The way that people spend their time, as well as the work they choose to do, can be a way of giving praise to God—yet Christians must examine whether their vocation glorifies God or conflicts with Christ’s teaching, Stephen Presley reminded attendants at Southwestern Seminary’s Land Center luncheon, April 5. The luncheon was a shared event between the Land Center and the Southwestern Center for Early Christian Studies, of which Presley serves as director.

“The call to Christ is a call to morality,” said Presley, who also serves as associate professor of church history. “What you do for a living matters.”

Presley recalled how Christians in the early third and fourth centuries struggled to build the church within a society that was growing apart from God’s directives. But early Christians’ secular occupations posed problematic situations—a conflict with which many Christians still struggle today.

Early Christians often faced significant conflict between their profession and their call to God when that vocation called on them to perform tasks that glorified idolatry and sin. They struggled between the call to follow Christ and the need to work in order to feed their families. Pagan worship was infused in third- and fourth-century society, and many workers toiled in occupations that supported or glorified it as the work of idol-building grew.

Presley noted that similar conflicts abound in the world today. Rather than continue in such vocations, however, Christians must instead reorder their lives and set Christ, not vocation, as their priority, Presley said.

To illustrate, Presley turned to the writing of early Christian writers Tertullian, a prolific author often called “the founder of Western theology”; Cyprian, the pre-eminent Latin writer of Western Christianity; and Hippolytus, among the church’s most important third-century theologians. Tertullian asked early Christians to focus on work that enriches the world and benefits the church, rather than greed or gain. Presley explained, “Tertullian was saying, ‘Don’t use your talents to craft idols. Apply your talents to things that promote human flourishing.’”

In the same vein, Cyprian emphasized in his writings that Christians must leave professions that lead them away from Christ. Similarly, Hippolytus wrote that those coming into the church should be rejected if they failed to turn away from secular jobs that conflicted with Christianity.

“You must leave professions that lead you away from Christ,” Presley said. Desirable vocations, he continued, are those that foster the growth and enrichment of humanity, Christianity and spiritual life, rather than those focused on greed.

“Spiritual growth on Sunday isn’t distanced from life,” he said. “Does your vocation help you or distract you in your call to Christ?”