though the culture has lost much of its respect for clergy, it still relegates pastors, ministers, priests, etc. to a different class than the rest of working society.

Unfortunately, this divide is evident in the church as well. The “professionals”—those who are out in front leading, speaking, and preaching each week—are considered the true ministers. They’re doing the “sacred” work, meaning everyone else’s work falls into the “secular” category. When we look in Scripture and read what God says about our work, however, the “sacred” and “secular” designations we’re so accustomed to simply aren’t there.

In Colossians 3.23-24, Paul says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (emphasis added). In Ephesians 6.5, 7, Paul tells us to do our work “with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ . . . rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man.” And in 1 Corinthians 10.31, we’re instructed, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (emphasis added).

Notice two things about these verses: 1) Although some of them are directed toward certain groups of people, Paul doesn’t suggest that one type of work honors God while another doesn’t. Twice in these verses, he says, “Whatever you do.” Paul wants these believers to know that their capacity to worship and honor God isn’t limited by their profession. 2) These letters were addressed to groups of churches, not just to pastors. The call to honor God with our work extends to every believer, not just to those who hold positions of leadership in the church.

As a pastor, one verse I remind myself of often is Ephesians 4.12, where Paul says that God gave leaders to the church “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” He doesn’t say God gave leaders so they could do all the ministry; rather, the job of leaders is to help the rest of the church fulfill its call to minister. It’s not just pastors who have been given the responsibility and privilege of doing ministry–it’s the whole Body of Christ working together to obey God and carry out the work he has called us to.

God has a lot to say about work in his Word, but he doesn’t distinguish between types of work that honor him and types that don’t; instead, he tells us all our work can and should be done for his glory, and that means your job, whether it’s in the church or outside of it, is sacred and is a means by which you can worship God and point others to Jesus.

1 Sebastian Trager and Greg Gilbert, The Gospel at Work (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018), 16.

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