Topical: The Value of Hard Work
June 5, 2011
Scripture reading: COl 3:22-24
I had a sermon I was working on but realized I need to save it for Father’s day, so I didn’t have a sermon for Sunday. I spent the whole day agonizing (and praying) about what to preach.
The next morning it hit me like a bolt of lightning. It’s loosely inspired by my reading in Isaiah, but stands as a vital balance to last week’s sermon.
· I’ve preached many sermons on trusting and depending on God, but I’ve never preached a sermon on the spirituality of work.
The inspiration came as I realized just how hard I was working as I trusted God. As I talked about last week, we have decided to cut my salary significantly to make up for a budget deficit.
· I have been trusting God to provide for me, but working very hard to find the means he is going to use.
As I said, I am going to be “bi-vocational,” which means I needed to find a job to help support my family, but at the same time allow me to save my heart for this church.
I knew almost instantly where I wanted to work: Starbucks. I mentioned an interview last week; it was at the College Way Starbucks. Well, on Monday, they called me and offered me the position, so I am now a pastor/barista.
· I’m being forced to live out what I talked about: Do what you can, then trust God with what you can’t (cf. Andrew’s Q).
The other thing that inspired this sermon was how hard I had to work to find the sermon topic – it may have come in an instant, but it took a lot of work to get to that moment.
Thorns No More
Here is what inspired me in Isaiah. It will seem like a weird train of thought, so stick with me. This is important because we have some very strange ideas about work.
Isaiah 55:12-13 12 You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the LORD’s renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed.”
Q Sounds cool and all, but what does this have to do with work?
Genesis 3:17-19 17 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.”
· In other words, the thorns and briers are a reference to Adam’s curse.
Q BTW: Is it a coincidence that when Jesus suffered to bear the curse of sin and remove it from us, he wore a crown of thorns?
I think what Isaiah 55:13 is saying is the curse being lifted. It is not lifted; we still struggle and strive for little, yet through Christ out work takes on greater meaning.
Q But what does this say about your job?
Sure, you may think that your job is God’s personal punishment for your sins. But this isn’t that work itself is a curse:
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.
Q Is this before or after the Fall? Before, work is part of Eden.
The real curse
The result of the Fall is unproductive labor: striving and laboring, but getting little in return. We are striving against thorns, against weeds, and blackberry bushes that make our job frustrating and never ending, and a little prickly.
· Granted, maybe that does describe your job.
BTW: This is God’s curse too; he labors hard for us, yet gains so little in return. (cf. Song of Vineyard, Isa. 5:1-4).
The reversal of the curse and the promise of this passage is not freedom from work, but the freedom of productive work.
· In fact, I think Scripture hints that Heaven will be a lot of work, but good work.
Here is how we need to understand work, a “theology of work.” We are made in God’s image. Our desire to make, build, create, raise, teach, and grow is from him.
· Not just work for pay. Work is laboring to accomplish something.
Q What is your work? What do you labor to accomplish?
It includes your job, caring for your children, for your home, your parents, it is helping your friends in need. It may be counseling a neighbor – it doesn’t have to be physical.
In all these things we reflect our Father in Heaven; because he works, we work. We are like children acting like our father.
· Here is one of my favorite pictures of Grace & Sarah, they are trying to be like me.
It’s this whole cycle: God teaches us to how to work by laboring beside him, and (if you are a parent) your kids learn to work by laboring beside them.
· This is one of the many reasons we need to have a good theology of work, because we are passing it on to them.
So to sum this stuff up:
· Hard, productive work is noble, fulfilling, and God-honoring.
Three purposes of work
Let’s move forward and look at God’s purpose for work, because it isn’t just earning money. Let’s look at some key passages.
· BTW: Remember what I said last week about being “Radically Normal”? These are passages about being normal.
I see at least three purposes:
1. For our good.
Work is God’s means for providing for ourselves. This is where the “do what you can do” comes in.
2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” 11 We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.
Some early Christians began to take advantage of the whole community thing, quitting their jobs and living off of others.
· Maybe they were misapplying what Jesus said about money.
Jesus brought dignity to the poor, showing that the poor were not lower in God’s eyes and were a vital part of the kingdom. But he we not saying poverty itself is a virtue.
· But there are good and bad reasons to be poor; laziness is a bad reason.
Hard work never hurt anyone (it actually helps)
The reality is that hard work is good for us.
I recently read “Up from Slavery,” and one of the most interesting things was the Southern disdain of work (which trickled down to the slaves) and Booker T. Washington’s exultation of it.
· Since we are made in God’s image as one who works, if we fail to work however we can, we fall short of the glory of God.
There are times this isn’t by choice, because not being able to find a job or being sick. I am not saying it is sin, but it is still bad for your soul not to work or serve.
Q How much worse if you can work but won’t?
The Real Cost of Welfare
Let me be controversial here: This is the real cost of welfare. I know that is has a place, and I am glad that no one starves to death here.
· Welfare comes at a price; it removes the motivation to work.
Prov. 16:26 “The laborer's appetite works for him; his hunger drives him on.”
This is Paul’s take on welfare:
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 11 Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
God’s will for you is to be financially independent and not relying on others. Not just for your sake, but that you might be a better witness (we’ll talk more about this later).
· Hard work and being financial independent brings glory to God; this is a goal that God wants to be striving for.
Q If you are on public assistance, do you have a plan to get off of it?
Again, there is a time you may need help. Everyone in this room may need to be on food stamps at some point. Fine, but have a plan for getting off of them, to the glory of God.
· For God’s sake (literally), be discreet.
Let’s go beyond welfare and knock another great American institution: Retirement. Retirement in the American sense is unbiblical and dangerous, i.e. able-bodied people spending their life loafing around Palm Springs and playing golf.
· It may be a ways down the road, but start thinking retirement is not freedom from work but freedom to work for free.
Let me say it again, not working in whatever way you can, paid or not paid, is unbiblical and bad for your soul.
2. For other’s good.
It is first to care for our family:
1 Timothy 5:8 8 If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
Secondly, it is a way that we can support others who cannot help themselves.
NIV 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.
Thirdly, it is one what that we partner with God in his work.
· Work is a way that we can convert our feeling of love into a tangible gift, whether money, food, or service.
Q If you are not working hard or providing a valuable service, how can you bless others?
· Last comment about welfare: It gets you into the mode of thinking you are owed something, and away from serving others.
3. For God’s glory.
But finally and most importantly, work is a way that we can bring glory to God. Said another way, through our work, we can show the world how great God is.
· In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church exalted ministry as “higher,” but the Reformation corrected that.
There is no such thing as sacred or secular jobs – either you glorify God at work or you don’t. I have always believed this, now I get to practice it, which is good because pastors easily get isolated.
Where do you work?
I want to finish up by talking about five ways to glorify God at your work. Our goal in 2011 is to grow as a church, both in health and in the number of people we are reaching.
· Work is the place where you can have the most impact and can best glorify God to the world.
So let’s begin my getting your job into your head. For some of you that is obvious, but if you don’t have a regular “go to work” job, you may need to think about that.
Q Are you a stay at home mom?
Q Do you home school?
Q Are you a student?
All of these are your job now. Think especially of how you interact with non-Christians in that role.
To the glory of God!
These are roughly in order. If you try to skip to the latter ones without doing the earlier ones, you lose credibility and dishonor God.
1. The excellence of the products or services you render in your job shows the excellence and greatness of God.
How you do your work speaks volumes about God.
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.
You are doing all for God. Is it God-worthy work? Because everything we do is for God is should be done better.
· Story of three workmen – you are building the Kingdom of God.
Q How does that work in your job?
Are you cabinets flush?
Are you diagnosis accurate?
Is your paper work done properly?
Are you lattes well made?
Everything we do should reflect our God, and he is a God of order, beauty, and competence.
2. The standards of integrity you follow at your job show the integrity and holiness of God.
Do pay under the table? Are you paid under the table?
Is your paper work accurate and honest?
Do you only bill for work done?
Do you earn your paycheck?
3. The love you show to people at work shows the love of God.
Your job is the best place to build relationships with non-Christians. Demonstrate the unconditional love of Jesus to them.
Sitting in Starbuck watching customers walk by, I thought about the fact that this is my chance to treat everyone of them with the love and dignity due a child of God.
4. How you spend your money shows what you truly value.
But how you spend your money is where you become radical – you are not to be seeking your happiness in things, and that will seem weird to them.
5. Finally, now you can talk about Jesus – when God opens up the opportunities.
· People joke about me handing out tracts with coffee – I can think of few things that would honor him less.
You pray, you wait, and you listen for opportunities. Once you have done the ground work, always go to work ready, praying for God to work though you and give you opportunities.
· And if you are doing 1-4, opportunities will arise.
I remember years ago a manager at McDonalds asking why my sister and I got along so well, and that was my opportunity.
But even as I thought of that story, I thought about how old of a story it is. I want new stories. I want to be able to share new opportunities of what God has done.
Q How about you? Do you have new stories of God speaking through you?
Q If not, why? Are you squandering the special access you have?
My prayer is that starting today you will view work differently, as a blessing to you, to others and a way to glorify God.
Q & A