Ryan J. Pemberton
I often wondered whether business in general, and sales-related business specifically, could be amenable to the Gospel. As a 20-something young professional finding success in the business world, I began to feel uneasy about my work. “Can I follow God in this position?” I wondered. “Is this really where He wants me?”
Search as we might, we won’t find a Bible passage that tells us whether our current job is the right one. However, there are helpful texts, such as the two stories of men meeting Jesus for the first time found in Luke 18–19. Their responses illustrate what following Jesus actually requires.
What If My Job Is Questionable?
Luke 19 tells the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus, the tax collector—a detested job if ever there was one. Luke tells us that the crowd is shocked by Jesus’ request to stay at Zacchaeus’ home. To them, he was a sinner by virtue of his trade. Luke also mentions his wealth (19:2). Not only did Zacchaeus have an unpopular career, he was good at it.
If anyone could expect to be called out of their job, it would be Zacchaeus, and yet that wasn’t the case. Instead, Jesus praises Zacchaeus for his change of heart. Brought face-to-face with Jesus, Zacchaeus says, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (19:8). Jesus recognizes Zachaeus’ generosity as a mark of his role in the family of God: “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9). While Christians ought to refuse any work that causes others to stumble (Luke 17:1–2), Jesus appears less concerned with the “what” of our work and more concerned with the “how.”
When Our Work Obstructs Our Faith
There are some instances, though, where we must prayerfully consider whether our career hinders our pursuit of Christ.
In Luke 18, a rich man of influence comes to Jesus with a question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18). He claims he has kept all the commandments. “What more could I possibly do?” he seems to be asking. Jesus’ response: Sell all you have, give it to the poor, and follow me (Luke 18:22).
These words hold true for us: Christ must come first. Typically our jobs are not evil in and of themselves, and we can follow Jesus while working diligently in them. But they can become an idol if we let them, and we are called to rid ourselves of idols.
In Ephesians 6:5–8, Paul advises his readers to work for earthly employers “not only to win their favor … but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.” We are to “serve wholeheartedly” in our work, as if we are working for God Himself, but we must be certain that God comes first. We must be careful not to allow our work or income to replace the priority of serving God and loving others.
Following God Where You Are
The Bible does not attempt to tell each Christian whether their current job is the right one. And yet, in these two examples, we see that (almost) any job can be where we are “supposed” to be—as long as we follow Christ in them, refusing to make our career an idol. If we find we cannot follow God without leaving a job, we can trust His Spirit to lead us in His will through prayer for discernment (Jas 1:5; Phil 4:6–7).
In most cases, however, God calls us to follow by selflessly devoting ourselves to Him—right where we are—as living sacrifices (1 Pet 2:5; Rom 12:1), as joy-filled agents of redemption, and as part of a complete cruciform life. Such a calling can be just as daunting as dropping our nets to follow Him.
Biblical references are taken from the New International Version (NIV).