For centuries Christianity in the western world has been infected by a disease. It was transmitted to us by some of the most important and influential thinkers in the history of Western Civilization. Chief among them would be the Greek Philosopher Plato. But quick on his heals would be Aristotle. Plato and Aristotle held a view of the world that essentially saw the spiritual world as good and the physical world as bad. The ideal is the spiritual. Everything that is physical is base and tainted and to be overcome.
The church took this philosophy and combined it with a false understanding of what the Bible, meant when it spoke of the flesh and the sinfulness of the flesh. Instead of understanding “the flesh” as meaning the sinful inclination that we all have as we live in the world, many people taught that anything having to do with the body and the physical world was bad. It didn’t help the situation any when the professional clergy allowed and even promoted a thinking and mindset that saw religious vocation as being spiritual and Godly and other vocations as being worldly even if necessary for this life.
Well it doesn’t take much of a leap to arrive at a place where Christians believed that those activities that are directly related to “church” functions are spiritual and other activities are worldly. Eventually pastors, whether Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Orthodox were seen, as the people doing real spiritual work and Christians who functioned in the work-a-day world were not. In the process we lost the understanding that everyone has a calling from God, not just those “called to ministry”.
There was a time when what someone did as their occupation was known as “their calling”. If you were a blacksmith then that was your calling. If you were a mechanic, or mother, or a seamstress, or butcher, baker, or candlestick maker, that was your calling. We used a term that made this clear. We said that what you did in your job was your “vocation”. It comes from the same root as the word vocal. It was understood that God had in some way spoken and called you to that vocation. In addition, he wired you in some way so that you could be good at that calling.
This dualist world of a sacred arena and a secular arena was not what God created. God created a physical universe. In that physical universe he placed physical human beings. When He looked across all that He had created He did not say, “Well that’s not too bad. It is not as wonderful as the spiritual realm I have made, but it is not too bad”. Far from it, instead God looked out over all that His hands had made and he said that is good. In fact all during the creation process, at each step along the way, God pronounced each individual piece as good. When He finished with the whole thing He didn’t just say it was good. He looked at the physical world and said it was VERY GOOD!
Perhaps the most important demonstration God gives us that the physical world is not bad or evil or inherently sinful is to be found in Jesus Christ. God came into the world as the man Jesus. The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus was fully a man, facing all things as we do yet without falling to sin and at the same time fully God. He claimed equal authority with the Father, to forgive sins, to be worshipped, even to lay claim to ownership of the Temple. Theologians call the doctrine of the Son becoming man, The Incarnation. It gets defined as meaning “to be in the flesh”. The key root word is familiar to any lover of a good thick bowl of chili con carne. It is chili with meat. The incarnation is the biblical doctrine that God came and took on or became meat. It doesn’t get more material, physical, or fleshly than that. If there physical world as somehow inherently evil and the spiritual was the only good, then the incarnation would have never happened. Jesus would not have gone to the cross for our sin. And we would be destined to an eternal punishment.
But it was not just that Jesus became flesh that breaks down the sacred/secular divide. We also need to remember that Jesus only spent three years “doing ministry”. He spent eighteen years doing “secular” work. He fulfilled the calling of being a carpenter. What he did as a carpenter was good. He did it in obedience to the calling the Father had placed on his life. He did it as an act of worship. It is no different in your life. What you do serving in some identified area of “ministry” is important. But what you do in service to God in the marketplace, the school, the community group, or your home is also sacred. It is something that God has called you to for His glory, the praise of His name, and the expanding of His kingdom.