|Vol. 1, No. 1||© ICE, 1979||October, 1979|
Occupy!: The Christian Duty
by Archie P. Jones
Our Lord's command, "Occupy till I come," is widely neglected today by those who profess to be His servants. This command is given to us in the famous parable of the servants and the money. But what does it mean to occupy? Both the study of this word and of its context in God's word manifest its indelible meaning.
In its noun form, this word means work or doing, one's art, trade or profession; it has particularly to do with negotiations, with the affairs of life. Its verb form means particularly to do business it is synonymous with negotiations, traders, businessmen. But it is synonymous also with the activity of those charged with intellectual affairs; to occupy is to compose, to treat of, to write. The command also concerns those charged affairs of state; to occupy is also to render political service. To occupy is to be concerned about, to pursue with vigor. Though the duty of occupation involves thought, to occupy is to act, not to engage in Platonic or Aristotelian contemplation. Our Lord did not command us to occupy flowery beds of ease. The very nature of occupation involves more than business and the ordinary affairs of life; it involves action in intellectual, legal and political matters, indeed all of life.
A study of the parable in which Our Lord's command occurs elucidates with unmistakable clarity the nature of the Christian's duty in life, and hence also the fundamentals of Christian politics.
The Story of Zaccheus
The context of the parable of the ruler, the servants and the money is an unquestionable affirmation of the sovereignty and lordship of Christ. The parable is preceded by the story of Zaccheus and followed by Jesus' affirmation of his Lordship (Luke 19:29-34).
Jesus first drew Zaccheus to Him Zaccheus was curious "to see Jesus who he was" (Lk. 19:3) thereby leading the sinful man to ask the fundamental question which confronts every man: "Who do you say that I am?' (Matt. 16:15) Through taking the initiative to show the publican who He is and abiding with this man's family, Jesus convicted Zaccheus of sin and brought him to repentance, Zaccheus was saved and sanctified by the abiding grace of Jesus. Christian life and politics are founded on salvation and sanctification by the grace and work of the Lord.
The abiding presence of Jesus in Zaccheus' household saved not only Zaccheus but also his family. It also made them obedient to the Lord and His law. Christian life and politics must be based on the recognition of Jesus as both Lord and Master, as Lord and Lawgiver. Zaccheus' salvation, and Christ's continued abiding with him, led to his acceptance of the first table of God's law, which in turn led to Zaccheus' renunciation of human standards of conduct in favor of obedience to God's standards. Thus he practiced godly social conduct, as set forth in the second table of the law restitution and charity. (Lk. 19:8) Conversion and sanctification should lead not to a desire to "fly away" to Heaven, but, while God sustains one's life, to a desire to restore oneself and one's family to a godly relationship with men. Zaccheus' faith was manifest in works, and his works were according to the requirements of his Lord and Savior's law.
The Lord, the Servants and the Kingdom
It is in this context that Jesus unfolds the famous parable, from which we derive our title and our duty. His teaching is addressed immediately to believers, and particularly to those who believe that the kingdom of God "should immediately appear," without any work by man. Jesus' purpose is to refute this erroneous idea of His Kingdom, and to charge his believers with a comprehensive vision and duty.
Our Lord clearly tells us that there are three kinds of men: good servants, wicked servants, and the Lord's enemies. Though there are differences of degree within these kinds, there are no other categories of men.
Good servants begin by believing the Lord, by recognizing His nature, His authority, His right to rule, the authority and lawfulness of his word. The Lord commands his servants all his servants to occupy, to "do business," until he comes. And His good servants obey; knowing that He demands profit on His gifts to them, they do their utmost to produce an increase for Him. They do not occupy themselves with the question of the time or mode of His return, but rather with the duty of occupying for their Lord.
Good servants recognize that the property, the money, given to them by the Lord is the Lords, not simply theirs, and that it is thus to be used as the Lord requires, not as the servant desires. Note that the owner may, within God's law's boundaries, use his property as he sees fit, that he may reaps profit where he has not personally, physically, sown, and that he may require usury on the use of the property that he has entrusted to his servants. Jesus does not condemn property or profits; rather, He affirms the goodness of both, when they are used for the Lords purposes. Neither does He imply the Marxist notion of profit as "exploitation," nor does He suggest socialist hostility to property, profits and inequality. He gives no credence to the Aristotelian notion that money, and hence commerce, are intrinsically bad because they are "unnaturally" based on human invention.
Rather than humanistic redistribution of wealth in terms of subjective humanistic criteria of individual "virtue," power or "equality", our Lord requires the allocation of property in terms of Divine Providence, Gods law, and godly dominion (Gen. 1:26-28). In private property, profits and the right of the individual to use property in godly terms, we have the essentials of a free market economy required by Jesus. In the ultimate subjection of the use of property to the judgment of the Lord, we have the standard which prevents the slothful, oppressive or hedonistic abuse of property which threatens the individual liberty derived from the right to own and control property freely. The good servant works for his Lord, not for himself, for he knows that the money and things which he possess are the Lord's, not his own. (Lk. 19:16, 18)
The good servant occupies. He obeys the Lord's word and law. He uses the resources and abilities that the Lord has given him. And he works, he does business, in order to produce as great an increase for the Lord as he can. The Lord gets His increase through the works of His good servants.
And the Lord richly rewards his faithful servants, when He returns. Just as He requires men to give back to those whom they have wronged, so he rewards his good servants many-fold, according to their good works. Consistent with His dominion mandate, he rewards them with authority, rightful power, and material things (Lk. 19:24, 25). The good servant exercises dominion, upon the basis of faith. He works outwardly his salvation, in terms of his knowledge of the Lord's nature, attributes, requirements, word and law. And there is no escaping the fact that this faith-grounded work, together with its rewards, are both spiritual and material. For the Lord is the creator and ruler of the material; hence the material cannot he separated from the spiritual. The Lord commands His servants to work in, with and through the material, for the coming of His Kingdom.
His Kingdom also contains wicked servants. These are not just neutral or indifferent servants. The wicked servant knows the Lord, that He is Lord, ruler, lawgiver. And he fears the Lord. But fear is only the beginning of wisdom, not its fullness. The wicked servant knows that he has received a girl from the Lord, and that the Lord requires him to do business, to produce an increase for his Lord. But he disobeys his Lord's command to occupy. He is passive, not active. He produces no increase (Lk. 19:15, 20-23). He does not even invest the money in the productive enterprises of others, for fear of losing what the Lord has given him. He makes no use of the Lord's gifts.
Consequently, the Lord judges him, upon His return. The Lord causes His gifts of money to be taken from the wicked servant and given to the good servant, to whom the Lord had already given much (Lk. 19:26). In choosing not to occupy, the wicked servant had rejected the Lord's word and law as standard, substituting in its stead his own subjective opinion. Hence, the Lord judges the wicked servant, punishing him in terms of the wicked servant's own arbitrary standard (cf. Matt. 7:1).
The wicked servant loses the power, authority and material rewards that the Lord had given him, and receives none of the rewards of the good servants, save two he remains a servant of the Lord, and he escapes the awful judgment and punishment which is meted out to the Lord's enemies (Lk. 19;14, 27).
The Lord's Enemies
It is important to note that the Lord's enemies are his citizens. They are under His authority, rule, word and law. But they hate the Lord. So they willfully seek to rebel against Him, to reject and overthrow His authority, word, rule and law. They want to be a law unto themselves (Gen. 3:5). So, in His absence, like our first parents, they defy Him. It is no wonder that they are not told by the Lord to occupy being fundamentally opposed to the Lord and His word, they cannot occupy, cannot do the Lord's business.
The Lord's enemies do not want their relationships with men to be governed by God's law, since they have rejected the Lord's rule. Still, they are citizens of His realm, and as such are under His law His civil law and so will be judged by its standard. As they cannot overthrow the Lord's rule, they cannot overthrow the authority of His law as the standard for civil society. Their relative impotence, however, does ensure that their rebellion will be both judged and punished: punished by death.
To occupy is to do business: God's business. Not only in the realm of leading lost souls to Christ. Not just in the everyday affairs of life. But in all areas of life. The Christian's obligation to occupy is based upon the nature, attributes and commandments of the Lord Jesus, upon His sovereignty, authority, love and law. It is necessarily founded upon His saving grace. But God's grace does not stop at the salvation of the individual's soul. For God also graciously provides the saved sinner with personal motivation for godly living, by abiding with him, by providing immutable standards of conduct via the revelation of His law, and by providing eternal and temporal rewards for obedience and service.
God's word commands all men to obey His law, and commands believers to be active in serving Him, in producing the increase of God's things. The Lords law applies, clearly, to all men, whether or not they desire to live under and obey that law, whether or not they desire to undertake the risks involved in serving Him. And, if we are to take the content of Jesus' parable seriously, His law applies not only to all men individually, in their personal lives, but also to all men collectively, in their lives as citizens of a political order.
Obedient service is the very framework and content of the God-ordained duty to occupy. As such, it is also the very essence of the Kingdom of God. Obedience by all men; active service by Christian men. Obedience is required of all citizens active service is especially required of those given power and authority by the Lord (cf. Ro. 13:1-8 ff): Jesus' parable is an instruction and mandate to rulers, as well as to citizens: God's law is the standard of law (Matt. 5:17-2 1; 28:18-20, etc); rulers are to be a terror to evil works, not to good ones (Ro. 13:1-14).
Christian occupation is not passive contemplation. Neither is it mere personal holiness although it necessitates both contemplation and personal piety. Nor is occupation minimal acquiescence, as in the case of the wicked servant. Occupation is an active, comprehensive duty. We are to produce profits for our Lord, not just to "hold the line." Jesus does not make this duty conditional upon time or circumstance, nor upon our calculation of the imminence of His return. Those who are lax in their performance of this duty will be punished. But thanks be to God those who are diligent servants, using what the Lord has given them to further His Kingdom, will be greatly rewarded.