Isn’t it remarkable that the same man who gave us the most transcendent statements about the resurrected and ascended Lord could be found making such earthy statements as this one? The same man who declared that we are “seated with Christ in heavenly places” also instructed the churches in the most menial of matters which pertain to the daily grind of life. I am convinced that his instruction has everything to do with establishing true foundations in the Church.
There is something crucial about the day-to-day reality of life and how we function within it that determines the degree to which we will rule and reign with Christ in the age to come.
There is a subtle kind of Gnosticism in the Church, which causes many to consider unearthly things as being superior to the world in which we live and function. This seems good at first glance, but it actually negates the ultimate intentions of God, Who intends to purge and unite heaven and earth rather than exchanging one for the other. In fact, at the end of the age, heaven and earth will be transfigured, glorified, and irrevocably conjoined. God will manifest Himself fully and permanently, abiding forever in the profound reality of that remarkable union.
“Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” (Rev. 21.3)
When we think of menial tasks as inherently unspiritual, we confine the faith to religious categories and functions, and it isn’t long before we have segregated our hearts into compartments that fail to pulsate with the life of God. We begin to compare ourselves with other men; strive for higher spirituality; and seek more esteemed religious positions. A form of asceticism begins to rear its ugly head.
The apostle Paul, who likely had more spiritual revelation than any man in his day, was also a very nuts and bolts kind of man. He could raise a boy from the dead one day and get blisters from working with leather the next. He could receive prophetic revelation and powerful gifts in a church gathering and maintain a spirit of prayer and faith while engaging in tasks that we would consider drudgery.
Paul knew that an unhealthy idea of spirituality could creep into the churches, and from time to time he was required to address it.
One of the last hiding places of our carnal ambition is found in our desire to be considered spiritual by other men. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were guilty of such. The apostle reminds us that our striving for recognition is grounded in the fact that we have not adequately sought the glory which comes down from God. We are striving for validation in a man-centered way, “and the end thereof is the way of death.”
I have met many men who are filled with anxiety and even depressions over the fact that they desire to be in “full-time ministry,” but no door has yet opened. Most are recently married or fathers of young children. Quite often I find that these men lack a value for their calling as husbands and fathers and their devotional lives are inconsistent. While the Lord may call and send young men to accomplish remarkable works, I am convinced that for most, the Lord would have them to focus firstly on learning to walk with Him in the kinds of tasks that we consider menial.
It doesn’t seem like a heroic ambition to “lead a quiet life,” but perhaps one of the greatest hindrances to the Church’s witness in the earth is that we are too quick to speak and too slow to listen. We want our ministries to be known; our distinctives to be recognized; our names to be exalted. Paul told the saints to be content to lay low. He charged them to allow the Lord to form Christ in them in the hidden places of life. In Paul’s apostolic view, such formation would cause our public proclamation to bear the weight of heavenly reality.
It doesn’t seem admirable to “attend to your own business,” but this is a necessity for the life which would be built on a true foundation. If our finances are out of order, our children are not rightly loved and disciplined, our spouses are neglected relationally, our devotional lives are sparse, and our work ethic is dishonoring to the Lord, why should we look for green ministerial grass on the other side? Do we assume that “full-time ministry” will remedy all of these maladies and distortions? We need to “attend” to our own business and allow the Lord to bring His government into our lives in the nit and grit of daily decisions and activities, or else we reject Paul’s apostolic instruction.
Lastly, he calls us to “work with our hands,” which is something both Jesus and Paul did. Can it be said that the hands of Jesus would not have had such healing effect in His ministry had He failed to abide in the Father during His carpentry days? If Jesus was totally submitted to the Father for His entire earthly life, then His carpentry days were just as ordained as the cross and resurrection themselves, but do we ever see it in this way? It is our tendency to highlight the raising of Lazarus or some other dramatic event in Jesus’ life. But the daily grind of sweat and labor in the carpentry shop was just as much a revelation of God as anything else in Jesus’ life, and He means to bring us into an experience and view of the same kind. Our Lord was just as Priestly in the sawdust of the carpentry shop as He was in the Temple at the hour of prayer. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
When we view our “menial” tasks as unspiritual, we open our souls to a numbness towards sonship, and we are more apt to fall into a spirit of complaining or a depressive attitude. But if we make it our ambition to love the Lord and honor Him in the midst of the monotony and grit of daily events, we will see the glory of it in the same way that Jesus did.
However the Lord calls you to work with your hands, the point is that Paul is calling us to a faithfulness in the practical affairs of life. If we have been unwilling for that, we are not likely to function as leaders in the Body of Christ, nor will we be fit to rule and reign in the age to come. The great majority of believers will not be pastors, prophets, teachers or missionaries by occupation. Most will function on grounds that seem spiritually unofficial. But if it is in the intention of the Father it is holy, holy, holy, and He calls us to an intimate union with Himself no matter where we are or how insignificant our position might appear.
The purposes of God are served in the formation of His servants when they give themselves to labor that is monotonous and predictable, that lacks any kind of flamboyance or charismatic excitement, but requires a steadfast patience and faithful performance, day after day.
…. we need to serve our apprenticeship in the things that are ordinary, unseen and undistinguished. We need to show ourselves faithful in those places so that we can be faithful in the true works of God. This is the sublime wisdom and requirement of God.
(Art Katz, Apostolic Foundations, Burning Bush Press: Bemidji, MN; 2009, p. 16)
Are you surrendered inwardly to the Lord in the unseen and menial tasks? Do you trust Him in hiddenness? Are you willing simply to honor Him by being responsible and faithful with the work He has before you today, even if no man thinks you are spiritual or worthy of esteem?
The way that we maintain communion with the Lord in the daily grind; the way that we steward our money and our work; and the way that we treat people when no immediate reward is in view; all of this determines whether or not we are moving into a true experience and expression of the Kingdom of God. A man may find himself neck-deep in the work of modern ministry, engaged in all types of seemingly spiritual labors, yet be totally out of touch with the One who has called him.
To know Him vitally in the midst of the menial and mundane affairs of life is to know Him indeed.