26 Sep Work and the Mission Field
“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Colossians 3:23)
My vocation is by nature “for the Lord.” I came to Papua New Guinea to plant a church because I wanted to work for the Lord generally, and I believed this was the specific work to which God was directing me. So my Bible has a big indelible check mark in the margin next to Colossians 3:23. Or so you might assume–in which case you’d be wrong.
In reality, I’ve found that working for the Lord on the mission field, or in the highways or in the hedges is all about the same. The same challenges have confronted me regardless of what I am doing or where I am doing.
Fittingly, Colossians 3:23 is universally applicable: “whatever you do.” For me, whatever includes mission work, parenting, husbanding, yard work, plumbing, electrical work, ditch digging, and more. So the important question is how do I do my whatever for the Lord? It certainly is not enough to pursue my own ends by my own methods and then proclaim “the glory is God’s” in my acceptance speech or post-game interview. Colossians has more to say.
I’ve found that working for the Lord on the mission field, or in the highways or in the hedges is all about the same.
Verse 23 is a summarizing statement. The chapter starts by telling me to seek “the things above.” To work for the Lord, I must have the right aspirations with the right motivation. If I set out to store up heavenly treasures rather than earthly, I will be working “as for the Lord” because I will be pursuing things he approves of.
Conversely, earthly goals are characterized by “immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry” (v5). Any of these corrupt ends could become the object of my work. Therefore, my task is to set my mind on things above so I don’t bend my efforts towards evil rewards.
If I start with a biblical mindset and godly goals, I must then employ right methods. Evil practices like “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech” (v8) in my actions do not please God. Instead “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (v12) and ultimately love (v14) should distinguish my efforts. In my vocation or any other task I put my hand to, these attributes should be evident. And, of course, this should be sincere, not just a show (v22).
So the important question is how do I do my whatever for the Lord?
So in order to work “as for the Lord,” I must first set my mind on things that matter to God. Then, I must work in a way that pleases God.
These principles are critical when it comes to engaging our culture. In ministry–whether full-time, part-time, formal or informal–it is tempting to set our minds on the work we are doing or the people we engage. Either is idolatry.
If I place too much importance on my mission work, I can become consumed by pride, jealous of others’ success, greedy for recognition. If I overvalue the people I’m ministering to–working for their benefit in place of God–I can succumb to a fear of man, compromise truth to please people, become disheartened by an unfavorable response. So despite doing “God’s work,” I could potentially fail to work for God. But if, by the power of the Holy Spirit, my mind is set on Heaven, and I expect my reward from God alone, then my work can be effective and God-honoring. In that way, I can succeed in working “as for the Lord.”
-Joseph Osborn, Papua New Guenea