Built to Build: The Call of Vocations (Part 1)

After previously discussing 1 Corinthians 4, I want to rewind a chapter and review our vocational identity – what God intends us to be on the clock.

While we will ultimately need guidance from Colossians 2 to unpack this in full, for now let’s start with 1 Corinthians 3:9-11 (ESV):

For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Here, Paul, having emphasized church divisions (v. 1-4), is reminding the Corinthians to see Christ as their cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-22), as the foundation of life on which new life can be built. Unfortunately, like the Israelites in Judges, the Corinthians are strong in flesh and weak in discernment. A people ravaged by schismatic impulses, they are plagued by paganism and a past rooted in idolatry. Certainly, Paul couldn’t have been too surprised to hear reports of such dissension.

Athena

Yet, what Paul lacks in suspense, he makes up in candidacy, specifically we are servants designed for unity and God is the source and core of it all. What matters is not who gets this task and who gets that task, but rather why the task exists at all. For most of us, this makes sense, but to the Corinthians, a people who saw their value through who they followed, this would have been difficult to accept. Imagine your political preference and/or denomination of choice being your chief designation. “Hi, my name is Cameron and I’m a charismatic Republican.” A bit off-putting, right?­

Conversely, for Paul, affiliations meant nothing compared to eternal intent as evidenced in v. 9 (AMP):  

For we are God’s fellow workers [His servants working together]; you are God’s cultivated field [His garden, His vineyard], God’s building. “ 

Like 1 Corinthians 4:9-13, this is powerful imagery concerning our vocational identity. We aren’t just God’s workers, but fellow workers on mission with Christ doing good works in Gospel partnership (Phil. 1:5-6). Concerning our colleagues and clients, they’re also designed for God’s assignments, but whether they know it or not should not deter us from working peaceably as it depends on us (Romans 12:18). As long as we accept the call to be Christ’s championing companions, we can embrace unity as helpers of joy (2 Corinthians 1:24) while perceiving our cultivation as an overflow of God’s goodness.

After all…

…we don’t work to lay the foundation; we work because Christ is the foundation!

Put another way, as co-laborers and vocational leaders, we’re meant to be laid on, not laid upon; hence, why Jesus says in Mark 3:25, “…a house divided against itself cannot stand.” If we don’t value teamwork apart from personal gain, our operations will be hindered having affirmed our identity as the foundation.

Again, this offers quite the paradox to the natural mind. Are we the foundation Christ, the master builder, lays or are we the slab plan built on Christ the foundation, by Christ the builder? Personally, I side with the latter, especially when I note the Psalmist and weeping prophet (i.e. Jeremiah) who perceived identity as predestined (Psalm 139:13, Jeremiah 1:5), Christ’s work in them1 as destined, and God’s nature as perpetually present. Applying their worldview, we can rest knowing as vocational influencers, we can mature our reach knowing it is Christ in us who does the cultivating through our work.

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In other words…

He is the vine, we are branches…but we are also a part of His vineyard!

Sometimes, we get so discouraged being branches, we forget the beauty of the garden we’ve been planted in. This tells me not only do we need to know Christ as the foundation on which we stand, but also the cultivator who pours out seeing the growth before it happens.

Colossians 1:4 and 2:2 (AMP) captures this process beautifully.

We have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus [how you lean on Him with absolute confidence in His power, wisdom, and goodness], and of the [unselfish] love2 which you have for all the saints (God’s people)…For my hope is that their hearts may be encouraged as they are knit together in [unselfish] love, so that they may have all the riches that come from the full assurance of understanding [the joy of salvation], resulting in a true [and more intimate] knowledge of the mystery of God, that is, Christ…”

Combining these passages, we find the blueprint to living our vocational identity. When we’re overcome by disappointment, we choose gratitude seeking God in confidence. When we’re overwhelmed by hate, prejudice, and indifference we choose love seeking God in faith. And when we’re overpowered by unbelief and unforgiveness, we choose hope seeking God in His grace and power. In this way, we allow the towel (John 13: 1-9) to unfold as our hearts yearn to see others transformed and united by unselfish love. Granted, when we talk being on the job in the midst of funk and discrimination, this is easier said than done.

Then again, the whole point of Paul writing this is to encourage the Gentiles to desire unity with the Jews in hope to see them know Christ. And it’s this heart posture, I submit, we embrace as believing vocations on marketplace frontlines. Remember we are built up to build up, a process that with God knows no bounds.

As far as what we do between being built up in Christ and building up through Christ, Paul does give an additional template on this later in Colossians 2. For now, let’s pause and revisit the topic in next week’s post on how we contend for unity at work.

Selah.

Footnotes

  1. Ministry of reconciliation/sanctification
  2. The key to understanding this and other statements about love is to know that this love (the Greek word agape) is not so much a matter of emotion as it is of doing things for the benefit of another person, that is, having an unselfish concern for another and a willingness to seek the best for another.
Photo creds: FULLER studio