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Wednesday
Jul202011

The Sweat of Your Face

The happiest period of my college experience was the brief time when, as a senior, I was unemployed for about a month in between stints managing the convenience store and arriving at Channel 15. I soon found a passion for television work, but leaving behind the drudgery of retail was welcome in itself. Many people have that kind of relationship with their work, seeing it as a necessary evil, dreaming of the weekend, vacation, holidays, and retirement. I am blessed now not to have what I consider a job, but to engage daily in a joy that enables me to support myself and my family, while doing a work that is mostly pleasant and rewarding, even if there are the inevitable reminders that all work is work.

 

I. The Origin of Work

A. Creation

1. while we bemoan the unpleasant side of our work – getting up early, bustling commutes, oppressive employers, high taxes – we are always happier when we are able to earn a living from following our passions; it is just that few get to do that and most learn to be content if they can find something to do that they do not hate

2. the history of work is rooted in a labor of love, the creation of the universe by the God of everything

a. the first chapter of Genesis is a record of God’s creative work, accomplished in six brilliant days (Genesis 2:1-3)

b. the first weekend was but a one-day respite, a chance to look back on the perfection of what God had made

3. if you are fortunate enough to find employment doing something you are passionate about, you will have the potential to be happier in life and to be more successful, but most people have to pay their dues at first, doing things they would rather not because they have too much dignity to remain dependent upon their parents, the taxpayer, or the church – one does not always have the luxury of pursuing a passion and must settle for something less

 

B. Eden

1. soon after the creation was culminated and celebrated, God’s highest order of creation was hired to tend to its beauty as a landscaper and husbandman (Genesis 2:5-8, 15)

2. like any employee, Adam was given responsibilities and parameters (Genesis 2:16-17)

3. when, at the urging of his wife, Adam trespassed beyond those limitations, he was compelled to learn how onerous work could be (Genesis 3:17-19)

a. the overwhelming abundance of food in the garden would not remain the norm outside of it, but Adam and his offspring would have to work hard to sustain themselves

b. the work itself is not necessarily the punishment, for some people clearly enjoy their work even today, but the attendant frustrations and hardships that appear in any such endeavor are the curse

c. indeed, some people find that attaching money to any task, hobby, or passion inevitably sullies it and drains away some of the joy – it is true with sports, art, writing, film and it can be true with medicine, policing, and cooking as well; what is pleasant when one is doing it for the sheer joy of the experience is often changed when one depends upon it to earn money and must listen to the contrary voices of a customer or supervisor

 

C. Egypt

1. the history of Israel leads away from the gate of Eden to the heart of Egypt where the nation went during a time of great famine; in due time, the Israelites were enslaved and their work was made oppressive by Pharaoh (Exodus 1:8-11, 13-14)

2. Moses was ordained by God to lead Israel out of Egypt at this point chiefly because the curses associated with work had been made too bitter, and God was touched by his people’s suffering

3. this was not even blue collar work, it was slave labor, but if you have ever spent your day out in the sun, plugging away with a shovel or a hammer, you have some idea of how frustrating and unpleasant it can be, and yet people do it every day in all kinds of weather to earn an honest living; the Preacher wrote, “Therefore I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me” (Ecclesiastes 2:17).

 

D. Work

1. if you are dreaming of a permanent vacation, not endless unemployment, but no need anymore to work, you are dreaming of Heaven, not something on Earth

2. many who strike it rich at a young age or who live long enough to retire and live off their savings (or children), find it not to be quite as satisfying as expected, for they need something to occupy their time, their hands, their minds

3. we will not all enjoy the luxury of doing work we love, but godliness will drive us to work anyway, understanding that every unpleasant moment on the job is but nothing compared to the eternal weight of glory that awaits us (Hebrews 4:1-11)

 

II. Why Work

A. Part of a Godly Life

1. work, whether out in the marketplace or at home in support of a family, is part of a godly life that gives critics of our faith no opportunity to accuse us of laziness or poor ethics (First Thessalonians 4:9-12)

2. traditionally, the man has been the bread-winner in most societies, while females transferred from their father’s houses to their husband’s, but that has all changed in the last century as women have learned to balance their duties at home with time to work a paying job as well

3. biblically, it is imperative that an able-bodied man do all that he can to support himself and his family, even if his wife supplements that income, for she must have time to carry out all the special duties that God has entrusted to her (Titus 2:3-5)

4. what appears both in Scripture and in experience is that idle hands tend to be lent to the devil, that people who are not busy with work are vulnerable to gossip, pornography, laziness, slavery to the television and game console, and gluttony (Titus 1:12-13)

5. the psalmist wrote, “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies” (Psalm 141:3-4)!

 

B. Earn a Living

1. we work, even when we do not particularly enjoy it, to provide for ourselves and remain independent of charity (Second Thessalonians 3:10-12)

2. Paul offered the Thessalonians himself as an example, for as a preacher, he had the right to be supported through his evangelistic work without resorting to tent-making, but he chose instead to toil and labor night and day without taking support from them

3. in Thessalonica, it appears that some church members were so convinced that the return of Jesus was imminent that they decided not to waste time on their jobs, instead relying upon brethren to feed and clothe them until the parousia

4. no one begrudges assistance given to the elderly, the infirm, even the unemployed who are diligently seeking work, but at the same time, no one enjoys knowing that he is working hard to empower the laziness of able-bodied people who just do not want to work

5. in Thessalonica, Paul said they did not have to and should not because it is wrong to enable and reward the sinful tendencies of people; the church was even instructed to withdraw themselves from brethren who insisted on eating other people’s bread (Second Thessalonians 3:6, 13-15)

 

C. Share With Others

1. we also work so that we might be able to make an honest living and be able to share with the church, through our weekly contributions, and with our neighbors who are in need, whether through charity or paying taxes to the government that operates its own assistance programs: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28).

2. if that is the legitimate aspiration of the thief, it surely applies to the honest person as well

3. Jesus offers us the example of the Good Samaritan, who shared some of his largesse with a stranger, while he also censured religious hypocrites who refused to aid their needy parents (see Luke 10:25-37, Matthew 15:1-9)

4. we have a duty to be there for our parents and grandparents when they get older and cannot take care of themselves; to be selfishly unprepared is a denial of the faith (First Timothy 5:3-4, 8, 16)

 

D. Work Heartily

1. it is especially difficult when our work is unpleasant or our employers are oppressive, but we should still strive to give an honest day’s work for our wages (Colossians 3:22-25)

2. these New Testament references to bond service describe a slave and master relationship that is mostly extinct today, but which still illustrates the conditions under which we sometimes work and always should abide – honesty, dignity, respect

3. we have the right to walk away from an unpleasant job, of course, unlike those slaves, but we do not have license to punish unfair employers with shoddy work or half-hearted effort; “Do not say, ‘I will do to him just as he has done to me; I will render to the man according to his work’” (Proverbs 24:29).

4. God promises that it will get better: “Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before unknown men” (Proverbs 22:29).

 

Conclusion

Very few people look forward to every aspect of their jobs and some hate every moment of them, yet those frustrations and hardships are part of the curse of living in a world that we have marred with our sin. What we yearn for is retirement, but only Heaven, with its freedom from temptation and need, is a fit place for permanent rest. While we are here, whether at home or in the marketplace, we must work honestly to support ourselves, as much as is possible considering our physical ability and personal training. To do otherwise is to invite human accusation and divine disapproval.

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