Work: Necessary Evil or God’s Plan?
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)
You may know I studied geography at Sussex university,
which means I am just about qualified for colouring in maps with my crayons,
but not much else. I also come from Suffolk where an ability to read maps, or
the stars, is essential if you ever want to escape. You may have heard of the
shepherd lost somewhere in the wilds of rural Suffolk minding his own business,
tending his flock of sheep. Suddenly a dust cloud approached at high speed, out
of which emerged a bright shiny new silver BMW.
The driver, a young man in an Amarmi suit, poked his head out of the window and addressed the shepherd. “Hi there. If I can tell you how many sheep you have in your flock, can I have one?” The shepherd looked at the car, then the young man, then glanced at his peacefully grazing flock and answered, ‘Sure’. The young man parked his car, plugged his Blackberry into his laptop, surfed the web to Google maps, used his GPS to zoom in on the field they were standing in, linked it to NASA’s real time imaging software and began a remote body-heat scan of the immediate area. He dropped the results into an Excel spreadsheet, saved it, then printed a 150-page report on the mini laser printer hidden in his glove compartment.
Handing the document to the shepherd, the young
man proudly announced, “You have exactly 1,586 sheep.” The shepherd replied,
“Impressive. One of my sheep is yours. Take your pick.” He watched the young
man select an animal and bundle it into his car. Then the shepherd said. “If I
can tell you what your job is, will you give me back my sheep?” After a nod of
acceptance from the young man, the shepherd announced without hesitation,
“You’re a management consultant.”
“Dead right” exclaimed the young man in surprise. “How on earth did you guess?” “It wasn’t a guess”, replied the shepherd. “First, you drive into my field uninvited. Second, you ask me to pay for information I already know. Third, you answer questions I haven’t asked. Fourth, you know nothing about sheep. Now please may I have my sheepdog back?”
Do you not find it strange that the very first question we usually ask a complete stranger when we want to get to know them, is what? Are you married? No we don’t start with that one – usually… Got any kids? No. Where are you from? Maybe. Where did you go to school? Possibly. The instinctive number one question we find ourselves asking complete strangers is? “What do you do?” Why is that? Is it because we place such a high value on work? I don’t think so. Is it because we want to know how best to relate to this other person? Possibly.
Or is it because deep down inside we are a little insecure about our own identity? After I left school I went to work in the Civil Service for Social Security – not Homeland Security just Social Security – working out sick and unemployed people’s entitlement to supplementary benefits based on their financial circumstances. Not very glamorous but rewarding.
But the best bit was in those days, British passports listed your occupation. And all Civil Servants, irrespective of your grade or department were expected to identify their job as “Government Service”. When you handed your passport to some foreign customs officer that felt really cool. “Government Service” wink, wink. Seriously, deep down inside I believe we are all a little insecure about who we are, and how far what we do determines, at least in our own eyes, our own self worth.
In the current economic climate with many facing the threat of redundancy and some with extended periods of unemployment, with life expectancy rising and therefore more people experiencing longer retirement, it is important we understand the role of work from God’s point of view. That is why over the next six weeks we are going to consider how to make life work – putting God’s wisdom to work.
Work: Necessary evil or God’s plan?
360’ Leadership: Leading from below
Resolving conflict at work
Profession or Obsession?
Scheduling for Sanity
Whatever you do, don’t quit: Persevere
There are also two books I’d like to recommend: Bill Hybels, Christians in the Market Place (Hodder) is out of print but easily obtainable cheaply on Amazon. And Jago Wynne’s Working without Wilting (IVP). The latter is especially written for those about to start work. But it also has a lot to teach those of us who have had one or more careers or none.
This morning, I want us to answer
the question: Is work a necessary evil or God’s plan? from the Bible. Here we
We were created to work by God.
We are converted to work for God.
We will be consecrated as we work with God.
1. We were Created to Work by God
“For we are God’s handiwork, created…” to work (Ephesians 2:10)
We were created by God to work. Work is good because it is intrinsic to God’s creation. Now this is a view not commonly understood. Bill Hybels says,
“Work seems to have risen to the status of the number one necessary evil in our country. The average person endures their weekly grind only by relishing the anticipation of the workless weekend; and nearly everyone plans for an early retirement. Even Christians share this view. They believe that labour came about by default, rather than by the design of God. They envision God screaming at Adam and Eve in relentless anger: “You despicable sinners. There is only one thing horrible enough to be a fitting punishment for your disobedience. You shall work! Work! Work!” The picture of human labour is painted with vindictive vengeful strokes.” 
Is that how we should understand Genesis 3?
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life… 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.” (Genesis 3:17-19)
True, since the Fall, work, especially agriculture, has been demanding, but work can and should always be fulfilling.
It is tragic that people settle for a cynical or negative attitude to work. Many see it as a necessary evil. Earn as much as you can for as little work as possible. Live for the weekends and holidays. Don’t feel like working today? Call in sick and stay in bed. Fiddle your expenses, take extra time for lunch, knock off early. Even directors are not immune to dreaming up scams to cream off the company profits and line their own pockets.
When the newspapers expose the extravagant expenses claimed by MP’s,
or the disproportionate sums the Phoenix 4 paid themselves while running the MG Rover Group, it is not surprising perhaps that many people have a cynical view of work. Ephesians 2 describes this way of life:
“you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” (Ephesians 2:2-3)
Jesus said something similar,
“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. ” (Matthew 6:31-33)
Is this your incentive for work? Earning just enough money to satisfy your cravings and desires. Literally “running after these things”. I hope not. Jesus called us to a higher view,
“Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (John 6:27)
are you working for? Food that spoils or food that endures for eternity? What
is your view of work shaped by? The world or the Word? Our understanding of
work needs to go back, before the chaos of the Fall, back to Genesis 1.
Here God is described as a worker.
He created the world, he created us. He said his creation was good. Hybels writes,
“Step by step, day by day, God labored over creation. The labour was not his curse, his punishment. It was his choice. He willfully, voluntarily and joyfully brought this world into existence, and when he finished and studies his creation he said “Yes, this is very good.”
biblical picture of work is found in Genesis 2.
God tells Adam to cultivate and care for the Garden of Eden.
“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15)
Work therefore is not a punishment or afterthought. Work is God’s design. It is God’s way of filling our lives with significance and meaningful activity. Work is the norm. In the New Testament, God teaches that we should work diligently and provide for our families. In 1 Thessalonians for example we are instructed:
“In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “Anyone who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6-10)
Jesus said “workers deserve their wages” (Luke 10:7; 1 Timothy 5:18). There is dignity to work because we were created to work by God. Secondly we learn,
2. We are converted to do good work for God
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Ephesians 2:10)
not only created to work by God but converted “in Christ Jesus” to do good work
for God. For the Christian, work not only provides meaning in life but also
purpose and direction. We no longer work for ourselves but for our Lord. Work is
an integral part of our Christian life and worship.
It is immaterial where we serve, or in what capacity – for we are all in full-time Christian service.
“You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
Christians should be the most valued, respected and regarded staff in any company. Is that true in your office? In your department? In your company? In the Bible God assumes a direct correlation between our work and our witness.
“make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)
In and through your secular work, just as much your Christian service, you are actually serving the Lord.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24)
So let me ask you, who are you working for? Are you known among your colleagues for your ‘good work’? Have you won the respect of outsiders? Christians must work conscientiously and diligently, not just to please their employer but also the Lord. For ultimately we all work for him. Mark Green says “I often get into work early. Often there’s someone in before me but, in all the years I’ve worked, no one ever got in before God.” Remembering this helps give meaning and purpose to all we do. We are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Ephesians 2:10)
Good and Bad Works
is not to say that all work is good, or that all work is edifying or necessarily
appropriate. The Bible calls us to do “good work”. That means there is also bad
work to avoid.
Work perhaps that is demeaning, unedifying, humiliating, soul destroying. Work that leads to addiction, gambling, alcoholism, debt, pornography. These are occupations Christians should avoid.
Equally there is good work that can turn bad when taken to excess. On average people spend 60-70% of their waking hours working each week. But some are expected or drive themselves to work in the evenings as well and at weekends. They drive themselves to meet unrealistic targets or expectations and in so doing undermine their marriages and destroy their families. Long before the European Commission tried to regulate the working week, God declared,
“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:12-15 – see also Exodus 23:12)
Regularly working more than
six days is not only forbidden us, it is compared with slavery. Are you
enslaving yourself or those who work for you? If we are to have a biblical view
of work, remember first of all because we are
created to work by God. This gives dignity to work. Second, we have been converted
to do good work for God. This gives purpose to our work.
And there is a third incentive in Scripture:
3. We will be Consecrated as we Work with God
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)
God has not only created you
to work and to work for him.
He wants you to work with him – to cooperate with his plans and purposes, and so become like him. There are essentially three works of God:
1. creating life,
2. maintaining the earth and
3. redeeming mankind.
“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17)
This three-fold work of creating life, maintaining the earth and redeeming mankind is the work he has planned for you to do in advance. Work he calls us to share in.
“continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13)
God has a wonderful plan for your life. It is to cooperate with him in building his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. To fulfill the Great Commission – to be a disciple and help make disciples. Everything else in life is secondary.
why one of our highest priorities, especially for the young, is to discern
God’s specific calling in our lives. To find God’s place of service, based on
our unique gifts and abilities. Then we can trust him to work with us to
fulfill his purposes.
We are all wired differently. Some of us are energized by people, others by programmes. Some of us love to work outside, others inside. Some like routine, others prefer creativity. Our labour, whether paid or unpaid, whether full time or part time, whether in the home or on the other side of the world, should be linked not so much to our pension or retirement plan, as to God’s plan and purpose in eternity.
Work from God, for God and with God brings a deep, deep sense of accomplishment. It is worth it.
“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
So the next time someone asks you what do you ‘do’, or you yourself are tempted to ask the question of someone else, remember we are not primarily called to ‘do’ anything or go anywhere. We are called to Someone. Scripture teaches there is dignity, purpose and accomplishment in work that is in and through the Lord. As Christ followers, we not only work, we work for God, and above all, we work with God to his praise and glory. Lets pray.