Christian Living

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General Bible Courses > Living by the Book > Career by the Book

Chapter 3: The Two-Story View of Work


IN THIS CHAPTER, you will discover:

·   The four hierarchies associated with the Two-Story view.

·   Six fallacies that are often embraced by Christians.  

AS A RESULT, you will be able to:

·   View secular work as having dignity and value.

·   Refute the divisions between the sacred and the secular.

The Two-Story View of Work

Key Scripture: "But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord" (Josh. 24:15).

Work is often viewed in purely secular terms, even by Christians. God and work are considered mutually exclusive. These believers have adopted a Two-Story view of work, which divides life into "sacred" and "secular" areas. This view assumes that God is interested only in religious matters. Therefore, everyday work, which is "secular," is not relevant to them. Popularized by many Christian teachers, such thinking is very common today. Often this message is not presented by explicit statements, but rather by the implications of what is left unsaid. Despite its popularity and appealing logic, the Two-Story view of work is sub-biblical. Although not completely at odds with Scripture, it is not wholly in line with it either.

The Two-Story view disparages everyday work. According to it, ministry, evangelism, and missions are the only vocations blessed by God, and other occupations are second-class. Those with the Two-Story view are forced to live by two separate rulebooks - one for church and one for the workplace. They become highly skeptical of any vocation that is not "full-time" Christian service. This view has been particularly promoted in churches trying to get missionaries to the mission field. While this perspective is widespread because it sounds spiritual and "Christian," it is nevertheless biblically distorted. The Two-Story view sets up a hierarchy, separating all work into two categories, with the "sacred" being far superior to the "secular."

Where does this leave a landscape architect, real estate developer, plumber, department store buyer, career homemaker, or any "secular" profession? The Two-Story view says that work in these jobs does not count for the kingdom. In fact, when it comes to the matter of success, the Two-Story view proposes that God is utterly opposed to ambition, for everyone "knows" that the secular work world is based on greed and ambition. Any significant work occurs only after work hours, during religious activities or church-related work.

Proponents of this view buttress their argument using Scriptures such as Matthew 19:21; 24:35; John 6:27; James 1:11; and 1 Peter 5:5. Without a doubt, each of these verses is divinely given and absolutely true. The problem arises when they are used to prove that God favors religious endeavors more than any secular job. This is simply not borne out in the context of the whole Bible. Specifically, the Two-Story view depends on four related hierarchies with their underlying assumptions.

Soul-Body Hierarchy. God is more interested in the soul than in the body.

Since we relate to an unseen God with our inner person, we assume that God's primary interest is the soul and spirit; therefore, we value "soul" activities such as prayer and meditation. Likewise, we subtly rate careers by how much they contribute to the soul. Yet in the Creation account, we witness God creating man as a unit made up of both soul and body (Gen. 2:7). Consequently, God meets the needs of the whole person, not merely those of the spirit.

Eternal-Temporal Hierarchy. The things of eternity are more important than the things of time.

Many Christians assume that the only things that really matter pertain to eternity the "ultimate reality." The natural universe is considered somewhat less than real. But God "created the heavens and the earth" - eternal and temporal side by side (Gen. 1:1). As a human, we start out in time and end up in eternity. Yet some Christians believe that having a secular job is not "doing all you can" for the eternal kingdom; thus, they advocate leaving secular jobs for more sacred duties.

Sacred-Secular Hierarchy. Life is divided into two categories - sacred and secular.

We live in a tension between secular demands and desires (work, hobbies, politics, errands) and the higher sacred categories of religion (prayer, worship, church activities, ministry). God's interest is not that we do holy activities but that we become holy people (1 Thess. 5:23). He uses ordinary people in everyday jobs to provide for humanity's needs, which is, in reality, a sacred duty.

Clergy-Laity Hierarchy. The clergy is more important than the laity.

Because the clergy deals with "soul" work and eternal matters, a minister keeps us in touch with God. Therefore this vocation is considered sacred. Yet the New Testament does not agree. It declares that the task of the "professional" clergy is to train and equip new clergy by preparing, supporting, and aiding them in every way. The laity's task, then, is to do God's work (Eph. 4:11-12). As a layperson, your greatest challenge is to redefine your life and commitment as a priest (Rev. 1:6) - a member of the new clergy - to be God's agent performing God's work wherever it is needed.


The bottom line of the Two-Story view is that your work in a secular job has no dignity or value before God. If you should go so far as to apply yourself, strive for excellence, achieve impressively, and enjoy the resultant "trappings" of success, then you will have sold out to a godless and evil secular world. This is, of course, a gross distortion of biblical truth.

Level Ground

Someone has wisely said that the ground is level at the foot of the Cross. This statement means that God values humanity equally - without the trappings of success, fame, beauty, or wealth. Going one step further, Christ looks past both occupation and supposed religiosity. In essence, Christ Himself refutes the Two-Story view of work.

If Christ sees all people as equal, then how should you "continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12)? The apostle Peter shed more light on the subject as he explained how Christians should act as the Day of the Lord approaches: "You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat" (2 Peter 3:11-12).

Not only did Peter encourage us to be holy before God in the workplace until Jesus returns, he also pointed out a wonderful facet of God's personality - patience (v. 9). As Christians, we are to emulate Christ and produce good fruit. Patience, however, is a fruit of the Spirit that many people hesitate to ask for, perhaps because they fear the consequences of that request. Since patience is an attribute of Christ, we can be assured that the Holy Spirit is eager to help us develop it in our own lives.

Stumbling Blocks to Truth

The truth is that our work - our secular work - does matter to God. He places enormous value on work, and He takes a keen interest in what happens in the workplace. Scripture demonstrates that work has intrinsic value because God is a worker. Furthermore, work is used by God as an instrument to work out His purposes through us.

Christian motives, views, and actions that are sub-biblical will always bring about defective results. Since the Two-Story view is faulty, at least four tragic repercussions may occur to its adherents. They may experience: (1) guilt and a diminished sense of dignity; (2) withdrawal from the work world; (3) moral compromise; and (4) skepticism about the relevance of Christ. This is unfortunate because God's desire for His people is "that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10).

Fallacies Concerning Christian Growth

Besides being hindered by a Two-Story view of work, many believers are also hampered in their spiritual walk by certain fallacies that they unknowingly embrace. These fallacies often concern some aspect of Christian growth. Six examples follow.

Attendance. "I grow as a Christian by attending church ___ times a week." Some churches actually measure the spiritual maturity of their members by how often they show up. But Jesus declared, "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men" (Matt. 6:5).

Activity. "I grow as a Christian by participating in certain activities." Some people need a secretary to keep up with all their church-related commitments. They teach a Sunday school class, serve on several committees, sing in the choir, and lead children's church. But it is hard to tell if all their busyness is drawing them into a closer relationship with Christ. The apostle Paul pointed out, "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith - —and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast" (Eph. 2:8-9).

Education. "I grow as a Christian by learning God's Word, the Bible." Knowing is not synonymous with growing. You don't really know spiritual truth unless you use it. James realized the close relationship between hearing and actually doing: "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says" (1:22).

Multiple-Choice. "I grow as a Christian by believing all the right things." This believer may understand the finer points of theology yet never mention Christ to a next-door neighbor. Jesus addressed the Pharisees who were well-versed in the law: "You give a tenth of your spices - mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law - justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former" (Matt. 23:23).

A Wishin' and a Hopin'. "I can't say how a Christian grows, but I hope I will." A person whose intention is to follow Jesus can't just think about taking up his or her cross. Good intentions must be followed by action. Jesus made this plain when He said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23).

Automatic Withdrawal. "I grow as a Christian when I let go and let God." This is the perspective of someone unwilling to make choices and take responsibility. An intelligent mind with the ability to make decisions is a gift from God, and He expects us to be faithful in the use of our gifts. "A sluggard does not plow in season; so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing" (Prov. 20:4).

Right Attitudes and Activities

In Ephesians 6:5-8, Paul gave some examples of the attitudes and activities that excellent employees have concerning their work and their employers: "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does."

We can draw the following biblical principles from this passage:

  • Employers must be respected.
  • Obedience should be accompanied by sincerity.
  • Integrity must be maintained, even when no one sees you.
  • Daily work is the will of God.
  • Work should be done wholeheartedly as unto the Lord.
  • There is an eternal reward awaiting good work.
  • Everyday work is of eternal value.
  • If God is not Lord of our work, He is not Lord of our life! 

Life Applications:

A. "If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual" (1 Cor. 15:44-46). For a more in-depth look, read verses 35 through 53. How do these verses help you realize the relationship between your earthly body and your spiritual body? What is the value of each?        


B. What are the implications in Paul's word— "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Col. 3:17) - concerning sacred and secular work?    


C. Answer the questions "Yes" if the statement accurately describes you or your perspective; answer "No" if it does not. Usually, your first response will be most accurate.      

1. I believe my spouse, family, and friends would think less of me if I lost my job.    

2. Christians ought to prioritize their lives by putting God first, family second, church third, and so on.    

3. Someday I'd like to get to the point where I can really spend quality time with God.    

4. I've given up trying to solve certain problems in my life. They're just too big and too complex. I'll just have to live with them.    

5. When my spouse asks me questions, I often find myself preoccupied with problems at work.    

6. I think I'd probably be more fulfilled if I were in the ministry.    

7. The reason most people don't grow as Christians is because they just don't want to badly enough.    

8. I've learned that in this life you can't depend on anybody but yourself.

9. I could easily list a dozen ways in which I'm failing as a Christian.    

10. The business world is so corrupt that the immorality is bound to rub off on Christians who work in it.    

11. I often can't sleep because thoughts about work keep me awake.    

12. I believe religion is religion and business is business, and, for better or worse, that's the way things are.    

13. For a long time, I've tolerated habits that I know I should break.    

14. Evangelism should be our number-one priority because only people will last for eternity.    

15. I'm trying to work hard and put away a nest egg now so that later on I'll have more time to spend with my family.    

16. When it comes to growing in the faith, I believe that you have to "let go and let God."    

17. I'm addicted to a certain substance or to a certain behavior.    

18. I feel that the problem with Christianity is that it just doesn't understand the way the world operates.    

19. I frequently have to miss events and activities that my children are in because I have to work or travel.    

20. Because I'm not in full-time Christian ministry, my job doesn't really count as much to God as a pastor's.    

21. I've set my career goals, and I'm not about to let anyone or anything prevent me from achieving them.    

22. When I face a problem at work, one of the last things I do is pray.    

23. I'd be a better Christian if only I'd learn more about the Bible.    

24. Someday I hope I'll be able to give my family the attention they deserve.    

25. I feel that God has "put me on the shelf" because of mistakes in my past.    

26. While I'm pretty well organized at work, I rarely, if ever, set goals for my family life.    

27. Ministers and missionaries are called to do God's work, and I'm called to help pay for it.    

28. I have a hard time relaxing. I'd just as soon be working.    

29. If I attended church more, I'd certainly become a better Christian.    

30. I find that work is taking up more and more of my time and energy.

Scoring. Your responses may indicate that you have some fundamental misunderstandings or problems about your work and how God sees it.

If you answered "Yes" for questions 1, 5, 11, 12, 15, 19, 22, 24, 26, 28, or 30, you may be going to work with some secular attitudes and values.

If you answered "Yes" for questions 2, 6, 7, 10, 14, 16, 20, 23, 27, or 29, you may be going to work with some misconceptions about the Bible's teaching on work and Christian growth.

If you answered "Yes" for questions 3, 4, 8, 9, 13, 15, 17, 18, 21, 24, or 25, you may be suffering from one or more personal obstacles that can prevent you from balancing time demands.

The purpose of these questions was to survey your present situation. Throughout the remainder of this course, you will learn the biblical perspectives on work. You may want to retake this survey when you complete this course to see how your answers have changed.


Test your knowledge on this chapter by taking the quiz at the end of chapter 4.

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Quiz Instructions

Please see the Review Questions at the end of Chapter 4.

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