This is part four of a 7-part series on the sacred/secular divide.
Last week we probed the depths of Genesis 1:26 & 28, discovering the Hebrew words and their original meanings. Today, we will take these ideas further. In Genesis 2:15, God gave specificity to His commands to have dominion and to bring order out of chaos by saying we are to “work” the ground, but curiously the word He uses for “work” in the Hebrew is “avad,” which is translated throughout the Old Testament into English as work, worship, and serve over 800 times. The Hebrew mind didn’t have a category for working that was also not serving others and worshipping their Creator at the same time. Neither should we. So why do we?
Hebrew Vs. Greek
The ideas of working, worshipping, and serving as distinct from one another didn’t become widespread until Greek thinking under Roman rule dominated much of the world. The Greeks looked down on working with one’s hands and glorified using the mind, which stemmed from their belief that matter was less valuable than spirit. Paul, the Hebrew, didn’t stand for this. Over and over he not only set an example by working himself, he commanded the new believers to use their gifts in the service of others. In 1 Thessalonians 2:9 Paul reminds these precious new believers of the example his band set for them:
“For you remember, brothers and sisters, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.”
Later in his letter he urges them to live quiet lives, “and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you…” (1 Thessalonians 4:11). He is actively fighting the Greek idea that sitting around and talking about the latest ideas (Acts 17:21) was more important than working diligently with one’s hands to provide for needs.
Work and Worship
Paul went further. In 2 Thessalonians 3:6 he uses even stronger language and “commands” the brethren in the name of the Lord Jesus not to associate with anyone who refuses to work.
“For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-9).
Paul stressed that he didn’t care so much about his rights, but about setting an example. He knew this young church needed to see what it looked like to follow Jesus in everyday life, so he couldn’t afford to ask them for support.
Paul regularly used the ordinary Greek word for service, “diakonia,” regularly despite our English translation to “ministry.” The Sacred/Secular divide would tell us that for those who really love God, we would spend our time at seminary, a church building, or on the mission field. Not only does the New Testament never imply that anywhere, it is very different from the way Paul lived.
Next week, we’ll look at the Sacred/Secular divide in church history.
Greg is the President of OPEN USA. He used his education to work as a tentmaker in the Middle East for 8.5 years seeking to plant a church amongst a least-reached people group. Currently back in the USA with his wife and children, they aim to return to finish what the LORD used them to start.
To learn more about B4T, read Business for Transformation by Patrick Lai.