September 5, 2010

Take This Job and Love It!

#1—Rethinking your work: curse or calling?

 

Opening: (After The Office clip)

Today, we kick off a five-week series on work. We start with a theology of work. How does God think about work? Is work a calling from God or is it a curse for our sin? Does God put our desk in the office or the bathroom? There’s some great theology in The Office!

Why are we going to spend five weeks talking about work? Because for most of us, it occupies the majority of our waking hours. It’s a huge part of our lives and we need to think Christianly about it.

Prayer: Each week in this series, we are going to focus our prayers on different groups of workers. (Education, medical, business and labor, moms and volunteers, service (military, government, fire, police, and general service).) This week, we’re going to pray for everyone working in education: teachers, administration, support staff, elementary, junior or senior high, college, adult ed, home school, Christian schools, church.

And the unemployed.

 

Introduction:

What is one of the first questions you ask someone when you meet them? “What do you do?” We ask that because we tend to identify people by what they do: I am Pastor Joe; you are Larry the banker, or Bonnie the nurse or Laina the Mom. We can see the how important our work is by the fact that we tend to identify people by what they do. Work has become the #1 priority for many of us—a problem that we will address in more depth in a couple weeks. At least one third of our life, and more than half of our waking hours are occupied with work. Most of us would agree that there are few things in life more significant than our work, which means that we must know how to think about it.

Many of us aren’t sure how to think Christianly about our work. Work and faith are often separated by a wide chasm, and seem irrelevant to one another. We live in two worlds. We come to church on Sunday, and we are in one world; then we go to work on Monday and we are in a different, and unrelated world. What we did on Sunday has no impact or meaning for what we do on Monday.

For these next few weeks, I want to help you change that. I want to convince you that your work matters to God. I want to help you see how God thinks about what you do. I want to share with you a Christian theology of work. Please don’t think that because this is theology that it will be boring and irrelevant! God’s truth about work will make a difference in how you live! His truth will change the way you work! In weeks to come we’ll talk about finding your best fit in the working world; about balancing the demands of job, family, self and God; about coping with the stresses of work; and about living a distinctively Christian lifestyle at work. But before we can get to any of that, we need a Biblical theology of work. We need to know what God thinks about work.

If you are thinking, “I don’t have a job, so I might as well check out for the next few weeks,” please stay with me. There is a difference between work and employment.

ILL: We all know people like the young man who was asked if he was looking for work and he replied, “No, but I would like a job.”

There is a difference between work and employment. We may work without being paid for it. All of you stay-at-home moms—you work HARD! If someone asks me if my wife works, I always say, “Yes, and much longer hours than I do!” Those of you who are students work at your studies; and those of you who are retired still work in many volunteer capacities. Everyone works whether you are paid or not.

By having a Biblical theology of work, by understanding that your work matters to God, you will find new joy and purpose and fulfillment in your work. So, how do you view your work? Are you bored with it?

ILL: Do you feel like the man who said, “I’ve been working all my life, but somehow it feels longer.”

Do you see any lasting value or meaning in it? Is your work a necessary nuisance, a way of earning a paycheck, something to be tolerated until the weekend? Just a job? Is your work a curse or a calling? And does God really care what you do?

Let’s begin by clearing up some misconceptions.

 

1. Work as a curse: Genesis 3:17-19

Before we develop a Biblical theology of work, we’ll need to abandon some bad theology. Let’s look at some common misconceptions about work, and see if you can identify with any of these ideas.

A. Work is God’s curse on people. How many of you have ever thought this? At least, your job is a curse!

Some people have mistakenly used the story of man’s fall into sin and God’s punishment in Genesis 3 to teach that work is God’s curse, God’s punishment for sin. But this simply isn’t true. Here is what it says.

Genesis 3:17–19 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Because of Adam’s sin, God curses the ground and promises that toil will be painful and sweaty, and man’s work will produce thorns and thistles as well as edible food. It sounds like God turned work into a curse as a punishment for our sin. “You sinned, now you have to work, and you are going to be miserable!”

But the Biblical understanding of work begins at the Creation story in Genesis 1-2, not at the fall in Genesis 3. The Bible shows that work is good, not evil; that God is a worker, and that He created us to be workers. Work was given as a gift to people before the fall, not as a curse after the fall. The curse in Genesis 3 made work and the work environment more difficult, but it didn’t take away the dignity or value of work given at creation. In fact, after the fall, all through the rest of the Bible, God’s attitude about work is very positive, not negative; work is commanded and commended as something we do to serve God. People who believe this misconception end up enduring or tolerating their work as an inescapable consequence of sin, a necessary evil in a fallen world. But it’s not true! God hasn’t condemned you to the rock-pile of the workplace as punishment for your sin!

B. Work is purely secular. Many people see no connection between what they do at work and God; work and God are completely unrelated. But if God created us and commands us to work, then God is deeply involved in and concerned about our work. And if God is in it, then work is sacred, not secular. As Christians, our entire lives are submitted to Jesus as Lord. Jesus is Lord of Monday as much as Sunday. He is Lord of our work as much as He is Lord of our church. Your work is sacred; it matters to God. I’m going to say that over and over the next 5 weeks!

Those who think that work is purely secular, that it doesn’t matter to God, tend to be ruled by expediency. The end justifies the means. Do whatever it takes to get the job done. Morals and ethics are situational. You might be thinking that this is the common view of work among non-Christians, but many Christians have a distinctly secular view of work. They fail to see how God cares or has anything to do with their work, and because of that their behavior at work may not differ greatly from their non-Christian co-workers.

ILL: In 1983, Princeton Religion Research Center published a landmark survey that measured moral and ethical behavior on the job, things such as calling in sick when you’re not, cheating on income tax, and pilfering company supplies for personal use. The results were disappointing, to say the least; but what was most startling was that there was no significant difference between the churched and the unchurched in their ethics and values on the job.

This is just wrong. Too many Christians live with a purely secular view of our work; we don’t believe that it matters to God. Your work is sacred; it matters to God.

 

C. Some work is sacred. This is a very common view among Christians. What is sacred work? Church work! Saving people, teaching the Bible, building churches; this is what lasts forever and so is truly meaningful. All other work is temporary, secular, and doesn’t really matter. That’s what we mistakenly believe.

ILL: When I was in high school, our youth group had one meeting a week that was student led. One week, it was my turn to teach the lesson. I told everyone that I didn’t see how they could be serious about following Jesus unless they were going to devote their lives to full time Christian ministry, such as being a pastor or missionary. My classmates thought I was nuts…and they were right! This is an example of this misconception at its worst. I honestly thought that the only work that mattered was the spiritual.

But our two-story view of life that divides the body and soul, the temporal and the eternal, the secular and the sacred, the laity and the clergy is not the Biblical view of life at all. All of life is sacred and matters to God. God cares about your body and your soul; about the temporary as well as the eternal; about the secular and spiritual; about me and about you. Your work matters to God as much as mine does, and in a few minutes, I’ll show you why.

 

D. Work is a platform for evangelism. This seems like a noble thought; very spiritual. But is it? Many Christians can’t find any intrinsic meaning in their work, but they do see it as an opportunity to share Christ with others. They see their workplace itself as having no Christian significance, but it is a well-stocked lake in which to fish! I hear people say about their jobs, “I guess God just has me there to be a witness.” Have you ever felt that way about a job? Certainly we have a mandate from Christ to share our faith; I don’t want for a moment to discourage you from doing that, in fact I encourage you to do it!

But what an inadequate view of work! It is really very similar to our neighbor who finds his work meaningless, but does it so that he can have money for the weekend. Both view work as meaningless in itself, or as a necessary means to a completely unrelated end. And in this view, we all have really only one calling, one vocation, evangelist, with different arenas for doing that work. We are not a doctor or a teacher or a salesperson; we are evangelists in the field of medicine or education or sales. Put that way, it is easy to recognize the fallacy of this view of work; we are not all the same; we don’t all have the same assignment or gifts or calling. There is more than one kind of work to be done.

Again, I am not discouraging you from sharing Christ where you work; please do! But you must see your work as more than a platform for evangelism.

These are four inadequate and sub-Biblical theologies of work, each of which in some sense makes our work a curse, a burden to be borne, rather than a gift.

 

2. Work as a calling: Genesis 1:31-2:25

The Bible treats work as a calling, not a curse, as a gift from God rather than a punishment. We use the word “vocation” to describe our jobs; the word comes from the Latin root vocare, which means “to call”. A vocation is a calling. We’re going to talk more about this next week in the message, “Finding your calling: doing what God made you to do.”

Here is a Biblical theology of work that is based in the story of creation. Work has two kinds of value: intrinsic value and instrumental value.

 

A. Work has intrinsic value. That is, work has value in and of itself. Work is good. How do we know that? There are over 600 references to work and labor in the Bible; Scripture has lots to say about work. Any Biblical theology of work must begin at the creation story in Genesis 1-2. I’ll let you read this on your own this week. Here is what you will notice:

 

1. God is a worker. One of the first ways that God reveals Himself to us is as a worker. We see Him creating the worlds, finishing His work with total job satisfaction (“It is good”) and resting. If God, who is perfectly good, works, that tells us that work must be inherently good, not evil. If work was bad, God wouldn’t do it! From start to finish, the Bible talks about God’s work.

Genesis 2:2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.

Psalm 66:5 Come and see what God has done, how awesome his works in man’s behalf!

John 5:17 Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”

Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

These are just a few of dozens of verses that talk about God working; God is a worker.

 

2. God created you to be a worker. You were made in His image, and He is a worker. The Bible says that God made us in His image and set us over the world He made, to rule and care for it. Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

Then God placed them in the garden He created and said, “You work it and take care of it.” 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.”

Work wasn’t a punishment laid down after man’s fall, but an assignment given at his creation, since he was made in God’s image. God created you to be a worker. Work is commanded and commended all through the Bible.

Exodus 20:9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work,

Proverbs 14:23 All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.

Ephesians 4:28 He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.

God created you to be a worker.

 

3. God created you as His co-worker. The first man and woman were in partnership with God; their work was an extension of His; their work was to accomplish His purposes. God made the world, they took care of it. God planted the garden, they tended it. Look at Genesis 2:5 “and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground.” Nothing was growing because there were two things missing: God’s work and man’s work. God would send the rain; man would work the ground. God is the creator; man is the cultivator. They were to partner in this.

ILL: Look at a baby. The Bible says that children are a gift from the Lord. God gives you a baby; but then He says, “Now, you take over!” You are responsible for nurturing and caring for that baby. You partner with God in raising that child.

God has work He wants done, and He wants you to do it with Him. Again, all through the Bible we find this idea that we are co-workers with God, in both physical and spiritual ways:

1 Corinthians 3:9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

2 Corinthians 6:1 As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.

God created you as His coworker.

ILL: I love the story of the old gardener who was showing a friend the beauty of his garden. His friend broke out in spontaneous praise of God; the gardener was not very pleased that God would get all the credit. “You should have seen this garden when God had it all to Himself!” He was right! We are coworkers with God.

Work has intrinsic value because God is a worker, because He created you to be a worker, and to be His coworker.

But is all work good? Obviously not. A drug-dealer’s work is not good, not matter how hard he works at it. Work is good, but can be corrupted by sin. Some work is illegal; some is immoral; and some is at best highly questionable. But any legitimate work is good. Legitimate work is any work that contributes to what God wants done in the world. And what does God want done? The simplest summary is in the Great Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” God’s work has to do with loving Him, loving others and loving yourself; and we’re going to see that our work is one of our principal means of loving God, loving others, and loving ourselves.

 

B. Work has instrumental value. That is, work produces worthwhile benefits. Besides work’s intrinsic value, work is good because of what it accomplishes. Here are three benefits of work.

 

1. Work provides for the worker. Work puts food on the table and a roof over our heads. Work pays the bills! But besides the obvious benefit of paying the bills and providing for our material needs, our work has the important benefit of providing self-worth, significance and fulfillment for us.

ILL: Awhile back I bumped into a friend who had been unemployed for some time. He was bright, cheerful, and exuded self-confidence. “You got a job!” I said. “How did you know?” he asked, surprised. It was written all over him!

I love to work! It is so satisfying to do what you know you were made for! Since God created us to be workers, and equipped us with gifts and talents, we will find fulfillment when we work, being what He created us to be, doing what He created us to do, employing the gifts and talents He gave us.

Next week we are going to talk about what to do if your work is not fulfilling for you.

When I work, I love myself, by providing for my needs, and by the fulfillment and significance I gain.

 

2. Work benefits others. Besides the obvious benefit of providing for our selves and family, our work benefits those around us, the community that we live in. The knowledge that our work is beneficial adds considerably to our sense of job satisfaction.

It is easier to see that our work is beneficial in some professions than others. For example, professions such as medicine, education, and counseling are directly concerned with helping people; it is easy to see how they benefit others. Many service jobs are the same; it is easy to see the benefit that accrues to others in food preparation, or maintenance, or mechanics. Some professions are not so obvious, but almost any profession has some social value, contributes something to the wellbeing of others in the community.

ILL: I read about a man whose company makes pallets, the wooden platforms designed to make it easier for forklifts to load and unload stacks of goods. He was wondering, “How does making pallets serve people?” Those pallets are an important link in a complex chain that puts food on our tables. The food comes from

the farmer who raises it

the scientists who develop the fertilizers and pesticides

the workers who harvest it

the bankers who finance it

the builders and distributers of farm equipment

the truckers who ship it

the factory workers who build the trucks

the truck stop operators who provide the fuel and coffee

the construction workers who lay down miles of highway

the supermarket employees who sell it

and my wife who prepares it…to name just a few.

Remember those pallets? They were tucked away up there on those trucks, part of a huge network involving thousands of people.

How does your job serve people and benefit others? Here is an exercise for you: Can you think of a job that has no redeeming social value?

When I work, I love others by providing goods and services that are beneficial to them.

 

3. Work is glorifying to God. When we do what God created us to do, He is served and honored. We can love Him with our work. Work is worship, provided we can see how our job contributes to the forwarding of God’s purposes. And often it is a matter of how far we can see.

ILL: A man was visiting a stone quarry and asked several men what they were doing. The first replied irritably, “Can’t you see? I’m cutting stone.” The second answered without looking up, “I’m earning a paycheck.” But when the same question was asked the third man, he stopped, put his pick down, stood up and smiled. “I’m building a cathedral.”

It is a matter of how far we can see: the first man couldn’t see past his pick, the second beyond his paycheck. But the third saw beyond his tools and paycheck to the ultimate end; he was cooperating with the architect, making his contribution to help construct a building for the worship of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31 “Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God.”

Colossians 3:23 “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men…it is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

Work is worship. When we do it for the Lord, and we do our best, we do it for the glory of God.

When I work, I love God, by cooperating with Him in the achievement of His purposes, and doing it with all my heart for Him.