Bridging the Gap: The Rubbish of “Doing What You Love”

“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” has become something of a cheap aphorism for vocational decisions. In particular, my demographic of 18 to 25 year-olds has become particularly susceptible to such convenient one-liners. For many, simply doing what you want has become the categorical litmus test for how to live life. Any repudiation to the philosophy of this base egocentrism is enough to warrant trepidations in the hearts of my contemporaries, and even greater palpitations in their minds.

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Most millennials when you tell them there’s a world outside their bubble.

It is, however, brilliant rhetoric: it inspires, kindles reflection, and prompts a response. It is the kind of emotive language that is desperately lacking in better arguments that I have read, both in Christian and secular circles. But it is a specious, intellectually vacuous ethic whose hedonistic principles eventually turn in on itself and are more prohibitive rather than profitable. So John Calvin once wrote, “Zeal without knowledge is like a sword in the hands of a madman” (cf. Proverbs 19:2). True liberty only comes by understanding that (to quote wise, old Uncle Ben Parker) with great power comes great responsibility (cf. Matthew 20:28; 22:36-38; John 13:34). For Christians, this means that if all people are lovingly, mindfully created in God’s image, then the axiomatic conclusion is that all people are equal in worth, yet different in purpose.

I am not surprised however, that such thought is quite prevalent even among the Church (and in particular, my fellow millennial Christians). For the past fifty years, we been embroiled in a moral revolution that the Church has invariably lagged behind in developing a response. Actually, a better description would be that we have been swept up and along this revolution – sometimes without even knowing it! For fear of being perceived unloving, some Christians have presented themselves unfaithful to the Gospel. Whereas the Christian witness of our predecessors were primed and polished by engaging with culture, others have, in the wake of this moral revolution, conceded and relinquished the moral high ground. It is no small coincidence that Christianity’s decline in the West follows the Church’s moral authority in the public square. The question of vocational decisions is no exception to this paradigm.

So then, why is “do what you love” and “pursue your passions” such rubbish counsel? Here are seven reasons:

  • Your passions are fickle and temporary.
    Normally, anecdotes and personal experiences come part and parcel with these articles, but I can probably go without in this instance because I am certain that we all have rather fond memories of jumping headlong into passions that we ceased to be “passionate” about in the due course of time.

    Think of these instances as a kind of moral education: both ‘wrong’ decisions (generally characterised by a lack of prudence, discretion, and caution) and ‘right’ decisions (generally characterised by shrewdness and foresight) bear with them proportionate consequences. There are greater or lesser punishments for greater or less errors, and greater or lesser benefits for greater or lesser for correct decisions. This is the kind of basic message that the likes of Proverbs 21:5 and 2 Timothy 2:22 are trying to convey. Doing what you love may quickly degenerate to doing what you loathe, particularly if it doesn’t match exactly with what we expect.
     
  • It staves off responsibility and promotes laxity.
    Colossians 3:23-24 is a brilliant passage, but the first three words probably don’t receive as much recognition as they’re due. I am certainly liable of viewing the Protestant work ethic of post-World War II through rose-coloured lenses, but in those (good ol’) days, all work and all pursuits of education were not only vital, but virtuous. By contrast today, unless you have impracticable levels of enthusiasm for a particular pursuit, it’s entirely commonplace to fail subjects at university, to “pull a sickie” at work for the hell of it, or to mindlessly scroll through social media during ministry meetings.

    So millennial Christians are left with one of two options: (a) relentlessly pursue “good feelings” in the hopes that passion will carry us through the task ahead; or (b) shove off the task ahead altogether since it doesn’t conform to our self-centred work culture. Colossians 3:23-24 is intrinsically linked with that of v. 17: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” The Christian response is not to approach each task as drudgery or inconsequential (or worse still, to neglect doing it altogether), but to “give thanks to God the Father” since “all things were created through Him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16) and therefore, principally redeemed through Christ also. Ralph Martin writes on this verse, “Christians can do all that they do, whether it be manual work, political activity, raising a family, writing a book, playing tennis, or whatever, in his name and gratitude.” And should our conduct be in all things – big or small, important or unimportant, passion or no passion.
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Yaaaaaaas, good feelings.
  • Doing what you love can’t prepare you for latent failure and quells satisfaction.
    There is also a sizeable lacuna afforded by this kind of brassy vocational thinking in terms of how we deal with failure. One of the pertinent results of The Fall is that our work is frustrated by “thorns and thistles” (Genesis 3:18) – the perennial threat of various circumstances effectively scotching all our hard work and long-prepared plans. Too often however, do we attribute these abortive attempts to external factors: unsympathetic, ignorant management; broken systems; self-serving, double-dealing colleagues; terrible educators; and the list goes on and on. But the narrative of Genesis 3 also points us to our inherent nature to deflect responsibility and attribute our failures to others – even when we are unambiguously participants in our own failures (Genesis 3:12-13).

    In similar fashion, when our vocations become more about self-expression and self-actualisation rather than faithfulness to God, searching for “the perfect job” becomes a convenient replacement for perseverance, qualification, and character. When Abraham and Lot separate ways in Genesis 13, from the very outset the biblical narrator makes a point: “Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold” (v. 2). To boot, Abram had a wife not only “beautiful in appearance” to him (Genesis 12:11b), but even the Egyptians saw that Sarai was “very beautiful” (v. 14b); sufficiently beautiful for her to be lauded to the Egyptian Pharaoh (v. 15). By modern standards, Abram was living the good life; as for God’s purposes for him however – they were unfinished. But Abram proved wiser than his nephew who failed, Lot, seeing a worthy future in the promises of God for a land, a people, and a blessing of His own, thereby receiving his due reward and satisfaction (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:25; 1 Corinthians 15, esp. v. 58).
  • Working purposefully is more valuable than doing purposeful work.
    Righteous and ethical living is infinitely better realised when the consequences of actions are rationally and experientially understood, than when they are simply believed. As the maxim goes, “Good theology leads to much doxology” and doxology is shambolic and incomplete at best if it is not practiced (Romans 6:13; 12:1).

    There will be countless instances in life where doing what is right may not necessarily be doing what we love – in fact, they may be diametrically opposed to one another because we our passions are often maligned and ultimately not glorifying to God (Jeremiah 17:9). God’s emphasis is not necessarily on those who are ‘passionate’, but on those who are ‘good,’‘faithful,’ and ‘wise.’ The parables that Jesus teaches on the unexpected parousia of the Son of Man are particularly illustrative of this (cf. Matthew 24:45; 25: 2-4, 21-23), and I will focus here especially on the failure of the ‘wicked and slothful servant’ of Matthew 25:24-28. Even with the servant’s travesty of the master as a kind of avaricious capitalist (for the record, “Enter into the joy of your master” (v. 22, 23) is hardly commercial language), the servant’s undertakings are irresponsible at best: a kind of cheap, safe-side stewardship that achieves nothing, and so is worthless.

    We are called to be good stewards of our faith, not good enthusiasts, and the counsel of Proverbs 16:3 is to just do something and allow God to work through us as He wills.
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The face you pull when someone actually tells you that you just need to do something about your life.
  • God’s priority is not in our happiness, but in our greatest good.
    Philippians 2:1-11 is arguably one of the most beautiful passages (another solid contender is the doxology in Jude 24-25, which is simply marvellous) in the New Testament, synthesising doxology and exhortation together in one brilliant sweep. This hymn to Christ particularly focuses on His obedience, and this is the theme that is picked up in Philippians 2:12-13 as if Paul were to say, “just as Christ obeyed, so should you.” This is not a kind of cold, impassive encouragement, but one in line with the promises of God that “for those who love God all things together for our good” (Romans 8:28a) … “for those who are called according to His purpose” (v. 28b) – not only called to embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but also to renew our wills not to labour for vainglorious self, but for the glory of God in the highest. There is no mention of God’s securing our happiness (though the important element of joy in the Lord is certainly not lost).


This is the kind of mentality shift that the Psalter is all about:

“Let your work be shown to your servants,
And your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the LORD our God be upon us,
And establish the work of our hands upon us;
Yes, establish the work of our hands!”
Psalm 90:16-17


It is not only the glory of God’s creative and redemptive work that will abide, but even the labours of a transient people in a transient world will leave a lasting legacy through God’s blessing. The message is not of securing our happiness in the perfect vocation, but in a perfect God, and striving for His perennially good purposes for His world and His people.

In the next article on “Bridging the Gap” we will flesh out some biblical paradigms for understanding our work in the light of the Gospel, and establish some practical guidelines for Christians to engage with questions of vocation.

Bridging the Gap: The Six Days of Creation

In my last article (which you can read here), I ended by asking the question: Where do we fit in among the grand scheme of God’s redemptive plan for His creation?” This is just one of many questions that I find Christians seem to struggle to find clarity on. To that end, publishing content to address (and in some cases, redress) these theological and ethical shortfalls is an important part of all that The Reformation of Manners stands for. “Bridging the Gap” is just one of the ways that we try to provide a biblical framework from which we can better engage with God’s world and His people. It is a way of connecting Christian convictions into matters of practical substance.

So what sense should we make of the seven days of creation? Genesis 1:2 is the immediate vantage point: God is concerned with the world as the focus of His attention. As previously mentioned, the idea of God intimately ‘hovering’ over His embryonic creation is pictorially akin to that of a mother bird stirring her young to flight. It is a compelling and provocative expression of God’s deep care and devotion to His created world.

The first chapter (and to a greater extent, chapter two) of Genesis presents God as the loving Maker who delights in His creation, but equally reveals God as the majestic and supreme Creator over all. The world at this point is “without form and void”, but God is about to give His world shape and meaning. Although the earth right now is empty, God is about to fill it with life (although the doctrine of ex nihilo is not mentioned explicitly here, it is strongly implied elsewhere in the biblical corpus cf. Psalm 33:9; 148:5; John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 11:3; Revelation 4:11). Indeed, God matches the dual negatives of formlessness and emptiness with their positive counterparts: form and fullness.

It is here we must address the days of creation themselves. The chronology of creation (of which there has been extensive debate), I think, is only important insofar as the order belongs to the poetic form of the passage and should not be interpreted literally. It is a shame that the creation narrative has so often been pitted as a ‘religious’ explanation against the many ‘scientific’ explanations – they cannot be competitors if only for the fact that the biblical author’s concern is to display theologically the visible world as God’s handiwork, and not to present a chronological record. The fulfilment of form (that is, separation and the creation of space) and fullness are God’s concern, and it is only after these are satisfied does God pronounce His work as ‘good.’

DAY ONE: LIGHT SEPARATED FROM DARKNESS
DAY TWO: SKY SEPARATED FROM THE WATERS
DAY THREE: DRY LAND SEPARATED FROM THE WATERS

DAY FOUR: SUN TO GOVERN THE DAY, THE MOON AND STARS TO GOVERN THE NIGHT
DAY FIVE: BIRDS TO FILL THE SKY, SEA CREATURES TO FILL THE WATERS
DAY SIX: ANIMALS TO FILL THE LAND, HUMANITY TO RULE THE EARTH

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‘The Pillars of Creation’ is a marvellous example of God’s handiwork, but Mankind sits higher on the hierarchy of creation.

But God’s work in creation reaches its pinnacle in Genesis 1:26-31 with the creation of human beings in the “image” and “likeness” of God, and it is here our attention will rest. It is undeniable that the birth of Man is the pinnacle of God’s creative work (cf. P. J. Gentry, “Kingdom through Covenant: Humanity as Divine Image”, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, 12.1 (2008): 16-42 does a brilliant job of developing Genesis 1:26-28 as the climax of God’s creation). The wider created world is reflective of God’s glory (v. Psalm 19), but mankind operates within a special sphere of favour, and Genesis 1:26-31 presents this brilliantly in three ways:

Firstly, God begins to speak in a new way, switching from a third personal singular (‘God made … let there be etc.’) to a first person plural (‘Let us …’). Although it is difficult to be completely certain with respect to this new form of speech, I think it is safe to assume that it is a combination of grammatical (plural of self-deliberation or self-encouragement) and theological (reference to the plurality of the Trinity) rhetoric.

Moreover, God declares that He will make humankind in his image, and according to His likeness, and the language here is definitely that of sonship (cf. Genesis 5:1-3; God creates Adam in the likeness of God … Adam begets Seth who is in his own likeness, after his image). Meredith Kline, on the topic, writes, “To be the image of God is to be the son of God” and this is true in two respects:

  • Relationally, we are sons and daughters dependent on God through covenant. Adam’s role as ‘son’ is taken up in the biblical narrative by Israel (Exodus 4:22-23; Hosea 11:1), David (2 Samuel 7:13-14), ultimately in Jesus, the true Adam, Israel, and David, and the true Son of God. Christians are partakers in sonship through adoption as God’s children (1 John 3:1-3; Romans 8:29), and also partakers in covenant. The terms of the covenant are symbolically represented in the two trees in the Garden: life in dependence and obedience unto God on the one hand; and on the other, death by turning from God and seeking but a shadow of true life apart from Him (cf. Jeremiah 2:12-13).
  • Vocationally, as God’s children, we are also charged to rule the world as His representatives within a limited measure of independence, just as Adam was. At the very least, Adam was both a king and a priest (in addition, Adam may be have occupied a prophetic office, but I am undecided). God commands Adam to ‘have dominion’ over the earth, and Adam is called to work and to keep the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15; cf. 2:8 where God plants the Garden – Adam is now called to continue in God’s role) – a kind of pictorial epithet for monarchs in biblical antiquity. David Clines writes, “human beings represent God in a way analogous to kings. “Adam is almost certainly described as God’s vice-regent and therefore, the archetypal human king.

    But Adam also holds a priestly office in the sense that Adam’s work is priestly work – Adam is commissioned to “to work” and “to keep” (Genesis 2:15) the Garden. The Hebrew verb, “to work, עָבַד is not only used in the cultivation of agriculture, but also for the service of God (e.g. Deuteronomy 4:2, 12), and in particular, the sacred duties of the Levites and the tabernacle (cf. Numbers 3:7-8; 4:23-26). Similarly, “to keep, “שָׁמַרnot carries both the simple idea of protection, but is more commonly used in relation to religious duties (cf. Genesis 17:9; Leviticus 18:5). Adam then, is not only appointed to rule over God’s creation, but jointly to serve the Creator in creation.

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All work is meaningful before God – not just the ‘spiritual’ matters.

What does this mean for Christians today?

Firstly, it means to give serious thought to the nature of Man and our purpose here on earth. Although creation was ‘good’ and even ‘very good’, it was not yet perfect, complete, and thus did God call His people to emulate him: ‘be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it’ (Genesis 1:28). We are given the enormous privilege of continuing God’s work in creation, and Hermann Bavinck writes beautifully, “the first man, however highly placed, did not yet possess the highest humanity … [Adam] stood at the beginning of his “career” not at the end.” Friends, we must never think of our vocations as dreary, mundane, or meaningless – we are God’s people, and in Him, our work is an act of service (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:16-17, 23-24), using our gifts, skills and opportunities in ways to bless both His name and His creation (1 Corinthians 12:7; 1 Peter 4:10; Romans 12:1-8).