About My Father’s Business

by Glenn Conjurske

“Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). So said the Lord Jesus at the age of twelve years, when his parents found him in the temple hearing the doctors and asking them questions. From his point of view it was strange that they should not have understood this. His behavior was no doubt very strange to them, and theirs equally so to him. “Why hast thou dealt thus with us?” says his mother. “How is it that ye sought me?” he returns. His mother’s words were meant as a reproof to him, but his words were a reproof to her also—-and an equal reproof to most of the people of God who have lived since those days. So normal and expected is it that we should all be about our own business, that when a man appears who is about his Father’s business, he seems a strange being to most of the church. He is called a fanatic, or an extremist. He is thought unsociable and abnormal. All this, when a man appears who “must be about his Father’s business.” How much more if he is a boy.

Yet it is a simple fact that the Lord Jesus was a boy when he spoke these words. When the passion of other boys was sport and play, his passion was to be about his Father’s business. Ah! we may thank God he has not been wholly without disciples in this. Of Joseph Alleine (1634-1668) we are told, “When but a schoolboy (as I have heard) he was observed to be so studious, that he was known as much by this periphrasis, The lad that will not play, as by his name.” And as was the boy, so the young man. As a student at Oxford, “he had such a panic sense of the value of time, and the importance of study, that nothing could induce him to relax his labours.” This Alleine was the author of An Alarm to the Unconverted, which had a larger circulation than any book but Pilgrim’s Progress and Robinson Crusoe, and is thought by some to be responsible for the conversion of more sinners to God than any other book ever written. Yet Joseph Alleine died at the age of 34. It was well for him, and for thousands of others, that he “must be about his Father’s business” while he lived. Neither was it any mere coincidence that the boy who would not play should grow into the man who did so much good on the earth. He was possessed by the same spirit which possessed his Lord.

Now it goes without saying that if this was the Lord’s spirit when he was a boy, it was so also when he was a man. There was no need to exhort him with a weekly sermon to be up and doing the work of God. No need to play upon his emotions, or his hopes and fears, to move him to use his time and strength and goods for the work of the Lord. No—-his compulsion came from within. He carried about in his holy and devoted breast an inward, compelling necessity to be about his Father’s business. “I must be about my Father’s business.” That inward necessity carried him into strange paths—-caused him as a boy of twelve to leave the company of his parents, without their knowledge, and spend three days in the temple with the doctors of the law. How little did even his parents—-godly though they were—-understand him! “How is it that ye sought me?” he asked them, and we might add, How is it that they sought him for three days? If they had but known him, they would have gone first to the temple of God—-his Father’s house—-to seek him, and spared themselves three days of searching and sorrowing.

But he is as little understood today. We know that “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked” (I Jn. 2:6), yet few indeed are his professed disciples who are constrained by an inward, compelling necessity to be about their Father’s business. It is not only boys who play today, but men and women. And when here and there a man walks in the steps of his Master, refraining from play in order that he might work for his Lord, he is accounted strange, fanatical, legalistic, or unsociable.

You would like to see me on the golf course, or on the tennis court. Say, I would be glad to play also, but there is no place for it now, while the world is perishing around me, and in the very church of God the whole head is sick and the whole heart faint. I must be about my Father’s business. If it is right to play, I shall play to my heart’s content in heaven, where time will not be so dear as it is now, where there will be no perishing sinners around me who need to be saved, no saints of God who need reproof and correction and instruction in righteousness, no ignorance and superstition to deal with, no poverty to struggle against.

Ah, then—-if it is right to play—-then the Lord may say to thee and me, “Take a thousand years, and play tennis, and if that does not suffice you, take another thousand. And you who love words, take a thousand years and play Scrabble. All of you—-play golf, play chess, play ball, run the hundred million mile dash. Enjoy yourselves.” All of this, no doubt—-if it is right to play. Surely heaven is the place for it, and eternity the time.

But so far is the church today from that inward, compelling necessity to be about our Father’s business, that many actually debate over what kind of entertainment is legitimate—-taking it for granted that it is right to spend our precious little mite of time in some kind of entertainment. Years ago a certain Reformed Baptist pastor was in my home. He was a godly man, whose standards were certainly above those of most of the church today. He had no doubt heard some things about me—-enough to know that I was legalistic, “anticultural,” and probably fanatical. He began to question me on such things as whether I regarded it as wrong to listen to classical music. Now I knew that if I told him it was wrong to do so, he would have disputed the point, and I would have made no impression. I replied therefore, while the tears flowed from my eyes, “God has given me one little drop of time, in which to determine all the issues of a vast eternity, for myself and thousands of others, and I am not going to spend it listening to classical music.” He obviously felt the force of that, and made no reply.

It is the shortness, the uncertainty, and the preciousness of TIME, coupled with the overwhelming vastness of the NEED which presses upon us on every side, which ought to give us that inner, compelling “must” to be about our Father’s business. So it was with the Lord Jesus. We have seen him thus as a boy, and it goes without saying that he was nothing changed as a man. As a boy he said, “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” And as a man, “I must work the works of him that sent me while it is day. The night cometh, when no man can work.” (John 9:4). It was the shortness and preciousness of time which compelled him.

But is time any less precious today? All good men must reprobate the unconscionable apathy of a Nero, who could fiddle while Rome burned, but the same folks who will condemn Nero will play while the world perishes.

But you disagree with me. Your kind of Christianity says, We ought to play. Mine says, We ought not. One of us, then, is mistaken. One of us is wrong. What then? I dare say I shall have as easy a time of it to obtain the forgiveness of God for being too much about my Father’s business, as you shall have for being too little. I suppose I shall be as easily forgiven of God for working for Christ, as you shall be for playing for yourself. We must all of us shortly appear before the judgement seat of Christ. If I am wrong, my plea is ready. When my Lord takes me to task for serving him too much, for going to extremes, and allowing the zeal of his cause to consume my time and strength and money, yea, and for disturbing the peace of the church by calling upon others to do the same, I have my answer ready. “My Lord, I thought I was supposed to live as I did. I saw the harvest great, and the laborers few. I saw the whole world unconcerned on the broad road to the flames of hell, and scarcely anybody to warn them, and I could not bear to play while they perished. I saw the whole church of God lukewarm and worldly and starving, and I felt so desperately the need to move them, and teach them, and call them back to the old paths of holiness and devotedness to Christ, and all the things of this world seemed so vain and empty in comparison, that I just could not give myself to them. I thought I was following the example of Christ and his apostles, and of all the old prophets of God. Honestly, I didn’t know any better. Can you forgive me for this?” What will your plea be then?

But (alas) I have little fear that I shall ever stand in need of such a plea. When I stand before God to give account of myself, I have little fear that he will take me to task for serving him too much. My fears are all the other way. If I am censured there, it will be for wasting so much precious time, for being so lazy and languid in the cause of Christ, for being so much occupied about my own affairs. And for that I shall have but little excuse.

And play, we should understand, is not the only thing which keeps men from the work of God. We may never play at all, and yet fail altogether to “be about our Father’s business.” We can find business enough of our own to occupy our minds and our hands and our time—-if we have no compelling necessity inside to “be about our Father’s business.” In one of the saddest utterances of Scripture, Paul laments that “All seek their own things, and not the things of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 2:21). And this he speaks of saints, not of sinners. Now I must confess, it is with some reluctance that I even quote such a verse, lest saints should be comforted rather than convicted by it—-comforted to know that in seeking their own things instead of the things of Christ, they are in company with “all” the rest of the saints. Yet the verse is obviously designed to convict us, for though “all” are guilty, there is yet no excuse for it.

And yet not quite all are guilty, for this very chapter gives us two notable exceptions. First, Timothy, whom Paul was about to send to them, saying, “For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your estate, for all seek their own things, and not the things of Christ Jesus.” Timothy would naturally care for their estate, as a mother naturally cares for her babe. His compulsion came from within. It was his nature to give himself to the work of Christ, and to be about his Father’s business. And then, Epaphroditus, “who for the work of Christ was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me.” This man must be about his Father’s business, not only at the expense of his own affairs, but almost at the expense of his own life. This is the spirit of Christ, and the spirit of Christianity.

Glenn Conjurske