If you have been to a summer camp or a revival service, you are probably familiar with the appeal to young people to commit to full-time service to the Lord. We are generally familiar with the term “full-time service,” but just to reiterate, a full-time minister is a man, sometimes a woman, who exchanges a full-time job for evangelism and work in organized Christian ministry, and who earns their livelihood through the regular giving of believers to that ministry. The number of full-time Christian workers is naturally much smaller than the total number of believers. That means that far more Christians will be laymen than full-time workers.
However, the calling of working with the hands (or with the brain) is just as much a calling from God as the calling to those who enter full-time ministry. 1 Corinthians 7:17 says, in essence, that men and women should continue in their present course of life unless God tells them otherwise: “But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.” Not to have a calling for full-time work is itself a calling to function normally in the world. “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called” (1 Corinthians 7:20). By virtue of not being called to do something different, the vast majority of believers have God’s stamp of approval to continue in the ordinary, yet necessary, labor of life, occupation, and home.
Consider the Christians in the New Testament that we know were laymen. The Ethiopian eunuch was a government official (Acts 8:27); so was Cornelius (Acts 10:1). Simon, who had the means to give Peter a place to stay so he could preach to Cornelius was a leatherworker, or tanner (Acts 9:43). Lydia was a Philippian merchant of purple cloth (Acts 16:14) who almost certainly ended up part of the same local church as the well-known Philippian jailer. Aquila and Priscilla, Paul’s long-term ministry companions, were tent makers (Acts 18:3); in fact, they supported themselves so successfully they had a house that believers could meet in (1 Corinthians 16:19). Luke was a physician (Col. 4:14). Tychicus was a scribe (Philippians 4:18), and Zenas was a lawyer (Titus 3:13). A number of believers were employed in the household staff of emperor Nero (Philippians 4:22).
Other believers had unknown occupations, but the profit of their labor allowed them to build households. Paul mentions these people by name: Aristobulus and Narcissus (Romans 16:10-11), Stephanus (1 Cor. 16:15), and Onesiphorus (2 Tim. 4:19). Philemon, the famous recipient of one of Paul’s letters, was a landowner with a household as well. Paul mentions these people because the profit of their labor was a direct blessing to him. The believers had Philippi—perhaps Lydia and the jailer among them—sent to Paul two gifts of money they had earned in their various occupations (Philippians 4:16).
From his experience being blessed by the labor of laymen, as well as by the Spirit, Paul understood that it is the army of the saints that do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12). Part of the ministry that believers accomplish is being a testimony to the unsaved in our communities. 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 specifically mentions this result of hard work done by believers: “And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; that ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.” The work of laymen accomplishes a real-world good: when you work hard, you meet your own needs, but you also accomplish a spiritual good: unbelievers in the community observe believers labor, they see the fruit of their labor, and they see the fruit of the Spirit working through the Christians as they work. Laymen show unbelievers “the gospel with work gloves,” and since they work together, laymen have the best opportunity to communicate the gospel as well.
Laymen are important. They were important in the early church, and they are important now. In fact, God gives most believers the permission to continue in work of mind and hands, because it is the way He has designed the world. Not only are Christian laymen able to meet the needs of themselves and their families, they function as important bridge to unsaved people throughout the community. Along the way, laymen contribute to the work of the ministry in two ways: by financially supporting it, and by actually doing it throughout the week. Laymen are most of the church! God is pleased to have His church function that way, and we should take whatever job or ministry we currently find ourselves in as God’s approval to be fruitful where we are, unless He tells us differently.
The above article was written by Jonathan Kyser. He is a pastoral assistant of NorthStone Baptist Church in Pensacola, FL. To offer him your feedback, comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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