One of the reasons people throughout the centuries are drawn to the book of Proverbs is that it shows us our God is not some detached, disinterested divine dictator. Rather, the God of the Bible, our God, is deeply involved. He cares about the details and decisions of our life. He cares what we do with our life. This week we see that he cares what how we view and handle our work. All of our work matters to God and God matters to all of our work.
We’re in the final stretch of our series through the book of Proverbs. The primary them of this book is wisdom, which it defines as the skill of living (particularly in the gray areas of life). This wisdom does not find its source in merely having the right information and behaving appropriately, but in the “fear of the Lord” (1:7; 9:10). This can be a confusing concept for us. To fear the Lord is not to be scared of him. To fear the Lord is to live before him in bold, yet humble, awe-filled, reverence. Or, in other words, to let God be God to us in all of his awesome power, grace, glory, strength, love and might – in every corner of our lives. One of the reasons I love Proverbs is that it shows us that our God is not some detached, disinterested divine dictator. Rather, the God of the Bible, our God, is deeply involved. He cares about the details and decisions of our life. He cares what we do with our life. Today, specifically, we’re going to see that he cares what how we view and handle our work. All of our work matters to God and God matters to all of our work.
INTEGRATING OUR WORK
Given the relevance and importance of the topic of work we hope to address the once or twice a year. All of us spend the majority of our lives working, thus it is crucial for Christians to wrestle with the relationship of work and faith. Too often we hold a dualistic view of life faith and work, whereas faith is something personsal and private, but work is something shared and public. The result is that we often create a clean break between our faith and our work. In other words, we see following Jesus as something to compartmentalize, but not as something that serves as a comprehensive view of reality. In so doing, we confine the Christian experienc to Sunday mornings and, maybe, one night during the week, and periodic times along throughout the week. But, even a cursory reading of the Bible will show us that’s not Christianity. Following Jesus impacts every corner of your life.
“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: Mine!” – Abraham Kuyper
“Who, after all, made the world of nature, and then made possible the development of sciences through which we find our more about nature? Who formed the universe of human interactions, and so provided the raw material for politics, economics, sociology, and history? Who is the source of harmony, form, and narrative pattern, and so lies behind all artistic and literary possibilities? Who created the human mind in such a way that it could grasp the endless realities of nature, of human interactions, of beauty, and so make possible the theories of such matters by philosophers and psychologists? Who moment by moment sustains the natural world, the world of human interactions, and the harmonies of existence? Who maintains moment by moment the connections between what is in our minds and what is in the world beyond our minds? The answer in every case is the same – God did it. And God does it.” – Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 51
Often, the driving reason we don’t integrate our faith with the rest of our life is because our view of God is far too small. We must intentionally think through what it means to followthis God, our God, in every given sphere of work. Proverbs says the same thing here:
8:1-3 “Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town…she cries aloud.
In other words, God’s wisdom refuses to stay at home – confined to Sunday morning and midweek event.
“gates” = where the elders, politicians, leaders go to create the legal system, do politics, and manage government
“crossroads” = marketplaces, commerce, business
“on the heights” = show what society worshipped (temples). Whatever was on the heights pointed to the master narrative of that given culture/city. (i.e. where they get their primary sense of purpose, meaning, value, etc). This isn’t just an ancient practice. It is the same today. Our highest buildings point to master narrative of our culture. What is that? The driving master narrative of our city/culture is individual freedom + fulfillment, primarily through power and profits.
How does this compare with God’s master narrative?
If believe universe created and redeemed by the personal, triune, creator god versus one big cosmic accident, then you will have a distinct view of human rights, morality, justice, beauty, purpose, technology, and work. The gospel of Jesus Christ shapes how we do all of these things. How?! Proverbs gives us some pointers in working this out.
UNDERSTANDING OUR WORK
Prov 8:22 “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old…”
Gen 2:1-3,15 “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation…The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”
In the beginning, there was work. From the very beginning, God reveals himself asdesigner, craftsman, artist. Work was not created as a necessary evil, or result of sin, but by a God who loved to work and create. Work came into the picture, the story, before sin, before brokenness and before the fall. Therefore, this means that work is not a curse, nor a product of sin, but given to humanity as his image bearers as a blessing. Let’s look at some other practical implications of this.
Work is not a god, but is from God, for God.
30:8-9 Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.
These are the two great tests of faith within the scriptures: difficulty (where we are tempted to doubt God) and blessing (where we are tempted to forget God). What I want to highlight here is that neither poverty and riches are not his primary concern. What is his main concern? God is his primary concern. Don’t miss that. This sage doesn’t want his work – whether poverty or riches – to get in the way of his God. This means that work is not ultimate, God is. We are not defined by our work, we are defined by our God.
Q: Is work your god or do you work for God?
Work is good.
Another implication of work being part of God’s good design is that it is not a necessary evil, as we often view it. Being fundamental to creation, work is fundamental to our being; foundational to our very makeup (like food, sleep, friendship). Without meaningful work we feel empty and bored. We only need to become injured for a season or visit a local hospital or retirement home. One of the most frequent things you’ll hear is: “I’m bored.” We need work to be human. It’s one of the ways we image our God who works. Because work is fundamentally good, we should be positive at work, thankful, and helpful.
Q: Do you view work as something good – or just a necessary evil?
All work has dignity.
27:18 Whoever tends a fig tree will eat its fruit, and he who guards his master will be honored.
When we work, no matter what kind of work, we are like God. Therefore, there is dignity in all work. Work has dignity because it is something God does and something we do in his image bearers and vice-regents placed here to steward the creation. No other religious text, except the Bible, associates all work with dignity and honor. Our culture turns this around and says that only says certain jobs have dignity, while others don’t. That is not true. When God became man, did not come as philosopher or politician or a businessman, but as a simple carpenter.
Q: Whatever you do, do you work with dignity?
We are uniquely gifted to work.
22:29 Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.
The “skill” in view here actually means “gift”. This is not saying that those who are really gifted will serve kings. If that were the case, then this would apply to very few people. The principle in view here is that when you use your gifts for work, you will succeed or things will go well.
Q: Are you working in alignment w/ your gifts or for profit or prestige?
Our work is for us and others.
10:5 He who gathers in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame.
10:26 Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to those who send him.
Laziness during harvest put individual and community at risk. One of the things that these proverbs highlight is that our work is not for us alone, but for others. Whatever you do, work impacts others in some way. To put it another way, work is not merely about a making living, but loving your neighbor. We should work more for how it helps other people, than for profit and personal advancement. Question shouldn’t be “How can I make the most most money and achieve greatest status?” Rather, “How, with my God given gifts and circumstances can I be of greatest service to others?”
“If the point of our work is to serve and exalt ourselves, then our work inevitably becomes less about the work and more about us. Our aggressiveness will eventually become abuse, our drive will become burnout, and our self-sufficiently will become self-loathing. But if the purpose of work is to serve and exalt something beyond ourselves, then we actually have a better reason to deploy our talent, ambition and entrepreneurial vigor – and we are more likely to be successful in the long run, even by the world’s definition.” Tim Keller, Every Good Endeavor, 67
SLACKING AT OUR WORK
Yet, because of sin, work is under a curse which is why work is hard, difficult, frustrating. Again, work is under a curse, but work is not a curse itself. Because of that we end up loving work it too much or we love it too little.
Too much: overwork/worship/too high. Typically we overwork because we find our identity, worth, value, security in what we do or how much we make.
Too little: underwork/whine/too low. Here work is viewed as a necessary inconvenience.
Sluggard is not a rare person, but an ordinary person who has made too many excuses, inconsistent, no follow thru in one more more spheres of life. If we’re honest, we can all likely identify areas of our life where we are, well, a bit sluggardly. As a pastor, have opportunity to look into more kinds of human weakness than anyone else and one of the surprising things I’ve noticed is that the issue of laziness is harder to overcome than most sin. In fact, I can’t think of something that is more difficult to see changed than a lack of vibrant, consistent, work ethic. This is important for us to address b/c it is a huge way we’re going to be salt/light in this city is by working differently.
#1 The sluggard makes excuses
26:13 The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the road! There is a lion in the streets!”
#2 The sluggard rarely exerts himself.
6:9 How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When you will you arise from your sleep?
26:14 As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed.
#3 The sluggard does not finish his work.
12:27 Whoever is slothful will not roast his game, but the diligent man will get precious wealth.
19:24 The sluggard buries his hand in the dish and will not even bring it back to his mouth.
#4 The sluggard needs constant supervision.
6:6-11 Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gather her food in harvest.
#5 The sluggard ends up in sudden, certain poverty.
6:10 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.
#6 The sluggard is proud.
26:16 The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly.
REDEEMING OUR WORK
How do we avoid whining or worshipping our work? How can you keep pressing on w/ an annoying, micro-managing boss? How can you keep going when your hopes keep getting dashed? How do you deal with lack of fulfillment at work? By finding our deepest satisfaction in God.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Jesus (Mt 11:26)
Jesus is saying, “Only when you work for me, and take my yoke and burden, will you be liberated from the bondage of your work.” When you do that, your work just becomes work. You don’t whine about it and you don’t worship it. You won’t overwork, because your identity, value, worth, security are found in me. You won’t underwork, because you want to give him the best work you can, because he gave you His best.
You don’t have to work for…
- Significance because the King has come for you.
- Approval because you are fully approved by God, in Christ.
- Security because Jesus has said, “Never will I leave you or fosake you.”
- Value because you are already a joint heir with Christ.
- Hope because your future is secure in Him.
- Attention because you are known by the only One that matters and your name is written in the Book of Life.
Therefore, you are free to…
- Radically forgive as you’ve been forgiven…
- Give grace as you’ve been given grace…
- Sacrificially serve as you’ve been sacrificially served.
As we do that, we will increasingly find ourselves living out of His master narrative and not the master narrative of the city. That creates a counter cultural, compelling people who work hard, who work different, who work distinctively.