02 Oct 2013

Toiling (Less?) Until Redemption

A previous post argued that the toil and hardship we face in our daily work is one of the means God uses to focus our attention on the world to come. The struggles we face with our jobs are reminders that this world is passing away and we should guard against setting our hopes on temporal realities.

A natural question then becomes, "If God is using those hardships for my good, is it wrong for me to avoid them when possible?" Perhaps surprisingly, the answer from Scripture is, "No." We are actually free to reduce toil and hardship, even when they might be an aid in our sanctification. How can we draw such a conclusion? The apostle Paul provides the principle for us:

Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God. 1 Corinthians 7:20-24

God is sovereign over every aspect of our lives. In the preceding verses Paul encourages those who are single to remain single if they can remain morally pure (1 Cor. 7:8-9) and he instructs those who are married to remain married (1 Cor. 7:10-16). Whether circumcised or uncircumcised, a believer should be content with his status (1 Cor. 7:18-19). Paul concludes, "Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called." (1 Cor. 7:20) Whether single, married, circumcised, or uncircumcised, Paul urged contentment. But when he speaks to those bound in a state of slavery, he leaves the door open for change, "If you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity."

In other passages addressing slaves, the apostles are always careful to instruct them to approach their slavery as a tool that aids in their spiritual growth (Eph. 6:5-8; Col. 3:22-25; 1 Tim. 6:1-2; Tit. 2:9-10; 1 Pet. 2:18-21). Even here in 1 Corinthians, we see that slaves were not to despise their status, for Paul tells them, "Do not be concerned about it." He knows God will use whatever circumstances they face as slaves for their good (Rom. 8:28), yet that benefit does not preclude them from gaining their freedom. We should understand, then, that while God may redeem the hardships we suffer in this world, He does not ask us to seek them out or demand that we remain under them.

Is your boss a jerk? Perhaps you may influence him through your humility and faithfulness (Mt. 5:14-16), but perhaps not (1 Cor. 7:16). Does your job demand more than you have to give? While God may use those circumstances to teach you patience or compassion, he does not forbid you from seeking other employment. Is there a potential employer who offers better compensation or additional benefits? Consider your options and seek wise counsel from trusted friends. Regardless of the specifics, God will have no shortage of means to continue drawing our hearts away from the shadows of this world to focus on the realities that are yet to come. A new job will never offer complete relief from the trials of this world, but if those trials can be lessened, enjoy your new status with thanksgiving for God's merciful provision. While there may be virtue in suffering (Rom. 5:3-5), volunteering for it doesn't necessarily bring any special benefit.