I graduated from business school, spent 34 years working in a business, and did hundreds of business deals during my trading years, both in the United States and in other countries. I have a binder containing hundreds of business cards and enjoyed adding value to the financial bottom line. But is business a calling? The word ‘calling’ is most often related to church professionals: ministers, priests, missionaries, Christian educators, etc. Does God consider business an equal calling to church professionals?
Dr. R. Paul Stevens, David J. Brown Family Professor Emeritus of Marketplace Theology and Leadership at Regent College (Vancouver, BC), and author of Doing God’s Business: Meaning and Motivation for the Marketplace (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 2006), discusses the Biblical calling of business.
“We do not find a textual basis in the Bible for speaking of business as a calling. There is not a single instance of a person in the New Testament being called into a societal occupation by an existential encounter with God – not Paul the tent-maker, not Lydia the textile merchant, and not Peter the fisherman. Nor is there a single instance of a person being called to a religious professional – not Timothy, not Barnabas, and not Priscilla. Nevertheless, scripture witnesses to people being led into positions of societal service where they could make a difference without a supernatural call: Joseph, Nehemiah, Daniel, Esther, Priscilla and Aquila.” (pages 35-36)
I built a spreadsheet of all the versus in the Bible that contain the following words: call, calls, calling, or called. These words were used 712 times in Scripture. I next sorted them by the caller. There were 175 verses (78 Old Testament and 97 New Testament) with God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit being the caller. The verb, to call, was used in various ways:
to summon: 1 Samuel 3:10 “Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.””
to shout: Luke 8:8 “Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.” As he said this, he called out, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!””
to name: Genesis 17:15 “God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.”
to proclaim: 2 Kings 8:1 “Now Elisha had said to the woman whose son he had restored to life, “Get up and go with your household, and settle wherever you can; for the LORD has called for a famine, and it will come on the land for seven years.””
The only Biblical reference of God/Jesus/the Holy Spirit commanding an individual to an occupation is in the book of Numbers where Aaron and the Levites are commanded to serve as priests and perform religious duties. This Old Testament hereditary position ceased when the Jerusalem temple was destroyed in 70CE. It may be that the Levites did other non-religious work, but they did not own land and the other eleven tribes of Israel gave them food and materials to live.
I am not saying that God does not ever call us to serve. “God may, of course, exceptionally give an existential call to individuals for any specific service. But normally God calls us to himself and leads us into particular expressions of service appropriate for our gifts and talents through passions, abilities, and opportunities.” We are first called to faithfully belong to God. It is an all-encompassing calling that includes all facets of life. Our occupation is just one part of our belonging to God. “So we can say that working in business is a calling in this general sense.” (page 36)
Each person has God-given gifts that are to be used to serve our neighbors and take our community a step towards the new creation. Business skills are needed just like artistic, medical, and mechanical skills. “While no specific biblical texts indicate that people are summoned into a societal occupation by an ecstatic call of God, strong biblical reasons support the idea that business is part of God’s summons to some people.” (page 22)