Work as unto the Lord
For most of us, we spend a lot of our time and lives “working”, and whatever we spend the most time doing, we are apt to make it the most important thing in our life. Consequently, we’ll also spend the most time doing what we value as most important. Scripture has much to say about our work, so lets examine Col 3:23 and look at what work is, and how God wants to use our work for His glory, our growth, and ultimately our Joy.
As I was considering what word Jesus would have for us today, I’ve been struck lately by how many of our conversation with others revolve around work. We so often ask others ‘What they do?’ or ’how’s work going?’, and because so much of life revolves around work, we can easily let our lives be shaped by work.
For most of us, Whatever we give the most time to we’ll tend to most value. We’ll also spend the most time doing what we most value. Sometimes work is a double edged sword, where we have to work to provide, but since we’re giving so much of our time to work, it can become something we most value. But, we have to acknowledge that how we live flows out of our beliefs; what we most hold true. That the way we work comes out of what we truly believe about our work, and who we are working for.
Whether you are a Christian or Non-Christian, we all have to ask ourselves; What is at the center of my life and work?
BIG IDEA: How does God wants to use our work for His glory, our growth, and ultimately our Joy.
The Apostle Paul writes to the church at Colossae,
“Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Col 3:22-24
- Most of the economic activity in this time period took place around the home. Slave/Master Relationship looked much different than what we would think of when we think of slavery.
- Paul’s not going after the Grecco-Roman System of slavery, but addressing the heart.
- Paul knows that both Husbands and Wives, Children and Parents, and slaves and masters are thinking, feeling, people, and that real change in any society doesn’t come from a change in the structures, but from within; namely, our hearts. As the truth about God transforms our hearts, our mission changes and inevitably our culture is transformed.
- This is still applicable for us today, 2,000 years later, because although our context is different, all our hearts are wired the same, and the fundamental problem in our world isn’t “out there”, but “in here”. So, the problem is never our work, but the way we engage and view our work.
First, Lets look at our work. What is it, How do we jack it up, and how Jesus wants to redeem it.
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…”
What is it?
The Dictionary Defines work as: “An Activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.” Work in this context can be anything. Doesn’t just include something I get paid for, but often things that I don’t get paid for. Ask any mom who takes care of her children, and she’ll tell you how much work it is. Those of you serve on Sunday’s or volunteer and give of your time, you’re working.
In Scripture we see many examples of work.
Psalms 8:3 tells us that like a manual laborer, God made the universe by “the work of his fingers”. Ps 19 & 139 tell us that even the intricate development of a child in the womb, and the stars in the sky all display his magnificent craftsmanship (Ps 139:13–16; 19:1). And, Ps 104 tells us that all creation bears witness to his wisdom and skill (Ps 104:24).
God’s People Worked:
There are countless examples all throughout the scriptures of God’s people working. Whether is was building the Tabernacle (Ex 35-40), or the rebuilding of the Jerusalem wall (Neh 3-6), we see many examples of God’s people working.
Mark 6:3 Tells us that Jesus was a carpenter. His earthly ministry didn’t start until he was about 30, which means he spent the majority of His life working as a carpenter in the family business. Luke 2:52 says that, “He grew in wisdom and stature and favor with God and Man”. So we see that even the Son of God was not above work.
If God worked, then work must be good, so why is it good?
Why is is Good?
It’s part of God’s design for our lives
Gen 2:15 – The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
2 Thessalonians 3:10b-12 – “…If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.”
We were hard wired to work, God our creator worked and is working, and as image bearers of Him, we were created to work.
Because we were created in the image of God, we share some attributes with God. In the Same way that God created “ex nihilo” (or out of nothing), many of us get to create things out of nothing (Videos, Website, Write Code, Build Ships, Organize things, etc.) and it’s rewarding to see the results.
We were created in the image of God to worship Him, to do everything for His Glory, But because of the Fall, work is now hard.
Why is it Hard?
Because of the curse
In Gen 2 we see that God created work good, but if we flip a page over in our bibles to Gen 3, we see the first sin. Adam and Eve’s chose to listen to the lie of the enemy (Satan), that they could be their own God, that they could decide between right and wrong.
Because of their sin, they were not only separated from God, but God also cursed the ground and work. That it will now be physically hard, and work against us.
Genesis 3:17-19 – And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ 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, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
So, Work is not only hard because the ground is cursed, but also hard because of Sin.
Because of Sin
Sin is simply a deep, self-centered refusal to center our lives on Jesus. Because of the fall, by nature and choice our center of life has moved away from God as the center, to ourselves. Because we are self-centered people outside of Christ, instead of working for the Glory of God, we now have life and work terminate on us.
In Dave Harvey’s book on Rescuing Ambition, he writes:
“The early church used a fascinating visual to describe the self preoccupying nature of sin: incurvatus in se. It means we “curve in on ourselves.” In the service of self, our desires boomerang. When a hardwired desire for glory is infected with incurvatus in se, noble ambitions collapse. The quest for self-glory rules the day—as it did that day in Eden. In our desire to be great, we actually shrink ourselves.”
As an example, What happens when you work hard on a project for weeks and your boss doesn’t recognize you. Or you fall short in a project or presentation, Are You’re devastated? Why? I would argue, Because most of the time we make it about us…. We want our work to terminate on ourselves and in doing do, we shrink ourselves.
So it’s important to understand that work is not only hard because it’s under the curse, but it’s hard because we make it about our Glory instead of God’s glory.
But God has a plan for our work, and so I want to unpack two major themes of this verse,For the Lord, and Not for Men. First, lets look at Not for men, or not for man.
Not for Man
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…”
Note: Not for men, also means man in general. So “men” here means both others and self.
To understand how we work for man, it’s important to understand where we get our identity from.
Author and Pastor Tim Keller puts it identity this way in His book Counterfeit gods:
“A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living. An idol has such a controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought. It can be family and children, or career and making money, or achievement and critical acclaim, or saving “face” and social standing. It can be a romantic relationship, peer approval, competence and skill, secure and comfortable circumstances, your beauty or your brains, a great political or social cause, your morality and virtue, or even success in the Christian ministry. When your meaning in life is to fix someone else’s life, we may call it “co-dependency” but it is really idolatry. An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.”
Simply Put, our identity is where we get our worth, value, hope and joy from.
Two ways we work for “man” that comes out of a false identity:
Live to Work
When we’re living to Work, all of life revolves around our work. “I am what I do” becomes the mantra. Our work becomes our Idol, and we’re willing to sacrifice to it whatever it takes to succeed. Rest then becomes something we do to help us get back to work.
Work to Live
When we are working to live, we are just working to do what we really want. We’re using our work to support another lifestyle or identity. This is the typical “Working for the Weekend”, or following the American dream; ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’, the next Vacation, etc. Work becomes an avenue to get to leisure.
Both working to live and living to work are rooted in false identities. Both of these are in effect functional heavens, and every functional heaven needs a functional savior.
#1: Self Promotion (or Selfish Ambition)
If I Live to Work – It’s all about me, reaching my full potential It’s all about my achievements, my accolades, look what I can do. I’ll only be happy when…. I get to the next job, when I can do what I really want to do, Becomes about climbing the ladder of power, money, status, approval.
If I Work to Live – Self Promotion can also manifest in Laziness, Apathy. The “Just getting by” attitude. “I’m just working so I can do what I really want to do.” That can manifest itself in everything from surfing the internet, Facebook, personal email, while you should be working, to doing “just enough” so you can kind of coast under the radar….
In both of these, Man is at the Center: “What do I want, what’s going to make me happy”, and we’re willing to do what it takes to get there.
Psalm 75:6-7 says, “For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.
#2: Self Importance
Dictionary Defines: ‘An exaggerated opinion of your own importance’ or ‘an inflated feeling of pride in your superiority to others’.
How do you define it? Maybe its…..
- I’m only important if I work. – Some of you are struggling with this right now, as you are looking for a job, wanting to find your value or importance in a job. So when someone asks you, what do you do, what is your response, what goes through your head?
- I’m too important not to work. – You might say, “I’ve got the skills that my company or organization needs that no one else can do.” or, “I’ve got to get back to work, so I can……” So often our culture doesn’t celebrate Mom’s who transition home to raise a family, because it’s not “important”, it’s not real “work”. That’s a lie.
- I’m too important to where I work – You might say, “I can’t leave my job because I would leave a hole.” But in that we are saying that we are bigger than God. That I’m so important that God couldn’t replace me. Really?
It doesn’t matter what it is, if I’m working for or to fill a sense of self importance, I’m working for man.
Romans 12:3 “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”
Dictionary defines perfectionism as a “refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.”
When directed towards ourselves, this can manifest in Self Righteousness, Try to control how others view us. This lead to thinking that, “I’m more worthwhile If I’m perfect.” Or we’re left paralyzed because we don’t want to make a mistake because we don’t want to fail, or we don’t want others to criticize us.
When directed towards others, we set unrealistic expectations on others: on our coworkers, spouses, or friends. And get angry, bitter, when they don’t meet our standards.
When culturally imposed, often many of the companies we work for impose a standard of perfection on our work that, either sets us up for a fall when we fail, or requires an inordinate amount of time dedicated to making sure there are no mistakes.
But what happens when we make a mistake?
The fact is, because we are fallen and broken we are ALL going to make mistakes.Since we can’t be prefect, Perfectionism leads to depression, which has led to 1,000’s of suicides over the years.
Romans 8:5-6 – “Those who live according to the flesh, set their mind on the flesh….To set the mind on the flesh is death.”
#4: People Pleasing
Col 3:23 – “Not by way of eye service as people pleasers…”
Lots of ways this can manifest.
Fear of Man
- Maybe you’re avoiding a hard conversation, about your job, your hours, whatever it is.
- You stay late night after night, and sacrifice time away from community, family, friends, because you want to gain your bosses approval
- You go along with the flow, even when it violates your conscience, or you know something isn’t right.
People Pleasing Can also manifest in working so that others see you. But when no one is looking, What are you doing? Does Facebook or personal email, or planning your next trip dominate your time.
All forms of people pleasing is Glory robbing. At the core we’re trying to maintain a front in front of man so we don’t loose our status, reputation, job, provision. etc. It’s placing the Glory of Man (us) over the Glory of God. We can’t have both. Many of you wonder why you continue to struggle with people pleasing…. and I know for many of you it goes back to the root of glory, and it will either be our glory, or the Glory of God.
Proverbs 29:25 – The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.
Excusing our Functional Saviors
We make excuses for our Functional Saviors: “I just have a hard work ethic.” or “I’m making a difference, no one else can do what I’m doing.”
The truth is, our functional savior is usually always giving us something. Giving us value, meaning, purpose, and joy, and although we wouldn’t admit it, our functional saviors become our best friends, And as author Tim Chester put it, “no one likes killing off their best friends.” But our functional saviors will always lets us down….
Results of Working for Man
Pride – Maybe things are going well for you in this season, I’m doing well. I got the job promotion. I’m awesome.
Despair – What happens when things aren’t going well? Don’t have a job? Anxiety, Fear, Fatigue, Envy, Rivalry, Laziness, and ultimately, Death.
Inevitable Results of working for man. (If I am what I do…)
- I can’t work in crappy environments and in crappy jobs, because that means I’m crappy.
- I have to constantly prove myself because my identity and worth is tied to my Job.
- I have to get it right all the time, otherwise others will think less of me.
- I can be lazy and apathetic as long as its not “hurting” anyone or I don’t get fired.
- If I am what I do, than My job owns me.
- I can’t enjoy time off, because I’m always thinking about work.
- I can’t work hard because I’m always thinking and planning what to do outside of work.
- I can’t serve or volunteer faithfully because that would cramp my schedule and what I want to do.
- I have to work long hours to get ahead, and my family, friends, community and life suffers.
- I’m be frustrated with my coworkers since they don’t work as hard as me.
- I’ll “toot my own horn” in the office when I succeed.
- I’m depressed and angry at myself when I make a mistake
Tim Keller goes on to say in Counterfeit gods,
“Every human being must live for something. Something must capture our imaginations, our heart’s most fundamental allegiance and hope. But, the Bible tells us, without the intervention of the Holy Spirit, that object will never be God himself. If we look to some created thing to give us the meaning, hope, and happiness that only God himself can give, it will eventually fail to deliver and break our hearts.”
Many of you wonder why your life is lacking a joy, hope, and purpose that nothing seems to satisfy. At the Core, It’s because your working for man, and not for the Lord.
We’ve got to know how bad it is, before we can see how good God is. But there’s Hope…. God wants life for us, and there’s no life in working for man!
As for the Lord
I love how Paul sets up this section (chapter 3 and following) by the preceding chapters 1 and 2. Everything He’s encouraging the church of Colossea to do, is preceded by Who Jesus is, What He’s done, and who they are in Christ. So instead punching down a list of do better, try harder, I want to cast a vision of our Great God, I want us to see how….Knowing who Jesus is, what He has done, and knowing who I now am in Him, equips me to work for Him.
Who is the Lord? (He’s Jesus!):
Col 1:15-19 “ He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”
Col 2:9 “For in Jesus the whole fullness of God dwells bodily.
Who is this Jesus? He is Creator! He is King! He is all powerful! He is good, He is the sustainer of all life! He is the head of his people, us! he is the one to whom all glory is to be given, and in the end He will get all glory! And Lastly, He is God! We aren’t left to wonder who God is, this is who He declares Himself to be!
What has He done?
Col 1:13-14 “ He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (jump down to verse 21)
Col 1:21-22 “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,”
Col 2:13-15 “ And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
What has He done? Jesus came to save us! He came to take all of our sin upon Himself, and reconcile us back to God! To transfer us from the kingdom of Satan, sin and death, to new life in Him! To take the center stage in our lives. Amen?!
Who are we now in Him?
- Col 1:2 – We are “Saints”
- Col 1:12 – We are Qualified to share in His inheritance
- Col 1:22 – We are now Reconciled & Holy and Blameless before God
- Col 2:13, 3:13 – We’re forgiven and free
- Col 2:13 – We’ve been made alive with God
- Col 3:10 – Being renewed in the image of our creator
- Col 2:6, 3:1,17 – We’ve been given a new identity and new purpose.
NOW DCC, GIVEN ALL OF THIS, HOW THEN SHOULD WEWORK?
Christian, We have to acknowledge that our work points to who we believe God is, what He’s done, and who we are now in Him.
If people are looking at our lives, and answering those three questions by the way we are working, what would they say about our God? Would they say by the way we are working that he must be a mean, hypocritical and Lazy God, or a Good, loving, and gracious God.
Since I’m working for the Lord…..
- I can work in crappy work environments knowing that my job doesn’t define me, and that He is good, and that he’s using all things (including my job) for my good, and to form Christ in me (Rom 8:28, Heb 12:3-17).
- I don’t need to prove myself to myself or anyone else, because in Christ I’ve been accepted and loved not by my works, but by His. (Titus 3:5-7)
- I don’t need to worry about reaching my full potential, because I‘m already heirs with Christ and been given a new identity and purpose. (Romans 8:17)
- My Job doesn’t own me, Christ does. (1 Cor 6:20)
- I can have a busy day, but I don’t have to have a busy heart. (Matt 11:28)
- I can work hard and diligent, knowing that Jesus’ Glory is what I’m ultimately working for. To make Him look as good as He is. (Isa 43:7)
- I can rest well after a week of work, knowing Jesus is ultimately in complete control, and calls me to rest in Him. (Psalm 46:10)
- I can look for a job with Faith, Hope, and expectancy knowing that Jesus will provide for my every need. (Matt 6:26-27)
- I can make mistakes, knowing that God is sovereign and will use my mistakes to grow my faith and trust in Him, and who he says I am. (Romans 8:1-4, Heb 4:15-16)
- I can engage in the “mundane” day to day tasks of life, knowing that all of life is about Jesus, and I’m ultimately serving the Lord Christ. (Eph 6:7, Col 3:23-24)
- I can work below what I deserve, because God humbled himself, taking on flesh so that he might identify with me in every way. (Phil 2:7-8)
- I can lovingly engage in and pursue meaningful relationships with co-workers, because scripture says even while I was an enemy of God, he came after me. (Rom 5:10, Col 1:21)
- I can be gracious, patient, and forgive my coworkers because Jesus has been infinitely patient with me. (Heb 12:3, Eph 4:32)
- I can look for ways to love and bless others at work, because I’ve been infinitely loved by God in Christ. (Gal 5:13)
- I can rest in the gifts and abilities I’ve been given because God is the one who gives all gifts. (Ex 35:31-36:1)
- I can use my job, business, career, skills for the furthering of His Kingdom and not mine. (1 Cor 6:20, Matt 7:24-27)
- I’m now free to ask the Lord where he would have me spend my time and work instead of my organization or the culture. (Isa 6:8)
God doesn’t promise that our work is going to be easy, but He does promise he’s using it for our good, and to cultivate Christ in us. That when our work is centered on Him and His glory, we’ll see our work in a new perspective. So work can still be hard, but we can also rest knowing that God is using our work to drive us to Him. The only place where we will find true joy.
Practical Ways to Cultivate Christ at Work
Get to know the Lord really well, what He’s like, what He’s done, and the rest will fall into place.
This is why a living an active faith in a living redeemer is so important….. Pastor Adam mentioned a few weeks ago that one of the reasons we view discipleship as optional in our christian life, is that we view growth as optional. We need to be constantly putting our faith into practice. This is why Christianity is so intensely practical. The Great Danger we have as Christians, is that we have all the answers, but we don’t live them out.
Cultivating a relationship with Jesus:
Scripture: I know a lot of you are struggling right now, because your constantly breathing in the air of the culture, and not spending anytime cultivating a love, dependency, and trust in Jesus as the Lord of your work.
- Start your days immersed in scripture, spend time with your Dad.
- Find ways to allow the objective truth of Who God is, what He said He will do, and who He says you are to trump what you feel
- Memorize some scripture that you can cling to during tough days.
- Psalms are especially helpful. (Ps 73:26, 28, Ps 39; Ps 44:6; 46:10, Psalm 56:11, Ps 62:1, Psalm 49:16-17, etc.)
- Put Colossians 3:23 on your cube, or your fridge.
Prayer & Repentance: Take a “smoke breaks” and go pray, and ask Jesus for fresh grace and to remind you of why you are here and who our work is for.
- Psalm 44:6 – For not in my bow do I trust, nor can my sword save me. (“Lord would you forgive me for trusting in my technology and not you to save me.”)
- Psalm 39:4-5 “O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!(Lord, I confess my self righteous heart in thinking too highly of myself. Father, would you please forgive me for setting myself, my wants, my desires above you? Would you forgive me for forgetting this is your story and not mine?…”)
- Psalm 39:7 “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you. (Jesus, I confess that my hope has not been in you, but in my job and my performance. Jesus would you help me to remember that I’m already loved an accepted by you, and that I don’t need to prove myself to you or anyone else?”)
Evaluation: Is your life and work continually being shaped by the Gospel? Are you inviting your friends, spouse, community into your life and work decisions? We can’t do this life on our own, and we need one another to remind us of why we are here, why we are doing what we are doing.
Imagine if we all worked this way….
How would our work places change?
How would our coworkers view us?
How would Jesus be made much of in the Downtown Core where we find ourselves working?
You and I can’t do this without a savior. We need Jesus to radically transform our thinking, to give us fresh grace when we get caught in finding our value in anything besides Him.
Change is always a community project. We need community to remind us of what were doing, what we’re living for, to speak truth into areas of our lives that were prone to blindness. Our sin in this area will impede the work of the Gospel. It keeps us from playing the role God intends for us to play, and our church looses it’s witness of a radical people, living radical lives, for the Glory of our Savior.
Look to Jesus.
The answer is always Jesus. I love what the writer of Hebrews says,
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
(Hebrews 4:14-16 ESV)
Do you think that Jesus made some pretty awesome tables and chairs as a carpenter? Do you think he was tempted to look at His work and glorify Himself instead of glorifying the Father? (John 5:19 Matthew 5:16)
I’m so thankful that we have a Savior that knows what it’s like to work, and experience the temptations we feel everyday. At the same time, I’m thankful that where we blow it, Jesus didn’t! That He came to work for us, so we are no longer ruled by our work. He worked for us on the cross, so we could be free to truly work here. That for those who place their faith and trust in Jesus, He took all of our sin and glory robbing, and nailed it to the tree. And He gave us His righteousness, so that we could be free. Free to worship and serve Him the rest of our days! To make Him look as good as He is, Especially as we work!
What about you?
What could King Jesus do in this city if we all gave our work to him? Do you belong to Jesus? If someone looked at your work, what would they say your life is being built on? Does your life and work reflect you follow a good, gracious and great Savior? Are you putting limits on what God can do in and through your work? What functional saviors have you been clinging to that you need to repent of today? In what ways do you need to lay down the ways you’ve been working for man, and start working for the Lord?