Last week, Dr. Chris Wright was in town for a couple of events, one of which was a gathering put together by the Surge Network, where he spoke on the topic, “Saints in the Marketplace: The Mission of God in the Public Arena.” Wright is the international director of Langham Partnership, an organization started by the late John Stott, which serves churches and pastors all over the world.
In his talk he began by defining “marketplace” in broad terms, suggesting that it basically means all that happens in society. It could also simply be called the public square, or, to use Old Testament language, “the gate.” His fundamental premise, which he made clear from the start, is that God is interested in what happens in the marketplace. This seems obvious, but too many Christians seem to live with a suspicion that the things we need to spend most of our time doing are things that don’t really matter to God. That belief is dead wrong.
He gave his talk in three sections, at least according to my notes. First, he spoke on why the marketplace matters to God. Second, how Christians are called to act in the marketplace. And third, the church’s dual task in relationship to it. Since it was all such wonderful stuff, I thought I’d more or less reproduce the talk here, to the best of my memory, with little commentary by me. I’ve included Scripture references (a lot of them), and when possible, great questions Wright left with us on the basis of these principles.
THE MARKETPLACE MATTERS TO GOD
1. God created work (Genesis 1, 2). The Fall corrupted it, but it’s still something God made good. We need to understand that work is not some necessary evil; rather, it’s a means of glorifying God. For the pastors and teachers among us, do we teach the importance of work the way the Bible does?
2. God audits it (Psalm 33:13-15; Amos 5:12-15, 8:4-7; Jeremiah 7:9-11; I Samuel 12:1-5). God is the auditor of the marketplace, at both a personal and a corporate level. According to Scripture, God requires justice in the public square just as much as he requires worship in the Temple (or, in our case, the church). He hears what’s said and sees what’s done in the marketplace, and he even examines the attitudes in our hearts. He is the independent scrutineer of all that happens in the marketplace. How and when do you submit to God’s audit of your daily work? How does accountability to God affect the way you work?
3. God governs it (Joseph in Genesis 50:19-20; Isaiah 19:1-15; Daniel 4). We tend to speak of the marketplace as if it is autonomous, but the truth is that events are the product of human actions, and we’re therefore responsible for what we do. But God is sovereign, and his sovereignty doesn’t stop short of the marketplace. How and where do you discern the governance of God in the marketplace? What does it mean to “seek first the kingdom and his justice” Monday through Friday?
4. God redeems it (Isaiah 65:17-25; Colossians 1:16-20; Romans 8:19-21; II Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:24-27). Our eschatology and our understanding of the story of the Bible affect how we view the marketplace. If we believe everything in the world is all going to be zapped someday, why would we care what happens in the marketplace? The truth is that God loves everything he’s made; it’s all twisted and we’re all twisted, but the Bible teaches that God will redeem creation, not obliterate it. God will create a new heaven and a new earth. All things are created by Christ, sustained by Christ, and redeemed by Christ. Because of the resurrection of Christ, all we do under the sun is not vanity! We don’t know precisely how everything will turn out, but we believe in the resurrection. How is our daily work transformed by the knowledge that it contributes to the new creation, redeemed by God?
WE’RE CALLED TO ENGAGEMENT AND DISTINCTIVENESS
1. Engagement. This can happen through serving the state (i.e., Joseph & Daniel); through prayer and “seeking the welfare of the city” – not just Jerusalem, but Babylon too (Jeremiah 29:7; I Timothy 2:1-4; Erastus in Acts 19:22; Romans 16:23); through ordinary, honest daily work – it’s instructive to look up the number of times in the New Testament Paul refers to doing good (I Thessalonians 4:11-12, 5:14; II Thessalonians 3:6-13); through encouraging fellow Christians in the true value of the marketplace.
2. Distinctiveness. We’re called to be saints who are holy, different, salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16; Daniel 6:3; I Chronicles 29:17; Genesis 18:19; Colossians 3:22-23). If Christians are to be salt and light, the assumption is that there are dull and dark places in the world, and we’re to actually change things in those places – like salt, we get rubbed into the meat; like light, we break the darkness. Whatever we do, we are to do it as unto the Lord – in other words, as if the other person is Christ himself. Worldview distinctiveness – we live by a different story (biblical narrative rather than British imperialism or the American Dream, for example). When we follow Christ, we enter the biblical story, and we’re to build that story into our lives. As we do so, it’ll challenge ourselves and others – it cuts through all peoples and cultures.
THE CHURCH’S PROPHETIC AND PASTORAL TASK
1. The prophetic task. Pastors and Christian leaders must speak out in the midst of a synchetized and idolatrous culture with a voice of evaluation and critique. It requires, at times, speaking truth to power. We can’t just bless everything society does, or bless church members who willingly go along with corruptions of God’s good design for the marketplace. The prophetic task can be costly, a rough road to travel, as all the biblical prophets knew.
2. The pastoral task. Pastors and Christian leaders must support those who work in the marketplace, meaning those who participate in all spheres of society every week. God didn’t create the church to support the clergy; rather, the pastor comes every Sunday to support the church as it then goes out into the world to be salt and light in the marketplace, knowing that their work matters to God.
As you can tell, he gave us plenty to chew on. If we were to summarize his main points, though, we could say this: The marketplace matters to God. It can go terribly wrong, but work was created by God, is audited and governed by him, and will ultimately be redeemed by him. Christians are called to engage in the marketplace with distinctiveness. And, finally, the church is to challenge distortions in the marketplace as well as to equip its members to help it flourish as it should.
If you’d like to see and hear Dr. Wright for yourself, here he is in the five-minute video speaking on the importance of confronting idols and making disciples – which in fact has everything to do with faithfulness in the marketplace (thanks to Jake Belder for sharing it).
What are your reactions to this basis for Christian engagement in the marketplace? How does it challenge your understanding of the relationship between faith and work?