Posts Tagged ‘Cultural Mandate’

“Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:28)

We all know that Jesus says: “We Christians are in the world, but not of the world.” But what exactly does Jesus mean by that? Since we are “not of the world,” there are many Christians who have taken a negative attitude toward culture. To them, the Church is in constant conflict with the world —it is us versus them. So our “job” is primarily to rescue as many sinners as we can from a world that is perishing.

They have many Scriptures to back up their theses. Bible verses such as “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19). Satan is the “ruler of this world” (John 14:30; 16:11) and the “god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4). The world knows not God, neither the children of God (1 Cor. 1:21; John 17:25; 1 John 3:1, 13). The world hates the Christians (John 15:18-19; 17:14). Christians are not to “love the world or the things in the world,” that “if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). This world is passing away (2:17), and we must do everything we can to oppose and overcome it by faith (5:4). Even Jesus Christ Himself does not pray for the world (John 17:9). More than that, the world hates Jesus because He testifies that its works are evil (John 7:7). Then Paul even speaks of having the world crucified to himself, and himself being crucified to the world through Jesus Christ (Gal. 6:14). “Whoever wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

As such, for many Christians, this world is something to stay away from. Everything in society—with all its sciences, philosophies and pop culture—is seen as the work of the devil; something profane and must be totally rejected. Since this world is not our home, we should have no ownership of material assets. As much as possible, we should not have any unnecessary contact with anything “secular.”

But on the other hand, the Bible tells us that “for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” not “to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17). Jesus Christ is “the light of the world” (John 8:12), “the Savior of the world” (John 4:42), and “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2). “That God, in Christ, is reconciling the world to Himself (2 Cor. 5:19). Eventually, “the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15). For there will be “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). “The tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:3-5).


Is the Bible confused concerning the world, blowing hot and cold at the same time? Knowing the whole counsel of God ’s Word is very important. When the Scripture uses the word “world,” it could mean one of three things:

The world is God’s created order (or masterpiece) for His own enjoyment. The Bible says that “all things were created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:16). “For Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11, KJV). That is why although the world is fallen, God still loves it— and so should we! In fact, He loved it so much that He sent His Son to reconcile all things in the world back to Him (Col. 1:20). So this world, which God loves and Jesus saves, is not totally evil. But nevertheless, it suffers the effects of sin and the way sinners have treated it. Acts 3:21 says that the plan of God now or in this age is to restore all things to its original purpose and intention. To shun the world, or even to hate it, is to walk in rebellion against God.
The world also implies physical lands or nations. Jesus says that “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14). To Christ, used in this context, the world refers to countries and physical territories on planet Earth.
The world is the realm of wickedness and prideful rebellion against God. In this wicked realm, Satan is its prince and god (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). This sinful realm constantly opposes God and persecutes the godly. It is this “world” of pride and rebellion that a believer must not conform his mind to (Rom. 12:2).
As such, when the Scripture talks about the world, a discerning reader must know what it is referring to: Is it the created order which God loves? Is it the physical lands or nations on the earth? Or is it the evil realm of wickedness and prideful rebellion that God hates?


When God created man and put him in the Garden of Eden, He gave him the responsibility “to tend and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). To tend the land means to plow or to cultivate the ground. But in the Latin, it is the word cultura, where you get the English word “culture.” Herein lies a very important truth: culture is God’s original purpose for man! It is not a concept from the devil. It is an idea from God.

God wanted Adam to “do culture,” taking the seed He has put into Adam’s hands and releasing its potential into a mighty harvest. Therefore, in its earliest and simplest defi nition, culture means taking the raw material God has given to man, and creatively nurturing it to its fullest potential. Because doing it requires creativity, each time we do culture we are actually refl ecting the image of Elohim—the God who is creative.

As the imago dei, we are the refl ection of God on the earth (Gen. 1:27). You don’t just reflect the image of Elohim by your character, you reflect Elohim by your creativity. Each time we nurture something into its fullest potential, we reveal a little of that divine creativity implanted in us and thus bring glory to Him.

Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28).

In Genesis 1:28, God gave mankind its primary job description. The first phrase “be fruitful and multiply” has to do with people. It means develop the social world! Build families, churches, schools and cities. Establish governments and laws.

The second phrase “subdue the earth” has to do with nature. It means harness the natural world! Plant crops, build bridges, design computers, and compose music.

Consciously or subconsciously, the human race has been doing that in past millennia from cutting wood to build houses, to cultivating cotton to make clothes, to extracting silicon to make computer chips.

As we develop the social world and harness the natural world, we are creating culture and building civilization upon the world that God has ordered. In theology, this is called the “cultural mandate.” As we do that, we are given the awesome privilege to be God’s co-creators! No wonder King David stood in amazement as he pondered on the whole purpose of man: “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels [more accurately, ‘Elohim God’], and You have crowned him with glory and honor” (Ps. 8:4-6).

Man is to harness all the raw materials on the earth, in the ocean, and in space, and creatively release them into their fullest potential (8:6-8). As we do that, we are creating culture to the glory of God, and taking dominion over the world that He loves.

Interestingly, the word cultura in Latin also implies cultus or “worship.” Right from the beginning in Paradise, man was given both work and worship. At creation, there was no separation between man’s cultural duties and his worship of God. Both culture and worship were one. That means that there should be never any conflict between those two activities. A Christian should never have to choose between his professional life and his spiritual life. God wants every believer to excel in both!

In fact, when your vertical relationship with God is strong, your horizontal relationship in the marketplace will be successful. The Bible pattern is this: (a) Our work is to be done in a worshipful manner, and (b) our worship of God is to be enhanced by the culture that we do.

Think about it. The weekly worship services in City Harvest Church are greatly enhanced by the songs, lighting and musical production of our members. Their creativity makes coming to church each week a full spirit-soul-body experience. The colorful, cultural work they do in the house of God brings the attendees spiritually closer to the Lord.

Because culture and worship are so closely related from the beginning, a congregation can never carry out the worship of God without interfering with the culture of the world. Theologian Henry Van Til says, “Culture is religion externalized!” What you believe concerning God will always be expressed in your culture! If you believe in a generous God, the culture you create in your home and workplace will be one that is very giving. If you believe in a stern and angry God, the culture you create around you will be one that is very critical and judgmental. If you don’t believe in the existence of God, you will create a godless culture.

Culture is your belief expressed outwardly!


There is another thing: culture is progressive. As you apply your gift, talent and ability, you get increasingly advanced, refined and sophisticated in your creativity. What began as horticulture in the Garden was developed into agriculture. It ultimately became the biotech culture of the 21st Century!

The Bible begins in Genesis with a garden, but it ends in Revelation with a city. The goal for mankind is to progress culturally from a beautiful garden called Eden to a glorious city called New Jerusalem. Eden was just a simple plain but the New Jerusalem is a glorious architecture with walls, gates, streets, trees, parks, rivers, canals, etc.

Since the first chapter of Genesis, all of human race —saved and unsaved—have been moving toward that goal throughout history. We see that progressiveness from the simple city of Cain, to the soaring tower of Babel, to Solomon’s glorious temple, to the ancient wonder of Babylon, and to the sophistication of the mega-cities of our time! All these testify to the cultural mandate God has instinctively put into man, and the creative urge God had hardwired into Adam and the entire human race. We are all city builders! We can’t help ourselves. We have to create and progress culturally.


In Genesis 2:19, Adam started naming the animals. By naming the animals according to their species, Adam had to use careful observations and analyses before coming to their rightful conclusions. That, in seed form, was the beginning of all sciences.

In Genesis 2:23, Adam became very romantic. He waxed lyrically and said of Eve: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” By composing a little poem to praise the beauty and virtue of his lover, Adam started aesthetic arts for all mankind.

So right there in the Garden, you have the birth of the sciences and arts. But God didn’t just give Adam things to ponder upon in his mind, He wanted Adam to work with his hands. He gave Adam the responsibility to care for the Garden (Gen. 2:15).


Work is not the result of sin. Long before sin came in, God gave man the command to work. As such, work is not an evil thing. Neither is it a curse nor punishment for sin. What is sad today is that many Christians think that coming back to God means that we don ’t have to work anymore. There are those who presumptuously teach that work is the curse of the law, and that work is bondage. Nothing can be further from the truth.

We may not be saved by works, but we are certainly saved to work! God loves to work! God hates laziness and idleness. God didn ’t create the universe merely by dreaming or wishing about it. God created the universe by working hard. In fact, He worked so hard that He declared the seventh day to be a day of rest. (Think about it, if God needed to decree a day of rest, He must have worked very hard!)
Without work, creativity cannot be released and culture cannot be developed. No wonder in his Sermons on Deuteronomy, John Calvin says, “It was necessary for men to occupy themselves with some work. Why? Because it was against our nature to be useless blocks of wood.” Well said.

Yo-Yo Ma is the greatest cello player in the world. From the age of four, he practiced six to eight hours a day on his cello, until his spine got crooked. You don ’t become world-class merely by wishing, you become world-class by hard work —very hard work!

The apostle Paul had to rebuke the Thessalonians because they had become so obsessed with the second coming of Christ, they refused to work. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians saying, “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thess. 3:10).

Work is a precursor to success, wealth and prosperity. Adam plowed the ground, sowed his seed and reaped a harvest to feed his family, but he didn ’t stop there. He explored the geology of the land, dug deeper into the ground, and discovered gold and all kinds of precious stones (Gen. 2:11-12). The more you apply yourself and the harder you work, the richer you will become in life (Prov. 13:4).

God’s work from Genesis is to create, preserve and govern. Man’s work from Genesis is to tend, to keep and to subdue the world that God has planted him in. In other words, we have a threefold role of being the prophet (tending), priest (keeping) and king (subduing) of our contemporary society. As a prophet, every man is to reveal his talent, creativity and innovation into the world —all to the glory of God. As a priest, every man must serve his society by elevating the self-esteem of his neighbors, enhancing their quality of life, and bringing them joy and delight in a world plagued by pain and sorrow. As a king, every believer is to take dominion of the whole world by doing culture in a way that brings glory to the greatness and goodness of God.


How then should we live? Our greatest example in life is Jesus Christ. He wasn’t afraid to be relevant to His society and touch those people others would consider unclean. He was accused of being “worldly”—mixing with prostitutes and drunkards, and going to parties hosted by tax collectors. Jesus understood that in order to influence the world, showing off His spirituality or religious beliefs alone is not enough. The way we impact and influence the world is by: (1) the excellence of our quality of life, (2) our acknowledgment of normal human needs, and (3) our ability to identify with a fallen world.

When Moses gave Israel the Word of God, he gave them the rationale for abiding in it: “Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them” (Deut. 4:5-6).

The laws of God were to help the people be successful in possessing the land. The laws of God were so incredibly well thought-out that if the Israelites followed them, they would become the envy of every nation. God guaranteed that His laws would make them so wealthy and prosperous that other nations would start borrowing from them! But more than money, God promises the following:

“For this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has God so near to it” (Deut. 4:6-7).

The commandments are given to establish God’s people in society. The world only gets impressed with our faith when they see our wisdom in marriage and raising a family, our wisdom in handling finances, our wisdom in human relationships and people skills, and our wisdom in creatively doing culture (including pop culture). They will gasp in amazement as they look at the wisdom among God’s people: “For what great nation is there that has God so near to it?”

Make no mistake about it, God wants the world to envy us and say to us: “We must have your way of life!” Yet, how many among the unchurched are actually jealous of Christians today? Why aren’t the unbelievers rushing to church every weekend, or knocking on our doors saying, “Help me, I have to get into the kingdom of God! I want to be like you—happy, successful and creative!” Or have we presented Christianity in a way that is flaky, boring and ugly? Have we presented the kingdom of God to be so backward and irrelevant that the world doesn’t want any part of us?

Let us decide to be relevant to our society. We shouldn’t be afraid to engage a world that God has created and always loved. We should not be fearful to engage culture by being as creative, as colorful, and as progressive as we could possibly be for the glory of God. We mustn’t shun the sciences and arts out there in the marketplace. Rather, we should work hard and excel in the arena of life God has planted us in. As you do that, you will become the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Ultimately, you will bring many into the kingdom of God ! HT

(Part II of this message will continue in the next issue of Harvest Times.)


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And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God to those who are the called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28)

Everyone and everything in life has a purpose (Eccl. 3:1). According to Romans 8:28, your purpose constantly calls out to you. You are not an accident in life. Your date of birth, where you were born, conditions into which you were born, your race, the color of your skin, who your parents are, whether they are rich or poor, educated or illiterate; whether you realize it or not, all these things come into play and influence your purpose in life.

US News & World Report has an annual list of “Americas Best Leaders” honoring personalities ranging from business entrepreneurs, to politicians, and directors of nonprofit organizations. These people are selected by an independent committee of judges assembled by the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In last year’s October 2005 issue, US News profiled 21 leaders that included Bill and Melinda Gates, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice and Steve Jobs. Most of them have had very challenging starts in life. And yet, God used even their failures and defeats for the fulfillment of their purpose.

One of the 21 leaders who made the list was Oprah Winfrey. Oprah had a difficult upbringing. The product of a fling between her mother and a passing serviceman, she was raised by her grandmother on a pig farm with no running water. When she moved to Milwaukee, she was sexually abused repeatedly by family friends and relatives. By the time Oprah was 14 years old, she was a rebellious juvenile delinquent who became pregnant. Her baby boy died one week after delivery.

Oprah left school at 19. Because of her good speaking skills, she landed a job reporting news for a television station in Baltimore. But she kept forgetting her lines at news reporting and often interviewed as if she were a talk-show host, crying with the interviewees on TV. Oprah’s station management became very unhappy with her conduct on air. They also felt that she did not look glamorous enough; hair too thick, nose too wide, eyes too far apart. To glamorize her image, the station sent her to a New York salon for hair treatment. It turned out that the treatment failed and Oprah’s hair fell out. She became bald. Everything was so disastrous that within a year, her TV station told her that she was unfit for prime time news. They then demoted her to a housewives’ daytime talk-show.

Just when her career seemed to be heading south, her daytime talk-show became a hit and there was no turning back for her. By 1985, Oprah’s program had become the number one talk-show in the world, and she held on to that spot for the next 20 years. Today, Oprah Winfrey is the first American-African woman billionaire in the world. In a recent interview, Oprah said, “Failure is really God’s way of saying, ‘Excuse me, you’re moving in the wrong direction.'” Just change the track you are walking on!

God wastes nothing in your life. Every disappointment can be a new appointment. Every stumbling block can be a new starting block. Every tombstone can be a new stepping stone. When you are walking in your purpose, even when bad things happen, they will all work together for your good (Rom. 8:28).

God has made everything beautiful in its time; He has also planted eternity in men’s hearts and minds [a divinely implanted sense of a purpose, working through the ages which nothing under the sun, but only God, can satisfy] … (Eccl. 3:11, Amplified).


It is your responsibility to discover that seed of eternity God has planted in your heart and mind because it represents your destiny and your contribution to human society. You have a responsibility to discover that preordained God-given purpose for your life. And where can we find the purpose of God for our lives? Your purpose is in the mind of God.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you … thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope (Jer. 29:11).

The more you renew your mind by the Word of God, the more you will discover His purpose for your life. But when and where does God reveal to you His mind? If you know the answer to this, you would be particularly sensitive spiritually when the hand of God is at work, when He is taking you into His purpose.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Rom. 12:2).

Romans 12 speaks of transformation. Does transformation take place only when we are at church services on weekends? Or does it take place as we live our daily lives from Monday to Friday out there in the “secular”? We need to know because we want to be on the lookout for God’s hand whenever He is more prone to move in our lives. Does transformation take place mostly in exciting, dynamic, spectacular weekend church services? Or does it take place in the mundane, humdrum routine of living life out there in a humanistic, secular world?

One of the maxims of the late Edwin Louis Cole is this: “if you only look for the supernatural in the spectacular, you will miss God—everytime!” As I study the Bible, I have come to realize that Dr. Cole w as right. More often than not, it is in the secular world, outside the four walls of the church, that we discover God’s purpose for our lives.

The word “secular” in Latin is also the same word where you get the English word “mundane,” which means the ordinary matters relating to this world. God often moves in the mundane. If you are wise and discerning, you will seek the imprints of a supernatural God among the daily natural processes of life.

Let us look at some Bible heroes who found their purpose as they lived life amidst the secular and mundane.


When God gave Adam his life, He also gave him a beautiful home to live in. God then gave Adam a job which was “to tend and keep” the Garden (Gen. 2:15). Adam was to manage the Garden and prevent chaos from entering; to bring about order instead of allowing confusion to breed on the earth.

Out of the ground God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air. He then brought them to Adam to see what he would call them (v. 19). By giving Adam a “problem” to solve, God was signaling that He wanted an intelligent relationship with Adam. The Creator of the whole universe didn’t want to relate to robots. God wants an intelligent relationship with you and me.

It was not such an easy task naming the animals. Adam had to find them, observe and study them, categorize them into their correct species, and then try to tame them. Very often, Adam found himself physically smaller or weaker than the beasts of the field. His only weapon of protection was his mind. He had to out-think and outsmart them. But the more Adam could name the animals, the more he had authority over them.

After a while, he got a hang of things and realized, “Hey, I am pretty good at this!” From naming the twelve species of cattle, Adam went after more than 10,000 different species of birds. And this time, it was even harder. He had to learn how to soar in the sky with them. Once he had mastered the cattle and the birds, he could now go for “every beast of the field,” which bad a staggering total of 2,000,000 species! After that, there were “the fish of the sea.”

As Adam applied his talents and creativity into his work, he found his job scope ever expanding and increasing. Adam soon realized that his one-man operation work style couldn’t handle his workload. He needed a helper. But it couldn’t be just any helper. It had to be someone he could love and live with 24/7. It had to be someone he could start a family with, and together with their children, do even more for the Lord on the earth.

Eventually, what started out as a one- man operation of naming some cattle grew into a vision for a family enterprise. Adam became so good at what he was doing that God gave him a new job description.

So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:27-28).

Out of being a simple gardener taking care of some flowers and trees, Adam progressed to cattle, birds, beasts and fish. As be faithfully applied himself in his “secular” vocation, he found his purpose in God, which was to increase, multiply and have dominion over the whole planet!

Where did Adam discover his destiny? Not in a prayer chapel. But as he worked in the secular, in the mundane, ordinary, “boring” routine of living in the world that God had created, Adam discovered his calling. Starting out as an entry-level gardener, Adam morphed into being the CEO of the whole world! He was transformed in his mental, emotional and spiritual capacity as he engaged the secular. He found his purpose in life as he applied himself wholeheartedly in his vocation.

Abraham was just one of the three sons of Terah (Gen. 11:26). He had a wife called Sarah but unfortunately, they couldn’t have any children. However, even though Abraham couldn’t experience the joy of parenting, God was at work in his life in that very area.

Abraham had a simple gift and talent: he had a very good understanding of fatherhood. His own father was called “Terah,” which literally means “to wait” in Hebrew. Instead of doing his own thing, Abraham submitted to his dad, serving and waiting on him patiently and faithfully in his family business until Terah died at the age of 20.5.

When his father died, he took over the responsibility of looking after Lot, who had lost his own dad at a voung age. Abraham became a surrogate father to him. He loved Lot so much that when Lot was kidnapped by five kings, Abraham risked his own life to defeat those nations who had taken his nephew away.

In addition to that, Abraham was such a good “father” to all his servants who were horn in his own house that he trained them to become a special fighting force. And they were all willing to die for him in battle.

As Abraham treated his own father with honor and became a loving, responsible “surrogate father” to his nephew and his servants in the ordinary, mundane arena of secular life, God was noticing him. God watched for 25 years and saw how this childless man had transformed and matured into a true father.

When Abraham was 99 years old, God appeared to Abraham and gave him the revelation of his life purpose (Gen. 17:1-8). Abraham discovered that his calling was to be “a father of many nations!” Was Abraham greatly surprised? I doubt it. As he served faithfully in his worldly vocation as a “father” to his family and staff, his preordained purpose was becoming more and more evident to him. By-the time God spoke to Abraham in Genesis 17, God was merely confirming what was already obvious. Everybody could tell that lie was gifted in the area of “fatherhood.”

But could a 100-vear-old man and his 90-vear-old barren wife bring forth a son? Once Abraham discovered his God-given purpose, the rest were merely “technical details!” If you can accept and walk in your destiny in the mundane, God will do the impossible for you. A 90-year-old barren wife can still conceive. God will ensure that the impossible becomes possible!

Many of us Christians detest the secular. U need be, we don’t want to engage the world—a place we have long viewed as sinful, evil and demonic. We hold on to both siege and survivalist mentalities, wishing that we could fully withdraw from the world, never to engage it. But as much as the world opposes believers, we are to serve the world. We are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. What’s more, it is in the secular and mundane that the purpose of God for your life is revealed.


Consider the man Joseph, who had a hard life. From young, he was rejected by his brothers who had schemed to throw him into a pit to die. When Joseph didn’t die, the brothers sold him to Egypt as a slave. Languishing in Egvpt, Joseph was falsely accused of committing rape and was subsequently condemned to life imprisonment.

All his life, Joseph was entrenched in the secular. And while he was out there in the world living a very hard life. God was quietly at work in him. Joseph was gifted with certain talents and abilities: he could interpret dreams and from those interpretations, be could solve societal problems. God arranged events in such a way that when it seemed like all hope was gone, Joseph was promoted from the prison to the palace, where be started advising the highest authority in the land—Pharaoh himself (Gen. 41:37-43)!

Eventually, Joseph was set over all of Egypt. All through Scriptures, Egypt has been a type of the world, the secular. And it was there we find Joseph engaging the world fully, working very hard, applying himself fullv in the civil service. He became so successful in his secular vocation that he was promoted to be the number two man to Pharaoh.

But your purpose is more than just finding promotion, wealth and success in your job. Joseph’s true purpose in life was only fully revealed in Genesis 45. It was a time of severe famine and Joseph’s estranged brothers had come to Egypt desperately looking for food. Standing before Joseph, they couldn’t recognize him because Joseph had by now been totally “Egyptianized.”

Then Joseph could not restrain himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Make everyone go out from me!” So no one stood with him while Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard it (Gen. 45:1-2).

Contrary to what some mav have thought, Joseph wasn’t getting emotional because he was finally reconciled to his brothers. As wonderful as that might have been, Joseph may well have been weeping aloud because for the first time in his life, he understood God’s purpose for his existence.

And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save vour lives bv a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt, (w. 7-8).

For the first time, the purpose of God had become clear to Joseph: (1) He was to save his country from famine, (2) he was to make his adopted nation great—and Egypt did become the greatest nation on the earth, (3) he was to save and preserve the Israelites so that they would become a mighty people, out of which the Messiah would eventually come 37 generations later.

How did Joseph discover that purpose? Not by waiting around the premises for God’s promises to come to pass. Like Adam and Abraham, his purpose became clear to him as he excelled in the secular, in the mundane routine of engaging the world of his day.


How did Moses discover his purpose? He grew up as a prince of Egypt educated in all the wisdom and eloquence of the Egyptians (Acts 7:22). Even as a royalty in the palace, God had already hardwired certain gifts and inclinations within Moses—he was a man who would defend the helpless. To defend a helpless Hebrew, Moses took the law into his own hands and killed an Egyptian. His motivation was right but his method was immature.

For the next 40 years, Moses was in self-exile at the backside of the desert working the mundane, secular job of a shepherd. There is nothing very spiritual or supernatural about that, is there? But remember what Dr. Cole used to say: If you only look for the supernatural in the spectacular, you will miss God!

More than just being a sheepherder, Moses was learning about the art of shepherding as he looked after thousands of sheep, growing in his understanding of the rough terrain of the wilderness. At the same time, he was observing the desert nomads’ practices of worshiping their idols in portable tents that were compartmentalized into holy and most holy rooms. And he did that for 40 long years!

By the time Moses discovered his life purpose to be the deliverer of 3,000,000 Israelites, everything he had learned in the secular, mundane world would come into play He used the public administration skills that he was trained in at Egypt to lead a new nation of ex-slaves, legislating laws and implementing social justices. He used the shepherding skills he had learned in the wilderness to pastor the Israelites and traverse through its rough terrains. He used the contemporary religious methods of his day to lead his people in the worship of Jehovah God—in a portable tent called the tabernacle.

When God officially charged Moses with his mandate at the burning bush, He was not taking “a fish out of the water.” Moses could see the hand of God already at work in his life for the past 80 years. All things had worked together for his purpose as he applied himself in the secular world (Gr. kosmos) of family, religion, business, education, government, arts and media. Nothing in his life experience was wasted.


Esther was an orphan but she was born a “lovely and beautiful” girl (Esther 2:7). Her real name was “Hadassah” but she had dreamed of being a celebrity. As such, the Persians named her Esther, which means “a star,” after the Babylonian goddess “Ishtar.”

Esther took part in a beauty pageant and won it. She was crowned the most beautiful girl in Persia. She was then taken into the king’s palace for twelve months of personal grooming, daily beautifying herself with oil and perfumes.

All the while inside the palace, “Esther had not revealed her people or family, for Mordecai had charged her not to reveal it” (Esth. 2:10, 20). There is no need for religious titles in your work as a model, celebrity or a beauty queen. To be the salt and the light in the world, you don’t always need to prefix your name with religious titles like “Reverend,” “Pastor,” “Brother” or “Sister!”

In the Gospel, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their love for titles and public attention:

But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren (Matt. 23:5-8).

The way the world would be impressed by our spirituality is not by our religious prefixes, but by our unconditional love and service. For that reason Jesus advises: “But he who is-greatest among you shall be your servant” (v. 11). Don’t get caught up with religious titles as you interface with the lost in the marketplace. The world will know that you are Christ’s disciples by your love for one another.

Three things then happened for Esther in very quick succession. First, there was an evil plot to destroy the entire Jewish nation, of which Esther was a part of. Second, Queen Vashti lost her throne. Third, now single again, the king fell so in love with Esther that he made her the new queen, and there was nothing he wouldn’t do for her! Behind the scene, God was setting things up and “working all things” for Esther’s good. His purpose for Esther’s life was that she would deliver the Jews in their hour of destruction.

The book of Esther is a very interesting book. It is the one book in the Bible where the word “God” is not mentioned. (I often wonder how those who insist that a Christian shouldn’t read any book or listen to any song that doesn’t mention “Jesus” or “God” would handle this one!) Yet, no one can deny that God was working powerfully in the background!

For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esth. 4:14).

Mordecai was effectively saying, “Esther, just look at the hand of God in your situation! Can’t you see God’s purpose for your life in all these? You have come to the kingdom for such a time as this!” With that, Esther prayed and fasted. She then went to the king, spoke wisely to him, and courageously delivered the Jews from annihilation.

For thousands of years since that time, Jews would celebrate the Feast of Purim in honor of Esther. Who was she? A scholar? An inventor? A preacher? A mighty prophetess? No, Esther was just a simple girl born with a simple talent— she happened to look gorgeous! She was a model, a celebrity, a beauty queen. And God used her celebrity status for the good of His kingdom!

But where did Esther discover her purpose and destiny? It was out there in the secular when she saw the hand of God at work in her, as she went about her daily, nine-to-five, mundane duties in a very worldly Persian palace. There were no signs and wonders happening there. There were no anointed, thunderous, prophetic utterances all the time. It was a place that was godless and unspiritual. But if you only look for the supernatural in the spectacular, you will miss God— every time!

The average Christian spends one percent of the whole week in church. The average City Harvest member spends four percent of the week in the house of God. Where would you find the most divinely inspired transformation in a person’s life? In the meager one to four percent of the week? I doubt it. It will most certainly be in the remaining 96 percent as you spend time in your family, school, workplace, sitting in the train, and going to the mall. God is going to use those mundane daily routines to mold and shape you, and through them show you the destiny you have in your life.

Each day as you go about your secular job, doing the routine and mundane out there in the secular, you need to put up your spiritual antennae to recognize the hand of God transforming you into the image of His Son Jesus Christ. You need’ to let the purpose of God be actualized in you as you live out in your life in the world.

Consider Simon Peter of the New Testament. He was a man with a fishing business. But Peter had an attitude problem: he was nationalist. It is a good thing for one to be patriotic and loyal, but a nationalist lias an excessive, fanatical devotion to his or her home country. A nationalist often believes that his or her nation or race is superior. to all other nations or races.

Peter was a nationalist and most of the people around him knew that. On one hand, he knew that Jesus died for all people and is the Savior of the whole world. Red, ‘yellow, black and white—all are precious in His sight! Yet on the other hand, Peter struggled in mixing with anyone who was not of his own Jewish stock. That was why Paul had many sharp arguments and debates with him over the issue of accepting the Gentiles.

Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy (Gal. 2:11-13).

On the surface, that may be seen as a small thing: sitting and eating with people of a different race. Isn’t that an ordinary and a mundane thing to do? But behind the scenes, God was moving mightily precisely in the ordinary and mundane. Through the simple issue of eating and fellowshipping with Gentiles, He was working in Peter’s heart over his nationalistic attitude. Because God had called Peter according to a higher purpose—to take the entire Church into world missions!

Where was the hand of God working in Peter’s life breaking down his racism? Within the four walls of a church service? In a revival meeting? No! It was over a simple meal Peter was having, while he was out there in the world among the secular, that God transformed his heart. So much so that by the time Peter went to the house of Cornelius—a Gentile—it was such a major deal it jolted the entire Council in Jerusalem. It sparked such a huge excitement of bringing the gospel to the all people that world missions was born through that one event!

Again, where and when did Simon Peter discover his purpose in life? It was out there in the secular marketplace as he mulled over the mundane tasks of eating and drinking.


Although I grew up in a small 60-member Anglican church, I was never the leader or assistant leader of the youth group. But God was setting me up for my life’s purpose. I was good in sports, which made me relatable to youth. I could play the guitar and I love singing worship songs. That helped me to be very effective working with young people in the 1980s because they all loved music.

I was a boy scout and my school, Raffles Institution, had two very prominent scout groups. But through the recommendation of a friend, I joined an open sea scout group instead of the ones in my school. That was rather strange and “outside the box,” which made me quite a maverick among my schoolmates. In retrospect, God was training me to always think “outside the box.”

I majored in computers at the university, which trained me to be logical and think systematically. Upon graduation, as I worked in my first job, I found tremendous pleasure volunteering my spare time to youth and helping them grow in the Lord in a systematic way. And when the young people kept on coming, God said the obvious to me: “Kong, raise me a new generation that will take Asia by storm.”

At the same time, my future wife Sun started serving in the church as a youth worker. But she was never comfortable being a preacher. Asking her to preach behind a pulpit was always torturous for her! She found it particularly hard to be the stereotypical pastor’s wife, forever smiling sweetly on the stage and baking cookies for all church visitors!

As the church grew larger, we both became a little tired of just fellowshipping among the religious fraternity. We could grow a huge church and yet, the whole city would still remain lost. Sun and I often wondered: “What can we do to reach out to more people with Jesus’ love?”

Sun has always felt drawn to the world of arts and entertainment. Maybe because of the Indonesian-Chinese blood in me, I have always been drawn to business and the corporate world. In the last few years, as we engaged our society more as salt and light, we began to discover our purpose: which is not to be a stereotypical religious couple confined within the four walls of a local church, but to take the kingdom of God into the marketplace of society.

Sun got into her singing career and I became a businessman. We became volunteers in the church just like any other lay members. But as we intimately engaged our contemporary culture, we became even more effective as “ambassadors of Christ” out there in the secular. As the founders of the second largest church in Asia, my wife and I could have played it safe and withdrawn from society; but if we had done that, we would never have discovered our destiny.


We have to stop separating the spiritual from the secular. God is not only working within the four walls of the church, He is at work in the whole world. As corrupt and fallen as the world is today, it is not beyond redemption. And God is working 24/7 through you as you live your daily, ordinary, mundane, secular life—out there in the marketplace of society.

This idea of separating the secular from the spiritual was foreign to believers until 200 years ago through what is known as the “Age of Enlightenment.” The philosophies that emerged from the Enlightenment basically proposed that God dwells in heaven and that He is no longer interested in the world—a concept also known as Deism.

Out of the Enlightenment came the idea that “science and religion should never mix,” that ‘Veligion has no place in the modern world,” and “if you want to practice your faith, do it inside your house of worship because faith does not belong to a modern society.”

When we fill up most application forms, we would often find a box that asks for our “vocation.” We tend to understand that word to mean our “job,” our “occupation,” our “profession,” or our “career.” But that word “vocation” is not a secular word. It has its origin from the Bible.

The Webster’s International Dictionary defines “vocation” like this: (a) A divine call to a place of service to others in accordance with a divine plan, (b) The responsibility of an individual or group to serve the divine purposes in every condition, work or relationship of life. It involves the total orientation of a man’s life and work in terms of his ultimate sense of mission.

That means that your vocation goes beyond a job, an occupation, or a career. It is your spiritual calling from God. If you are a businessman, a teacher, a politician, an actor, or a television producer, your position is not just a job. It is your calling from God. The ideas brought forth through the Age of Enlightenment couldn’t be more wrong!

What’s more, the word “vocation” comes from a Latin word vocare, which is where you get the word “vocal” or “to call out.” That means your vocation or purpose is constantly calling out to you, trying to get your attention. You have to listen very carefully.

Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling … according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began (2 Tim. 1:9).

From the day you were born, your purpose has been calling out to you. It is revealed through your gifts, talents and the desires in your heart, as well as through the circumstances that have trained you to become who you are today. Your purpose becomes evident through the things that are happening around you as you live, work and play in the ordinary occurrences of a secular life.

When you understand that, you will not be looking for the kingdom of God only when you come to church. You will stop detesting the mundane, routine things that you do each week in the marketplace. You will no longer say, “The world is such a natural and secular place, oh how I wish I could be serving God all day in church!”

The truth is: you are serving the Lord 24/7 as salt and light! When you understand that, you will not become fearful of the world or be afraid to engage culture with its technology, business, literature, arts, music, fashion, etc. You will understand that greater is He who is’ in you than he who is in the world! And why is He greater in you? Because you have the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit to become a leader in the industries of engineering, technology, business, literature, arts, entertainment, music and fashion!

God does not want us to just tolerate the secular things out there as He is still very much engaged in the natural realm. As much as Satan tries to usurp God’s place in the world, the God of the spiritual is also the same sovereign God working in the secular.
Adam didn’t discover his purpose in a prayer chapel. Joseph didn’t discover his purpose within the four walls of a temple. Abraham, Moses, Daniel and Esther—they all didn’t become full-time preachers or evangelists to live out their God-ordained destinies.

Interestingly, when the hand of God starts moving in your life, know that your life won’t be ordinary or mundane anymore? Conversely, by withdrawing from the secular, you will cut yourself from discovering the purpose of God in your life. Much of God’s working in your life is in the secular and you will find the purpose of God as you faithfully apply yourself in your ordinary

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