Choosing a Career

Yesterday, Keith offered some great biblical direction regarding a fundamental human relationship: marriage. Today, I thought I’d pass on a few things that speak to another core aspect of most of our lives: work.

I use the term “pass on” intentionally, since this list originates from Dan Doriani, head pastor at Central Presbyterian church in St. Louis and professor at Covenant Theological Seminary. It’s in the latter capacity that Dr. Doriani taught Life and Teachings of Jesus, our current Seminary 101 class and the occasion for him to share the following biblical principles about choosing a career. I’ll list them along with a few thoughts of my own.

1. You should choose a career that takes care of your basic needs. 1 Timothy 6 defines basic needs as food and covering (that is, clothing and shelter).

This may seem obvious to some, but it does speak to what appears to be a growing number of younger adults that seem more content with remaining at least partially dependent upon parents or other relatives rather than providing even for these basic needs.

2. Your career should be one that allows you to use your gifts, even if it’s not the most lucrative.

I would wager that not a few people trip up at precisely this point when considering their career, in part due to pressure from the expectations and values of our society. For example, it’s more prestigious and usually more financially rewarding to be a doctor, lawyer, or the like than, say, a landscaper or kindergarten teacher. Of course professions like law and medicine are wonderful (my family’s been grateful many times for the latter recently). However, God simply doesn’t equip or call everyone to follow those paths. Still, the fact that he does give gifts suitable to the entire range of human occupations underscores the value he places on them, regardless of whatever career hierarchies that we might have developed in our culture. Another way of saying this is that we’re to steward the entire creation (Gen. 1), not just parts of it.

Another important factor needs to be mentioned here: many people in occupations that they’re not gifted for don’t really enjoy them. And while no job is without frustration—we do live in a fallen world—we tend to like jobs that we’re better suited for.

3. Your career should allow you to do good to others. It should be an honest career, doing something constructive to help people.

“Doing good” here should be defined from a biblical perspective. So things like thievery and pornography, as well as other things that intentionally harm or exploit others, would obviously fail to satisfy the criteria.

4. Your career should give you and opportunity to manifest some aspect of God’s kingdom, God’s reign. Somehow you should have some opportunity in your career to move this world at least a little bit closer to the form that God wants it to have. “Your kingdom come” is a prayer that is relevant for your career choice. In other words, “May your kingdom come in what I do.”

The scope of God’s reign, with its innumerable creative, sustaining, and redemptive facets, is stunning. This means that there are any number of ways in which this criterion can be satisfied in most jobs. The landscaper mentioned above, for example, brings forth and shapes the beauty of God’s creation. An accountant allows for integrity and order in financial transactions. A doctor fights against injury and disease, aspects of a fallen world that God will ultimately put aright, etc.

As an aside, I’d note that it’s a good idea for anyone to consider carefully the ways in which their occupation can further God’s reign. You might even consider talking with others (pastors or mature Christians in your profession) who are able to give you more perspective on how your job might “fit” in God’s purposes.

5. If you get rich by accident, it’s okay, but don’t choose your career in order to get rich. “Watch out; be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist of the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).

The context of Dr. Doriani offering these principles was a discussion on the parable of the rich fool—the self preoccupied farmer who enjoyed a bountiful harvest then planned to build more barns to store it, reasoning he would then live an easy life and enjoy himself for many years. As the parable progresses, however, God unexpectedly requires his life that very night, leaving his wealth for another.

The warning that Jesus ends the parable with is worth repeating here: “This is how it will be for anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God” (read the whole passage at Luke 12:13-34). Likewise, Paul adds this in 1 Tim 6:6-10: “6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

(You can find the audio files and lecture transcripts for Life and Teachings of Jesus, as well as many other courses here. These principles came from lecture 17.)

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