Nine to Five
Different views exist in our culture concerning work. Some dislike the idea and long for the day when do not have to get up and go to work, others live for a job and derive most of their meaning and fulfillment from their career. In this lesson we want to examine the purpose of work and our attitude toward it.
“Then the Lord took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it”
In the Garden of Eden, an all-supplying paradise, God gave Adam something to do. “The essence of work was not sustenance of life. God gave Himself as the sustainer. Man was free, not from work, but in work, to be creative without the anxiety of providing food and clothing” (Don’t Waste Your Life, John Piper, p. 145). The command to work had also been given in the previous chapter, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). In fact, God Himself works (2:3), and Jesus noted that the Father continues to work (John 5:17 “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working”). From these verses we can conclude:
Work is not something to be avoided and it is not some necessary evil, rather, God works and obviously finds it very rewarding.
Heaven is not going to be a place of inactivity, but rather, of meaningful activity, “I will put you in charge of many things” (Matthew 25:23).
This explains one reason why God condemns the person who refuses to work 2 Thessalonians 3:10 “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat”; 1 Timothy 5:8 “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever”. With so much that needs to be done, with God working every single minute and hour, it is inexcusable for any person to refuse to provide for his family or work so that he can help others. “Able-bodied people who choose to live in idleness and eat the fruit of another’s sweat are in rebellion against God’s design” (Piper, p. 147).
“God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth”
“Our creation in God’s image leads directly to our privilege and duty to subdue the earth and have dominion over it. In other words, we should be busy understanding and shaping and designing and using God’s creation in a way that calls attention to His worth and awakens worship. We should reflect what He is really like. And we should do that not to make ourselves look great but to make Him look great. This implies that part of what it means to be human is to exercise lordship over creation and give the world shape and order and design that reflects the truth and beauty of God… if you are human your work is to take what God has made and shape it and use it to make Him look great” (Piper, p. 139).
“Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; By the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground”
“What changed with the entrance of sin into the world was not that man had to work, but that work became hard with the futility and frustration of the fallen creation. When man and woman chose to be self-reliant and rejected God’s fatherly guidance and provision, God subjected them to the very thing they chose; self-reliance. From now on, he says, if you eat, it will be because you toil and sweat. So they were driven from the garden of happy work to the ground of anxious toil. The curse under which we live today is not that we must work. The curse is that, in our work, we struggle with weariness and frustration and calamities and anxiety. And all this is doubly burdensome because now by this very toil we must keep ourselves alive” (Piper, p. 145).
1 Corinthians 7:24
“Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called”
In the context, the condition in which one is to remain with God includes the condition of one’s employment (7:22), whether slave or freeman. Christians are not merely to do their job or just go to work, rather they are to go to work “with God”. “One way to enjoy God’s presence and fellowship is through thankful awareness that your ability to do any work at all, is owing to His grace (Acts 17:25). All your faculties of sight and hearing and touch, all your motor skills with hands and legs, all your mental acts of observing and organizing and assessing, all your skills that make you good at this particular job – all these things are God’s gifts. When you add to this the awareness that you depend on God for every future minute of life and for all the help you need, your thankfulness flows over into faith for each upcoming moment and for the remainder of the day and week and month and year and decade” (Piper, p. 137).
“Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect”
Notice that the important thing is not our “work” but the “gospel”. “In other words, our work is not the beautiful woman, but the necklace. The beautiful woman is the Gospel. So one crucial meaning of our work is that the way we do it will increase or decrease the attractiveness of the Gospel we profess before unbelievers. Of course, the great assumption is that we know we are Christians. The whole point of the text breaks down if there is nothing for our work to “adorn”. Thinking that our work will glorify God when people do not know we are Christians is like admiring an effective ad on TV that never mentions the product. People may be impressed but won’t know what to buy” (Piper, p. 143).
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12
“And to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need”
The point here is not that our work will save people without teaching them the gospel, “The point is that if we live and work well, obstacles will be removed. In other words, good, honest work is not the saving Gospel of God, but a crooked Christian car salesmen is a blemish on the Gospel and puts a roadblock in the way of seeing the beauty of Christ. And sloth may be a greater stumblingblock than crime. Christians should be known in their offices as the ones you go to if you have a problem. So the third way we make much of God in our secular work is by having such high standards of excellence and such integrity and such manifest goodwill that we put no obstacles in the way of the Gospel but rather call attention to the all-satisfying beauty of Christ. When we adorn the Gospel with our work, we are not wasting our lives” (Piper, p. 144).
“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men”
“God is a God of order and beauty and competence. But cats are clean, and ants are industrious, and spiders produce orderly and beautiful works. And all of them are dependent on God. Therefore, the essence of our work as humans must be that it is done in conscious reliance on God’s power, and in conscious quest of God’s pattern of excellence, and in deliberate aim to reflect God’s glory” (Piper, p. 141).
Notice the emphasis on “whatever you do”. God has not created us to be idle and the purpose of the Gospel message is not to liberate us from working, but rather to give new meaning and purpose to our work.
If we try to avoid working we are making a grave mistake. “Those who abandon creative productivity lose the joy of God-dependent, world-shaping, God-reflecting purposeful work”.“Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep” (Ecclesiastes 5:12).
“He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need”
“In other words, don’t focus on mere material things in your work. Don’t labor merely with a view to the perishable things you can buy with your earnings. Work with an eye not mainly to your money, but your usefulness. Work with a view to benefiting people with what you make or do. Think of new ways that your work can bless people” (Piper, p. 148).