Work: Growing spiritually at work

GROWING SPIRITUALLY AT WORK

Rick Warren

 

Romans 8,

Work Series. 1st – actually worship through your work.

2nd – work is a place for a mission, that you can witness through your work.

3rd – work is a place for ministry, you can serve God by serving others.

This morning – work is a place for maturity.

 

40% of our time, we will spend working during your lifetime, and if we don’t learn how to integrate work into our spiritual life, 40% of our life is wasted in the area of personal development and growth.  {If you don’t go out to work at paid employment – you still work and these principles still apply!!!}

 

What is God’s goal for your development?

 

Romans 8:29 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, …. (NIV)From the very beginning God decided that those who came to him should what?  Would you read it with me? … should become like His Son.”

 

Ephesians 4:13 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (NIV)

 

God’s goal for my life is that I will develop the character of Jesus Christ.

 

How does my job make me like Christ?

Well, there are many ways.  There are many aspects of your job that God can use to build Christ-like character in your life.  But this morning I just want to look at three (3) aspects that God uses at work to help you grow spiritually.

 

1.       God Uses Pressure At Work To teach Me Responsibility.

                   2.       God Uses People At Work To Teach Me Relationships.

                   3.       God Uses Problems At Work To Teach Me Character.

 

  1. God Uses Pressure At Work To Teach Me Responsibility.

 

This first one is very important because we don’t hear much about personal responsibility today. Every job has unique pressures.  And, a certain amount of stress can be beneficial to your spiritual growth?

Have you ever had a task that you had to complete, that you didn’t feel like completing, but you did it anyway?  You were developing responsibility.

 

Responsibility is when you do the right thing whether you feel like it or not.

Ephesians 5:15  Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, )

“Live life, then with a due sense of responsibility, not as people who don’t know the meaning of life, but as those who do.” 

In our society there is a great decline of personal responsibility.  Everybody today talks about “my rights.”  Few want to talk about my responsibilities.

It’s “blame everybody else, pass the buck, it’s not my fault, it’s all your fault.”

Most psychiatrists will tell you that personal responsibility is the key to mental health–it’s a starting point.  Accepting responsibility for your own actions and behaviour is also one of the keys to spiritual growth.

We grow by being given responsibility.  It stretches us.  Any time your boss gives you responsibility, any time a parent gives responsibility to a child, we grow through it.

 

How?  Well there are many, many ways.  Let’s look at 3 or 4 ways you can develop personal responsibility through your work:

 

By keeping promises.

Psalm 15:1-4

1  LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?

2 He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous,

….      who keeps his oath even when it hurts, (NIV)

God blesses the one who always does what he promises, no matter how much it may cost.”

 

Today fewer and fewer people can be counted on to keep their word.  God blesses the people who keep their word.  Would you agree that people don’t keep promises today?

  • Look at the divorce rate.
  • Did you know that airlines deliberately overbook by 30%.  Why?  They are expecting 30% no-shows and they don’t even call to cancel.
  • It’s like the contractor who underbids a job and half way through it realises he’s going to go short on it, so he figures out a way to leave the job unfinished.
  • Or the teenager who gets a job at McDonald’s and stays out at a party on Friday night and on Saturday morning they’re tired so they just don’t go in.

God says, “If you say you’re going to show up, you show up!”  One of the marks of spiritual maturity is you keep your promises.  You learn to develop responsibility and you keep your word.

 

By meeting deadlines.

Proverbs 18:9 says “The one who is slack in his work is a brother to the one who destroys.”

 

What He is saying there, that if I’m lazy, I’m sabotaging the work of my boss.  I’m sabotaging his business.  That when I waste time that I’m being paid for, I’m being destructive.  By meeting demands, by getting things in on time, that develops personal responsibility because God is watching me and He says He wants me to be responsible. {If you are a boss then you are responsible NOT to make unreasonable demands!!!}

 

By working without supervision.

Ephesians 6:6-7 6 Obey them [masters] not only to win their favour when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, (NIV)

Don’t work hard only when your master is watching…work hard all the time, as though you were working for Christ.”

 

Now, we’ve talked about this many times.

ILLUS.: I heard this week about a customer, who said to a clerk, “I want you to do this dishonest transaction, but don’t worry, your boss is out.  He’s not going to know about it.”  The clerk was a Christian and he said, “My real boss is never out.  He always knows about it.”

 

A mark of responsibility is when you serve in spite of whether you are being supervised or not.

 

Luke 16:10-11 10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? (NIV)

Bible has two words for responsibility: faithfulness and stewardship.

If we’re not faithful in little, we’re not going to be faithful in much.”

  1. God Uses People At Work To Teach Me Relationships.

He uses pressure to teach me responsibility, He uses people to teach me relationships.

One of the biggest problems in any office, in any work is personality problems.  “Oh, I love my job; I just can’t stand the people.  I just don’t get along with them.  And there’s conflict and we bang heads.”

Rockefeller said, “I’ll pay more for somebody who knows how to get along with others than any other skill.”

At work you have to deal with all kinds of strange, weird and wonderful people? Here’s a list here of common types of cranky co-workers.  Maybe you are one or are married to one!! {DON’T LOOK AROUND or NUDGE ANYONE!!!}

1. The Sherman Tank.  A Sherman Tank will run over you if you let them.  You know, they are pushy, they are always demanding their own way.  They use threats and intimidation very frequently.  Any of you work with a Sherman Tank?  Look at that!  Amazing.

 

2. The Megaphone.  The Megaphone, this person doesn’t know how to be quiet.  Their mouth is always in gear.  They talk to you all the time, it doesn’t matter what the topic is, if you get a Megaphone on the telephone, you’re in trouble.  Any of you work with a Megaphone?  They love to talk.

 

  1. The Bubble-burster.  This person has a knack for spoiling everybody’s fun.  They see something negative in everything.  Their favourite phases are:  “It won’t work, it can’t be done, it costs too much, it’s impossible.”  Any of you work with Bubble-bursters?  You see?  Isn’t that interesting?

 

4. The Volcano.  This guy’s got a temper like Mt. St. Helen’s.  You never know when they’re going to blow up.  You always walk on eggshells.  Anybody got somebody they have to work with like that?

 

5. The Cry-baby.  These people are always getting their feelings hurt.  And they love to manipulate you by pity and guilt.  They love to get attention by whining.  Anybody work with a Cry-baby?

 

6. The Nit-picker.  The Nit-picker finds something wrong with everything.  They are an unpleaseable perfectionists.  They are hypercritical.  Anybody work with a Nit-picker?

 

7. The Space Cadet.  These people come from another planet.  I mean, it’s like, “Earth to Mars,” you know.  They live in their own world, they’re absent-minded, they make their own rules, they park where they want to park.  You can talk to them, but it doesn’t do any good.  You say, “Read my lips.”  Do any of you work with Space Cadets?

 

How am I supposed to deal with people like that?  This is a whole series of sermons BUT let’s look at one passage –

Romans 12:16-18 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

 

Here’s five practical suggestions on dealing with people at work:

 

“Work happily together.”  (LB)  Would you write out to the side of that, co-operation.  That’s the quality that God wants to teach you in dealing with other people who are difficult.  Co-operation.  Work happily together.  Then He says:

 

“Treat everyone with equal kindness.” (JB)  Would you write out to the side of that, fairness.  God wants to develop fairness in your life.  The only way He can do that is to put you around other people.

 

“Don’t become set in your own opinions.” (Ph)  That’s flexibility.  Don’t major on minors.

 

“Never pay back evil for evil.” (LB)  You know what that is?  That’s humility.  Humility is the ability to absorb a hurt and not retaliate.  Never pay back evil for evil in the office.

 

“Do all you can to live at peace with everyone.” (JB)  That’s compromise.  God wants to teach you how to compromise.  Compromise is not a dirty word.

 

Did you know that God specifically puts people around your life at work to irritate you?  Did you know that?  He does!  It’s intentional!  He puts irritating people around you, — “Heavenly sandpaper.”   And He wants to shear off your rough edges, sand them down and make you mellower, more Christ-like.  He wants to teach you how to relate.

 

1 Corinthians 16:14 summarises it all:  “Do all your work in love.”  Now, how would you rate yourself on relational skills?  Do you know how to get along with anybody?  You say, “Well, most people I can get along with.”  Do you know how to get along with everybody?  “No.”  God wants to work on you. And He’s using work-pressures to build responsibility and people to build relationships. To teach you how to relate like Jesus would.  Then comes along problems.

 

  1. God Uses Problems At Work To Teach Me Character.

We all have problems at work, you think you’ve had a tough week, I thought I’d read you this claim form to an Insurance Company.

Dear Sir:  I’m responding for your request for additional information on my accident.  In block number 3 of the Insurance Accident Reporting Form, I put “poor planning” as the cause of my accident.  You said in your letter that I should explain more fully.  I trust that the following details will be sufficient.

 

I am a bricklayer by trade. On the day of the accident, I was working alone on the roof of a new 6-storey building.  When I completed my work, I discovered that I had about 500 pounds of brick left over.  Rather than carry the bricks down by hand, I decided to lower them down in a barrel by using a pulley that was attached to the side of the building on the 6th floor.  Securing the rope at ground level, I went up to the roof, slung the barrel out, loaded the bricks into it, then I went back to the ground to insure a slow decent of the 500 pounds of brick.  You will note in block number 11 of the Insurance Accident Report Form that I weigh 150 pounds.  Due to my surprise of being jerked off the ground so suddenly, I lost my presence of mind and forgot to let go of the rope!  Needless to say, I proceeded at a rather rapid rate up the side of the building.  In the vicinity of the 3rd floor I met the barrel coming down.  This explains my fractured skull and broken collarbone.  Slowed only slightly, I continued my rapid accent, not stopping until the fingers of my right hand were 2 knuckles deep in the pulley.  Fortunately, by this time I had regained my presence of mind and I was able to hold on tightly to the rope in spite of my pain.  At approximately the same time however, the barrel of bricks hit the ground and the bottom fell out of the barrel.  Devoid of the weight of the bricks, the barrel weighed approximately 50 pounds.  I refer you again to my weight in block 11.   As you might imagine, I began a rather rapid decent down the side of the building.  In the vicinity of the 3rd floor I met the barrel coming up.  This accounts for the 2 fractured ankles and the lacerations on my legs and lower body.  The encounter with the barrel slowed me just enough to lessen my injuries when I fell on the pile of bricks.   Fortunately, only 3 vertebrate were cracked.  I’m sorry to report however, that as I lay there on the bricks in pain, unable to stand, and watching the empty barrel 6 stories above me, I lost my presence of mind and I let go of the rope!   Thank you.   Joe B. Sheriden.

 

Romans 5:3-4 3 … we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.

(LB), “We can rejoice when we run into problems and trials for we know they are good for us–they help us learn to be patient.  And patience develops strength of character…”

God’s much more interested in your character than He is in your comfort.

He wants us to have the character of Christ. … the fruit of the Spirit.

…  love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and self-control. … Gal 5.

How does God produce those things in my life?

LOVE – By putting some unlovely people around you.  It’s easy to love the lovely, it’s easy to love people like you.  But He put some jerks around you to teach you genuine love.

JOY  – Joy is not happiness. Happiness depends on happenings, circumstances.  God wants us to know his joy through disappointment, through failure, through discouragement, through problems, through grief.

PEACE –   To teach you real peace He puts you in an office of chaos or a home of chaos–in all kinds of problems and difficulties and stress and pressures and deadlines, teaching you inner peace.

PATIENCE – He gives you an irritating boss.  He puts you in a traffic jam going to work.  He puts in delays.

KINDNESS –   He puts some people around you that have obvious emotional needs to teach you to be kind to them.

FAITH – He puts you in situations where you have to take risks.  Where you’re tempted to doubt, where you’re tempted to withdraw, where you’re full of fear–He puts you there so you have to have faith.

GOODNESS –  He brings some ethical decisions into your life, where you have to make the right choice.  He allows you to be tempted – seduced to do the wrong thing.

GENTLENESS – He’ll allow you to be criticised.  Opportunities to forgive others who have hurt you and not retaliate.

SELF-CONTROL –  He’ll put you in a place where you have no supervision.  It depends on your discipline.  When you’re tempted to seek revenge, He’ll say, “No.  Have self-control.”

 

That’s the fruit of the Spirit.  It takes time for fruit to ripen.

ILLUS. Have you ever eaten a gassed tomato?  You know, that’s how they turn green tomatoes red–they gas them and it turns them red.  They don’t taste anything like a vine-ripened tomato.

Fruit develops slowly.  And God has to use pressure and people in your life at work for the purpose of making you like Jesus Christ.

 

Now the reality is, you need to ask, “God, what are you trying to teach me in this situation?”  When you are having problems in your work.  Sometimes problems are overwhelming to you.  What do you do when problems overwhelm you?

2 Corinthians 1:8-9 8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9 Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (NIV)

 

Two things you need to do when you’re overwhelmed by problems, whether at work, at home or anywhere else:

 

1st – Turn the problem over to God through prayer.

2nd – To join a small group of friends who can encourage you.  –  12x Paul uses “we” / “us” / “our”  Paul’s not in this alone, he had other people who encouraged him and helped him.

 

You need somebody you can sit down and pray with, talk with, share with–you need a small group.

 

That God wants to build you through your work.  That the most important thing you bring home from your work is not your paycheque!  It’s you!  How are you different?  How has it shaped you and moulded you and made you more like God?

 

PRAYER> Heavenly Father, thank you for Your Word.  Apply it in our lives, help us to use what we learn on Sunday to make a difference on Monday.  We pray this in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

GROWING SPIRITUALLY AT WORK

 

God’s Goal:

That I will develop the Character of Christ.

 

HOW DOES MY JOB FIT IN?

 

  1. God Uses Pressure at Work

to Teach Me Responsibility

 

  • By keeping promises.                     Psalms 15:4
  • By meeting deadlines  / standards       Proverbs 18:9
  • By working without supervision     Ephesians 6:6-7

 

 

 

  1. God Uses People at Work

to Teach Me Relationships

 

 

      Romans 12:16-18

  • “Work happily together.”
  • “Treat everyone with

equal kindness.” 

  • “Don’t become set in your opinions.” 
  • “Never pay back evil for evil.”
  • “Do all you can to live at peace

with everyone.” 

  • “Do all your work in love.” 

1 Corinthians 16:14

 

 

 

 

  1. God uses Problems at Work

to Teach Me Character

 

Romans 5:3-4 / 2 Corinthians 1:8-9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. … Galatians 5:22-23

 

 

  • Take your problems to God in prayer.
  • Join a small group of friends who can encourage you and pray with you.

 

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Work: My ministry in the marketplace

MY MINISTRY IN THE MARKETPLACE

Rick Warren

 

For a believer, work is never just a job. We have talked about how work can actually be an act of worship by demonstrating the talents and gifts and abilities that God has given us. By being what He made me to be. (Whether paid or unpaid work – housewife or CEO of a large Company)

We have talked about how work can be a witness.  That you have a mission in the marketplace. God call us to be a witnesses, to be the salt and light in the world.

 

Today, MY MINISTRY IN THE MARKETPLACE.

Sometimes perception that only those in “full-time” ministry can really serve the Lord properly.  Missionaries, Pastors and Youth worker!!.

 

LOOK at this …Colossians 3:23-24 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (NIV)

 

Now how do you do that? How do you serve God in your work?

 

Jesus said [Matthew 25]  “Anything you’ve done for one of my brothers here, however humble, you’ve done for who? for me.”  “Anything you do for another person, you do for me!”

 

We serve God by serving others.  How can you use your job as a ministry.

 

I.       THE BENEFITS OF SERVING OTHERS

 

  1. It makes life more meaningful.

 

Ephesians 2:10 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (NIV)

Good works for whose benefit?   … “…long ago God planned that we should spend our lives in helping others.”  God created you for ministry. God made you to serve.

Titus 3:14 14 Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives. (NIV)

Titus 3:14  “Have your people learn to give their time in doing good, to provide for real needs … not live useless lives.” 

You can waste your life, you can spend your life or you can invest your life.

God wants you to invest your life by serving others, and then your life is not useless.

Mark 8:35 (Living Bible), “Only those who give their lives away for My sake and the gospel will ever know what it means to truly live.”  … you lose your life to find it.  You give your life away. You don’t think less of yourself, you just think more of others!

 

  1. It makes me like Christ.

Philippians 2:4-5 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: (NIV)

 

And what is the attitude He had? Matthew 20:28 28 .. the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, …

 This is the opposite of what our culture generally says.  Our culture says, “Think of yourself first.  Look out for number one.”

Is it natural to think about others instead of yourself?  No, it’s not.  Our desire is to be served, not to serve.  One of the proofs that we are Christians, is we have a desire to serve other people.  That’s the way Jesus is.  And if we’re going to be like Christ, we’ve got to learn to serve.

It may be okay for an unbeliever to say, “Hey, who’s going to meet my needs? I want my right!!!

”  But the key question for a believer is, “Who’s needs can I meet?”

{Good Samaritan} – Who was neighbour to man who fell among theives??

Have we as Christians lost this by over-emphasising the spiritual??!!

Jesus said, “I didn’t come to be served, but I came to serve”  Maybe I shouldn’t call myself a Christian unless I’m willing to serve.

 

In a world that is by-and-large self seving what impact could Christians make by serving others in geniune acts of kindness!

 

  1. I will be rewarded in eternity.

Matthew 25:21, Jesus says, “Well done, good and faithful servant!  You’ve been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your Master’s happiness!” 

 

That’s what God wants to say to you when you get to Heaven.  But He can only say that to you if you have been faithful in service here on Earth.

Notice there are three rewards.

1st – “Well done.”   Can you imagine anything more exciting that to get to Heaven and have God come up to you and say, “Well done! You did a good job with your life. You used your work as an act of worship, you used it as a witness, you used it as a ministry.  Well done!!”

 

2nd You’ll get a promotion–“I will put you in charge of many things!  You’ve been faithful in little, you’ll be faithful in much.”

God is watching us, testing our faithfulness.  We’re going to spend far more time on that side of eternity than the 60, 70, 80 we spend on this side.  And God’s watching us to see how we handle this test.

Are we faithful in serving God and serving others here?  As a plumber, shop-assistant, secretary, mother, student, neighbour, postman, nurse, cleaner, …

 

So there’s promotion, there’s affirmation and then He says there’s celebration.

3rd – “Come share your Master’s happiness!”

Jesus says, “Let’s party!  Let’s have a good time, you’ve done a good job.”

[There I also place to celebrate and party down here!!]

When you get to Heaven, Jesus will probably come up to you and say, “You know, when I was down there on Earth, I did not go to Earth to be served, but I went to serve others.  By the way, what was your purpose while you were down there?”

When you get to Heaven, God is not going to look at your status, He’s going to look at your service.  What did you do?  What are you going to do with your life?  What are you giving your life for?  Does it matter?  Does it count?

 

Jesus said, Mark 10:43 43 .., whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.

John 12:26.  Jesus says, “My Father will honour the one who serves me.”

 

Four practical ways to serve God by serving others.

Every Christian is a minister–not a pastor, but a minister.  That means, God has called you to serve with all you life in your world – in the place that you work, in your community, in your school, in your home.

 

II.      HOW TO HAVE A MINISTRY AT WORK

 

  1. Accept others unconditionally.

You minister to people when you accept people. Everybody needs acceptance. Why?  Because nobody’s perfect!   We all have faults, foibles, weaknesses, hang-ups.  We blow-it, we sin, we make mistakes, we stumble.  Nobody’s perfect!  Not even pastors! [esp. not pastors!!]

 

If you expect perfection from people, you’re just going to be frustrated and disappointed. We can’t really help people until we accept them.

NB – “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”  Romans 15:7.

 

Don’t confuse acceptance with approval.  They are two different things.  You can accept people without approving of their lifestyle.  You can love people without agreeing with sinful behaviour that they are involved in.  Jesus did it all the time.  He loved people, accepted them, without approving of things that they were doing wrong.  In fact, Jesus was called the “Friend of Sinners” because He always hung out with riffraff.  It says He hung out with the low-life, with prostitutes, and drunks and tax collectors [political collaborators!!]  He criticised the self-righteous religious types the most!!

 

Jesus accepted people without approving of things they had done wrong.  He was with the victims.  The outcasts, the lepers, the people that others didn’t want to get near.  Why?  Because He accepted people.  Now how do you do that?

 

“How in the world can I accept the people at my work?”  [not just at work – home, church ..]

 

A helpful key: “Look past the behaviour and see the hurt”.

Try to look past the obnoxious behaviour and see their hurt, because hurt people, hurt people.  People who are hurting on the inside act in hurtful ways to others.  And you have to look past the behaviour and see their hurt and then you can accept them.  {When we are hurt our natural response is to want to hurt back.}

 

Usually the people at your work who deserve it the least, the most obnoxious ones, those who deserve it the least are those who need it the most.  They need massive doses of love.

ILLUS.: Have you ever figured out why, you know, the people who always get on T.V. cameras in the street scenes are always obnoxious extremists?  They get the publicity.  Why?  Because, everybody knows inside, whether they know it consciously, that if you can’t get acceptance, you’ll get attention.  That’s true of children.  If children can’t get the acceptance of their parents then they say, “I’ll get their attention.”  And there are many negative ways for them to get your attention.

When I accept people, I minister to them.  Accept them unconditionally.

 

  1. Encourage others continually.

You minister to people when you encourage them.

NB – 1 Thessalonians 5:11., “Encourage one another and build each other up…”

Now, when you go back to work tomorrow, let me tell you three facts about all the people you’re going to work with. I’m not a prophet, but I can tell you 3 facts about the people you work with.  They are:

–        Everybody is having a tough time in some way or other.

–        Everybody has a hidden hurt.

–        Everybody could use a lift.

 

Christians, of all people should have a reputation for being the encouragers at the office, at work.

 

NB – Ephesians 4:29“…speak only what is helpful for building others up accordingly to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”.

I.e. say things that build people up, not tear them down.  Things that help them, that are for their benefit according to their needs.  Appreciation.

 

ILLUS.:I heard the other day, a little boy in a restaurant–the waitress was being really nice to him and expressed some appreciation to him; he looked at his mom and said, “Wow!  She thinks I’m real!”

ILLUS.: Ad executive – greeted everyone – — new company – receptionist said “ I have been looking forward to meeting you – you are the boss who greets secretaries and receptionists!!!”

 

When we treat people in a real way when we encourage them.  AND what is interesting is that often people tend to become the way you think of them. Usually we are helped to grow more grow by  being lifted up, not by being put down.

 

  1. You forgive others freely.

When people hurt you, and they will, and you respond with forgiveness, you minister to people.

Actually, there are two ways you can minister through forgiveness.

You can minister by offering forgiveness at work and you can minister by asking forgiveness when you blow it.

 

ILLUS.: Read a story about a lady who was the CEO of a large company and one day she blasted her whole staff; she was very uptight and cantankerous and she just let them have it.  She went into her office and about 5 minutes later she walked back out and called the staff back together and she said, “I’m sorry, I blew it.  I shouldn’t have said those things and I was wrong, and I need to ask the entire staff to forgive me.”  After it was over a lady came up to her and said, “Your Christianity is real.  I want you to tell me about it.”

When you blow it, you ask for forgiveness.  That’s what Jesus would say.

He’d teach you to be forgiving, to offer it [to forgive a wrong and not hold a grudge] and to ask when you have blown it and hurt someone!!.

What if you ask forgiveness and the person won’t forgive? Not much you can do – some people tend to thrive on being victims – All we can do is to keep on reaching out.

 

Colossians 3:13.  “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

“bear with others” — what does that mean?  à be patient with them, bear with them.  Patience is putting up with people you’d rather put down.

 

What’s our motive for being forgiving?  à, “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  Why should I be forgiving?  Because I’ve been forgiven.  I’ll never have to forgive anybody else more than God has already forgiven me.

 

  1. Helping others willingly.

Proverbs 3:27-28           27 Do not withhold good from those who deserve it,

when it is in your power to act. 28 Do not say to your neighbour, “Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow” — when you now have it with you. (NIV)

“Whenever you possibly can, do good to those who need it.  Never tell your neighbour to wait until tomorrow if you can help him now.” 

 

When you offer any kind of practical assistance to people at work that you are ministering to them and that you are serving God by serving others?  You have a servant’s heart?  Jesus said, “Even a cup of cold water given in my name counts.” 

 

There’s a song we used to sing [I haven’t be able to find it] – “We’re his hands, we’re his feet, we’re his ears we’re his eyes…..  You represent Jesus Christ at work.  And it’s not only an act of worship and an act of witness, but it’s a ministry when you help other people.

 

Look at: 1 Corinthians 15:58 … Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.

[GN], “Nothing you do in the Lord’s service is ever useless.”

It all counts!  Offering practical assistance, helping them with a project, teaching them a new software program, helping them decorate a house, or helping them in the garden, just listening!.  It all counts.

The problem is we get so wrapped up in ourselves, we become insensitive to when other people need our help.

 

ILLUS.: A number of years ago the Salvation Army held their international conference and General William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, was going to come and present a vision for the next 50 years. Well, he got sick and he couldn’t come.  So he sent telegram of the message that he wanted to deliver to all these delegates.  When they arrived, the conference was packed out, they received the telegram and a man walked to the podium to read this message that was to lay out the vision of the Salvation Army for the next 50 years.  When he opened the telegram it only had one word on it. “Others.”

 

What word dominates your life?  Me, myself and I?  Or others.  You can’t be like Jesus Christ unless you think of others.  “I didn’t come to be served, I came to serve.”

Your rewards in Heaven are going to be based on that.  Did you know that in Matthew 25 it says, “We will stand before Christ one day and Jesus will say, I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was without clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and I was in prison and you visited me.”

And we’ll say, “Lord, when did we ever do that?  And Jesus Christ will say, “When you’ve done it to the least of my brothers, you’ve done it to me.”  Now listen, Matthew 25 says that the one thing that you will be judged for at that judgement is how you treated other people.  Not how many Bible verses you memorised, not how many times you went to church, but how you treated other people.

 

There are people all around you at work who are hurting emotionally, physically, spiritually, financially.  You do not have all the answers but you have Jesus!  And you can be a minister to them by accepting them, encouraging them, forgiving them and helping them.  And earning the right to share the Good News by your actions.

 

David is one of my favourite characters in the Bible – he is so real and down-to-earth while at the same time is a godly man. Acts 13:36 says, “David served God’s purpose in his generation, then he died.”

What a great epitaph to have on your tombstone, you served God’s purpose in your generation.

There is nothing more meaningful in life than serving Christ by serving others.  There is nothing more Christ-like than serving Christ by serving others.

There is nothing more rewarding than serving Christ by serving others.  I think

 

God wants you to go back to work tomorrow with a new job description and a new title. Just say to yourself, “I am a minister of Jesus Christ in the workplace today.”  And ask yourself, “Who can I minister to, who needs my acceptance, who needs my forgiveness, who needs my encouragement, who needs my help?”  We are His hands.

 

(Prayer) “Lord, thank you for your word, help us to be like you, in Jesus Name, Amen.”

 

MY MINISTRY IN THE MARKETPLACE

 

 

I.    THE BENEFITS OF SERVING OTHERS

 

  1. It makes life more meaningful.

 

      2.   It makes me ­like Christ.

 

      3.   I will be rewarded in eternity.

 

 

II.   HOW TO HAVE A MINISTRY AT WORK

 

      1.   Accept others unconditionally.

 

      2.   Encourage others continually.

 

      3.   Forgive others freely.

 

      4.   ­Help others willingly.

 


Work hard and cheerfully at all you do, just as though you were working for the Lord …. He’s the one you are really working for.  Colossians 3:23-24 (LB)

 

Jesus said “Anything you’ve done for one of my brothers here, however humble, you’ve done for me.”Matthew 25:40 (NEB)

 

Have our people learn to give their time in doing good, to provide for real needs … not live useless lives.  Titus 3:14 (GN)

 

Whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s shall save it.  Mark 3:14 (GN)

 

Look out for each other’s interests, not just for your own.  The attitude you should have is the one that Jesus Christ had.   Philippians 2:4-5 (GN)

 

Jesus said “I didn’t come to be served, but to serve …”  [Matt 20:28]  “Well done, good and faithful servant!  You’ve been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come share your Master’s happiness!”  Matt.. 25:21

 

Accept one another, .., just as Christ accepted you, Romans 15:7

 

Encourage one another … build each other up…1 Thess 5:11

 

Bear with each other and forgive … one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  Colossians 3:13

 

Whenever you possibly can do good to those who need it.  Never tell your neighbour to wait until tomorrow if you can help him now.   Proverbs 3:27-28 (GN)

Work: My mission in the marketplace

MY MISSION IN THE MARKETPLACE

Rick Warren

 

(2 Corinthians 5v11-21)

 

It is talked about in business circles– from huge international conglomerates to one-man outfits. It has become a buzz-word in the business world – any organisation worth its salt has one these days. WHAT? A ‘mission statements’.

A good mission statement is useful, even necessary, to achieve purpose and direction and goals.

Having a ‘mission statement’ is only good IF it is achievable and If action is taken to work towards it.

Having a purpose and a mission maybe the latest in business buzz-words but it is far from new.

The apostle Paul was a man with a mission.  He understood that the moment you become a Christian, God gives you a new purpose for living.  The moment you become a Christian, God gives you a new mission. Acts 20:24 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. (NIV)

In Acts 20:24 he says,, “Life is worth nothing unless I use it for doing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus (that’s his mission, then he tells us what it is) – the work of telling others the Good News about God’s mighty kindness and love.”  That was his mission.  And that’s your mission.  You say, “Well, what is my mission in life if I’m a Christian?

 

ILLUS.: Work for Unilever in Gulf – prayed for!! But not if in London?

Teacher in inner city – not prayed for – goes to work at TEAR fund with 172 other Christians and gets a place on the missionary board!!!!

 

I.       WHAT IS MY MISSION IN THE MARKETPLACE?

 

Acts 1:8 –  Jesus said, You will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth.”

WITNESSING is sharing what God has done in my life, in my life.  – – because you are the authority on that.  You don’t have to be a Bible scholar to be a witness for Jesus Christ.  You just have to say, “Here’s what God has done in my life.”  And if you can say that, you can be a witness.

 

Notice – John 17:18, Jesus says “I sent them into the world just as you sent me into the world.”  We are sent into the world by Jesus Christ if you are a Christian?

What do you think of when I say the word missionary?  Some of you say cannibals.  Pith helmets, jungles, some place far away.  Did you know that the Bible says every Christian is in a broad sense a missionary. Because you have a life mission.  In a broad sense every Christian is a minister/missionary.  You don’t become a missionary by crossing the sea OR a minister by wearing a dog-collar.  God has made you to be a representative of Jesus Christ in your work.  (Cor.5 – ambassadors) You are–it’s not negotiable, it’s not optional; if you’re a Christian, you’re a witness.  Part of the joy of being a Christian is the privilege of helping other people come to know Christ.  Now why is that so important?  Well, there are two reasons.

 

II.  WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?

 

  1. We have a life-saving message.

That means that there are eternal consequences to what we’re sharing.  We’re talking about Heaven and hell here.  Romans 10:13-14, “Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  But how shall they ask him to save them unless they believe in him?  And how can they believe in him if they’ve never heard about him?  And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?”  Does this make sense?  Sure!  Who does God expect to tell them?  Us, me, you, all of us!  That’s what it means.

 

ILLUS.: – story about God talking to an angel one day and God says “Here’s my plan for spreading the good news.  I’m going to have everybody go about daily their work and share the good news in their niche of society–with the people they work with.”  And the angel said, “Well, that’s great, but what happens, God, if they don’t share? What your plan B” God says, “I have no plan B.”  There is no other plan.

 

How can they be saved unless they hear and how can they hear unless somebody tells them?

 

ILLUS.: What’s the greatest thrill that you could possibly have – imagine this, if you get to Heaven and somebody comes up to you and says, “I just want to thank you–I’m here because of you.”  When you get to Heaven, will there be anybody to say that to you?  “I’m here because of you.”  There’s no greater joy than sharing Jesus Christ!

 

“Have you lost the joy in my Christian life – like when you first became a believer.”  Do you know the quickest way to get it back?  Start telling other people.

One dearest things to the heart of God is when we tell others about his Son.  Tell the Good News, and it is good news.  Look at this verse:  “…the Good News is to heal the broken-hearted and announce that captives shall be released, the blind shall see; that the downtrodden shall be freed from oppression, and that God is ready to give blessings to all who come to him.”  Luke 4:18-19. That’s the first sermon of Jesus Christ.  It’s the very first sermon and He lists the benefits — it’s good news for hurting people.”  And He lists several different kinds of hurting people.

Do you know any people who are broken-hearted?

Do you know any people who are confused?

Is there any possible chance that there’s somebody at your workplace who is discouraged?

Do you know anybody who’s stressed out?

Tell them the Good News.  Don’t ram it down their throats / don’t be critical and arrogant and holier-than-thou.  BUT is a sensitive, sincere, simple and talk about your faith in Jesus and what he has done for you and longs to do for them. We have a life-saving message and the world’s far more ready to hear it than we’re ready to share it!

“Be a witness.”  Just say, “This is what happened to me.”

 

  1. People are hungry to hear it.

Matthew 9:36-37 36 When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. (NIV)

“What pity [compassion] Jesus felt for the crowds, because their problems were so great, and they didn’t know what to do or where to go for help… the harvest is so great, and the workers are so few…”  Matthew 9:36-37.

………..three things;

–        Problems were great

–        They didn’t know what to do

–        They didn’t know where to go for help

 

Do you know anybody like that?

Satan has us believe a lie. The myth is “most people aren’t interested in talking about spiritual things.”  That’s just not true.  In fact interest in spiritual matters has increased in the last 10 years, not decreased.

 

The fact is that most people believe in God – most people believe in some kind of life after death – in spite of a century and a half of evolutionary theory!!

 

That doesn’t mean they are Christians, it doesn’t mean they’ve committed their lives to Christ, it just means they believe in spiritual things in some way.

So what we’re dealing with is people called pre-Christians.  They’re not necessarily anti the gospel [they probably don’t know what it is!] they’re probably turned off the church!! {People reject a wrong image of God –

 

The media talk about God and religion, sometimes negatively, but sometimes very positively. If they talk about it how much more should Christians.

 

ILLUS.: Letter to Surrey Ad .. 20/04/2001

Now there a talking point!! “I read this letter in the Surrey Ad – what do you think about it?” THEN LISTEN – one of the most significant steps in witnessing for Christ is learning to listen! So often we have this pre-packaged message – THE GOSPEL – that we want to deliver whether or not people are ready to hear.

Then we are rejected – BUT maybe it is not so much the message of Jesus they are rejecting and my crass insensitivity to them and their situation – listen!

 

Maybe the world is far more ready to receive the Good News than we are ready to share it.  They are looking for answers.  People all around you are looking for relief, for answers and you’ve got the answer. Because Jesus said, “The problem isn’t the harvest, the problem is limited workers – with an understanding of the harvest.”

 

III.  HOW CAN I BE A WITNESS AT WORK?

Colossians 3:17 17 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. (NIV)

 

Colossians 3:17“Whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus…” 

 

You are a representative of Jesus Christ–you are an ambassador in the world, if you’re a Christian, you represent Jesus in your work.  And God has placed you where you are so you can represent Him.

ILLUS.: ALL crops are not harvested the same way – a combine might be great for wheat but it is not so good for apples!!

Do we need to be sensitive to the harvest field in which God has placed us? ILLUS.: Parable of the weeds – we are placed in the world by the Son of Man!!

 

Now work takes on new meaning when you understand, “I’m here at my work – place here by God’s Son.”

We can represent Jesus Christ two ways, “Whatever you do or say.”

Doing.  Walk the walk and talk the talk, we need audio/visual Christians.  We need show and tell Christians.  We need visual Christians and verbal Christians and you’ve got to have both.  One without the other is not enough.

You say, “Well, my witness is my life.”  Even Jesus had to tell people.  You may be living a nice, moral life–they may just think you’re a Boy Scout. You got tell them why.  You need to be verbal and visual.  And one day, God is going to say, “Who’d you tell?  If it was such good news, and you’ve got your eternal salvation secured, who’d you tell?  Did you ever think of sharing with anybody?”

You say, “Well, they’re not interested.”  What do you think God will say to that!!  Now, there are three specific ways I can be a witness at work:

 

  1. By the quality of my work.

Shoddy workmanship is a poor testimony.  – taxi driver – repairman – computer programmer, cleaner, teacher, plumber, whatever.  Christians are called to competence, – quality performance.

Excellence in the marketplace –  Christians ought to set the standards.

Notice this verse, “The quality of each man’s work will be seen when the Day of Christ exposes it.”  1 Corinthians 3:13. Do you think that only refers to ‘spiritual work’? NO!!

 

  1. By my positive attitude.

Philippians 2:14-15       14 Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe

“Do all that has to be done without complaining or arguing…and you will shine in the world like bright stars as you offer it the Word of Life.”  Philippians 2:14-15.

One of the ways to stand out in a negative, dark world, is to be positive.  When you find a positive person in a negative work environment, that makes a difference.  Paul says, don’t be a cynic, go the second mile when needed, have a proper respect for authority, be positive!

 

You may be thinking, “BUT you don’t know my work situation, it’s hard to be positive when you’re in a negative work environment like I am.”  Yes, it is.  It can be unbelievable difficult.

You might even think “Oh, I wish I could just work with all Christians.  I get so tired of working with people who are negative, and cuss and tell dirty jokes; I just wish I could work with all Christians.’  AND God is up there shaking His head saying, “NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!  You missed the point!  I don’t want you working with all Christians, that defeats your mission.  I want you out there being salt and light and infiltrating the world.  I don’t want you coming over here in some little Christian ghetto, some holy huddle, I want you out there!  I want you out there sharing with those hard-core unbelievers.  Sharing the good news.”

You are the only Bible some people will ever read.

 

ILLUS.: Janet – midwife – delivery suite – doctor telling a dirty story – other staff told him to stop because Janet was there – SHE didn’t say anything!!

 

  1. By telling the Good News.

Colossians 4:5 5 Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. (NIV)

Colossians 4:5, “Make the most of your chances to tell others the Good News.  Be wise in all your contacts with them.”

 

ILLUS.: Howard Hendricks  [Professor of Theology an Dallas Theological Seminary – or was?!] tells the story about a flight he was on. The man sitting in front of him was an absolute jerk.  He was just being grumpy, and irritable, and rude; and rude to the stewardess and then he got drunk and he was even ruder.  The stewardess was handling him with complete class–just poise, confidence, and she was polite and gentle and patient.  Howard Hendricks was just incredibly impressed how unflappable this stewardess was with this jerk.

After about 20 minutes of this, she went to the back, so he got up and went back to the galley to talk to her.  And he said, “You know, I’m a regular flyer on American Airlines, I’m just so impressed at how you handled that irritable, rude man.  I would like to write a letter to those in authority at American Airlines to just thank them for your great service if you’d just tell me your name.”  And she said, “Well, I thank you for that, sir, but you need to understand; I don’t work for American Airlines.”  He was kind of stumped and said, “You don’t?”  She said, “No, sir, I work for Jesus Christ–and He’s the one who helps me be patient with people.”  He said, after I picked myself up off the floor (Laughter) she started witnessing to me.  Now, until she verbalised why she did what she did; nobody would have known.  I mean, he might have just thought she’s just a nice lady.  But she had to say, “Why am I doing it?”

 

Decorator –   After he’s finished a good job, he starts to write out the bill and he hands them the bill and he says, “Now, you’ve seen my side job, let me take 5 minutes and tell you about my real work.”  Tells of his life mission as a witness for Jesus Christ.

Ophthalmologist – “Would you read the first line.”  CHART “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”

 

Don’t use your Boss’s time for spiritual work – if you are paid to teach – teach! To nurse, nurse – to cut hair then cut hair … in other words don’t use your Christian responsibility to witness as an excuse not to do your work – if you are on your own time that is different. When a carpenter I had lots of time to talk to people BUT it was my time!!

 

1 Peter 3:15 15. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

“Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you.  But do it with gentleness and respect.”  1 Peter 3:15.

Many Christians find it difficult to explain how they trusted Christ.  In fact, if you were asked to explain, could you do it?

Could you say, “Here is how to become a believer.”

 

You don’t have to carry your Bible around, in fact a big, black Bible is intimidating to a lot of people. Carry a little card around – if it will help you —

 

essentials for having salvation; there are four essentials for knowing Jesus Christ.      –          Faith

–        Grace

–        Repentance

–        Lordship

But those are words people don’t understand, so put it in non-technical terms.

 

Questions to ask–How to Establish a Spiritual Base for My Life–four questions and a prayer.  And the verses that correspond.

 

It’s a very simple tool.

If the conversation happens to come up on spiritual things, you are prepared. You could say, “You know, I ran across a little card the other day on How to Establish a Spiritual Base for My Life From My Bible, would you like to see it?”  “Well, sure.”  You pull it out and it says that the Bible evidently indicates that there are four things I need to do to establish a spiritual base for my life.  You ask the question, they give a yes or no answer, if they say yes, you go to the next question.  if they say no to any one of the questions, you simply say, “Well, if I could get you some information that would help you make that decision, would you read it?”  If they say yes, great! –Turn the conversation over to something else.  You don’t have to argue with them, just be a witness.  There’s no pressure with this.

Four things:

 

  1. Am I willing to believe Jesus Christ died on the cross for me and showed He was God by coming back to life?

Most people have some belief in God.  “It is this Good News that saves you.  That Christ died for our sins as the scripture says He would, that He was buried and three days afterward He rose from the grave.”  It’s a fact.  Millions and millions of people celebrate that every Easter.

 

  1. Am I willing to accept God’s free forgiveness for my sins?

“now God says he will accept and acquit us, declare us not guilty if we trust Jesus Christ to take away our sins.”  We can all be saved in this same way, by coming to Christ, no matter who we are or what we’ve been like.

 

  1. Am I willing to accept to God’s plan for my life?

That’s a non-technical way of talking about repentance.  Switch to God’s plan for my life. “Turn from your sins and act on this glorious news, don’t let the world squeeze you in its own mould, but let God remake you so your whole attitude of mind is changed.”  Say, from here on I am choosing God’s plan for my life.  I want to live the way He made me to live.

 

  1. Am I willing to express my desire for Christ to be the director of my life?

Bible says, “If you declare with your lips Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”  Declare with your lips, that means express Jesus is Lord.  What does Lord mean?  It means director, manager, boss, chairman of the board, He’s in charge.

 

Now that took me about 45 seconds to share the basics of how to come to know Christ.

 

5.       If they say yes to all of those, you simply say,  “Will you say this simple prayer aloud?”  “Dear Jesus, I accept what you’ve done for me and I want to begin following your plan for my life today.”   That’s it.

 

You can use this, this week.  Just keep it in your purse or your wallet or in your pocket.  Have it ready!  So that when something comes up you’ve got it ready.

 

Now there’s one more verse on the outline,  2 Timothy 1:7-8 7 For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

8 So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, …

Do you know how you get rid of the fear of talking to others about Christ?  You love them.  There is no fear in love–perfect love casts out all fear.  When you love somebody, you care enough to tell them the Good News.

 

Now let me give you a little homework assignment this week.  I want you to go home and I want to make a list of three people that you care about who are not believers and I want you to start praying for them every day.  Don’t do anything about it, don’t talk to them, nothing!  Just pray for them every day and let God act and just watch what happens.

 

 

MY MISSION IN THE MARKETPLACE

 

  1. WHAT IS MY MISSION IN THE

MARKETPLACE?

 

“WITNESS”:  Sharing what God has done in

MY life.

 

Every Christian is a witness / minister.

 

II.  WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?

 

1. We have a life-saving message!

 

2.  People are ready to hear it!

 

III. HOW CAN I BE A WITNESS AT WORK

 

1. By the quality of my work.

 

2.  By my positive attitude.

 

3.  By ­­­­­­telling the Good News.

 

We are Christ’s ambassadors

 

Work: Worshipping through my work

WORSHIPPING THROUGH MY WORK

It’s Not Just A Job – Part 1 of 4

Rick Warren

 

I.       GOD’S VIEW OF WORK:

 

Humans were designed to work … Genesis 2:15  The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. (NIV)

Later God made women to work with the man (not for the man as some may think!)

 

In God’s plan work is not a punishment. It is a privilege! {The entry of sin into the world made some work into toil!!} That doesn’t mean that all work is unpleasant.

 

If you are a pupil/student, you have to work.  If you’re at home you have to work.  If you’re retired, you still have to work!  Work is much broader that paid employment – if we reduce work to purely economic terms we demean many and their valuable efforts – housewives (husbands),

 

  1. God designed us with talents, gifts and interests that He wants used for His glory.

We are custom made.  There’s nobody like you in the whole world. God custom made you — and He wants you to express those gifts through work. Ephesians 2:10 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (NIV)

The Bible says that you are God’s workmanship.  The Greek word there is the word “poema,” from which we get the word poem.  You are God’s poem / work of art / masterpiece.  And He made you to express certain gifts, talents, abilities and interests.  That’s what work’s for.  Work is never just a job for a Christian.  It’s part of God’s plan for your life. Remember Christians are in a sense doubly made – created and re-created in Christ Jesus!!

 

  1. God wants my work to be meaningful, beneficial and fulfilling.

In other words, it’s more than just to put food on the table, it’s more than just a necessary evil, work is meant for good in your life.  Many (esp. in our Western Culture) think that the goal in life is to eventually be able to have enough money so that you can do nothing.  That you work all your life until you work enough to get enough money, then you stop and you do nothing. The word retirement is not in the Bible.  Why is it so many people retire and six months later they die? We were made for meaningful, purposeful, fulfilling work.

3. God wants my work to express what He made me to be.

 

God has given each of us gifts, talents and abilities, and one day He’s going to say, “What did you do with them?”  And if you say, “Well, I spent my life at a job that didn’t use them”

ILLUS.: Remember the parable Jesus told about the Talents / gifts he gave to his servants … He condemned the One who didn’t use what he was given. I suggest that Jesus was angry with the man not because he didn’t make a profit (or possibly even if he had made a loss Jesus would have understood – although we must be careful not to speculate) I seems to me Jesus is angry because the man didn’t bother to even try.

 

  1. If Christ isn’t Lord of my work, then He really isn’t Lord of my life.

 

Many Christians don’t make the connection between Sunday and Monday.  They compartmentalise their life.  They say, “Well, I’ve got a spiritual life and I’ve got a secular life.  My spiritual life involves reading the Bible, praying, going to church and I doing nice things.  That’s my spiritual life.  And that’s over in one compartment.  Then over here is my secular life.  That’s my work, my job, my career, my business decisions, my finances, my pension plan, all these things, that’s my secular life.”

 

BUT God says, “No.  That’s wrong.” All of life is spiritual.  The word secular isn’t in the Bible. God is as interested in your work as He is in your prayers. He’s interested in every area of your life.

ILLUS.: Your relationship to Christ is like marriage.  Marriage is a full time relationship, and so is your relationship with Christ.  How about if I came up to my wife and said, “Darling, I’m going to always act married when I’m at home.”

The fact is, all of life is important to God, and if you’re not a Christian at work, you’re not a Christian in the rest of your life either.

 

  1. For believers, work is to be four things.

Now we’re going to go into these in detail in this series, but just let me give them to you this morning.

  • Work is an act of worship.  You can actually worship through your work.  It’s never just a job, no matter what you do, it’s never just a job if you are a believer.
  • Work is a witness of my faith.  It’s a witness of my relationship with God.  You say, “Well, I don’t talk to people about the Lord at work”  You’re a witness, the question is, if you are a good one or a bad one.  You are a witness.  And it is a witness of your relationship to Christ.
  • Work is to be a ministry to others.
  • Work is a test for eternal rewards.

II.      HOW CAN I WORSHIP GOD THROUGH MY WORK?

 

Now, we’re going to look at each of these in this series.  But briefly in the remaining time –  “How can I worship with my work?”

Romans 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship. (NIV)

“Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to His service and pleasing to Him.  This is the true worship you should offer.”  .. the words “offer yourselves” and the words “true worship.”

 

Worship is not just something I do on Sunday.  Worship is something I do with my life.  Worship is anytime I’m expressing my love to God.  Whenever I express my love to God, I’m worshipping. Now that’s good news, because some of us can’t sing. Or preach, or teach, or whatever.  But I can use my hands and I can use my mind and I can work to the glory of God, and it’s just as important.  Now what kind of work worships God?  What is it that transforms work into worship?”

 

Three things:-

 

  1. Work should express the gifts and abilities that God has given me.

 

Most of us have the freedom to choose our work. Many places don’t have the freedom to choose their work. — but we do in the UK – generally speaking.  Ideally we should choose the work that best expresses who God made us to be.

  • If you are good at selling, be a salesman.
  • If you are gifted at teaching, be a teacher.
  • If you are good with numbers, be in engineering or accounting or computers — because God gave you that ability.
  • If you are good with words, writing or speaking, then you need to be involved in something that involves writing or speaking.
  • If you are gifted athletically, you’d better be an athlete.
  • If you’re good at cooking, invite me over!  Because I’m good at eating!

 

On what basis should I choose a career?

On what your parents say?  No, but listen to their advice!

On what peer pressure says?  No.

On what will make me the most money?  No.  None of those are legitimate reasons for choosing a career, a vocation.

 

Romans 12:6 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. (NIV)

Does this principle apply only to “spiritual” gifts??? I think not!

What does God say, Romans 12:6, “So we are to use our different gifts in accordance with the grace that God has given us.”   Notice who gave you those gifts — God. “God has given us.”

God wants me to choose my work on the basis of my gifts.  Do you think God is pleased when He gives you gifts, abilities, interests, motivations — and He gives all these things to you and He makes you this way, and you don’t use them, do you think that pleases God?  No!  No, it doesn’t please God.

 

The fact is, when a creature does what it is meant to do, that brings glory to God.  When a bird sings, it brings glory to God.  Because birds were meant to sing.  When a flower blooms, it’s doing what a flower is supposed to do.  And when a flower does flowery things, it brings glory to God.  When a worm turns over in the ground, and does wormy things, it’s bringing glory to God.  When the tree acts like a tree, it’s being what it was created to be.  It brings glory to God.  And when you be what God wants you to be, you bring glory to God.

 

Many Christians think that God only smiles on them when they are doing “spiritual” things.  When I’m reading my Bible, when I’m praying, when I’m witnessing, then God smiles on me.  They never consider that maybe God smiles on you when you’re closing a business deal and you’re gifted to do it.  When you’re completing a project or developing a new software or creating a new song or teaching a young child or driving a bus safely for other people — God smiles on that.  Because He says, “They’re using the gifts that I gave them.”

 

ILLUS.: The movie Chariots of Fire?  And the runner in that, who’s a Christian – Eric Liddel.  And he says in one point in the movie, “God made me to run.  When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.”

 

Why is it that many, even Christians, don’t feel God’s pleasure in their work?  Are they doing what they were made to do?  Is it because the church is guilty of putting too much emphasis on the spiritual?

OR is it that the world’s standards of commercialism and materialism are too influential in our decision making?

What are the world’s standards?  Find the highest paying job, the best benefits and the easiest work — whether you are gifted for it or not!  Take the promotion!  It’s more money!  That’s called materialism.  Choosing a job for prestige, for power, for money are the wrong motivations.

 

Why don’t most people feel God’s pleasure in their work?

Look at this verse, Rom 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. (NIV)

Romans 12:2.  “Don’t conform to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind.  Then you’ll be able to know the will of God.”

 

Do you want to be able to know the will of God for your life?  If you’re a believer, I’m sure you do.  Do you want to know God’s will?  It says here how to know God’s will.  It says, Don’t conform to the standards of this world.”

 

Now that includes your job.  What are the world’s standards for jobs?  For the most part, what makes the most money, what’s the easiest to do, what gives me the most prestige? Salary is only one factor – an important one? Yes because we are responsible to provide for ourselves and our family as far as it depends on us!

 

The question is, does it use the gifts God gave me? And so the first way we turn work into worship is to say, “What did God make me to be?  What are my interests? What are my God-given abilities”

 

In an article out of John Asmith’s Reinventing the Corporation.  He says:

“The new [American] work ethic holds that work should be fulfilling and fun; and integrated as a part of whole life planning.  More and more of us believe that work should accomplish a personal or social mission.  Today, work must provide more than just a paycheck.  We want it to express ourselves and our values.  To make a difference in society and to fit harmoniously with the other priorities — family, health and spirituality.”

 

Where did he get an idea like that?  God.  It’s built into you, a desire to express what God made you to be.

The BIG BUSINESS GOSPEL in the 1980’s was more money, more power, less sleep.  But devotion to work collided with personal lives and now they’re writing a new chapter in corporate history — “How to Take a Step Down the Ladder.”

Some people with high-flying, high-paying jobs are beginning to question if it s all worth it. Some are stepping down the ladder .. (Usually they can afford to!!)

 

Choosing a career based on giftedness may mean turning down more money or promotion.  And the first step we need to take is some self-appraisal.  We need to ask yourself, “What did God make me to be?”  Notice this verse, Romans 12:3,  “…try to have a sane estimate of your capabilities by the light of the faith that God has given to you.”

Romans 12:3  For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. (NIV)

 

God does not expect you to glorify Him with gifts you don’t have.  But He does expect you to glorify Him with gifts you do have.

 

Now this raises some questions, “What if my current job doesn’t express my gifts?”

“What about work that needs to be done but doesn’t express my gifts, but, you know, just has got to be done?”  Any housewife knows what I’m talking about.

The fact is every job, even the ones you are suited for has onerous parts to it, has distasteful, non-enjoyable, mundane parts.  Every job has parts to it that you don’t like.  But you can still worship God through it.  And I would suggest you adopt the attitude of “Well, maybe this job that I’m in right now is a phase of my life and I’m not going to be here the rest of my life–but it is where I am now, therefore I will worship God right now.”  How do you do that?  By the other two ways you transform work into worship.

 

  1. By working as though I’m working for God. 

 

Colossians 3:23-24:  “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as though you were working for the Lord, and not for men.  Remember, the Lord will reward you… For Christ is the real Master you serve.”

No job is too small, no job is too menial, no job is too insignificant when you have the right motive and perspective for it.  “I’m doing it for God, I’m doing this job as if I’m doing it for the Lord.”

There are two characteristics of doing work for the Lord.

 

  • Excellence. If I’m doing my work, not for the boss, but I’m doing it really for the Lord, first I do it with excellence.  That means I give it the best shot–I do the best I can because I’m not doing it for anybody else, I’m doing it for God’s approval.  So I do it with excellence — the best I can be. Balance with time esp. if you are a perfectionist

 

  • Enthusiasm. Because I’m not just doing it for my boss, BUT for God also –therefore, I do it with a cheerful attitude. Romans 12:11 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. (NIV)

Another translation… “Never be lazy in your work, but serve the Lord enthusiastically.” By working as if I’m working for the Lord.  There’s one other way you can transform your work into worship.

 

 

 

  1. By having love as my number one motive for work.

 

1 Corinthians 16:14 14 Do everything in love. (NIV)

Notice 1 Corinthians 16:14 “Do all (not some) {your work} …  in love.”

1 Corinthians 13:3 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. (NIV)

“If I have no love, I achieve precisely nothing.”

Any job, … {not quite any as some jobs would not be compatible with God’s will –e.g. jobs that exploit people pornographic industry etc…} any legitimate job / task whether pay or unpaid, can be turned into worship when I model Christ’s love in it, to my co-workers, my clients and my customers.

 

Mother Teresa said, “It’s not what you do so much that matters, but how much love you put into it.”

Someone said “When love and skill come together, expect a masterpiece” – John Rushcan

 

A prayer for every day this week.  When you get up to work, whether it’s at home or at school, in your garden or at an office or wherever, job site–I want you to say, “Father, today I want to worship you through my work.  I want to express my gifts, I want   to do it as if I’m doing it for You and I want to do it in love.”

 

WORSHIPPING THROUGH MY WORK

 

I.   GOD’S VIEW OF WORK:

 

  1. God designed us with talents, gifts and

interests that he wants used for His glory

 

 

  1. God intends our work to be

meaningful, beneficial and fulfilling

 

 

  1. God wants our work to express what he

made us to be

 

  1. If Christ isn’t Lord of my work, then he

isn’t really Lord of my life

 

5.   For believers, work is to be:

 

      – An act of worship

 

      – A witness of my faith

 

      – A ministry to others

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. HOW CAN I WORSHIP GOD THROUGH

MY WORK?

 

  1. By using the gifts and abilities God has given me.

 

  1. By working as though I’m working for

the Lord.

 

  1. By having love as a primary motive for

my work.

 

 


Readings

Genesis 2:15

            15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. (NIV)

 

Ephesians 2:10 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (NIV)

 

Romans 12:1-3

            1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual [RESONABLE] act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.

            3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. (NIV)

 

Proverbs 18:9

            9 One who is slack in his work

                        is brother to one who destroys. (NIV)

 

Colossians 3:23-24 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (NIV)

 

1 Corinthians 13:3 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. (NIV)

 

1 Corinthians 16:14 14 Do everything in love. (NIV)

 

 

            

Work: A Christian work ethic

The Christian Work Ethic
(Ephesians 4:28)

28 Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labour, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need.

Introduction

Few will challenge my qualifications to speak on the subject of stealing. Only this week, a friend dropped by with a present, a “slim jim.” This is a device for getting into a locked car. It is a significant improvement over the clothes hanger I have used for years. Over the years I have helped many get into their cars, after they have locked themselves out. On one occasion, I did so after the locksmith left in shame. On another, I had to ask a policeman to step aside and let me do the task.

Stealing is a major problem in our nation. Many businesses suffer economically from theft by employees. I heard of a man in New York whose car stalled in the middle of traffic. The man got out of his car and lifted the hood. As he did, another man ran up and said something like this: “You get the battery, and I’ll get the radio.”

Prisons themselves have a problem with theft. Some years ago I spoke in a prison where the number one problem in that institution was theft, not by the inmates, but by the guards. Prisons are not very successful at solving the problem of stealing, either. In a prison where I taught years ago, an inmate confided in me that he was going to give up stealing … sort of. While he was in prison, he would learn as much about theft as he could. He would be tutored by the pro’s, the best in their field, so that he became an expert in a variety of crimes. And when he got out, he planned to sell his services to less gifted thieves, as a consultant. He would engineer the crime, and they would execute it. And then he would receive a fee for his services.

This passage illustrates the dramatic change which faith in Jesus Christ should produce in an individual’s thinking and conduct. Our text is not just for thieves. It is the declaration of a Christian “work ethic” which every true believer should apply in the realm of their employment. Let us listen well to these words, seeking to understand and apply them to the glory of God, to the edification of the church, and for our own good. Stop Stealing! Let him who steals steal no longer …

There are several significant elements of this command which we must take into account. First, the Apostle Paul is speaking to Christians. He has laid down the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith in chapters 1-3. Second, in Ephesians chapter 4, Paul writes to Christians concerning that conduct which is befitting their calling (see 4:1). The commands given in verses 25-32 are addressed to true believers in Jesus Christ.

Having noted that the command of verse 28 is addressed to Christians, let us secondly recognize that Paul speaks to those who have not yet given up their practice of stealing. Paul writes in the present tense: “Let him who steals steal no longer …” He does not write in the past tense: “Let him who stole steal no longer …” Strange as it may seem, Paul believed that there were those who continued to practice their former lifestyle as thieves as Christians.

Third, it is apparent that Paul believes that the thief is not beyond the power of God and His gospel. Thieves can be saved, and Paul assumes that they have been saved. Remember that those who were crucified beside our Lord were thieves, and one of these became a believer (Luke 23:39-43). There are no sinners too lost for God to save through the shed blood of Christ:

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Fourth, Paul does not believe that salvation automatically or instantly changes a man’s thinking or conduct. I believe that in His grace God sometimes delivers sinners from specific sins at the time of their conversion. I have heard the testimony of those whose lives have been radically changed at conversion. Some, addicted to alcohol or drugs, have told of an immediate release from their addictions. This is not true of all saints. And even those whom I know who have been delivered from a specific sin would claim to have been delivered from all sin. As I understand the consistent teaching of Scripture, coming to faith in Christ does not end our struggle with sin, it commences it (see Romans 6 and 7). If every Christian were instantly delivered from sin, the command of Paul here would be meaningless.

Fifth, Paul does not believe that there is a general, once for all, life transforming event in the life of the Christian, which instantly changes him from a sinner to a sinless saint. In short, Paul does not believe in perfectionism. There are those who teach that we can have complete victory over sin in this life. They would not claim that this victory comes at the time of our salvation, but through a second, life-transforming, experience. By whatever means, they speak of a quantum leap in our spiritual life, an instant and total victory over sin. If this were so, Paul would here be calling for Christians to enter into this experience, rather than to be dealing with sins individually and specifically.

This is not to say that Paul rejects the concept of watershed changes of heart and commitment:

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace (Romans 6:12-14).

1 I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).

It is to say that while we may make life-long commitments, we must also expect a life-long struggle with sin. The sins which are woven into the fabric of my nature and character will dog my heels all my life. And in those times when I think victory has come, I will find their ugly head raised once again, to deal with anew. The struggle with sin is life-long, and total victory over sin comes only when we are transformed into the likeness of our Lord in His coming kingdom.

Sixth, let us note that Paul understands the gospel and true Christian conversion to require a radically different way of thinking and behaving. There are some things that need no change—indeed, should not change—when we come to faith in Christ. For example, our station in life need not change (see 1 Corinthians 7:17-24). But our former way of thinking and behaving must be set aside:

This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (Ephesians 4:17-24).

The Many Faces of Stealing

Most of us approach the subject of stealing with a narrow mental picture of this evil. In our mind’s eye we see a man with a gun in his hand, with a mask over his face, forcibly taking the property of another. Stealing has many more forms than this. Let us seek to explore some of the many forms which stealing takes, and thus to broaden the range of practices which fall under the general label of stealing. What we will find is that the church has more thieves among its members than one might first suppose. And what we will also discover is that many forms of stealing persist in the lives of those who profess Christ as Savior. Consider the following categories of stealing.

(1) Desperation Stealing. There are those who steal out of need. It is not that such stealing is in any way justified, but it is at least understandable.

Men do not despise a thief if he steals To satisfy himself when he is hungry; But when he is found, he must repay sevenfold; He must give all the substance of his house (Proverbs 6:30-31).

Keep deception and lies far from me, Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion, Lest I be full and deny {Thee} and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or lest I be in want and steal, And profane the name of my God (Proverbs 30:8-9).

(2) Thrill-seeking Stealing. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the one who steals, not out of need, but out of sheer pleasure in doing evil. The adulteress appeals to the excitement of immorality: “Stolen water is sweet; And bread {eaten} in secret is pleasant” (Proverbs 9:17). But worse yet is the thief who robs for the pleasure of causing pain an injury to another:

“My son, if sinners entice you, Do not consent. If they say, “Come with us, Let us lie in wait for blood, Let us ambush the innocent without cause; Let us swallow them alive like Sheol, Even whole, as those who go down to the pit; We shall find all {kinds} of precious wealth, We shall fill our houses with spoil; Throw in your lot with us, We shall all have one purse,” My son, do not walk in the way with them. Keep your feet from their path, For their feet run to evil, And they hasten to shed blood. Indeed, it is useless to spread the net In the eyes of any bird; But they lie in wait for their own blood; They ambush their own lives. So are the ways of everyone who gains by violence; It takes away the life of its possessors (Proverbs 1:10-19).

(3) Deceptive Stealing. Deceptive stealing does not happen by force, but by deception.

1 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “When a person sins and acts unfaithfully against the Lord, and deceives his companion in regard to a deposit or a security entrusted {to him}, or through robbery, or {if} he has extorted from his companion, 3 or has found what was lost and lied about it and sworn falsely, so that he sins in regard to any one of the things a man may do; 4 then it shall be, when he sins and becomes guilty, that he shall restore what he took by robbery, or what he got by extortion, or the deposit which was entrusted to him, or the lost thing which he found, 5 or anything about which he swore falsely; he shall make restitution for it in full, and add to it one-fifth more. He shall give it to the one to whom it belongs on the day {he presents} his guilt offering (Leviticus 6:1-5).

Jacob “robbed” his brother of his birthright by deceiving his father into thinking that he was Esau. He gained possession of the birthright in a way that neither his father nor his brother would have allowed if they had been aware of what was being done (see Genesis 27). Rachel also deceived her father Laban about the family gods she stole from him (Genesis 31).

The way some people conduct their business involves theft by deceit.76 The Bible speaks of “unjust balances,” weights which are deceptive, thus giving the customer less than he thinks he is getting. “Differing weights and differing measures, Both of them are abominable to the LORD” (Proverbs 20:10; see also 11:1; 20:23; Micah 6:11). Some employees falsify their expense reports, so that they are reimburses for expenses that do not exist. Others bill several customers for the same expense.

(4) Stealing by omission or delay. Some employers steal from their employees or their creditors by delaying the payment of what they owe. This enables them to have the use of monies which are not rightfully theirs, and thus to gain by it at the expense of others. Others steal when they fail to return something lost or borrowed to its owner.

(5) Stealing from God. Men have devised numerous ways of stealing from God. Men may fail to give God all or a portion of what their offerings or sacrifices. They may offer sacrifices which are inferior, defective, or second class. An animal that wouldn’t sell at auction may well be offered up at the temple. Some are even so bold as to offer that which they have stolen:

For I, the Lord, love justice, I hate robbery in the burnt offering; And I will faithfully give them their recompense, And I will make an everlasting covenant with them (Isaiah 61:8).

11 “For from the rising of the sun, even to its setting, My name {will be} great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering {that is} pure; for My name {will be} great among the nations,” says the Lord of hosts. 12 “But you are profaning it, in that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is defiled, and as for its fruit, its food is to be despised.’ 13 “You also say, ‘My, how tiresome it is!’ And you disdainfully sniff at it,” says the Lord of hosts, “and you bring what was taken by robbery, and {what is} lame or sick; so you bring the offering! Should I receive that from your hand?” says the Lord. 14 “But cursed be the swindler who has a male in his flock, and vows it, but sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord, for I am a great King,” says the Lord of hosts, “and My name is feared among the nations” (Malachi 1:11-14).

8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed Thee?’ In tithes and offerings. 9 “You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation {of you}! 10 “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows” (Malachi 3:8-10).

(6) Stealing by oppression. This kind of stealing takes place by means of the misuse of power. In its crudest form, a robber arms himself with a handgun, automatic rifle, or even a bomb, threatening to injure or kill if his demands are not met. But there are much more subtle forms of robbery, which are oppressive. The Old Testament prophets spoke out against this kind of robbery:

O house of David, thus says the Lord: “Administer justice every morning; And deliver the person who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor, That My wrath may not go forth like fire And burn with none to extinguish it, Because of the evil of their deeds (Jeremiah 21:12).

2 and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O king of Judah, who sits on David’s throne, you and your servants and your people who enter these gates. 3 ‘Thus says the Lord, “Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of {his} oppressor. Also do not mistreat {or} do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place. 4 “For if you men will indeed perform this thing, then kings will enter the gates of this house, sitting in David’s place on his throne, riding in chariots and on horses, {even the king} himself and his servants and his people. 5 “But if you will not obey these words, I swear by Myself,” declares the Lord, “that this house will become a desolation (Jeremiah 22:2-5).”’”

“The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery, and they have wronged the poor and needy and have oppressed the sojourner without justice” (Ezekiel 22:29).

In robbery by oppression, the powerful abuse their power. Rather than using it to protect the powerless (especially the widows, orphans, and strangers), they use it to prey upon them. These oppressors prosper at the expense of the poor.

John the Baptist condemned oppressive robbery as a part of his prophetic ministry:

10 And the multitudes were questioning him, saying, “Then what shall we do?” 11 And he would answer and say to them, “Let the man who has two tunics share with him who has none; and let him who has food do likewise.” 12 And some tax-gatherers also came to be baptized, and they said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.” 14 And some soldiers were questioning him, saying, “And what about us, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse {anyone} falsely, and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:10-14).

Tax collectors had the power of government behind them. They abused this power by increasing taxes to include a healthy profit for themselves. Those who resisted or refused to pay these inflated taxes placed themselves against the government. Soldiers often abused their power to forcibly take the property of others and make it their own. Who could resist them? When one is robbed by a bandit, they can call upon the police for help, but who does one call on for help when robbed by the police?

Some of the most despicable oppressive robbery is done by religious leaders. This was condemned in the Old Testament, and in the New:

2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, ‘Thus says the Lord God,” Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? 3 “You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat {sheep} without feeding the flock. 4 “Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them. 5 “And they were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field and were scattered. 6 “My flock wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill, and My flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth; and there was no one to search or seek for them”’” (Ezekiel 34:2-6).

And as raiders wait for a man, So a band of priests murder on the way to Shechem; Surely they have committed crime (Hosea 6:9).

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence (Matthew 23:25).

14 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, even while for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you shall receive greater condemnation (Matthew 23:14).77

Jesus implies that those who have come before Him were thieves, whose intention was to rob the sheep. He, on the other hand, came as the Good Shepherd, who had come to give His life for the sheep. Some of these “thieves” may have claimed to be the Messiah, but many of them may simply have been Jewish religious leaders, whose task was to shepherd the flock. The Jewish leaders abused their power. They took advantage of the foreigners who came to worship at the temple (Matthew 21:11-12) and they somehow used their position and power to acquire the houses of widows (Matthew 23:14). The very ones they were to protect they victimized. Many of the religious leaders were thieves.

(7) “Good deal” stealing. There is another kind of stealing which is but a variety of oppressive stealing. I have chosen to refer to it as a separate category because of its importance and prominence. I believe that Satan commends himself for his best work when he can persuade men to commit a sin, but in a way that gains men’s praise, rather than their disapproval.78

No one gets more pleasure out of finding a “good deal” than I. When I find something of value, and I am able to buy it at a fraction of its true value, I pat myself on the back for having done so well. I often brag about my “great buy” to my family and friends. I have even had people say this in response to one of my bargains: “Man, you didn’t buy that; you stole it.”

I used to think this was a compliment. Now, I must consider the possibility that it is really an indictment. Did I knowingly or unknowingly gain at someone else’s expense? Did I buy something at an extremely low price because the seller was vulnerable? Did I avoid paying a fair price because I had power (money) and the other party was powerless (in desperate need)? One of the broad terms which the Bible uses as a synonym for stealing is “unjust gain.” A “just gain” is one where both parties—the buyer and the seller—gain. An unjust gain is one in which one takes advantage of the other. Let us beware that our “good buy’s” are not a “steal.”

The Christian Work Ethic

Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need.

If Paul’s first command is addressed to Christian thieves, the remainder of the verse applies to everyone. It sets down a work ethic which is diametrically opposed to that of the thief, and which is the standard for every Christian. Let us consider this work ethic phrase by phrase.

“But Rather Let Him Labor”

It is self-evident that stealing is not a noble occupation, certainly not so for the Christian. Paul’s words indicate that stealing should be replaced by sweating. The inference is clearly made that stealing is the opposite of hard work. There are those who may sincerely wish to work, but cannot find it, and thereby feel “compelled” to steal. For most thieves, however, stealing is the lazy way out. Years ago I regularly visited a young man who was a three-time felon. When he talked about getting out, he told me that he would much rather break into a couple of coin operated machines than to work as a laborer for unattractive wages. Stealing for him was much easier than work.

Stealing is not just avoiding work, it is an attempt to avoid the curse. God gave Adam and Eve work to do in the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 2:15). This work was not drudgery, but a delight. But after the fall, the curse made those things which were once a pleasure, a pain. Women were to bear children in pain (“labor” pains). And men were sentenced to a lifetime of toil:

17 Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. 18 “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you shall eat the plants of the field; 19 By the sweat of your face You shall eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17-19).

When men seek to live off of the toil of others, they seek to overturn the consequences of the fall.

“Performing With His Own Hands What Is Good”

The expression, “with his own hands,” may well be addressing the evil of stealing, which parasitically lives off the work of others. The toil which is described is that which “works up a sweat.” It is also work which one performs with his own hands. While I do not think this verse condemns or forbids white collar “desk jobs,” I do believe that it gives dignity to blue collar work. There is nothing wrong with manual labor. In fact, it is here advocated as good therapy for thieves.

A Christian work ethic requires more than just hard work, as important as that is. It also requires a worthwhile enterprise. We are commanded to perform with our own hand “what is good.” In this context, I believe that the word “good” refers to that which is useful and beneficial. There are many jobs in this world, and most of them require hard work. But some jobs do not produce anything of value. With such useless work, the community in which we live is not benefited. We should not only feel good after a day’s work because we have worked hard, but also because we have done something worthwhile.

“In Order That He May Have Something To Share With Him Who Has Need”

There are a number of reasons for work. One reason is so that we may not become a burden to others (see 2 Thessalonians 3:8). Another is so that we may care for our family, so that they do not become a burden on others (see 1 Timothy 5:3-8, 16). Here, Paul commands us to work hard so that we will have the means to help those who are truly in need.

Here is a mindset that is foreign to the thief, but is to be a way of thinking for the Christian. The criminal mind must be put off, as a part of the old man. And in its place we must have our minds renewed, so that we think and act Christianity. The criminal mind is really no different than the fleshly mindset of the unbeliever. The criminal simply takes his self-centeredness outside the bounds of what society accepts. The corrupt mind focuses on selfish “needs” or desires. If someone else has what I want, I take it. It is not necessary to work for what you want, but only to find someone who has worked and who has what you want, and then to take it. The Christian mind thinks in exactly the opposite way. It works on the principle of grace, not greed. It works hard, setting aside resources so that it will be able to meet the needs of others. The corrupt mind uses its strength to steal from the weak; the Christian mind uses its strength to serve the weak. The corrupt mind seeks to gain at the expense of others. The Christian mind seeks the good of others, at our expense.

Conclusion

It should not come as news to us that robbery is wrong. It seeks to avoid the toil of work, and thus to overturn the curse. It forces others to sacrifice to serve our own self-interest. It is the opposite of grace, which seeks to give at our expense. And it is rebellion against the sovereignty of God in the way He has distributed material things. It is also unbelief, a failure to trust in God79 to provide for our needs.

Our text suggests that there are far more thieves among Christians than we might wish to believe. It also indicates that conversion alone does not eradicate this sin from our lives. It is an evil which must be acknowledged and put aside. If we are to put off stealing, we are to put on hard work, producing what is good and useful, and to earn money which we can use to minister to others.

If Paul’s words teach us anything, it is that being born again is no insignificant event in the life of an individual. It is a radical change of life. It is a turning from trusting in our own righteousness to trusting only in the righteousness of Christ. In terms of our text, it is a dramatically different way of thinking and behaving. Rather than seeking to gain at the expense of others, Christians are to give at their expense. They are to willingly accept the toil of work as God’s will, and as a way of earning the means by which they can minister to the needs of others.

While our text, along with others, teaches the necessity of hard work, let us be perfectly clear that our works in no way contribute to our salvation. It is only by the work of Christ on the cross of Calvary that we are saved. It is God’s work that saves us, not our own. The gospel is the good news of salvation apart from works. It is a message of grace. And just as we are saved by grace, we are to serve God and man in a way that manifests grace. And so it is that we work so that we may give to others, freely. Once we have experienced God’s grace, we are obliged to express it to others. The gospel turns crooks into caring Christians, and takers into givers.

76 Corrupt businessmen have found many ways of stealing, and deceit is but one of many forms of business theft.

77 See also John 10:1-1.

78 For example, the Bible condemns the “sluggard.” The Book of Proverbs has a great deal to say about the sluggard, and none of it is good. The sluggard is not one who never works; he is one who works hard to avoid the “work” he dislikes. I believe that many “workaholics” are really sluggards. They immerse themselves with their work, so that they can escape their responsibilities elsewhere, such as in the home and in the church. And because they “work so hard” society (and even the church) commends them for it, without recognizing the evil behind it all.

79 Notice that robbery is misplaced trust according to this psalm: “Do not trust in oppression, And do not vainly hope in robbery; If riches increase, do not set your heart upon them” (Psalm 62:10).

 

A Word for Workaholics – Psalm 127

Psalm 127:
A Word for Workaholics

Introduction

Psalm 127 is one of the most practical passages in the Bible. It deals with two areas of our life that demand most of our time and cause us the most trouble. They are also the two areas which often compete with each other for our attention and energy. The two areas are those of our work and our family.

In our “workaholic” society Christian men often have misplaced priorities with respect to these responsibilities. The workaholic pursues his career at the expense of his family. He is often oblivious to the implications of his conduct. Minirth and Meier, two Christian psychiatrists, give us a picture of the workaholic’s true nature and its results:

“… the selfishness of the perfectionist (workaholic) is much more subtle. While he is out in society saving humanity at a work pace of eighty to a hundred hours a week, he is selfishly ignoring his wife and children. He is burying his emotions and working like a computerized robot. He helps mankind partially out of love and compassion, but mostly as an unconscious compensation for his insecurity, and as a means of fulfilling both his strong need for society’s approval and his driving urge to be perfect. He is self-critical and deep within himself feels inferior. He feels like a nobody, and spends the bulk of his life working at a frantic pace to prove to himself that he is really not (as he suspects deep within) a nobody. In his own eyes, and in the eyes of society, he is the epitome of human dedication. … He becomes angry when his wife and children place demands on him. He can’t understand how they could have the nerve to call such an unselfish, dedicated servant a selfish husband and father. … In reality, his wife and children are correct, and they are suffering severely because of his subtle selfishness.”219

I do not know of a father listening to me who does not agonize about his priorities in the areas of work and family. If there is such a person who isn’t concerned with them, he should be. Psalm 127 will instruct us how to correctly arrange our priorities in these most important responsibilities.

Work: When It Is Worthless
(127:1-2)

1 A Song of Ascents, of Solomon. Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain. 2 It is vain for you to rise up early, To retire late, To eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep. (NASB)

This Psalm has nothing to say about the need for work. Solomon, the author of this Psalm, is also a contributor of much of the wisdom of the Book of Proverbs. In Proverbs he has many words for the sluggard. The sluggard is described as one who avoids work as much as possible. He delays starting a task and seldom finishes the few things he starts. He always has an excuse for his indolence, no matter how contrived (“There’s a lion in the road …” Prov. 26:13). Solomon’s advice is simple: “Get to work!”

In Psalm 127 Solomon deals with the one who cannot seem to stop working. Here he addresses the workaholic, showing him the circumstances in which work is worthless because it is futile. We should understand that what we are considering is a very specialized study on the subject of work. It does not seek to say everything which could be said but speaks to the one who over-indulges in work, to the detriment of more important matters.

Verse 1 describes two instances in which work is vain or futile. Notice that neither endeavor is considered improper. Building houses and seeking to preserve the security of a city are both acceptable enterprises. But there is a time when either task can be futile. In each case our work is in vain when we engage in the activity alone, without God’s involvement.

Solomon begins by telling us that unless God builds our house, our efforts in building it are vain. Who would ever have thought God would stoop to house-building? Hasn’t He better things to do? And, after all, isn’t this something we can do for ourselves? It is simply a matter of making a plan, gathering materials, and putting them all together. Why does God need to be a part of house building?

The first answer is a general one. God makes no distinctions between what is sacred and what is secular. We are told in the New Testament, “And whatever you do, do it heartily as unto the Lord” (Col. 3:23). God is interested in every kind of work. There is no work from which we should exclude God. You may ask “Why does God care about house-building?” Let us think of what concerns God about houses.

God is concerned with how high a priority we place on our houses. For some people, having a house of their own is a goal which is absolutely consuming. The husband and wife may both work to earn the needed money. They may, in the process, neglect their marriage and their family. I know of numerous instances where striving for a lovely home has destroyed the marriage. God is not in any venture which is a reversal of biblical priorities. The Lord has a very clear word as to our priorities in this matter.

“Do not be anxious then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?’ For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:31-33).

God also cares about our motives in building a house. A house is a symbol of status in our society. We want the best and biggest house we can buy in the “right” part of town. If our security is somehow intertwined with earthly possessions, then we are trusting in material things and not in God.

Now we can answer the question, “When is house-building vain?” House building is vain when we engage in it without God. And when does God not build our house with us? When we have the wrong priorities, the wrong motives, or the wrong methods. God cares about what we do, why we do it, and how we do it. God is concerned about the building of houses because so many of us are preoccupied with just such efforts. It may destroy us as a family; it may keep us from fellowshipping with God and our fellow-saints, and it may divert our energies from seeking His kingdom to building one of our own. Such misdirected or mismotivated effort is futile, for it seeks to trade off the eternal in preference for what is temporal. It is vain because our hearts are wrong before God. It is worthless because we are serving the wrong master.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

Verse 1 also informs us that a watchman’s task to insure the security of a city can be vain. Security has always been a priority to men. In ancient times huge walls were built around cities. At various points along the wall were elevated towers. Watchmen were stationed there at all hours of the day and night. They prevented unwanted persons from entering into the city. They warned the people of the city of imminent attacks. Today we have security guards, watchdogs and sophisticated electronic devices, all designed to provide the same security sought by the ancients.

It is not as difficult to envision God as being concerned with our security as it is with our building of houses. After all, God cares about us and our well-being. But when is God not a part of our efforts to maintain security? I would say there are two principle occasions in biblical history when God removed Himself from the business of security. The first instance is when safety is sought in the midst of sin. The sinner is never secure in sin. The people of Babel sought their security in a city and in the building of a tower. However God had commanded men to disperse and to populate the earth (Gen. 1:28; 9:1,7). Sodom and Gomorrah were defenseless because God judges sin. We are most secure when we are obedient to the will of God (e.g. 2 Kings 6). Conversely, we are least secure when we persist in our sin.

Second, man is vulnerable when he strives for security in his own strength. Man’s safety is only in God. When our efforts to be secure distract us from our devotion to God, we have no protection. Lot chose Sodom and Gomorrah, I suspect, because he felt living there would give him security. He chose the best land and left the rest to Abraham. Lot was kidnapped, but Abraham rescued him. Lot lost everything, including his wife and his honor, but Abraham was exalted. The nation Israel sought to establish security by making alliances with other nations. They relied on the “arm of the flesh,” but security depends upon God alone (2 Chron. 32:7,8; Ps. 44:2-3; Isa. 51:5; Jer. 17:5). When we seek to be secure in our own efforts, it is an exercise of futility.

Verse 1 describes the futility of work which arises from improper motives and self-endeavor. Verse 2 seeks to show us another misuse of work. Work is vain whenever it goes beyond the limits God has set for it. Any labor is wrong when it is excessive. Work becomes vain when it is concerned with the wrong activity, so too, it becomes vain by going beyond reasonable limits of time. In Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 we are told that there is a time for everything. When our work totally consumes us we do not have time for other vitally important responsibilities.220 Too much work is counterproductive.

Verse 2 tells us that when our work causes us to get up very early and retire very late, it is vain. Now all of us know that occasionally it is necessary to “burn the midnight oil.” In fact in Proverbs 31 the virtuous woman is praised for doing this (verses 15,18). There she is commended for being hard-working, not slothful. Solomon is not contradicting Proverbs 31; he is putting this in perspective. While everyone finds occasions which require extra effort and longer time commitments, the workaholic is the man who has made this a pattern.

The last phrase of verse 2 explains the reason why extending our working day is wrong. I see two possible meanings, and while only one may be intended, it is also possible that both are taught simultaneously. The interpretation of this statement hinges on the translation we choose for the final clause of verse 2. The NIV renders it, “For he grants sleep to those he loves.” The NASB renders it, “For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.”

Let’s consider first the sense of the passage as the translators of the NIV have understood it. The reason why the workaholic toils in vain is because he has failed to appreciate the delicate balance between the need for work and the necessity of rest. When you stop to think about it, work was a part of the curse pronounced upon Adam as a result of his sin.221 But from the very beginning God had established the principle of rest, even prior to the fall. God made the heavens and the earth in six days and in the seventh day He rested (Gen. 2:1-3). Later, when He gave the Law through Moses, God established the Sabbath as a day of rest (Deut. 5:12-15). I believe the Sabbath was intended to accomplish several things. First, it was a gracious provision for man to rest and recover. While work was a consequence of sin, God graciously put limits on man’s labor. Six days are sufficient toil (Deut. 5:13-14). Second, God established the Sabbath as a time for spiritual reflection and worship. Man needs time to worship God (cf. Deut. 5:12). Finally, the Sabbath was given as an opportunity for men to learn to trust God and strengthen their faith. Why was it that the Israelites found it so difficult to cease their labors on the Sabbath (cf. Neh. 13:15-18)? It was due either to greed or to unbelief. Greed made men discontent with the earnings of only six days. Wouldn’t working on the Sabbath increase profits? Unbelief also tempted men to work on the Sabbath. The farmer who had just cut his crop of grain feared that it might rain. “I can’t stop now,” he reasoned, “my crops may be ruined.” The Sabbath was a gracious provision for men, but they were tempted not to use it as God had directed.

The workaholic therefore chooses to capitalize on the curse and to avoid the blessings. The workaholic has lost his perspective on what is a necessary evil and what is a gracious good. By working day and night men cannot give diligent attention to more important matters such as study and meditation in the Scriptures, worship and devotion, and attention to family, the subject of the next three verses.

There is another way in which we may view the statement of verse 2. Prolonging our labor is vain because it violates a basic spiritual principle: God gives to those who have learned to rest in Him, not to those who strive in their own strength. In the words of the Psalmist as translated by the NASB, “For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep” (emphasis mine). Put in its simplest terms, the blessings of God are never gained by self-effort, no matter how fervent or how prolonged. God’s blessings are the product of His grace, appropriated by faith, not works. Work is futile when we strive, by means of it, to gain God’s blessings.

Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness (Romans 4:4-5).

God not only gives sleep to His children, He also gives to His children “in sleep,” that is when there is no toiling and striving, only resting in His goodness and faithfulness.

Children:
An Illustration of God’s Gifts of Grace
(127:3-5)

3 Behold, children are a gift of the LORD; The fruit of the womb is a reward. 4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. 5 How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; They shall not be ashamed, When they speak with their enemies in the gate. (NASB)

Some scholars have suggested that this Psalm was originally two separate psalms. They propose this because the connection between verses 1 and 2 and verses 3-5 is an enigma to them. I personally am convinced that there is a very clear sequence and progression of thought. Children provide an excellent conclusion to the argument of verses 1 and 2. Children illustrate and apply positively the truths previously taught from a somewhat negative perspective. The provision of children differs from that for which men toil. When men work they are striving for wages, not a gift. Wages are what we produce with the work of our hands. Gifts are those things generously and graciously given to us by another. Children, verse 3 informs us, are a gift from God. They are a great reward.

Isn’t it interesting that children, while given by God, are conceived when we are at rest, not when we toil. Children are normally conceived in bed. What a beautiful illustration, then, of what we are told in verse 2, that God gives to His beloved in his sleep.

In verses 4 and 5 we are taught that children, a gift from God, provide us with the very thing for which men strive in vain. A man may toil to build a house, but by giving us children God builds our home. The watchman stands guard to provide security and protection, but the children God gives provide a greater security. Solomon poetically describes them as arrows in the hand of a warrior (v. 4). The children born in a man’s youth are strong and well established by the time he has reached old age. His quiver full of children will look after the aged man and his wife. The city gate (v. 5) was the place of business. It was also the place where justice was administered (cf. Gen. 19:1; 34:20-21; Deut. 17:5). The Scriptures assume that the widows and the orphans were more vulnerable and in need of greater protection since they had no one (but God) to safe-guard their interests (Ex. 22:22; Deut. 10:18; 14:29; Ps. 94:6; Isa. 1:23). The parents of many children had no such worry. Their children saw to it that their parents were treated with respect and with honesty and justice. Let their enemies try to take advantage of them!

Conclusion

Do you see the point of the Psalm? The man who puts too much stock in his labor is the man who has failed to understand the grace of God. In His grace God has provided man with a time of rest and relaxation. And in His grace God has made provision for many of our needs through the gift of children. Contrary to the thinking of the workaholic, God’s gifts are not acquired by feverish efforts, burning the candle at both ends, but by resting in His grace.

In my estimation this Psalm is the Old Testament counterpart of John 15:1-11. Jesus teaches us that the key to being fruitful is abiding in Him, not in frantic efforts. I do not mean to suggest that abiding in Christ precludes activity, but I do think it should govern our work. We need not strive to the point that God’s priorities are reversed. We dare not strive beyond the limits God has given. Our activity should leave room for important concerns, like raising children, and having time for rest, reflection, and worship.

We, sadly enough, have reversed our priorities from that given in this Psalm. Many have come to view children as a curse and work as the means of finding fulfillment and security. This is evident in the trend of the women’s movement. They are seeking to be released from the “slavery and drudgery of homemaking.” Instead, they are pursuing careers to find “fulfillment.” This is demonstrated by two observations: at worst, many women prefer abortions to relinquishing their occupations. At best, other women are willing for their children to be raised by institutions rather than to rear their own children at home.

Do you remember how it was with the first family, with Adam and Eve? Work was a part of the curse, and children were an essential part of the promise. How was Eve to be fulfilled as a woman and to play a role in the salvation of mankind? By having a child. It was through her seed that Satan would be crushed (Gen. 3:15).

Now I know full well that women today do not anticipate being the mother of Messiah, as women of old did. Nevertheless it still must be maintained that God’s grace is not to be seen in toil, but in the gift of children. Just as women of old anticipated the birth of the Savior to deliver them from the curse, so women today should regard childbearing as a gift of God to deliver them from the continuing effects of the curse (Gen. 3:16). Because of Eve’s sin, God has required women to remain silent in church meetings (1 Tim. 2:11-14). However, God has graciously provided women a voice in the assembly of believers through their children. The Lord’s gracious gift allows women to speak in church meetings through their children if “they” (the children) continue to reflect mature Christian character in accordance with the biblical instruction of their parents (1 Tim. 2:15).

Many may wonder about the implications of this psalm regarding birth control. I do not wish to be understood as saying more than I am. I am not here advocating that we should never practice birth control. I am suggesting that we should seriously evaluate our motives (and even our methods) for preventing children. In a previous series on Genesis it was noted in chapter 38 that Onan’s action of “spilling his seed on the ground” (v. 9) to prevent Tamar from conceiving was wrong because it was an “unnatural” action. He rejected a clear command to raise up a seed for his brother and he put his own financial interests first. Thus we can conclude that birth control is evil if it is motivated by selfish interests and if it is clearly an act of disobedience. Are we not having children to preserve our freedom? Is it that we don’t trust God to provide for our material and emotional needs? Psalm 127 emphasizes that “children are a gift of the Lord” (v. 3). Therefore, we should carefully evaluate our real reasons for birth control and place a high value on having children. Yet it is just as possible to want children for the wrong reasons as it is to wish to prevent their conception. We should test our motives by the principle: “whatever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). Methods of birth control which are abortive rather than preventative are clearly wrong. Beyond this, the Bible does not have a proof text for condemning or condoning birth control for everyone; it is a matter of personal conviction.

Do not misunderstand me with regard to the employment of women. I am not implying that a woman should never work. I am emphasizing that we must recognize the liabilities of labor and the benefits of rest. I am asserting that we should never allow our work to become the ruin of our family.

Incidentally, I feel that my emphasis may be misinterpreted. I am not speaking primarily to women. This Psalm was written by a man and primarily to men. Many of our wives are much more sensitive and much more concerned about this matter than their husbands. They know that we are allowing our jobs to rob them and our children of the time they need. They know that our work has crossed over the line of God’s limitations and has therefore become vain. If you really want to know if this is true or not, ask your wife.

Finally, this Psalm contains a principle which relates to those who may never have come to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. No matter how much you labor to earn a righteousness which you hope God will accept, your efforts will always be futile. Your works will never be acceptable to God. God has chosen to save men by His grace, not by their works. To be saved you must recognize yourself as a sinner, and your efforts to be righteous apart from God are worthless. You can be saved simply by resting in Him. He has sent His Son to be punished for your sins on Calvary. Jesus Christ is the One whose righteousness can be yours, simply by trusting in Him and receiving salvation as God’s gift of grace. In Him alone you will find the security which God gives for eternity.

219 Frank B. Minirth and Paul D. Meier, Happiness Is a Choice (Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, 1978), p. 56.

220 It is interesting that following these verses having to do with a time for everything, the writer immediately proceeds to the subject of work in verses 9-11, and the vanity of excessive toil.

221 I am not saying that labor is only a curse. I believe that Adam had a work to do in the garden before the fall. I do not think that heaven is a place of inactivity. But the toil of our task is to be related to the fall. That is the force of God’s words in Genesis 3:17-19.

 

Work: A Noble Christian Duty – Part 3

“Work: A Noble Christian Duty–Part 3”

2 Thessalonians 3:10-15

Well it’s time to turn again in the Word of God to 2 Thessalonians chapter 3, looking at verses 6 through 15, under the title, “Work: A Christian Duty.” It fascinates me how practical the Apostle Paul is. Here is a brief epistle of only three chapters. Up until chapter 3 and verse 5 it is lofty, it deals with the Lord Jesus Christ coming in righteous judgment and flaming fire revealed from heaven with His mighty angels. It deals with eternal retribution, eternal destruction. It deals with the coming of Christ to be glorified in His saints. It talks about the Rapture of the church, the gathering together. It talks about the day of the Lord, the career of Antichrist and how his career will be broken. It talks about the gospel. It talks about sanctification. So many lofty grandiose theological truths.

And then it comes squarely down to earth in verses 6 to 15 and it talks about work, how practical. That was Paul. No matter how elevated his theology became, it never left the ground. It never so elevated a man that he no longer had a responsibility in the routine of life. And it so happened in the Thessalonian church that there were Christians in the congregation who refused to do their job, to work, to earn a living. As we have said in the past studies here, this is our third, they perhaps have been influenced by some of the Jewish background of the scribes who thought that anything other than studying the law was an unworthy way to spend your life. They surely were effected by the general Greek attitude that work was demeaning and sordid and base and low and belonged only to slaves and not to freemen.

And they probably had had those predispositions somewhat exaggerated by virtue of the fact that someone had come along and told them that they were already in the day of the Lord and the return of Christ was imminent and there probably wasn’t much use in doing anything other than evangelizing and studying the Word of God. And so they had given themselves to that happily because of their disdain for work anyway. The problem was at least long term, if you can call several months long term for the Thessalonians in that Paul had dealt with it when he was there. Several months later when he wrote them the first letter he dealt with it, and here he is writing a second letter and dealing with it a third time. They didn’t want to work. It was beneath them.

Homer, the famous Greek writer had said that the gods hated man. And the way they demonstrated their hatred was to invent work and punish men by making them work. This kind of philosophy being existent in that time, it found its way into the lives of those people and thus when they became converted it found its way into the church. Becoming a Christian doesn’t change everything immediately. And so here in this church in which so many good things had happened, a genuine conversion, a genuine godliness, they were not slack in spiritual service, they had a work of faith and a labor of love and they did it with patience and endurance because they hoped in the return of Christ. They worked hard at ministry but they didn’t want to do the jobs that they had to do in the world, at least some of them. And so Paul was dealing with a church that had its spiritual life on target and was doing well, excelling spiritually, but they had this one problem that dominates the church in terms of its conduct and that was that there were people there who didn’t work. They then became a burden on everybody else and it wasn’t that they couldn’t work, it wasn’t that they had a physical disability, it wasn’t that there wasn’t a job available, they refused to work seeing it as beneath them or not a priority for those engaged in kingdom enterprises.

I suppose 25 years ago a situation like this would have struggled to be relevant in our time then because America was a hard-working country 25 years ago. In fact, the American work ethic has always been hailed as sort of the supreme work ethic of the industrialized world. We have always sort of set the pace for productivity and enterprise up until more recent years, that is. Last year Charles Colson and Jack Eckard(?) who heads the Eckard Company which operates drug stores in other parts of America, they wrote a book and the title of their book is, Why America Doesn’t Work. Now that’s really a new thought, a new concept for our culture, for our society. The subtitle is, “How the decline of the work ethic is hurting your family and future.” The future of America is changing dramatically. There are other nations that are putting us to shame in terms of work habits and a work ethic.

In their book they point out that we have in America declining rates of productivity, the loss of competitive position in some world markets and workers who aren’t working. And they concluded is a bleak picture. And I suppose they ask the right question, the question we would all ask at that point, what has happened to the industry and productivity that made this country the marvel of the world at one time?

I think since the beginning of our nation America in terms of its social and economic perspective has always exalted thrift and industry and diligence and perseverance and summed it all up to be hard work. And these were the qualities that have been cultivated and respected in society. Look at your parents. Look back to your grandparents and see how their life was and how they lived their life and what their priorities were and you will see they’re very different than the priorities of people today…very different approach to life. America’s drive to work hard and America’s drive to work well was more than simply good business. It wasn’t really driven by materialism. It was rooted in a religious commitment, whether you’re talking about European Protestants or European Catholics or whether you’re talking about Jewish immigrants. They all had a strong religious belief, they all had a strong belief in God. And they all believed that their work somehow mattered to God, that God was watching them and there was a certain accountability about that.

What I’m saying is a religious society no matter what the form of that religion might be if it has a high level of accountability to God to whatever God it is that they believe in has a determination on how people work. But now God is not a factor in our society and our culture. We have rejected God. We have rejected the Lord Jesus Christ. We have rejected the Bible. We have rejected not only the gospel in the scriptures but we’ve rejected basically the morality of the Scripture, the general societal morality of Scripture is gone. Moral values don’t mean anything today. Biblical moral values are the enemy today. We have gone through a revolution, a moral revolution, a sexual revolution that has affected our work ethics. We have an ethical malaise all the way from the jet set corporate leaders down to the person working at the bench. The whole concept of work has so dramatically changed it no longer has a transcendent motive. There’s no longer something beyond me to make me perform at a certain level. Thus the meaning of work has been sapped from everybody from the top to the bottom, to some degree. Obviously some people still work harder than others.

A 1980 Gallup Poll conducted for the Chamber of Commerce found that people still believed in work-ethic values…1980. They still believed. That’s over ten years ago. Eighty-eight percent said working hard and doing their best on the job was personally important. But were they doing it? They said they believed it, it was still sort of in the air in 1980 but were people working hard? Nineteen eighty-two survey came along, in that survey was reported that only 16 percent said they were doing the best job they could at work, 84 percent admitted they weren’t working hard, 84 percent. So you can see they were still holding on to a residual ethic that didn’t translate into how they functioned which meant that it was somebody else’s transcendent value, somebody else’s ethical value imposed on them externally but not truly believed. Working hard they said was important but they weren’t doing it…so how important was it? Eighty-four percent also said they would work harder if they could gain something from it. And now you can see that the ethic is not transcendent, the ethic is utilitarian. It’s all tied in to what I get out of it, what’s in it for me. And that’s part of the cynicism of our society. That’s part of the direct consequence of the sixties moral revolution which is a rejection of transcendent values.

God is not an issue in anything. He is not an issue in the way I conduct my sexual life. He is not an issue in my marriage. He is not an issue at my job. He is not an issue in education. He is not an issue anywhere. God is not an issue therefore there is no value beyond myself. So whatever is enough to get me what I want is enough. It is a kind of societal economic atheism. In fact, psychologist Robert Bella(?) calls it radical individualism. Surveying 200 middle class Americans, this UCLA professor discovered that people seek personal advancement from work, personal development from marriage and personal fulfillment from church. Everything, he says, their perspective on family, church, community and work is utilitarian, it is measured by what they can get out of it and concern for others is only secondary.

Down to specifics, James Shehee(?) an executive with a computer firm in the upper echelons of the work strata saw first hand how this kind of utilitarian value was affecting work. He wanted a better understanding of the expectations and psyche of younger employees, looking at what the future held, what kind of people were going to come up in this generation to work in his company, what would they be like. So he decided the best way to find out was to spend his vacation taking a job in a fast food restaurant. He wrote most of his co-workers were from upper income families, they didn’t need to work but they wanted extra spending money. He watched and listened as his co-workers displayed poor work habits and contempt for customers. His conclusion was, “We have a new generation of workers whose habits and experiences will plague future employers for years.” He writes, “Along with their get-away-with-what-you-can attitude and indifference to the quality of performance, their basic work ethic was dominated by a type of gamesmanship that revolved around taking out of the system or milking the place dry. Theft, skimming and baiting management were rampant and skill levels surprisingly low. The workers saw long hours and hard work as counter-productive. `You only put in time for the big score,’ one said.” After recounting his experience, Shehee concluded, “Get ready, America, there’s more of this to come from the work force of tomorrow.”

It doesn’t sound too good if you happen to be an employer, does it? A recent Harris Poll showed 63 percent of workers believed people don’t work as hard as they used to. Seventy- eight percent say workers take less pride in their work. Sixty- nine percent think the workmanship they produce is inferior. And 73 percent believe workers are less motivated and that the whole trend is worsening and the numbers are going up.

Now our society may not have a choice but they have to accept this…but as Christians we can’t accept this. The Christian faith does not accept a utilitarian work ethic. The Christian view of work is transcendent. That is, it escapes me and my world and directs its attention toward God.

Last week I showed you the transcendence of the Christian work ethic by giving you just a few points of which I now remind you. First, work is a command from God. Six days shall you labor, Exodus 20 verse 11. God commands us to work. Secondly, work is a model established by God for it was God who worked for six days and then rested on the seventh and God, of course, is the worker who continually sustains the universe. Man being created in the image of God then is created as a worker. Thirdly, work is a part of the creation mandate. In other words, what I mean by that is it is the role of man. Stars shine, suns shine, moons shine, on the earth plants grow, animals do what they’re supposed to do, rocks do what they’re to do, mountains do what they’re to do, water does what it’s to do, clouds do what they’re to do and we do what we’re to do. As Psalm 104 says, “All of creation moves in a normal course and part of it is man rises, goes to work until the setting of the sun.” It is creation mandate, it is how we contribute to the processes of life in God’s wondrous creation.

Work is a command. Work is established as a model by God. Work is part of the natural creation. Fourthly, work is a gift from God. It is a gift from God. It is a gift through which we glorify Him and the wonder of His creation as we produce things, putting on display the genius of God who created us in all of our abilities. It is a means by which we can glorify our creator. Just as the beast of the field gives me honor, as Isaiah said, and just as the heavens declare the glory of God by what they do and we sit in awe of them, so man declares the glory of God, the wonder of His creative genius by doing what he has been given the ability to do. Work is a gift from God not only to glorify Him but to give meaning to life. Work is a gift from God to give us something to do which avoids the idleness that leads to sin. And I’ll tell you right now, the culture that we’re living in is a classic illustration. The more and more people demand recreation and idle time, the more corrupt they will become. The two go hand in hand. An escalating pornographic sinful wicked culture is sped on, the slide is greased by a shrinking commitment to work. And we fill up all that time with things that feed the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. Work is a gift from God also to provide for needs. Work is a gift from God so that we can serve each other. And lastly, in the Christian work ethic, work is to be done as if the boss was the Lord Himself. It says in Colossians chapter 3 and Ephesians 6 that we’re to work as unto the Lord and not men.

So the Christian faith does not sanctify the kind of attitude we’re seeing in our own country toward work. In fact, as I said, 25 years ago this message may have seemed a bit obscure when America was working productively. Now it seems to be rather on target for we are suffering today with some of the things that Paul faced in the Thessalonian church. But as Christians, we have to establish the standard.

One of the most wonderful things that we’re learning from the Commonwealth of Independence States, the former Soviet Union, is that the Christians there are setting a model for work. Seventy-five years of atheism in the former Iron Curtain countries have produced a non-working population. They don’t have any reason to work. There is no God to please. There is no transcendent ethic and there is nothing to be gained from work because you can’t increase what you get anyway, it’s all doled out by the government. The combination of an atheistic mentality and no personal benefit has stripped them of any motivation whatsoever. But now as these countries emerge from the bars, as it were, of their prison, they are recognizing that the people who work and who know how to work and work diligently are Christians and the government is setting up Christians as the model. Its even been put in print over there, “Watch Christians, they know how to work. They have a transcendent ethic.”

Now Paul faces this in Thessalonica, this…this group of people whoever they are and I’m sure he knows them probably by name but doesn’t mention them, who won’t work. And they’re not just accepting it for themselves, they apparently there…they’re very evangelistic about it. I mean, they’re selling it. And they’re a problem. And so here at the end of this great chapter which is really the close of a great book dealing with grandiose theological concepts, he puts his feet squarely on the earth and says, “Let’s talk about work. It’s not the time to put your pajamas on and sit on the roof and wait for the coming of Christ, it’s not the time to be indolent or indifferent toward what it is that God has skilled and gifted you to do in your vocation, it’s time to go to work.” And he gives them six motivations, six reasons, six incentives.

Just to review the two we’ve looked at…the first one is disfellowship in verse 6. “We command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you keep aloof from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us.” What he’s saying there is you need to alienate yourself from them. The first thing that’s going to stimulate them to work is that they’re going to get cut off from fellowship. That’s what he says. Keep aloof is the key word there, stay away. I don’t know what your translation might say, the idea is alienate them, stay away from them, make them know there is a price for their indolence and their laziness and the price is they lose fellowship. As I noted before, this is step three of the Matthew 18 discipline process. You’ve gone to them once, you’ve gone to them twice, and now you’re basically saying to them…you no longer can participate, we’re saying to you stay away until you get your spiritual focus right. And so, disfellowship, the pain of alienation, you can’t be a part of the society of Christians, you can’t be there for worship, you can’t be at the Lord’s table or the love feast, you can’t be alongside in mutual ministry, you can’t be there to use your gift, to teach, to learn, to share. Cut them off, stay away, make them feel the pain of isolation if they’re going to continue in the sin.

Second, the second motivating principle, example. In verses 7 to 9 he says, “You yourselves know how you ought to follow our example because we didn’t act in an undisciplined manner among you,” that is we didn’t forego work, undisciplined means they never went to work. They were unruly, they were scattered around. They never brought their life in to line and worked. He says we didn’t do that. “We didn’t eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but rather with labor and hardship we kept working night and day.” You remember Acts 18:3 says he was a tent maker. working with leather and he had to set up his business even in the few weeks he was in Thessalonica and he had to work and sell it so that he could get a living from it. He had to literally set up an enterprise. And we did it night and day so that we might not be a burden to any of you. Not because we do not have the right. He did have the right. First Corinthians 9, I showed you last time, those that preach the gospel should live of the gospel. What does that mean? If you preach the gospel you should get your living from it. First Timothy 5, “Those who labor in the Word and doctrine are worthy of double pay.” Galatians 6, “The one who is taught shares with the one who teaches.” He had a right to it but he said we didn’t use the right in order to offer ourselves as a model for you that you might follow our example, end of verse 9.

He says, “Look, once I saw the condition there we said we’re going to just work because we need to set an example here.” They needed to be a model to change the cultural perspective that work was sordid and demeaning and only for slaves. Paul says I had a right to be supported and the fledgling church didn’t have much but maybe they could have helped a little but he said no, I want to show you how you need to work. Here was the most elevated man they had ever met. The philosopher beyond all philosophers, the true theologian, the greatest teacher they had ever known, the godliest man they had ever met, the paragon of Christian virtue, the highest of the high, Paul, and yet he stoops to work with his hands and do his business and acquire his hides and sew them together and market them somehow. And he does his work because he wants them to know that work is honorable and God-honoring and God-glorifying…a lesson they desperately needed. In spite of all of that modeling that he had done of the price he had to pay working night and day, they still didn’t obey it. They were still being lazy. So he says the second motivation they should have is our example.

Let’s go to the third one. The third one is very straight forward in verse 10, “For even when we were with you we used to give you this order.” Now let me stop there for a moment. He’s hearking back now to one of the things he had been teaching them, “When we were with you, back when we were there for the three Sabbaths and the two week in between period and then the following weeks that we stayed to get the church rolling, just a brief period of months at the most, when we were with you, we used to give you this order.” In other words, we repeated it. We didn’t give it once, it was a matter of course, we told you this all the time. And here it is, “If anyone won’t work, don’t let him eat.” That’s it. If anyone will not work, neither let him eat. That’s an axiom, that’s a maxim, that was a Pauline tradition. That was a divine authoritative revealed truth. If you don’t work, you don’t eat.

Ignorance was not their problem. They knew this. He had told it to them over and over. Wrote about it in the first letter, chapter 4 verse 11, chapter 5 verse 14. They didn’t have a problem of ignorance. Secondly, they did not have a problem of inability. They could work. He’s not talking about people who can’t work. And neither did they have a problem of opportunity. They did have the opportunity to work. They had information. They had capability. And they had opportunity. And when you have that and you don’t work, you don’t eat. That’s it. That’s the Christian view. If someone won’t work, let him go hungry.

You say, “But…but…but if he goes hungry he’ll die.” That’s right. And he knows that better than you. And people who are about to die if there’s food available will eat and if they have to work, they’ll work to get it. You’ve read some of the stories about what people eat when they’re starving to death. Some unthinkable, unimaginable things that they eat. I even heard recently about some course in which they are giving information to the homeless of their local area and what times of the day the restaurants put their garbage in the dumpsters so they can get it while it’s fresh and how to sort it out to pick the best. There’s even some kind of a little thing on how to get down into a dumpster and out the easiest way. Now you say, “Well it’s too bad people have to eat that way.” Well I would venture to say that the majority of them don’t have to eat that way, they choose to eat that way, but ultimately they’ll eat because they’re not just going to die. If society provides a means for them to eat even that way rather than to work, they’ll take that route some of them.

END OF SIDE ONE

SIDE TWO

We make such an issue out of the homeless. I don’t want to be indifferent to people who are genuinely in distress, and there are people like that, but I just remind you that somewhere between 90 and 95 percent of them are alcoholics, we used to call them bums. We cannot exalt that life style and you cannot continually feed people who will not work. There’s got to be a balance. You may be able to…you may have to give them more than their work earns, but if they’re willing to work then they eat.

Certainly this is true of Christians. I’m waiting to see the First Church of the Homeless, I haven’t seen anybody who has come up with that new religion, but if they do they’re going to have to deal with 2 Thessalonians chapter 3 because it certainly applies on the general basis as just a divine principle…if you don’t work you can’t eat. In fact, the Apostle Paul said if anybody doesn’t provide not only for himself but his family, he’s worth…worse than an unbeliever because even unbelievers do that. What he was saying was even unbelievers work, make provision for their own.

It is an aberrant unbeliever that doesn’t work. The tragedy of those people, the real tragedy is that they are so deep in sin and so deep particularly in the sin of drunkenness and irresponsibility and immorality that they have put themselves in the position they’re in. And I again say I’m not talking about people who are genuinely in despair, and I’ve seen those people all around the world. But there is a mass of people who shouldn’t eat because they will not work.

We see them here at the church. They come by and they want money and they want food. And we suggest work and they leave. I was told today by one of the gentlemen in our church, serves with the police department, that they will hold a sign, they’ve tracked them, they will hold a sign, “I need work, homeless need work,” and in recently in one of the shopping centers just a couple of days ago they were tracking to find out what was going on. None of them got jobs but they were averaging $15 an hour in donations. One policeman told me he went by an offered a lady a sandwich purchased at a fast food place and she said, “What’s this?”

And he said, “Well it says homeless and hungry, so I’m just giving you this to eat.” She put it in a bag and he said to her, “Well aren’t you hungry?”

She said, “I’ll eat it when I get HOME.”

So…you need to be careful about that. Sometimes the car is parked around the block and the stash is growing in the back of the car. Just have to be careful because there are people who don’t work because they won’t work, not because they can’t work. And if you don’t work and won’t work, then you don’t eat. That’s what the Bible says. There needs to be an opportunity for you to earn your own food and you need to take that opportunity. And again I want to say this, it may be that in some cultures there is not enough work to go around and that a person couldn’t do enough work to really make the whole living. Then in generosity and charity and love we make up the lack, but we don’t feed the indolents.

Jesus, you’ll remember, in John chapter 6 fed the multitude and it was a large crowd. We talk about feeding the 5,000 but it says 5,000 men, so wherever there are 5,000 men there have to be 5,000 women at least and throw in a few thousand mother-in-laws and grandmas, sisters and aunts and throw in 15,000 kids at least and you’ve got a crowd somewhere between 20 and 50 thousand. It could have been a massive crowd and Jesus fed them all. You remember He had those five little cakes, five loaves, they’re actually little barley cakes and two pickled fish and He just created food. And I’ll promise you, it was the best lunch they had ever had because it bypassed the world. The barley…barley cakes never came from barley that grew in the ground so they were never touched by the curse. I don’t know what an uncursed piece of cake tastes like. Just plain cursed cake tastes pretty good. Uncursed cake would be beyond, you know, imagination. And I don’t know what an uncursed pickled fish tastes like either. The fish that never came from any mom and daddy fish, a fish that just got instantly created out of the hands of Jesus would be something like a pre-Fall fish and so I don’t know what pre-Fall fish and pre-cursed cake tastes like, but, man, they had some feast that day.

In fact, it was so good that the next morning they all showed up for breakfast. You remember the next morning they were all on the hill again and they wanted breakfast and Jesus said no and He left. Now do you realize when He said no to breakfast, I really believe that their anger was turned on Him because in an agrarian society like that they had to work with the sweat of their brow to produce their own food. They didn’t go down to some market and flip out food stamps or a check or a credit card or whatever it is, they didn’t go to a fast food restaurant. If they didn’t work that day, they didn’t have the food to eat. And not only a matter of preparation, but a matter of provision. And so when Jesus…when they saw Jesus make food, they thought they had just found the Messiah who would bring the ultimate and eternal welfare state. We don’t even need food stamps, just show up and He passes it out. And you don’t even have to get in line to collect it, they serve it. And when time for breakfast came, they were there and he left and I think their anger and hostility turned on Him because they knew then what He could do, but He refused to do it. He could have done it for us as well, but He knows the value and the benefit and the purpose of work.

So here were these Thessalonians and they wouldn’t work. And so he says if they don’t work, don’t let them eat. That will help them get the message. That’s survival.

There’s a fourth principle that he uses to motivate them, we’ll call it harmony…we’ll call it harmony. And it comes in verse 11 and following, “For we hear…” and we don’t know how he heard, so there’s no sense in speculating, I mean, it could have been Timothy coming back with a report, it could have been some people on the road from Thessalonica to Corinth. The Christian communication which we call the “gracevine,” we don’t know how, we don’t know how it came but it came. He says, “We hear that some among you…and it must have been a fairly good group…some are leading an undisciplined life.” There’s that same term used back in verse 6 and over in 1 Thessalonians 5:14 translated unruly. They just…they were undisciplined, they didn’t have their life together. They were not working. “We hear that they’re leading an undisciplined life…here’s it definition…doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies.” Literally in the Greek it says…it’s a play on words actually, it says, “Not busy but busybodies.” They are not busy, they are busybodies. It uses the word erga from which we get ergo which has to do with energy, even talking about ergs which is a component of energy. They were not ergazomai they were periergazomai, which means they were all over the place. Peri, around, use it for the periphery of something. They were just moving around all over the place to no particular good. They had nothing to do. They just wandered around interfering in the lives of others, meddling, probably trying to get other Christians to stop working, telling them Jesus was coming, they’re in the day of the Lord, work is beneath us, whatever their message was. They were an irritant. They were creating disunity and discord. People were getting tired of these deadbeats. They’d show up on Sunday and they’d say, “Oh-oh, let’s get out of here, here he comes…he’s going to want food, he’s going to want some money.” And it was beginning to affect the loving harmony and the effective witness of the community of faith.

With no job to do they were taxing others, and they were making the ones they taxed resent them…and they were fiddling in people’s lives. It’s reminiscent of those in 1 Timothy 5:13 that the Apostle Paul talks about those young women who are widowed. He says they learn to be idle, they go around from house to house, not merely idle but also gossips and busybodies talking about things not proper to mention. Therefore I want younger widows to get married. When a young girl is widowed, she’s still young, she’s got nothing to occupy herself, she needs to get married because she doesn’t need to just be flitting around gossiping, involving herself in things she shouldn’t be involved in, talking about things she shouldn’t be talking about and falling into the sins of idleness.

Well that’s what these people were doing. The definition of what happens when you’ve got nothing to do in 1 Timothy 5:13 fits these people. They were just busybodies, you know what that means, it’s a very graphic term. So Paul reiterates in verse 12, “Such persons now we command…that’s very strong…and exhort…that’s more compassionate, parakaleo, the paraklete, the comforter. So it’s both commanding and comforting, it’s a command with some warmth in it. We command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ, that is those of you who are in Christ, within the family of God, the idea being emphasized here “in Christ.” Some versions have “in the name of Christ,” but that doesn’t appear in the older manuscripts. It’s best to see the idea emphasizing our unity in Him because of the importance of our unity, because we all belong to Christ, we command and we exhort not only in His name but in the unity of Christ those people to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. Settle down, he says. That’s what work and quiet fashion means. Stop running around meddling, moving uselessly, go to work. Begin an ordered life of quiet consistent work.

Now this is really amazing to me because you would think on the one hand that if Jesus was coming, if you really believed He was coming and if the end of the world was near, people were on the edge of damnation and judgment, and since we believe the Bible is the absolute priority and the most wonderful thing you can do to occupy your time, you would think the Apostle would say, “I certainly want to commend you for just saying no to work, I just want to commend you for pouring your life in to ministry. I just want to commend you for studying Scripture. I want to commend you for not wasting your time in some job. I just want to commend you for being out there zealous and proclaiming Christ and studying Scripture because that’s really what you ought to do with all your time and energy.” But he doesn’t say that. He says go to work, shut your mouth and do your work. I don’t even think he sees the job as an evangelistic field particularly. I think what you have to say on the job by how you work is the platform on which your individual witness will begin to have some credibility. He just says quietly get your life in line and go to work.

And somebody is going to say, “But it’s not as spiritual.” It is. It’s a command. It’s a way to glorify God. It’s why you were placed where you were placed in the flow of the creative mandate. It’s all a part of God’s plan and it will effect your witness, believe me. It also makes for unity in the church which effects the church’s corporate witness. Just keep your mouth shut and go to work. Calm down, settle down. Get some discipline in your life. Be productive. You don’t need idle time and you don’t need to be doing these kinds of enterprises which assume you don’t need to work, God says work. That’s all part of the very very basic command of God for us. Why? So you can earn the bread you eat and you won’t be a burden to the community and you won’t be a burden to the church.

Let me warn you, folks. There are people who…who are still running around saying, “You know, I need to be in the ministry, I need to be studying the Bible all the time, or I need to be preaching or evangelizing all the time, or I need to be a missionary.” And they’re maybe ungifted, unauthorized, unordained, unassociated, unaccountable, but they’re getting support from people. Be very careful of that because it may well be that they just don’t want to work and the greatest ministry they might have is effectively working.

You say, “What about evangelism?” You be a good worker where you are, believe me, the Lord will bring the people across your path He wants to come and you’ll have the opportunity to share why it is that you live the life you live and the way you live it.

Then verse 13 there’s a word to the rest of the folks, it’s obvious, I think, if you think about it. When I first read it I thought…well what does this have to do with anything…and then as I thought I saw it. “But as for you, brethren,” that’s the rest, those of you that are working, those of you that are having to pay for these people, having to pass out your money and give them food, “the rest of you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.” You see, the potential was they were become so tired of these deadbeats, they become so fed up with giving this money and this charity to these lazy people that they would become very weary of the whole process and then when somebody came with a real need they would be indifferent to it. So he’s saying, “Look, don’t you grow weary of doing what is really good.” The assumption is they were weary of taking care of these people who should have been taking care of themselves and he says don’t let your weariness translate over to weariness in doing what you really should do. Doing what is good, kalos is the term that’s attached to the verb there, it means what is perceived by others to be noble, so says Milligan in his lexicon. What is perceived to be noble, do what is noble.

And you go back to the Psalms and you’re going to find out over and over again that we’re to take care of the poor and that when you take care of the poor, God will bless you. Go back to Proverbs, you’re going to find the same thing. Go back to Isaiah, go to Luke chapter 14 verses 12 to 14, and what does Jesus say? When you have a dinner, when you have a reception, don’t invite the wealthy people who are going to reciprocate, invite the blind and the lame and the halt and the maimed and the poor who can never pay you back and God will pay you back in eternity in the resurrection. Take care of the poor.

In Acts chapter 20 and verse 35 the Apostle Paul says you saw me work and labor and I showed you how that you ought to do that in order to give to people who have need based on what our Lord said…it is more blessed to give than receive. And even in the letter to the Galatians chapter 2 and verse 10 he says they only asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I also was eager to do. Who asked him? The church at Jerusalem, the leaders there, John, Peter, James, Barnabas. We remember the poor. Paul went around collecting an offering for the poor, the really poor, the truly poor who want to work and maybe work a little but can’t earn enough. You’ve still got to make up what they can’t earn if they’re willing to work. There are still going to be people that can’t make up enough.

There are people in our community, there are people in our church who try hard. Their skill level keeps them at a low income level and they can’t support their family maybe in all the areas they need to and we help them. There may be single parents who do everything they can, who try hard and they work as hard as they can but they still come up short. There may be people who have physical disabilities and consequently they have needs. And I applaud that our society will meet those needs. That’s a right thing to do and certainly it’s a right thing for Christians to do.

So he says don’t you get weary in doing what is really good for people who genuinely have need. And that’s a very important balancing point. Now these things will keep our harmony together, our unity together. All this discord that’s coming into the church, people are so weary of these people, they’re so sick of them that they want to…the tendency is to stop doing good to people who really have need. You can see it was fracturing the fellowship and discord and animosity was coming in. He says you people go to work on the one hand and the rest of you who can supply the lack for those who genuinely have need, you do that and that will keep the harmony of the church. Maintain the unity and that’s essential to the testimony.

Fifthly, shame. Not only does disfellowship, example, survival and harmony constitute a motive for going to work, but shame. Look at verse 14. “If anyone doesn’t obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that man and do not associate with him so that he may be put to shame.”

If anybody doesn’t obey the instruction in this letter, I’m tell you, they are really obstinate. He said it over and over again when he was there. He wrote it a couple of times in the first letter. He’s now saying it again and if these people don’t obey this instruction, you take special note of that man. Mark him out. Give him serious attention. Keep on noticing that person. Keep your eye on that person for the purpose of not associating with him. Watch him so that you can avoid him. Stay away from him. Withdraw your fellowship. A double compound verb meaning do not get mixed up with…put the pressure of isolation. Only this time you’re pushing him further. This continues to be that third step of discipline where you’re isolating him but your isolation is keeping him at a distance. You take note, you watch the pattern and you avoid the man in order that he may be put to shame.

Now you’ve gone beyond just his isolation, you’re trying to make him feel shame. That’s a distasteful word, shame. Literally in the Greek it means to turn on yourself, to feel what you really are. Let him see what he really is…a wicked disobedient recalcitrant sinner…shame him because he won’t work.

But there’s one final incentive left and that’s love. And I’m so glad Paul put this last statement in verse 15, “And yet do not regard him as an enemy but admonish him as a brother.” Don’t treat him yet like a tax collector or a heathen, don’t treat him like an enemy of God, an enemy of Christ, an enemy of the church, an enemy of a believer, don’t treat him that way. You haven’t yet totally thrown him to Satan, turning him over to Satan that he’ll learn not to blaspheme as is discussed in 1 Corinthians 5 for the unrepentant adulterer. He doesn’t so far yet, you’re still at the third stage, you’re still admonishing him, that is warning him about his behavior and calling him to obedience and you’re regarding him not yet as the tax collector, not yet as the outcast, the tax collector being the most outcast person in Jewish culture, that’s why that illustration is used by our Lord in Matthew 18. You’re not throwing him out yet, you’re not alienating him as an enemy, you’re still calling to him as a brother.

He is still in the family of God. Treat him with love like you would a brother. Treat him with affection like you would a brother or sister, like Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” Show him tenderness, understand that you need to lift him up considering yourself lest you also be tempted, as Galatians 6 says. Restore such a one in love.

You know, the interesting thing about this little list I’ve given you…disfellowship, example, survival, harmony, shame and love…those motivations to the person who won’t work should also motivate anyone in any sinful behavior. It’s very generic in that sense. No matter what the sin is it’s the same things that should motivate. The threat of losing the fellowship with other believers…the fact that you have not followed the holy example of those who have walked before you…even the issue of survival because you can die from continued sins, some Corinthians did…and certainly the idea of harmony, you’re disrupting and ripping and tearing the unity of the church…and certainly shame, you should feel guilt and shame…and certainly love should call you back as those who are in the body of Christ and are your brothers and sisters woo you. And so, this is how we deal with any believer in any pattern of sin.

And if they resist this, then you can treat him like an enemy. Then you can turn him over to Satan. Then Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5, “I don’t want you to have any fellowship with them, I don’t even want you to eat with them.” I want you to turn them out totally. But here Paul one more time, for the third time in three steps is pleading with the church to call them back.

The American work ethic has eroded. That’s where we started, that’s a good place to end. But the Christian work ethic hasn’t changed one bit. May I suggest to you that you were saved and called to a vocation so that you might honor God in your job? When you go to work, that’s a divine vocation. God has given you the skill and the opportunity to do what you do and you’re to work for His glory.

Father, we thank You that Your Word again has been so down to earth and clear. Make us faithful as we do the tasks that You give us to do at home and at our job and just the general work that is all around us as we subdue this cursed world. Help us to know that as we do it we please You, we honor You. And we pray, Lord, for those who are in midst this morning who have never come to Christ, who are still in their sins, who have never known forgiveness, who have never repented and turned from their sin to embrace the Savior and receive eternal life, and thus have had no transcendent ethic for anything in life, who have been victims of a Satanic pattern of control and of a selfish utilitarian view of life. And with it comes fear and unfulfillment and dissatisfaction, confusion, darkness.

Father, I pray that You would move in the heart of such a person and that You would open their spiritual eyes, as it were, open them to the reality of Christ and the fact that He came into this world as God in human flesh to die on a cross and rise again for their sin, to pay the penalty for their sin and to give them eternal life if they will turn from their sin and embrace Him as Lord and Savior. Father, we ask that You would save some today and put them on the path of righteousness that they might work even their work with a new commitment to Your glory, something they’ve never known.

And to Christians who are here, Lord, give all of us a fresh new joy and exhilaration about what we do and how You view it. And may in this church, Lord, any who are sinning by not being willing to work hear the message and be faithful to turn from that sin and find a productive pursuit.

For those, Lord, in our congregation who can’t work and who need our help and who will receive the noble deeds, may we not ever be weary in ministering to their needs. Give us this wonderful balance that we find in this passage as we live as Your people in this world for Your glory in Christ’s name. Amen.

 

Work: A Noble Christian Duty – Part 2

“Work: A Noble Christian Duty–Part 2”

2 Thessalonians 3:7-9

We find ourselves in the third chapter now, verses 6 through 15 our text. And we’ve entitled this section, “Work: A Christian Duty.” Before we look at the text specifically, I felt compelled this week to do a little bit of background study and perhaps get a broader perspective of the issue of work so that we understand the context better in which Paul writes and can apply it better in our own world.

We live in a culture, frankly, that has a very skewed work ethic. On the one hand you have workaholics, on the other hand you have lazy idle and loafing people who choose not to work at all. But in the middle the great mass of people may work but have a very wrong concept of work. I suppose we’ve all seen the bumper sticker sign that says, “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go,” which views work as a very crass thing. It sees work as mercenary, work as simply a way to pay off your debts, to fund your life style. And we’ve all seen those little license plate frames that have such profound philosophy. They say things like, “I’d rather be fishing…I’d rather be flying…I’d rather be golfing…I’d rather be skiing…I’d rather be sailing…I’d rather be hiking…I’d rather be four-wheeling,” etc., etc. In other words, whatever it is I’m doing it certainly has no value when compared with play. We’re a very infantile, adolescent kind of society. We really don’t want to grow up. In fact, I saw a bumper sticker that said, “He wins who dies with the most toys” on the back of a BMW.

All this sort of conveys the current idea that people would rather play than work and they depreciate the value of work. Work is only the way to finance pleasure, so it’s a necessary evil. It’s a way to pay off the debts that you’ve accumulated in trying to elevate your life style. Without a proper work ethic we don’t work well, we don’t do quality work, we don’t work with excellence, we don’t do the things that ought to be done. Going back a little bit to our bumper-sticker theology or philosophy, I have seen a bumper sticker that says, “Work fascinates me, I can sit and watch it for hours.” And you’ve all seen the little sign that says, “Thank God it’s Friday.” I saw one that said, “Hard work may not kill me but why take a chance?”

Now I want to know if you have ever seen a sign on the back of a speed boat that said, “I’d rather be working?” Or a license plate that said, “Thank God it’s Monday?” Not likely. We really do have a warped perspective on the matter of work. Our materialistic self-indulgent adolescent infantile child-like culture has a warped view of the place and role of work.

But honestly, it isn’t anything new. Go with me back to the book of Ecclesiastes. In the book of Ecclesiastes, that fascinating wisdom literature of the Old Testament sandwiched there between Proverbs and Song of Solomon, we have a look at human thought. This is probably the one book in the Bible that uniquely sets out a worldly philosophy. It is exposed as such in the book but nonetheless you have the preacher, the writer, assessing life from a purely mundane human viewpoint. And he looks at life and he looks at work like anybody who lives does because work is a reality. And you find a series of questions that he asks. For example, in chapter 1 verse 3, “What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun?” The question is…why work? What advantage is there to work? We have all this work to do, it is incessant, it is constant, but to what advantage is it?

Over in chapter 2 he still hasn’t escaped his query in verse 22, “For what does a man get in all his labor and in his striving with which he labors under the sun?” What do you really get out of it? What does it really produce and how does it benefit?

Chapter 3 hasn’t released him from his dilemma either. In verse 9 of chapter 3, “What profit is there to the worker from that in which he toils?” And we find ourselves in chapter 5 and he’s still asking the same question in verse 16, he says, “Work frankly is a grievous evil,” and at the end he says, “What is the advantage to him who toils for the wind for nothing?” What good is work? What purpose does it have? What function? What value? This is a very cynical view of work. And even the question itself shows something of the disappointment of the writer, something of the cynicism in his own heart as he looks at work with the wrong perspective.

Now he answers his own question. He really does. The answer isn’t frankly very hopeful. Look at chapter 2, for example, and let’s see how he views the answer to his own question. Verse 11, he says, “I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted and behold, all was vanity,” nothing, useless, “striving after wind.” In other words, something you can’t touch and capture. “And there was no profit under the sun.” So he says work was without benefit, it produced nothing, it accomplished nothing and it gave no real lasting benefit. Over in the same chapter, down a little bit, verse 18, he’s still musing about this same futility of work so he said, “I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun, for I must leave it to the man who will come after me.” I hated the idea of all this work and everything that I had done and somebody else was going to get the benefit from it.

Down in verse 22 where he asked the question, he follows up in verse 23, “Because all his days his task is painful and grievous, even at night his mind doesn’t rest, this too is vanity.” It isn’t bad enough that I have to work all day, but I stay awake all night thinking about the work I have to do all day. What use is this? Work is frankly a pain. Chapter 4, carry on his cynicism, in verse 4 of chapter 4 he says, “And I have seen that every labor and every skill which is done is the result of rivalry between a man and his neighbor. This too is vanity in striving after wind.” He says I don’t even like free enterprise, I don’t even like a competitive marketplace, all it does is pit us against each other. The fool folds his hands and consumes his own flesh. In other words, some people just give up. One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind. In other words, who wants to work when you can rest, rest is much more desirable than work. So I looked at it all and it all was vanity under the sun, verse 7.

Just to show you how useless it is, there was a certain man, verse 8 says, without a dependent. I mean, he had nobody to support. He was all alone. He didn’t have a son, he didn’t have a brother. Yet there was no end to all his labor. I mean, even single people have to work hard for the necessities of life. Indeed his eyes were not satisfied with riches and he never asked and for whom am I laboring and depriving myself of pleasure? There it is.

The philosophy is work gets in the way of pleasure. Work is not pleasure. Work is not fun. It’s not enjoyable. It’s not satisfying. It just gets in the way of leisure, recreation, rest which is true pleasure. So he says here’s a poor guy, he doesn’t even have a dependent. He’s not married, hasn’t got kids, doesn’t have relatives and he has to continually work and he’s never satisfied with his riches and the question keeps popping up but never asked…why am I doing this, all this work is simply depriving me of pleasure, what emptiness, what a grievous way to live.

Chapter 5 focuses on the same issue. We see in verses 15 and 16 of chapter 5, talking about man coming into the world naked from his mother’s womb, so he returns as he came. He comes in naked, he goes out naked. The point being, you don’t bring anything when you arrive and you don’t take anything when you go. You’re stripped bare. He’ll take nothing from the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand..nothing goes out with you. This, too, is a grievous evil. Exactly as a man is born, thus will he die. So what is the advantage to him who toils for the wind? That old adage, you can’t take it with you. Somebody put it this way, “I’ve never seen a hearst pulling a U-Haul.”

Chapter 6 verse 7 states the same thing in different terms. All a man’s labor is for his mouth, you just eat it up and yet your appetite is never satisfied. I work all day so I can eat and I’m hungry tomorrow. It just doesn’t seem to have any real point…work.

But even the writer of Ecclesiastes knows that’s not the end of the discussion. He asks the question and then he answers it with a typical mercenary self-serving, lazy, worldling’s perspective, but he doesn’t stop there. You can’t possibly live a satisfying life if that’s how you view work. So he adds what is necessary. Look at chapter 2 verse 24, here is what must be said. “There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. How can he do that? This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God.” Here’s the key–you have to see work as a gift from God. You must see work as a gift of God. In chapter 3 verse 13 he says, “Moreover that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor.” Why? “Because he sees it as he gift of God.” Chapter 5 verse 19, the same thing, “Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his work, this is the gift of God.” And he doesn’t even consider his life years, verse 20 says, “God keeps him occupied with his work which provides gladness for his heart.”

What the writer of Ecclesiastes is saying to his contemporary philosophical cynical world is that work must be viewed as a gift from God. It is not some kind of a sub-standard secondary lesser activity which is meant to do nothing but finance pleasure. It is in itself a gift from God. You say, in what sense is work a gift from God? I’ll give you several. One, it is a means of glorifying God, our creator, by using the skills He gave us. It is a means of glorifying God our creator by using the skills He gave us. When you work with your mind and you achieve and accomplish with the skill of your thinking and your intellect, when you work with your voice and you demonstrate leadership ability and the ability to motivate and stimulate and move people and clarify issues and give directions, you are demonstrating a divinely granted skill that came to you through the creator. When you use your hands to accomplish skillful things and do beautiful work by manual labor, when you use your strength to move things that are heavy, when you use a facility of a delicate touch to accomplish something that is delicately beautiful, you are demonstrating the creator’s glory as it’s on display through His creation. If you think a flower shows the glory of God, look at a man or look at a woman and see the majesty and the genius of the mind of God. Work then is a gift by which we glorify God as we demonstrate His creative genius manifest in our own body and mind and soul.

Secondly, work is a gift from God because it is a means of providing value or meaning or fulfillment to life. The sense of accomplishing something. We all know that. We all know that deep soul satisfaction that we have accomplished something, that we have done something and we’ve held it up and said I’ve done it well. We know about the writer whose waste basket is filled with papers folded up and thrown away because they didn’t achieve the level of accomplishment that he demands of himself, and finally the masterpiece comes forth. We all know about the artist whose bin is full of canvases that didn’t exactly express what he felt in his soul and saw with his eye and finally the canvas of genius emerges. We know the student who comes to the end of his examination and knows that he’s achieved the standard that must be achieved if he is to gain the degree. We know the one who performs at the highest level of skill in whatever it is that he does and therefore can stand back with pride and say, “I made that, I did that, I accomplished that.” That’s a very fulfilling thing. We are very goal oriented people, like God is a goal- oriented God who is always achieving His ultimate desires and we have those dreams and goals and visions and achieving those is all a part of being fully human in the sense that we are even in the image of God accomplishing things beneficial and fulfilling.

There’s a third reason why work is a gift from God and that is because it prevents us from idleness, it prevents us from idleness which is spiritually very deadly. It occupies us. It keeps us busy and we remember the old adage that idle hands are a plaything for the devil. We understand that very well. It occupies us in meaningful tasks rather than leaving us idle to do those things which are harmful.

Fourthly, work is a gift from God because it is a means of providing for the needs of life. God has given work to us as a way in which we can gain wealth which is a way in which we can purchase our food. In an agrarian culture, work was the means of getting the food. In our culture it’s the means of getting the money to get the food, but nonetheless it is the source of our life. God has given us food. God has given us shelter. God has given us drink and sustenance. God has given us the provision of clothing. But God has given us work as the means to acquiring all of it. So work is a noble thing by which we sustain the necessities of life.

And finally, we can say work is a gift from God because it is a means of serving mankind. It is a means of serving humanity. From the person who pumps the gas at the gas station or operates the gas station or works upon the engine of the car so that it runs, he is contributing to the well being of the individual he serves and his ability to do his job and to meet his appointments and to be with his family and to go where he wants to go all the way to the one who builds the car in the first place, who makes transportation possible, all the way to the person who makes the roads and paves the roads and makes sure they go where they’re supposed to go, and to the man who paints the signs, who enables us to get off at the right place and get back on where we’re supposed to, all the way to the people working in the medical field who provide for our physical well being, the folks who serve us food when we go out to eat or sell it to us in the market, people who teach us in school, the folks who come and take care of our yard or fix our plumbing, all of those people render a service to mankind by which his life is made more pleasing. Work is a gift from God. And even those foolish people who want only leisure want to make sure that everybody around them is working so that they can enjoy doing nothing.

Sadly, I think, for many Christians, work has lost its intrinsic value. I believe that God has given you skills to be applied in a certain kind of work which uniquely geared to you will bring you satisfaction and bring God glory. Work should not lose its intrinsic value. It is not simply a means to pay your debts. It is not simply a way to fund your pleasure and to finance your joys, it is in itself valuable, it is a gift from God.

Not only is work a gift from God, it is a command of God. I wonder whether we really understand that. We make a lot about the command in Exodus 20 but very often forget to emphasize the main point. You remember the command? It goes like this, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath, or a rest, for the Lord your God.” We like to emphasize the Sabbath. Rarely do you hear anybody say anything about the six days of work. We talk about a five-day work week in America and some people talk about a four-day work week. God talks about a six-day work week.

You say, “Is He saying that we are commanded to be on our job six days?” No, you know how it works. You’re on the job five days and the sixth day you fix the house and the car and the yard and you run all the errands and you…that’s work, that’s all part of sustenance. The seventh day is to be devoted to the Lord.

You understand then that God has commanded us to work. That is a command. Six days you are to labor. God designs for man work. We can’t have a low view of work if God has such a high view of it. I mean, it’s right in there in that list with other things like you shall have no other gods before Me, you shall not make for yourself an idol. It’s in there with you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. Pretty serious list. It’s one of those things we owe to God…work. He gave us the gift of work, we owe Him the use of the gift He gave.

And I really believe that your vocation should suit you and the way God has designed you so that it is satisfying and fulfilling. And I believe if you’re living in the will of God, God will provide that expression of His giftedness in you. You cannot have a low view of work when you understand that it is a gift from God and that it is a command of God.

Furthermore, you can’t have a low view of work when you understand that God has even given us the example of work. The greatest worker in the universe is God. The truth of the matter is if He ever took a day off we’d all be done. God is a worker. Scripture talks about the work of God…the works of God. Often the Bible describes His works and I suppose you could sum them up with five categories. Whenever you see in Scripture the work of God it usually falls into these categories. One, the work of creation. God is a worker and He worked in creation and there’s still a sense in which He continues to procreate that creation. And there may even be an on-going creative work as the Lord Jesus said He was going to heaven to prepare a place for us. So God is the creator and that’s one category of His work.

Secondly, He is the controller and He continues in the preservation of all that He has created. He upholds it by the Word of His power. And so God works in preservation, sustaining everything. The reason that little tiny atoms don’t fly apart isn’t because there is some glue in them that can be identified. The scientists can’t identify it. What it is is the power of God. God has to hold them together. And He does that by His sustaining power. That’s His work.

We see also the work of God in providence. God’s work can be seen in providence as He orchestrates all the various factors of His entire universe to accomplish His purpose sovereignly.

Occasionally we see God’s work in miraculous ways. The category of miracle where God suspends natural law and does something that has no natural explanation.

And then the last two, we see God’s work in judgment and God’s work in redemption. God is a worker. He works in creation. He works in controlling and sustaining His universe. He works in providence and miracle. And He works in judgment and He works in redemption. God is a worker. Furthermore, Jesus is a worker. Jesus we would expect being a worker because He is God and He said Himself in John 9:4, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me.” In John 4:34 He said it was His food, to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work. And in John 5:17 He said, “My Father is working still and I am working.”

Jesus Christ is right now doing a redeeming work in the hearts of people across the world. He is doing the work of building His church. He’s doing the work of sitting at the right hand of the Father and sustaining His church through His high priestly intercession. He’s doing the work of preparing a place for us. He’s doing a work of dispatching angels to be ministering spirits to His church. He’s doing the work of indwelling and energizing His people. He’s doing all these things and will continue until the work of the final redemption of the universe. And even then He will work forever and ever in enterprises divine as will you and I praising and glorifying and serving God for all eternity. You cannot have a low view of work when you understand Jesus is a worker and God is a worker and work is commanded and work is a gift from God.

Now somebody is going to jump in and say, “Now wait a minute. Isn’t work a result of the curse?” Well let’s go back to Genesis and find out. Don’t we work because we were cursed? I mean, if there had never been a Fall, wouldn’t we just be playing around in the garden? We wouldn’t be working, would we? Well let’s find out. Genesis chapter 3 verse 17, “To Adam God said, Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,” it’s not always a good thing to do, men, that’s in the Bible, I mean, I didn’t say that…”Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you saying, You shall not eat from it.” In other words, because you’ve sinned, watch this, “Cursed is the ground because of you, so in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life, both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you and you will eat the plants of the field by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground.” Some would read that and say, “Well, it seems like toil and sweat and work is a result of a cursed earth and so that work is the product of the Fall.”

It’s not true. Go back to Genesis chapter 2. Genesis chapter 2 verse 15, “Before the Fall the Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” That’s work. This is noble work, exalted work, work of a man unstained with sin, work on an earth unstained with sin. Somebody put it this way, God designed man to be a gardener but the Fall made him a farmer. I don’t know that that quite says it but that’s close. God designed man simply to care for it, to reap its benefits, to harvest it as it were, to enjoy it, to make it flourish. Then the Fall caused thorns and thistles and briars and weeds to make it difficult. The Fall did not invent work, didn’t introduce work, it just cursed it. Always man was designed to be a worker because He was made in the image of God. Go back to chapter 1 of Genesis verse 26, “Then God said, Let us make man in our image according to our likeness.” Go down to verse 27, “And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created Him, male and female He created them.”

Now it’s pretty clear there, verse 26 and 27, that we’re talking about the image of God. But how is the image of God to be defined? And theologians have debated this since the go, this is an age-old discussion. But it seems to me that there’s a simple answer to this initially. If God says in verse 26 “Let’s make man in our image,” and in verse 27, “And God made man in His image,” what comes between those two things should somehow define that image. And what does it say? “Let them rule over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping that creeps on the earth.”

What is the image of God? What does it mean to be created in the image of God? It means that man is given dominion, authority, rule. He is given the responsibility to care for and to use all the rest of the creation…all of it. It was all there for him to enjoy, to smell and to touch and to eat and to prepare for others. There was work involved in dominion. There was work involved in ruling and tending to all of these creatures.

END OF SIDE ONE

SIDE TWO

It’s not a kind of work we can understand really because we don’t know the kind of work that Adam did then because we don’t know what it is to live in an uncursed world, right? But it was nonetheless his job, it says in 2:15 to cultivate, to tend, to care for, to nurture into flourishing the earth. And that the image of God in him was that he would be a worker like God was a worker, just as the trinity is involved in ruling and authority and dominion and tending and caring for this whole creation, man is as well to work in harnessing, as it were, the wonders of all of this creation for his own joy and goodness. So work wasn’t initiated by the Fall, it was just cursed. It became a burden, it is now a punishment. Just like women having pain in child bearing, there would have been children prior to the Fall, there would have been children, no question about that, but there wouldn’t have been any pain in having them. The Fall didn’t introduce child bearing, it just brought the pain into it. And there was work before the Fall, the Fall didn’t introduce work, it just brought the pain to it.

But there’s still a benefit. Even with the pain a baby is a joy. And even with the pain the product of the work is a joy. Even with the pain the baby can be to the glory of God. Even with the pain the work can be to the glory of God, and it should be. So work neither began nor ceased with the Fall, it just took a different shape. It became a curse rather than unmitigated blessing.

Now follow this. As Christians then we by the power of Christ operating in our lives have the opportunity to elevate work back to its point of dignity. That is why the Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians and the Colossians…Ephesians 6, Colossians 3…and said, “In your work, do it unto the Lord and not to men.” Remember those two passages we covered last time? Ephesians 6:5 to 9, and then over Colossians chapter 3, do your work as unto the Lord. It is a product, it is a result of a Spirit-filled life. And the Christian, just like we can bring the dignity back into marriage, can bring dignity back into work. And we can see it for what it is, a gift of God, a means to glorifying God, a means to having value and significance and fulfillment in life, a means to keeping us away from sin, a means to providing our needs and serving mankind. We restore the dignity and the glory, as it were, to work. We take it out of the category of being a drudgery or a mercenary means by which we finance our pleasure. We make work valuable to God and to us and our family and others.

The biblical viewpoint is the viewpoint that we must have. Human work is part of the divine plan for history but only Christians really understand its true glory because we do it as unto the Lord and not unto men. We have to regard work then as a creation mandate, as a component of the image of God, as a natural law invested with inherent dignity. It’s just God’s way for man. It’s our part in the creation and we can do it to His praise.

Look at Psalm 104, I think a refreshing and lovely passage related to our theme, because of the simplicity with which it inserts the priority of work. In Psalm 104 the psalmist is talking about how God takes care of His creation and he sees God initially clothed with splendor and majesty and he sees Him in His heavenly glory. He sees Him establishing heavens and earth, verse 5 He’s establishing the earth and he sees the whole flow of creation coming down and you can see it all there, mountains rise up, verse 8, and valleys sink down, and verse 10 springs come into the valley and they flow between the mountains and all the animals are there and they drink the water. And then you see the heavens and the birds and the birds are singing and the earth feels the rain and the grass grows and the vegetation…look at verse 14, how interesting, “He causes the grass to grow for the cattle and vegetation for the pleasure of man.” Is that what it says? No. “For the labor of man so that he may bring forth food from the earth.” It’s just part of the natural course. It is a creation mandate, a natural law that man works to bring out his food. I mean, it would be so simple if there were just, you know, hamburger trees or…in my family, Snicker trees…you just pick your food. It isn’t that way. God has made it all and in the whole design man just brings the food out of the ground by his labor. And then he goes on to talk about the fact that man has to provide for his own drink and sustenance through wine and makes his heart glad and provides the food that sustains his heart. Then he talks about the trees and the birds and their nests and the high mountains and the cliffs and…he’s just describing how the world operates. He talks in verse 19 about the moon and how it affects the seasons and the sun and its place. He talks about darkness and night and the beasts of the forest prowling and the lions. It’s just the normal natural course of life. And then in verse 23 he just slips this in, “Man goes forth to his work and to his labor until evening.” It’s just like it belongs with all the other instinctive things. I mean, the young lions know how to go after their prey. The beasts know how to prowl, those nocturnal animals that go out at night. And man just goes to his work and his labor until the evening.

“O Lord,” verse 24, “how many are Your works? In wisdom You have made them all.” I mean, it’s just a part of the natural order of things that we work. So work can be redeemed from the curse’s effects by the awareness that it’s the natural course of things, that it bears God’s image and approval, that fulfills God’s purpose for the use of His creation and that it is God who calls us to work and it is God who skills us for certain vocations and it is for His glory and our fulfillment and the benefit of others when we work as we ought to work. As believers we are then called to restore the dignity of work, to elevate it to where it ought to be.

Now if you understand that, you can now turn to 2 Thessalonians. And now you’ll understand why the Apostle Paul is so concerned about people in this church who won’t work. It doesn’t make any sense in comparison with what he knows to be the will of God. And so in verses 6 through 15 he addresses this problem of people who won’t work. Somebody might say, “Well it seems like a trivial thing to be a Bible issue.” It isn’t trivial at all if you understand what I’ve just gone through, it isn’t trivial at all. It’s part of the image of God, a very significant and central part. It’s God’s design by which you can glorify Him, by which you can fulfill your own life by which you can benefit those around you by providing the necessary things and by which you can contribute kindly to the circumstance of society. It is a command that must be obeyed. It is a dignified thing that existed even before the Fall and will exist for all eternity as we work throughout the ages and ages to serve our Lord.

But some people in the Thessalonian church missed this. They didn’t work and they weren’t about to work. When Paul was with them and founded the church, he confronted them and he said you need to work. They didn’t listen. When he wrote his first letter back to them, 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 verse 14, he reminded them again because he had heard the word that they weren’t working in spite of what he had said and so he reminds them you need to work, you cannot shirk your work. Actually 1 Thessalonians 4:11, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work…just as we commanded you.”

Now he’s had to get tough with these people. You say, “Why?” Because they lived in a Greek world and the Greeks believed that work was demeaning. In fact, they said it was beneath the dignity of a free man. They said it was sordid. It was degrading. To labor was to be enslaved by the physical and they were in a philosophical dualism in their philosophy by which they had come to the belief that mind was…mind or spirit was good and flesh or matter was evil. The physical world then and work must be avoided and so they had developed this slavery where there were millions of slaves doing all of the work and the freemen would engage in art, philosophy, sophistry, politics, anything that was mental and spiritual, the loftiness of art and talk and verbal wisdom, efforts of the mind, only slaves did work.

And this pervasive Greek philosophy had found its way early on into the Thessalonian church because after all, it was part and parcel of their culture. All it would take was a few people in the church who felt strongly about this to sell a few other weaker people on it and it would be a real movement. Maybe there were even some hold overs from Judaism who had found their way into the church or been influenced by Judaism who had been somehow affected by the scribes, you know, who used to say that if you’re doing anything less than a life time of contemplation of the law, you’ve lowered yourself. And maybe there were some who were saying, “Well now that we’re Christians and we have the Word of God, maybe we ought to take a scribal perspective and do nothing but study the Bible.” And all of this probably got exacerbated because somebody came along and said, “Jesus is coming very soon, you’re already in the day of the Lord, the end of the age is near, it’s coming very fast.” And they reasoned to themselves, “Well, if we’re in the end of the age, no sense in going to work, we better use the time to evangelize.”

We don’t know all of the components but it’s not hard to reconstruct something of a scenario like that. And so they were perhaps saying, “Well we need to study the Bible, that’s the lofty thing, we need to contemplate God and we need to muse and we need to talk and we need to express ourselves and we need to evangelize. Work? We don’t want to do that. It’s near the end of the age, the Lord is coming, it’s beneath the level of Bible study as an enterprise and furthermore it belongs to slaves and not freemen.”

Well the problem with this was not only were they in defiance of a principle which God had built in to the very warp and woof of creation as well as made a law in the Old Testament and dignified in the New, but they were also making themselves deadbeats. They were sponging off the rest of the congregation which wasn’t real good for church unity. Very presumptuous. And so Paul writes verses 6 to 15 to address the problem of people who won’t work. This is the third time he’s had to do it so he’s very tough, he’s very strong.

Back in the first letter, chapter 5 verse 14, he even said, “Admonish the unruly.” The same word being used here meaning those who refused to work, most likely. Those who were the busybodies. So this was a major problem. And now as he writes, he’s…he’s taking serious action. I would call this third step discipline if I were comparing it to Matthew 18. First you go to them, if they don’t listen you go back with two or three witnesses. If you don’t listen, you tell the whole church to go after them and call them back from their iniquity. And that’s what he’s doing here. He’s calling the church to take a look at these people, note them and deal with them because they won’t work.

As the text unflows from verse 6 on, there are six incentives to work…six incentives to work. Six motivations, six compulsions that he lays on these people. One is disfellowship…disfellowship, the threat of being alienated from the church, verse 6, “We command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you keep aloof from every brother who leads an unruly life,” this, of course, as I noted earlier has to do with not working, “and not according to the tradition which you received from us.” We taught you this, you know what you’re to do in terms of work. Now you’ve got people who refuse to work. They lead this unruly life, stay away from them…that is disfellowship. That then becomes the first motivating force on those people who won’t work…no worship, no Lord’s table, no social contact, and no exception…every brother…every brother, you stay aloof. Now you need to call them away from their sin. Down in verse 15, you need to admonish them, that is to warn them of the way they’re going as your Christian brother, but you don’t allow them to participate in the normal life of the church, you disfellowship them.

This is really drastic action. But it’s a serious sin not to work…a serious sin. It is against the very design of God, the image of God, the course of nature, the creation mandate. It is against the command of the Old Testament. It is against the purpose of God for His displaying glory through you. It is against His design for how you contribute to your necessities and the needs of others. It is a serious issue not to work.

Now listen carefully. He is not talking about people who want to work but can’t find work. And I know there are people across the world like that, who would give anything to work but they can’t find work and there are some in our church. He is not talking about people who would work but can’t physically work because they have an infirmity or a disability and they cannot work. He’s talking about people who can work, have opportunity to work, but won’t work. And he says these kind of quote/unquote deadbeats, you need to stay away from, admonish them and warn them but don’t let them participate in the fellowship of the church. This is serious discipline.

Now we discussed that last time and I won’t say anymore. Let’s go to the second motivation, the second compulsion and it’s all we’ll have time for, just a brief one. Verses 7 to 9, the second one is example…the second compulsion is example. “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you that you might follow our example.”

There you have it, verse 7, verse 9, the word example, in verse 9 the word model. Paul says, “Look, isn’t it motivation for you folks that you saw my life and the life of Silvanus or Silas and Timothy when we were with you?” So in verse 7 he says, “You yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We have set the pattern.” The word “follow,” mimestes from which we get mimic…mimic, imitate. Paul had set an example, a pattern in his own life and he wanted it to be the pattern they would follow.

Now listen carefully. Paul did not always forego receiving money or food. There were many times when Paul’s needs were met, when people gave him money, when people provided for his sustenance. And there were many occasions when he received kindnesses like that. But there was a big issue here in Thessalonica and it must have been the same thing in Corinth because there he did the same thing. And there were times in his ministry when he refused to receive anything gratis but he insisted on working. It wasn’t that he didn’t deserve it, he says that in verse 9. He had a right to it. But it was that he was trying to dignify work. He didn’t want anyone saying, “Well after all, all Paul does is preach and teach and study, he doesn’t work.”

So in order to waylay such criticism here in Thessalonica, when he was there he worked. Now, of course, there was nobody there to support him when he arrived anyway because there was no church. But he set an example. According to Acts 18 he made tents, or literally was a leather worker. He worked with hides. He had a task that he knew how to do. He had a trade that he was skilled in. And so he said, “Look, I gave you an example. I didn’t want you to be confused about it, it was a big issue so I set an example for you and I want you to look back and remember that example and follow that example because we didn’t act in an undisciplined, unruly manner among you. When we were there in your midst we were not busybodies, we were not sponging off people.” Verse 8, “Nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it.” What a statement.

The word “undisciplined” there means out of line. He’s referring to loafers and idlers. We never marched out of step. We never disobeyed our orders from God. We were never unruly and out of line and you know that. That little phrase “you yourselves know” is used very often in his epistles. It’s used at least four times in the first letter because he says you know how it was when I was there, you know how we behaved, you know what we did in front of you. You’ve seen our life. This is the heart of his leadership. He’s saying just follow the pattern we set, just follow the model, the example.

And specifically what do you mean, Paul? Verse 8, “We did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it.” To eat bread is a Hebrew expression for food and drink, daily sustenance. They stayed, according to Acts 17:7, most likely in the house of a man named Jason. Maybe he gave them lodging there free, they would have a place on the floor where they could roll out their little mat and lie down. But they didn’t eat at his expense. They paid for their food. Paying for their food meant that they had to work and they had to earn their own money to pay for their own food.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 11:7 and said, “I preach to you the gospel without charge.” There were occasions in his life when he chose to do this. And as I said, he doesn’t mean he never received kindness or never received money, we know he did. But there were times when he chose not to take that because there was a greater issue at stake, so he says we never ate anything without paying for it. Verse 8, “But we labor, kopos, to the point of sweat and exhaustion and literally mochthos, struggle, we kept working night and day.” What an unbelievable task. He’s teaching the Bible all the time, he’s working, he’s got to do this all and carry on his own sustenance and the sustenance of people with him and found a church and it’s a night and day operation and we did it so that we might not be a burden to any of you.

So he introduces the thought there…we don’t want to be a burden. We didn’t want you to have to support us. We didn’t want you to have to give the meager amount that you might have. We toil, he said in 1 Corinthians 4:12, working with our hands. In Acts 20 he said I covet no man’s silver or gold or clothing. He didn’t want anything from anybody. He was willing to work and in this case it was crucial. He said we didn’t want to be a burden to you, but even more than that…look at verse 9…not because we don’t have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you that you might follow our example. He knew the whole issue was a big issue and he wanted to work to set a right example to people who had wrong view of work.

Please note verse 9, “Not because we do not have the right to this,” the truth is he had a right to being supported, he absolutely did. As an Apostle and a preacher, he was really entitled to full support. I’m not going to say this in a self- serving way, I hope you know that, but this is what the Scripture says. God has ordained that those who serve Him, who labor in the Word and doctrine, 1 Timothy 5:17, be worthy of double pay. Pay the one who ministers. In Galatians the Apostle Paul says it as clearly as he could, chapter 6 verse 6, “Let the one who is taught the Word share all good things with him who teaches.” If you’re being taught, then you need to give and share what you have with the one who is your teacher. So as an Apostle and a preacher, he had a right to full support.

Look at 1 Corinthians 9 and we’ll kind of wrap it up with that text for this morning. First Corinthians chapter 9 is just a fascinating section. And he starts out with a kind of questioning rhetorically, “Am I not free?” Of course you are. “Am I not an Apostle?” Of course you are. “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” Of course you have. “Are not you my work in the Lord?” Of course we are, they all, you know, imply a yes answer. Well if all of this is true, let me talk about an issue specifically. Verse 4, “Do we not have a right to eat and drink?” Well of course you do. “Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, be married?” Of course you do, just like the rest of the Apostles and the brothers of the Lord and even Cephas, or Peter. You can be married. “Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working?” Well no, anybody who is in ministry does. You have a right not to work. You have a right to refrain from working, anyone who serves God, anyone who gives his life in preaching and teaching as an apostle or a preacher has the right to refrain from doing work in order to give his whole life to that, yes, you have a right to that.

In verse 7 he says, “Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense?” The answer is nobody, nobody serves as a soldier at his own expense, the government pays him. “Who plants a vineyard and doesn’t eat the fruit of it?” Nobody, if you’re going to plant the vineyard it’s so that you can have the benefit. “Who tends a flock and doesn’t use the milk of the flock?” No one.

“Now I’m not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Doesn’t the law also say these things? Doesn’t God also say this? Isn’t it written in the law of Moses, you shall not muzzle the ox while he’s threshing?” That’s proverbial way of saying feed the one who serves. God isn’t really just concerned about oxen, is He? No, He’s concerned about men. When someone serves, meet his needs. Or is he speaking all together for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written because the plowmen ought to plow in hope and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crop. I mean, we pour our life into you and we minister and we teach and we nurture you and we expect in hope to be supported. Verse 11, “If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you? If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we didn’t use this right.” Isn’t that interesting? All of this to say I have the right and then he says, “But we didn’t use it, we voluntarily forego that right in your case so that we may not cause a hindrance to the gospel.”

Verse 14 sums it up. “The Lord directed that those who proclaimed the gospel get their living from the gospel, but I have used none of these things. I have a right, I just don’t choose to use it in your case because there’s another issue at stake. I don’t want people accusing me of being in it for the money, and in the case of the Thessalonians, I want to set an example to you of a proper view of work.” Can you imagine what a model this was? Here were some of these Thessalonians saying, “If you’re really spiritual, if you’re really a free man, then you do the lofty things.” Here comes the Apostle Paul, the brightest intellectual of all of them, the spiritual man of all spiritual men, the godliest man, the wisest man, erudite, educated, philosopher par excellence, theologian without peer, the man with the most acute mind, the greatest sense of reality and what does he do? He makes tents…puts them to shame.

First compulsion, disfellowship…second compulsion, example. Save the rest for next time.

Father, we thank You this morning for Your Word to us and what a reminder it is of the wonderful responsibilities that You give us in our work to glorify You. May we see it as You see it. And may we work gladly as a part of a creation mandate, and more than that, a recreation mandate as Christians doing everything we do not to please men but to please the Lord Jesus Christ, doing what we do is a way to glorify You to put our skills on display, the things You’ve given us by Your creative power, doing what we do as a way to fulfill our life and benefit our family and the world around us, doing what we do as a means of keeping us apart from idleness which leads to sin. Give us back the dignity of work, give us back the honor of that creative intention when You put man in the garden to cultivate and till it and to rule it. May we work six days and may the fruit of our labor be pleasing to You that we might enjoy the rest of days like this for Christ’s sake. Amen.

 

Work: A Noble Christian Duty – Part 1

“Work: A Noble Christian Duty–Part 1”

2 Thessalonians 3:6

This morning in our time in God’s Word we return to that wonderful little epistle we’ve been studying, 2 Thessalonians chapter 3. While I was away I wanted to spend some time in study of the passage in this text because I want to complete this wonderful book and the text before us in chapter 3 proved to be a fascinating and interesting one to me as I studied it. We’re going to be looking this morning, at least initially, at verses 6 through 15…a very very interesting little section, in fact quite unique in the New Testament dealing with the subject of work…work. In fact, I suppose I could title the message, “Work: A Christian Duty.”

I don’t know if you think about work like that, you probably don’t. Some of you think about work as a sort of a drudgery that you have to do, whether it’s your work at a job that you possess or whether it’s domestic work in the home, it’s just something that’s necessary and you do it and it isn’t particularly joyous but it’s there and it has to be done. Some of you think about work in relationship to money. You think about work as a way in which you can purchase your pleasures, if you will, purchase the life style that you’re after. Some of you think about work as a way to fulfil your ego and achieve what you feel you need to achieve so that you can gain some accolades from the people around you. Some of you think about work as a way to fulfil your ambition, a way to fulfil your gifts and skills, a way to accomplish some meaningful purposeful thing with your life. Some of you think about work as a way to serve people, as a way to make life easier for some folks, as offering a service rendered to them that can be a source of pleasure or enjoyment to them.

There are a lot of ways you can look at work. But I guess if we were to really to sort of sum them up, it might be a long time before we ever heard anybody say…”I look at my work as a way to serve God.” That doesn’t seem to be a fairly popular perspective on work, even among Christians, and in fact it should be. In spite of what most people might think, in spite of what most people might feel, work is one of the most honourable and noble things a Christian can do. In fact, in the very beginning God established that man would earn his bread by the sweat of his brow, Genesis 3:19. Right after the Fall God said you’re going to work, you’re going to earn your sustenance.

On the other hand, Scripture has a lot to say about lazy people. Proverbs says, “Poor is he who works with a negligent hand.” It also says, “The soul of the lazy person craves but gets nothing.” It also says, “The lazy person doesn’t plow after the autumn so he begs during the harvest and has nothing.” It says, “The desire of the lazy person puts him to death for his hands refuse to work.” And in Proverbs 24, “The lazy person says a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,” and as a result, he’s destitute.

What should be the proper view of work? How are we to understand it as regards to Christians? Is it a secular thing or is it a sacred thing? Well, if you go back in to the history say of the Jews, the Jews looked at work as a secular thing. The Jews didn’t understand the sacred duty of work, they saw it merely as a common menial sort of human second-class effort whereas religious duties were first-class, sacred, divine, noble things. The Talmud, for example, has a very interesting prayer in it, the Talmud is the codification of Jewish tradition and law. And it has a very interesting prayer that was prayed by the scribes. A scribe, you’ll remember, was a person who devoted his entire life to studying Scripture. That’s all he did in his life and he was supported by the Jewish community to do nothing but study the Law. This is a scribal prayer, listen to it: “I thank Thee, O Lord my God, that Thou hast given me my lot with those who sit in the house of learning and not with those who sit at the street corners. For I am early to work and they are early to work. I am early to work on the words of the Law, and they are early to work on things of no importance. I weary myself and they weary themselves. I weary myself and profit thereby, and they weary themselves to no profit. I run and they run. I run toward the life of the age to come and they run toward the pit,” end quote.

It’s really not a very good view of work, is it? People who get up early for no reason, who work to produce nothing, who run to the pit of death pointlessly. What a narrow and what a painful view and what a prideful view assuming that because you spend your time working on the Law of God you’re somehow better couldn’t be further from the truth, and yet it not only pervaded Judaism, sad to say it’s even found its way in to the church. Any trip to Europe will confirm this to you if you get around to the normal tour of castles and churches, we call it smells and bells, and they introduce you to the history of these places. You inevitably intersect with monarchies and religious orders.

Eusebius started a lot of this stuff in the fourth century, he was an early church father. Listen to what he wrote. “There are two ways of life given by the law of Christ to His church. One is above nature and beyond common human living, holy and permanently separate from the common customary life of man. It devotes itself to the service of God alone. Such is the perfect form of the Christian life,” end quote.

Now what Eusebius was saying was that the first manner of life is Christian ministry, Christian service, devoting yourself to the service of God alone and that is the perfect form of the Christian life. Then in a second paragraph he said this, “And the other, the second more humble, more human, permits man to have minds for farming, for trade and the other secular interests and a kind of secondary grade of piety is attributed to them,” end quote.

What Eusebius said is first-class Christians are those who serve God alone. The second-class Christians are those who have secular employment. So if you want to be a first-class Christian, then you must devote your life to serving God alone. And it was that kind of teaching that led to monasticism. That kind of teaching that bred all of those abbeys with all of those monks, all of those monasteries with all of those priests who were in there for decades of their life, contemplating their spiritual navel, as it were, looking inward and constantly asserting their own humility before God and spending time in this continual study of Scripture like the scribes had in Judaism before them. A visit to a monastery yields some very interesting things. I visited a number of them and again even on this trip visited more of them. A typical day for a monk was, up at three A.M. for the first service. You say, “Why at three A.M.?” Just to make you miserable because there was certain penance in misery. You didn’t want to sleep more than two or three hours, you might be thought to be carnal so they roused them all at three A.M. and they had their first Mass, they put them back at four and they got them up at five. And they had their second Mass and before the day was over they had five more of them. In between they spent their time in prayer and reading the Scripture. And they did that for the years and the decades of their life, believing that that in and of itself made them a perfect Christian, or an elevated Christian whereas anyone outside farming or doing a trade or working in a business was a second-class Christian.

The idea that work somehow made you second-class, that secular useless lower employment put you beneath the religious order found its way into the church so formidably that it never really got rooted out or even began to be rooted out until the time of the Reformation in the sixteenth century with Martin Luther and John Calvin attacking it. It’s still around in Catholicism, but the Reformation dealt some pretty heavy blows against it. Martin Luther said there is absolutely no difference before God though there may be before men between one who preaches the Word of God and one who washes dishes. There’s no such thing, he said, as the sacred and the secular in terms of employment. We understand the difference between preaching and washing dishes as it effects men, but in terms of service before God there’s no difference for one could preach the truth of God from an impure motive and God would be displeased and one could wash dishes with a motive of glorifying Christ and God would be highly pleased.

Paul faces a wrong attitude toward work in this text. I don’t know whether it was because there was Jewish influence in this young church. I don’t know whether some of these people had been converted out of Judaism and they were saying…Look, in Judaism the highest level of spiritual life was to be a scribe and spend all your time studying the Law and so I imagine that’s the highest kind of Christianity so I’m just going to spend all my time studying the Law and I’m not going to work.

It may have been not so much the Jewish influence as the Greek influence. I don’t know if you remember this, you surely do, but all of the menial labor in the Roman Empire was done by whom? Slaves. The whole Greek world operated on the basis of slaves and that mentality had found its way into the church, no doubt, and maybe there were some freemen who now had a problem because before they were Christians they operated in some philosophical school or they taught in some place or maybe they were associated in some business where they did all the dreaming and the scheming and everybody did all the labor and now they became a Christian and they lost their job and they lost their position as teacher or philosopher. And now they’re on their own but it’s beneath them to work. They’ve never worked and now when they don’t have the income that came from their prior occupation, they’re thrust into the situation where they need to work and they’re just above that, they’re not about to work.

And then you had another problem. As if that wasn’t enough, coming from the Jewish culture and the Gentile culture, somebody had come to the Thessalonian church, according to chapter 2 verse 2, and told them they were in the day of the Lord which is the very end time and Jesus was coming very soon. And it may have been that some of them were saying…”Look, if Jesus is coming, if we’re in the day of the Lord and God’s fury is about to fall and the Lord is about to return, we don’t want to get involved in work, we need to evangelize. We need to do spiritual ministry. Work will just take up our hours and a perishing world on the brink of a returning Christ…we can’t be fussing with that, we need to be evangelizing.”

And there may have just flatly been some folks who said, “I don’t like to work.” Just plain ole lazy. So it may have been the Jewish influence that the really elevated religious people study the scriptures and they’re supported for that. Or it may have been the Gentile mentality that says freemen don’t work. Or it may have been the eschatological end times mentality that says Jesus is coming, we can’t be doing work, we’ve got to be doing evangelism. Or it may have been some folks who just said…”Hey, we’re lazy. Why, we don’t want to work.” Furthermore, these people who were just flat out lazy would know that the Bible taught that the people who had were supposed to give it to the people who didn’t have, and they classified themselves as the self-appointed poor and said we are now your charity cases and you’ll take care of us because that’s what Jesus instructed you to do.

Whatever the reason, there were people who weren’t working. It fascinates me that Paul doesn’t tell us the reason. You want to know why? It doesn’t matter what the reason is. None of it is valid. I mean, we would immediately reject the reason…”Well, I’m lazy, I don’t want to work, so meet my needs. You’re suppose to take care of the poor.” We would reject that immediately. Yes we know you’re suppose to take care of the poor, but that’s the poor who are poor because they can’t help but be poor. The people who would work but can’t find work, or who can’t work because they’re infirm or disabled and we are to meet their needs. But not the people who can work and have opportunity to work. So we would discount that. And we would discount probably the Gentile mentality that says I’m too good to work. We would say those are ignoble excuses. We’ll push those aside.

We might think a little longer about the other two and say…Well it would be a lofty way to spend your life to just do nothing but study the law, and we are living in the return of Jesus Christ potentially and maybe it is right that we ought to just dump our job and run out and evangelize. We would give that a little more credence and say well that’s a little more noble excuse for not working. But it fascinates me that Paul doesn’t tell us the reason. You know why? Because it doesn’t matter, they’re all invalid. The very fact that he makes no comment is a comment. We don’t know why they wouldn’t work. We don’t know whether it was just flat laziness or eschatology. We don’t know whether it was some lofty desire to spend all their time in Bible study or whether it was some passionate zeal to do all their time in evangelism, it didn’t matter. These people were a problem.

So starting in verse 6, look what he says to them. “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you keep aloof from every brother who leads a disorderly or unruly life,” and in this context it means who won’t work, “and not according to the tradition which you received from us, for you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example because we didn’t act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we might not be a burden to any of you. Not because we do not have the right to this but in order to offer to offer ourselves as a model for you that you might follow our example. For even when we were with you we used to give you this order, if anyone will not work, neither let him eat. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good. And if anyone doesn’t obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that man and do not associate with him so that he may be put to shame and yet do not regard him as an enemy but admonish him as a brother.”

Now it becomes obvious that there’s some people living in unruly, undisciplined, disorderly life and what it comes down to is they’re not working and they’re meddling busybodies fussing around and not working. And then casting themselves on everybody else to have their food need met. And the Apostle is directing this passage at these people who won’t work. It is a very unique passage, directed for folks and for the church in which folks exist who will not work.

You see, our Christian faith has sanctified every occupation. There isn’t any difference between the secular and the sacred, there isn’t any at all. The church should remember that Jesus was a preacher for three years but a carpenter for at least 20. That sanctifies work. All of life is God’s. All of it is for His glory.

Look for a moment with me at Ephesians chapter 6, and I can illustrate this to you in the inspired text. Ephesians chapter 6 tells us every job, every occupation, every work falls within a believer’s sacred duty. There’s no such thing as a secular job for a Christian, there’s no such thing as a secular anything because everything is to be done to the glory of God. But look at Ephesians 6 verse 5, “Slaves,” or servants, it could be employees, “be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh with fear and trembling in the sincerity of your heart as to Christ.” Okay? Work under your employer with fear, that’s reverence, trembling, understanding that he controls your destiny…sincerity as if you were serving Christ. Verse 6, “Not with eye service,” that is just working because he’s watching, “not as a men-pleaser,” not just pleasing him, “but as slaves of Christ doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service as to the Lord and not to men.” In other words, in your job you’re serving the Lord with your attitude and your effort. Verse 8, “Knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.” Whether you’re an employee who is a slave, whether you’re a worker who is a freeman, the work you give rendered to the Lord, the Lord will repay. Your service is to Him, not your boss.

In Colossians 3, parallel passage, verse 22 we read the same thing. “Employees, or slaves, in all things…Colossians 3:22…obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service as those who merely please men but with sincerity of heart fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily as for the Lord rather than for men.” Now follow verse 24, “Knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance.” The Lord will reward you. Here’s the sum of it. “It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”

Your job is not a secular job, it is a spiritual duty. You are serving the Lord with your attitude and your diligence. You’re serving the Lord. You’re doing it unto His honor and to His glory. You’re even serving mankind for what you do provides a service to man that helps them in their life.

END OF SIDE ONE

SIDE TWO

So Paul is saying to the Ephesians and saying to the Colossians, work is a sacred duty not a secular one. Work is sacred in the sense that it is done to the Lord…whether you’re washing dishes, scrubbing floors, taking care of children at home and maintaining the house, or whether you’re in the financial marketplace doing accounting and bookkeeping for a company, or whether you’re delivering mail or teaching school or driving a truck, or whether you’re operating a business, or whether you’re working in sales, whether you’re developing strategy for marketing, or whether you’re some kind of an expert who acts as a consultant in a unique field…whatever it is that you’re doing it is a service rendered to the Lord. He has gifted you. He has granted you talent. He has given you the power to get wealth, as it says in Deuteronomy, through means of that. And He has allowed you the opportunity to provide your sustenance through that talent, ability and experience and capability that you have. But it is to be done as if you were serving Him, the one who gave you that as the means by which you can earn your living…particularly is this not true for Christians. Everything you do is a sacred trust.

You say, “You mean to tell me that what I do is as important before God as what you do?” Yes. You say, “You mean washing dishes in my house as unto the Lord is the same as you preaching as unto the Lord?” Yes, not in its impact for evangelism on men, not in its certain instructiveness in regards to Scripture, not before men is it necessarily the same and kind but before God it is the same for it is your service rendered to His glory. That’s the point and the Thessalonians didn’t grasp it.

Now frankly they should have. I mean, go back to 1 Thessalonians for a moment, chapter 4. First Thessalonians chapter 4 and verse 10, at the very end of verse 10 he says, “We urge you, brethren, to excel still more,” you’re doing well but you need to do better. And then in verse 11 he says why, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life,” quit running around all over the place, settle down, “attend to your own business,” stay out of other people’s business, “and work with your hands.” Now what he’s talking about here is work. In verse 12 he says, “So that you may behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.” Work, don’t be a meddler, don’t be a busybody, don’t be fussing around with other people’s business, get your life ordered, get it brought in to control, attend to your own business and do your own work so that, verse 12, you don’t have any needs. That is very important to the unity of the church. And it is important to see your work as honoring to God.

So he says that in 1 Thessalonians 4, so he’s already told this to them. But would you notice what else he says at the end of verse 11? “Just as we commanded you.” So in the first letter, this isn’t the first time they’ve heard this. When he was there he must have confronted it and commanded them about it. When he came into town and he founded the church, obviously it was a problem from the beginning, which leads me to think that they carried in this Gentile freeman mentality and then somehow compounded it by the anticipation of the return of Christ. It’s beneath me and it’s not the priority as we’re near the return of Christ. And Paul had instructed them when he was there…work, go to work. This is a command from God. They apparently didn’t obey it. And now a few weeks later he writes this letter back, 1 Thessalonians, and he says again, you must do this as we commanded you. Now you come to 2 Thessalonians and he has to repeat it a third time because apparently they are stubborn, they are obstinate and they’re not about to go to work. It doesn’t seem to matter what he says, they’re not going to work.

This kind of stubbornness needs to be dealt with. And so as he writes here, he writes in a disciplinary way. Verse 6 is really discipline. He is commanding the church to keep aloof from these people who won’t work.

You say, “Well now wait a minute, doesn’t the Scripture tell us we’re to help those people who are poor?” Again I say to you, people who would work but can’t find work, people who would work but don’t have the physical ability to work, people who are ill and can’t do their work, their needs must be met. He’s not talking about those kinds of people, he’s talking about able- bodied people with opportunity. Obviously Acts 4, Acts 2 even, and Acts 4, Acts 5, Acts 6, the early church, there was a sharing with the poor saints in Jerusalem. And Paul spent months collecting an offering from Gentile churches to take back to poor saints in Jerusalem who would have worked if they could have. We’re not talking about that. What we’re talking about is the deadbeats, the people who could but won’t.

So in this text Paul is really going to motivate them. You can imagine when this letter was read in the Thessalonian church, everybody knew who they were talking about, everybody knew. When Paul said, “We command you, brethren,” and so forth, they knew who was the target of this. In fact, I think Paul knew who they were, he just doesn’t say. So they were exposed to the whole church when the letter was read. And they would have heard this read and its inherent motivation.

Paul lays out in verses 6 to 15 six incentives to go to work. Six motivations, six compulsions to get these believers who won’t work to go to work. Here are the six…disfellowship, disfellowship, example, survival, harmony, shame and love…dis- fellowship, example, survival, harmony, shame and love. Now this morning we’re just going to look at the first one…disfellowship. And then next week we’ll see the rest, and they are absolutely fascinating insights.

First one, incentive number one, disfellowship. Verse 6, “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you keep aloof from every brother who leads an unruly life,” and the obvious interpretation of that is they don’t work and therefore they’re these busybodies all over the place, “and not according to the tradition which you received from us.”

Now the verse is very strong. And what it calls for is the church to separate itself from these Christians who won’t work…separate yourself from them. This is tough. If they’re the lazy ones who won’t work just because they’re lazy, they depend on these people. If they’re the people who have this sort of noble view that they should be studying the Bible and evangelizing and therefore they won’t work, they’re going to be expecting these people to look at them as if they’re heroes and support them. And what he says is…cut yourself off. That verb “keep aloof” is a very unusual word and it was used in secular Greek to speak of furling the sails. You unfurl the sail, you open it up. You furl it, you roll it back in, pull yourselves in from them. It came to mean that and it is a good translation in the NAS, “Keep aloof, keep your distance, keep separate.” And the words are very strong. He’s not saying, “You know, it might be a really good strategy if you guys just kind of cut them off a little bit so they can feel the alienation and isolation.” No, no, he doesn’t say it’s a good idea. In verse 6 he says, “We command you,” and he uses a military term. If there is somebody who doesn’t work, we command you…and here he’s sort of scooping up Silas and Timothy with himself as noted in the first verse of the first chapter, they were there when he wrote. We command you, brethren…and then he adds another heavy-duty shot to this, “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” the full name of the Lord, the Son of God, saying I am standing on Christ’s authority in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, consistent with His person and work and will, the will of the sovereign Lord, we give you a military command not to be disobeyed that carries all the authority of the living Lord Jesus Christ in it and we tell you…keep separate from these people. It’s very stern. Cut them off. Disfellowship.

It’s amazing, no doubt the Apostle Paul had gotten word that they had not responded to the teaching when he was there, and they hadn’t responded to the first letter and now he’s got to tell them the third time to do this. And now it’s time for discipline. I mean, the first time it’s instruction. The second time it’s exhortation. But the third time it’s discipline. Maybe he had heard from Timothy who had made a visit there and Timothy had come back and say, “Those people still aren’t working, Paul. You better say something to them, they’re still not working and the rest of the folks are getting a little upset about it.” And it’s also effecting the testimony of the church because they’ve got these people who aren’t producing and they’re just sponging. And maybe it was somebody who traveled along those trade routes that ran from Thessalonica to Corinth where Paul was when he wrote this and some of them have told him…”Paul, those people in the Thessalonian church have a problem. There are some folks there who won’t work.” And so now it’s discipline. I mean, I told you once when I was there, and I told you again, and now it’s discipline time. And he says I want drastic action. I want you to cut yourselves off from them. I want you to alienate yourself, keep aloof…notice this, comprehensive…every brother who leads an unruly…that’s an out-of-step life, disorderly, ataktos in Greek. It’s a military term, it means you’re out of rank, out of line, out of order. And what was their out-of-order behavior? Laziness, they were loafers and it was flagrant because they had been told.

And I have given you, what he calls at the end of verse 6, the tradition which you received from us. Tradition simply being a term to sum up apostolic teaching. It was teaching and it became a body of truth, tradition to be passed on. Tradition doesn’t have to be unscriptural. Sometimes we talk about the Scripture plus tradition, but there is a scriptural tradition. There is a biblical tradition. There is an apostolic tradition that was passed on. They had received the Word from Paul when he came at first, 1 Thessalonians 2:13 he says, “You received us…from us the Word of God’s message and you accepted it, not as the word of men but for what it really is, the Word of God.” When we first came and we taught you, you took it as the Word of God, you received the tradition and you held it and you believed it. And we gave you instruction in chapter 4 of the first letter as how you ought to walk and please God and you received it, and now this you haven’t received. You’ve got some people who won’t take this…so, if they haven’t received this tradition that we gave about work, separate from them…separate from them. No more Lord’s table, no more worship, no more home Bible study, no more fellowship, separate.

To fit this in to Matthew 18, the pattern of discipline, this would be the third step. Matthew 18:15 says if your brother sins, go to him, if he repents you’ve gained your brother…that’s step one, one to one, you go to the person who sins. If he doesn’t, step two, take two or three witnesses with you, go to him, confront him again hoping he’ll repent. If he doesn’t, tell the church, step three. Step three is to tell the church. What does the church do? Separate, alienate, still step three. Look down at verse 15. Step four, treat him like a tax collector and a pagan. This isn’t step four because in verse 15 you admonish him as a…what?…as a brother. He’s still in the fellowship, but the whole church is going to cut him off from normal life in the church and only confront him about his sin, or her if it happens to be a lazy woman. So he says you’re at step three really. It’s time for you to cut these people off from the life of the church if they don’t obey, cut them off from fellowship, disfellowship them and when you see them, warn them, admonish them as brothers to repent. And then, of course, if they don’t hear that, if they don’t respond to this, then you go to step four which is to treat ’em like a pagan and a tax collector and alienate ’em all together and turn ’em over to the Lord.

Disfellowship…you don’t work, make ’em feel it, make ’em feel the alienation. You say, “You know, if I was going to write an epistle and it was only three chapters long, I think I could think of a more important issue to deal with. I mean, this is a big deal?” It is. God has commanded us to work. It keeps people from being busybodies. It keeps people from being unnecessary burdens to the rest of the church community. It’s a serious issue. Furthermore, God has given to us capacity for work by which we are designed to give Him glory and honor and by which we are designed to serve the needs of man in the name of Christ.

Serious issue with him. He commands it. He commands it with all the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and he says I’m commanding you to stay away from these people so they feel the pain of alienation when they don’t work. God is serious about work. It is a means by which man does an honorable task to the glory of God and the benefit of his fellow man. Now since normal true believers are going to cherish the fellowship, this kind of command to the rest of the congregation to disfellowship them should effect a change. It should be enough pain to make them say…”I think I better get a job, I think I better go to work.” God wants us to obey that command.

I don’t care how close we are to the Second Coming of Christ, there’s no premium on indolence and laziness. We don’t know when He’s coming. I don’t care how serious you might be about Bible study, you can’t be off in a corner studying the Bible to your own pleasure and having other people feed you and provide your sustenance. You earn your bread by the sweat of your brow.

So the Scripture says work. It’s honorable. And there’s no such thing as a secular job, it’s all sacred because you do it to the Lord, to His glory, to His honor and for the benefit of mankind. And if you don’t do it and the church has gone to you once, like Paul did, and gone to you twice, like Paul did, it’s now time for the third step which is tell the whole church to cut him off…no more fellowship. That’s serious.

Well, there are five more incentives that are absolutely amazingly practical. We’ll have to wait till next time to see those.

Father, thank You for this wonderful little section of Scripture which reminds us of the happy privilege and duty of work and gives us clear understanding that there’s no secular, sacred dichotomy but whatever we do we really do to Your glory. Father, thank You for reminding us that we’re not to be unnecessarily a burden on Your people, we’re to work and provide for our own needs because this is honorable, because this is right, because You’ve equipped us to do that, because it’s a good testimony. We thank You, too, Father, that for those in our fellowship who would work but can’t either because there’s no opportunity for them at all to do anything, or there’s no ability there, or there’s illness. Lord, thank You that we can help meet their needs and we do that joyfully. We thank You for the special joy of Christian fellowship, thank You for the fact that we have each other and that we’re so rich because we do, we certainly would never want to be in a situation where we were cut off from each other because we wouldn’t work.

I thank You, too, Lord, for the fact that You allow us to work for many years and because we have much provision by Your grace there comes a time when we no longer need to work the way we once did, but we can then do things in ministry and never be a burden to Your church because we have provision that You have granted us through the years of our labors. Give us the sense of the honorable character of work and help us to even go there tomorrow as we do the tasks around us, whether it be at home or whether it be at a job somewhere, with a new commitment that this is a sacred task we do and one that brings You glory and honor and helps others. And no matter how urgent might be the spiritual thing, help us to do our work for which You have given us the ability and the opportunity and to do it heartily as unto You and we thank You for that privilege which keeps our otherwise sinful lives occupied in Christ’s name. Amen.