In Paul’s message to the many Christian converts in the churches he founded across the Greco-Roman world in the first- century, nowhere does Paul instruct these Christians to “pull up stakes,” gather up their belongings, and to “hit the road” as missionary evangelists in imitation of his own unique calling of God. Except for those very few who were called-out to join Paul for some portion of his missionary travels, and those in the future who might be called to the mission field, it was expected that these Christians in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and Thessalonica would carry on in their professions and trades in the commendable “occupy til I come” mode.
The fruits of the Spirit as enumerated by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23…love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance…have no connection to some special once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to a sacred mountain or some holy shrine. They are obtained by Christians through daily walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). This we can do right where we find ourselves, through prayer, Bible study, listening to God, and stepping out in obedience to His voice…none of which necessarily requires going anywhere special or doing anything grandiose through self-energized good works.
Becoming a transformed new person “in Christ” ready to share our testimony (1 Peter 3:15) and following Jesus by faith (Jn. 6:29) is the foundation for a life pleasing to God.
In other words, we do not have to have a spectacular calling and a renowned ministry to please God. All of the things that are typically considered commendable and admirable…financially supporting our families, performing at our best at work, investing time in our marriages, raising our children with wisdom, love, and patience, being a good friend, and setting an example to the world of what a Christian man or woman of God ought to be, amongst several other similar things, are all endeavors which without question or controversy please God and make Him proud of us.
I believe that some of the larger realities of life…building a good marriage, raising children, and pursuing excellence in our chosen careers…already have built-in journeys of faith pre-written into them. These are pre-scripted, ready to use, out-of-the-box vehicles the Holy Spirit can use to lead people into the “all truth” of Matthew 16:13….challenging, complex, and needing the participation of God in our lives just as much as a calling to become Christian missionaries in parts of Africa, New Guinea, or Nepal.
The Way of the Cross
Having that said, the biblical reality is that Jesus rejected the subtly counterfeit offer tendered by Satan of all of the kingdoms, wealth, and glory of the world, in the temptation in the wilderness, because these things already belonged to Jesus. Jesus is the singularly unique Person of “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The prince of Peace”…of Isaiah 9:6, even though He is found in the humble status of being a carpenter from Nazareth without any world-sanctioned pedigree to His credit.
The life-script composed by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit for Jesus to be the Lamb of God sacrifice for the sins of the world …is so far above the inconsequential offer of Satan to try to tempt Jesus with the temporary allure of the riches of this world…that if this offer was not presented with the intention of such universal collateral damage to the human race in mind, fueled by the most deadly malice, it would be almost laughable.
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mt. 6:33), does not say “and all these things shall be withheld from you.” Paul says in Philippians 4:11 “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” Peter expresses this well in the closing to his first epistle: “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you” (1 Pet. 5:10).
An instructive observation about the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible is that every single one without exception has nothing to do with achieving success in a worldly sense. There is not a single storyline in a God-composed life-script that chronicles a pathway, no matter how admirable and commendable in keeping with the “Protestant work ethic,” to worldly success, wealth, personal renown, and comfortable security (Lk. 12:16-21).
On the contrary, every biblical narrative story of faith is located at the elevated level of an adventure of faith far above the conventionally normative plans of everyday life. It is not that God dismisses these aspirations and responsibilities as unimportant…”your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things” (Lk. 12:30). It is simply that in a totally committed adventure of faith God has all of the practical necessities of life factored into the equation that will produce a divinely elevated outcome (Phil. 4:13). This applies equally to Christian medical missionary doctors in the Amazon rainforest, Christian CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, highly paid professional athletes, and to the elementary school janitor with a wife and two kids struggling to make ends meet.