Working for the Lord - Fall 2015
September 13, 2015
I invite you to turn in your Bibles with me to page #1. The first page of your Bibles. Genesis chapter 1, verse 1.
This morning’s message is going to be different from most of the messages that I give from this pulpit. Normally, we have just one major passage of holy Scripture that we focus our attention upon, but today, we’re going to focus on multiple passages drawn from multiple places throughout the Bible. In fact, we’re going to go through the entire Bible today and get the big picture of what the Bible says about work.
And we’ll start on the very first page, the very first sentence.
Our new sermon series is entitled, “Working for the Lord.” And it’s about just that, our work, our efforts, our labor, our occupations, our vocations as faith followers of Jesus Christ.
We are working for the Lord.
Last week, we dove right in to Colossians 3:23-24, and we learned that the Lord Jesus Christ is our true Boss.
And therefore we should do our work sincerely, reverently, whole-heartedly, and expectantly. No matter what our work is, we should do it as working for the Lord.
And that’s true whether our work is something for which we are paid or just something we are called to do right now.
We should be working for the Lord even if we are retired from our careers.
Or even if we are a second, third, or fourth grader.
Or even if we are unemployed right now and looking for work.
Or even if we are disabled and unable to do work for compensation at this time.
No matter what our work is, we should do it as working for the Lord.
That’s what we learned last week, and that undergirds everything we’re going to learn together this Fall.
Now, today, I want us to take a step back and ask this question. It’s on the back of your bulletin.
“Is Work – Good or Bad?”
Now, most of you have been with me long enough to know a trick question when you see it.
So think a bit before you give your answer.
Is work something that is good or bad or both?
And how do you know?
Well, let’s start with your last week of work.
How was work this week?
If you are a second grader, how was school this week?
Was it good? Was it bad? Was it a little of both? What was the best part? What was the worst?
If you are a school teacher, how was work this week?
Was it good? Was it bad? Was it a little of both? What was the best part? What was the worst?
If you are a farmer, how was work this week?
If you are a builder, how was work this week?
If work in an office, how was work this week?
If you drive a truck, how was work this week?
Was work – good or bad?
The answer is, “It’s complicated.” Isn’t it?
Most big questions have complicated answers because we live in a complicated world. In fact, we live in a complicated story.
To truly answer that question, we have to understand the “big picture” of the story that we are living in.
And theologians tend to tell that big story in 4 succeeding episodes.
Creation, Fall, Redemption, and New-Creation
And one of the presenters I heard at EFCA One this Summer put it this way:
Creation tells us what OUGHT TO BE.
The Fall tells us what IS.
Redemption tells us WHAT CAN BE.
And the New Creation tells WHAT WILL BE.
So, today, I want us to take a train ride through what the Bible says about work and stop at those four stations along the way.
Creation, Fall, Redemption, and New-Creation.
And the first one is creation. And it happens on page 1.
Let’s read Genesis 1:1.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
Is Work Good or Bad?
Answer #1. WORK WAS GOOD.
Work was made to be good.
And what I want you to see first and foremost this morning is just how good work can be.
Because who is the first worker?
Who was the first one to do work?
God Himself, right?
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
God is a worker.
And just in case, we think we think, “Well, that wasn’t work for God.” skip over to chapter 2 and see how it finishes the story of God’s first work week. Chapter 2, verse 1.
“Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”
God is a worker.
And is He done working? No, even though He rested, our Lord Jesus says in John 5:17, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”
So, this is amazing. God worked and God works.
Work is intrinsically good because God does it.
Pastor Tim Keller said it this way, “In the beginning, then, God worked. Work was not a necessary evil that came into the picture later, or something human beings were created to do but that was beneath the great God himself. No, God worked for the sheer joy of it. Work could not have a more exalted inauguration" (Tim Keller, "Every Good Endeavor," pg.34-35).
And Adam and Eve (and therefore you and I) were made in God’s image and given work to do. Look at the end of chapter 1. Verse 26.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule [job] 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.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it [job]. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground. [job]’” And at the end of chapter, v.31. “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
Work was good.
Chapter 2 tells the story in depth of the creation of our first parents and the placing of them in the Garden of Eden. And verse 15 summarizes that story (and look for our key word). 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.”
The Hebrew word there is “Avoda” and it means to serve the garden, to cultivate it, to make something of it, work it. And that same word is also used in the Old Testament to describe worship.
Just like we said last week, our work is meant to be worship.
From the beginning work was good.
Not only did God do it and make it good.
But He gave us meaningful work to do ourselves.
We were made to work.
We were created, in part at least, to be workers.
To make something of our world.
To cultivate. To serve. To contribute. To not just rest but to throw ourselves into something and work at it.
Think about this. There was work in paradise.
Is that your idea of paradise?
We tend to think about paradise as being a cruise ship or a day at the beach. Feet in the water, rear ends in the sand. Right? Forever.
That actually sounds like Hell to me.
If I had to do it forever. It sounds nice for a break. But not forever.
There was work in the garden and everything was good.
Work is not a result of the Fall.
Work itself is noble.
Work has dignity.
Work has intrinsic value.
So, here’s the application of stop #1 in the big story.
Enjoy your work.
Work was meant to be good.
Unless you a have job that is based on sinning which you should quit right away, don’t be ashamed to enjoy what you do.
Work is a good thing.
When you work, you are being like God who is the Great Worker.
Don’t be afraid to throw yourself into your work and enjoy it.
Hold you head up high. Work is a noble thing.
No matter what your calling is.
I said last week that I want this sermon series to celebrate you and your work.
Today, I’d like to celebrate the nurses among us.
This Summer, I came to appreciate like never before what a nurse actually does.
When I lived on the third floor of the Dubois Hospital for almost two weeks, I saw nurses in action, and it was constant action!
They worked 12 hour shifts and never stopped moving. And it was so demanding. Everybody wanted something every minute they were on the floor. I don’t know how many times I rang that little bell, and I think I was a pretty good patient! And they had to show class and restraint and make quick decisions.
I was amazed at what a nurse does.
When you are faithfully doing your job, you are glorifying God, who created you to work.
It’s okay to enjoy that. It’s right to feel God’s pleasure on you as you fulfill your calling.
But the Bible doesn’t end in Genesis chapter 2, does it?
No, unfortunately there is also Genesis chapter 3.
Which gives us the next stop on our train ride. The site of a disaster.
#2. WORK WENT BAD.
The serpent tempted Adam, and Eve, and they fell for it.
They (and we) fell into sin. And there were consequences for all of life, including all of our work-life.
Look with me at Genesis 3 and go down to verse 17 where God places a curse on Adam’s work.
“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 [note that word] you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 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).
So the joy of work got distorted by the pain of toil.
Work became hard. Work became warped. Work became twisted and cursed.
Work went bad.
All of a sudden, the garden fought back at the gardener. Thorns and thistles would pop up from the ground. It was going to take real sweat to eke out an existence.
Things would not work any more they way they did before.
Things were no longer the way they ought to be. ...
And remember, this is a consequence.
This is because of sin.
Work went bad. A bomb went off on work!
In fact, work became so bad that it began to feel futile.
Turn with me to the book of Ecclesiastes.
That’s not one that we go to every day, but it’s an important one.
Our Link Group recently studied Ecclesiastes together, and it was a really good experience for all of us.
Ecclesiastes is one of my least favorite books because it talks about the way life often feels.
Ecclesiastes is one of my wife’s favorite books because it talks about hte way life often feels.
And it often feels meaningless. What the is Teacher’s favorite word in this book? Chapter 1, verse 2.
“‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’ What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?”
What do you get for all of your work?
This man was in a position to try out all of the different facets of life and figure out what they truly meant.
And one of his experiments was work. Chapter 2 tells us that he did great building projects and accomplished amazing achievements. But chapter 2, verse 11.
“Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”
He says the same kind of thing in 2:17 and 2:18 and 2:20.
Meaningless. Futile. Vanity. In vain.
Work has gone bad.
Work can go bad in so many ways.
When I asked you how your week was what was the worst thing about you work week?
That’s work gone bad.
We didn’t just go bad, but our world went bad.
We broke the world with our sin and it’s made our work difficult, painful, hard.
This last Thursday when I went on my prayer retreat–thank you for sharing your requests with me by the way. It is a privilege to be your pastor and to cares your cares on our God’s almighty shoulders.
A lot of your requests on those little prayer cards had to do with your work and the difficulty of it.
Some of you have been given new responsibilities to do in shorter time.
I talked with one of you on the phone this week about how the management where you work doesn’t understand how their choices affect you on the cutting edge of production.
I’ve talked to others of you whose employees are lazy and refuse to do their part.
Speaking of parts, sometimes the part that you need to do something is the one part that the store doesn’t have, right?
Or the one tool that you need is the one that you loaned out.
Our world is broken and that makes our work so much more difficult.
Here’s the application of that: GROAN.
It’s okay to lament the fact that your work is difficult.
It’s okay to groan under the heaviness of toil.
Do you remember when the Israelites were being forced to make bricks without straw? What did they do? They groaned under the weight of that work gone bad.
And God heard them!
He didn’t say, “Quit your complaining, you lazy bums!”
He said, “I hear you. I know it’s hard. And I'm going to do something about it.”
Now there is a complaining that has to go. Grumbling needs to be killed.
But groaning can be righteous.
Remember when we learned back in Romans 8 that the whole world groans? It groans because of the curse.
And Paul said that even we groan who have the firstfruits of the Spirit!
We know and feel that things are not the way they are supposed to be.
We don’t just grin and bear it. There is a place for groaning.
Or the other biblical word for that is lament.
The psalms are full of lament. To lament means to feel and express sadness over some brokenness.
Sadness over brokenness.
God gives you permission to groan and lament the painful realities of your work.
We’ll talk about grumbling in another message in this series.
But there is a difference between godly groaning and godless grumbling.
Work has gone bad. It just has. Even in its best moments, work is broken right now.
You run out of gas.
Your machine breaks.
Your co-worker steals your glory.
It rains when you need it to shine and it shines when you need it to rain.
You were one day late with the sales quote.
Even in its best moments, work is broken right now.
And the Teacher of Ecclesiastes connects the problem with death. Do you still have it open? Look at chapter 2, verse 21.
“For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless.”
The Teacher reminds us again and again that no matter how good life can get you still die at the end of it.
To dust you return.
But that’s not the end of the story, is it?
Those two themes of “work was good” and “work went bad” run through your whole Old Testament whenever work shows up. They’re intertwined.
Even the Teacher of Ecclesiastes knows that work can be satisfying. Check out chapter 3, verses 12 and 13 when you have a chance.
But he also knows that no matter how good it gets, you still die.
But we know that that is not the end of the story.
Stop #3. The redemption stop.
#3. WORK IS BEING REDEEMED.
That’s the point of this sermon series so I’m not going to say much about it right here.
But Jesus Christ came to reverse the curse.
The work of Jesus Christ is to undo the mess that sin has created.
The work of Christ on the Cross pays for the penalty of sin.
The work of Christ changes people from the inside out. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
And transforming people, He transforms our work.
We saw last week how we now do our work (even slave work) as working for the Lord. It is the Lord Christ we are serving.
The Lord Christ. The Master Messiah!
And we’ll learn more about how Jesus transforms our work as we go deeper into this series.
But one of the chief ways that we know that He does it is through the resurrection.
Turn with me to 1 Corinthians chapter 15, verse 58.
This is the great resurrection chapter where Paul defends the resurrection of Christ and predicts our resurrection as well.
And he ends that great resurrection chapter with this word of application. V.58
“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
Here’s the application: STRIVE.
Do you hear it?
“Stand firm. Let nothing move you.”
Keep going. Don’t give up. Don’t give in.
“Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord...”
Now, that’s probably referencing what we might call gospel ministry, first and foremost. Gospel proclamation as the work of the Lord.
But we have learned already that all of the work we do if we are doing it working for the Lord IS the work of the Lord!
And what does Paul say, “you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
It’s not meaningless. It’s not futile.
Because of the resurrection!
Because Jesus has conquered death!
Jesus’s resurrection undoes the meaninglessness of Ecclesiastes and even the death sentence of Genesis 3!
Because He lives, we will live.
So even if our work is painful and then we die, that’s not the end!
Do ever wonder if the thing you’re working on will ever be finished?
If you will get it done before you die?
I thought about that this Summer when I was contemplating surgery. Will I get to finish that thing I was working on? Will we ever finish Romans? (I still don’t know!)
Does it matter?
Life is painful and work can be painful.
But Jesus is reversing the curse. First in us and one day, on the world.
So strive. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Your work matters to God and if you are doing it for Jesus, it will have eternal meaning.
Last stop on our trip. You know where it’s going. New Creation. Consummation.
The last page of your Bible. Revelation chapter 22.
#4. WORK WILL BE GOOD AGAIN.
It’s a vision of the new heavens and the new earth. The eternal state. The way things will be.
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. [The garden is back. And now it’s a garden city. V.3]
No longer will there be any curse. [Genesis 3 is completely reversed.] The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. [You see that?] They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”
Notice that work is still there.
Just as there was work in the garden, there will be work in the new heavens and the new earth.
But will be work without the curse!
We get the wrong ideas about heaven and eternity.
We think that we’ll be sitting on clouds playing harps.
That’s not in the Bible. That’s not the picture we get.
We don’t have all of the details of what it will be like–mainly, I think, because we wouldn’t understand them if we did.
But our eternal rest involves work! We will be given meaningful, satisfying, creative, important tasks to do. It says here that we will serve and we will reign.
And that’s just two of them.
Work will be returned to what it was supposed to be in the beginning.
All of that dignity and worth, and nobility and cultivation and worship from Genesis 1 and 2 but without all of the futility, pain, and toil of Genesis 3.
And, even better, work will be seen to be redeemed which is (somehow) even better than it was originally.
Work will be perfect again.
And God will get the glory forever.
Long for that day.
Live for that day.
It’s not here yet.
We’re still in chapter 3.
But that chapter is coming, and we need to live in light of it.
It changes everything!
Because we know the end of the story, we can do our job in the middle of it.
Messages in this Series
01. Working for the Lord