Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Work

Part 4 of Wise Steps, a series on Proverbs

Text: Proverbs 6:6-11

You can listen to this sermon here.



In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty (Prov. 14:23). 



The Ultimate Purpose of Work

When I was in Bible college, one of my friends was taking a lot of naps and getting behind on his assignments. One day, I went into his room when he wasn’t there and wrote the following words on the ceiling tile above his bed: “How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you rise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man” (Prov. 6:9-11). I don’t think he was too impressed by my prank.

How should we view our work?

Many Christians think they live two different lives: a spiritual life (attending church meetings, reading the Bible, praying) and a regular life (doing your job, preparing a meal, mowing the lawn). But the apostle Paul writes, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31; cf. 6:19-20). This means that our work—whether it’s paid or unpaid work—should be viewed as spiritual.

We should view our work as a way to bring glory to God. 

“The ultimate purpose of work is neither income, nor prestige, nor self-fulfillment. Rather, it is to bring glory to God. That’s what it means for work to be a calling.” [1]


Created in the Image of a Working God

The Bible begins with God working. God is a working God. Jesus said, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17). God “created man in his own image” (Gen. 1:27), and when we work, we act like God.

Work was a part of God’s original plan for humanity. God commanded Adam to “subdue [the earth]” (Gen. 1:28) and to “work [the garden of Eden] and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). But work became difficult after sin entered the world. After Adam sinned, God said to him, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground” (Gen. 3:17-19).


The Work of Jesus

For the Christian, Proverbs is more about a who than a what. The “who” is Jesus. He lived out the wisdom of Proverbs. So learning to live by the wisdom found in Proverbs is learning to live like Jesus.

When Jesus lived on this earth, he worked. The Gospels tell about his days as a rabbi (teacher), but what did he do before he became a rabbi? In Mark 6:3, the people of Nazareth were astonished by Jesus’ teaching, and they said, “Is not this the carpenter…?” (cf. Matt. 13:55). The Greek word translated “carpenter” is tekton. A tekton was “someone who could work with wood, metal, or stone. He could be a builder, a mason, or a carpenter. In Jesus’ Palestinian context, it probably denoted a woodworking handyman.” [2] Jesus knew what it was like to do difficult work. The creator of the universe (John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2) was a labourer.

On the night of his arrest, Jesus prayed to the Father, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4). In all of his work—whether it was his work as a carpenter, his work as a teacher, or his work as a Savior dying for the sins of the world—Jesus glorified the Father.


Avoiding Two Extremes

If we are to glorify God in our work, we must avoid two extremes. We must not be a sluggard or a workaholic. Basically, Proverbs tells us that laziness is foolish and productivity is wise. Proverbs 14:23 says, “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.” [3] And Proverbs 28:19 says, “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty” (cf. Prov. 12:11). [4]

1. We must not be like the sluggard who hates work. 

I once saw a sign in a workshop that said, “Work fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.” There is one thing that the sluggard excels at: finding ways to avoid work. Of course, avoiding work is foolish: “The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing” (Prov. 20:4). In contrast to the sluggard is “the excellent wife” of Proverbs 31 who “looks to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness” (Prov. 31:27).

2. We must not be like the workaholic who worships work. 

To many people, work is an idol. Tim Keller defines an idol as “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. [An idol] is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.” [5]


Shining Our Light While We Work

Do you know how the early church grew so rapidly? Every Christian did evangelism. How did most Christians do evangelism? In the context of their relationships, including their work relationships. If a Christian was lazy or unethical in his work, he wouldn’t be an effective witness.

The best way to glorify God in our work is by being a “working missionary.” 

Jesus said to his followers, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see our good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). How do we shine our light? By doing “good works.” Are these good works limited to religious work. No, they include regular work. What will happen when we shine our light while we work? People will be saved (i.e., they will believe and “give glory” to God; cf. 1 Peter 2:12).


[1] Anthony Selvaggio, A Proverbs Driven Life (Kindle edition), locations 502-504.
[2] David E. Garland, Mark, 231.
[3] We must remember that proverbs are general truths, not promises. There will not be profit in all toil. There are exceptions to the general truths in Proverbs.
[4] In Proverbs, there is a distinction between “the poor” and “the sluggard.” “The sluggard” becomes poor because of his laziness, but “the poor” are “those who are poor by virtue of circumstances beyond their control” (Bruce K. Waltke, Proverbs 1-15, 339).
[5] Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods, xvii.