Category Archives: Work

Mark 2:23-3:6: Work and rest

Japanese people are working themselves to death. Literally. The work culture is so intense, in the 1970’s they invented a word – karoshi – that translates as death by overwork. Since the 1950’s, in a government sponsored effort to rebuild the national economy, companies have expected significant amounts of overtime. But before long workers began committing suicide, or dying of strokes or heart attacks – the result of stress or lack of sleep.

Beginning in 1987 the government was documenting a couple of hundred cases every year. But by 2015, claims for government and company compensation for karoshi had risen to a record high of 2,310, according to the Japanese Labour Ministry. But the actual figure could be far higher. According to the National Defence Council for Victims of Karoshi, the true figure may be as high as 10,000 deaths per year.

But it’s not just Japan. It’s reported that China now leads the world in the number of deaths from work-related stress, with an estimated 600,000 deaths every YEAR.

And we’re not immune IN THE WEST EITHER. A study published last year in the medical journal, The Lancet, concluded that if you’re working more than 55 hours per week, you’re 13% more likely to suffer a heart attack, and 33% more likely to suffer a stroke than people who work 35-40 hours a week. They think the cause is elevated levels of “stress” hormones like cortisol and epinephrine. As well as other cardiac risk factors, such as lack of exercise, poor diet, and high consumption of alcohol and tobacco – all associated with overwork and work stress.

Over the last five weeks we’ve been looking at what God says about work. And we’ve found that he MADE us to work. And that work is GOOD. And yet, God’s good purposes for us include REST. Work is good, and REST is good. We’re just not created to keep WORKING AND WORKING. For our physical and emotional and psychological and spiritual health, we need regular rest.

God rests

In fact, REST is bound up in God’s creation of the world. Right from the START. Even GOD rests. At the end of Genesis 1, God’s finished creating the world in six days. And we read in 2:2

2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he RESTED from all his work. 3 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.

Six days of WORK. ONE day of REST. He didn’t rest because he was TIRED. But because he’d FINISHED. Everything was DONE. ACOMPLISHED. It didn’t have to be repeated, repaired or revised. And so God could sit back and ENJOY what he’d worked for. That seventh day was DIFFERENT. SPECIAL. HOLY. A day to APPRECIATE what he’d done on the PREVIOUS six days.

He commands us to rest

And as we keep reading, we see that God’s rest is a BLUEPRINT for US to rest. In Exodus 20, God gives the 10 commandments. Which includes, in v8,

8 “REMEMBER the Sabbath day by KEEPING IT HOLY. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall NOT do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, BUT HE RESTED ON THE SEVENTH DAY. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

God embeds a regular PATTERN and RHYTHM of rest right into the nature of creation itself. Day and night, work and sleep. And six days to WORK. And ONE day to REST. Just like God himself.

There’s the PHYSICAL rest. But it’s also PSYCHOLOGICAL or EMOTIONAL. It’s a day that’s set apart by God as SPECIAL, and he BLESSED it. On the seventh day God ENJOYED what he’d made on the first six days. And so do WE. We enjoy his creation, and the fruit of the work we’ve done. But it’s also SPIRITUAL rest. The Sabbath is to be kept TO THE LORD. FOR him, and in RECOGNITION of him.

It’s not God’s design if our rest is ONLY self-centred and self-indulgent. TRUE Sabbath rest is TO THE LORD. It INCLUDES him. And reconnects with him. And rejoices in his goodness. True rest GRATEFULLY CELEBRATES. We see that emphasised in Deuteronomy 5. Jump forward 40 years, and the people are just about to enter the Promised Land. So Moses repeats the teaching of the Ten Commandments. And he gives a DIFFERENT reason for resting on the Sabbath. v15. No one is to work on that day, even the servants.  15 Remember that YOU were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you OUT OF THERE with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. THEREFORE the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

The Sabbath is REST FOR THE RESCUED. The slavery is over. And each Sabbath, they remembered that. And gave thanks to God their Redeemer. And they SHOWED their appreciation by allowing THEIR slaves to rest. Merciful because they’d been SHOWN mercy.

And if that was ISRAEL, how much more reason have WE got to be grateful? How much greater is our RESCUE?! And how much greater is our REST? So how much more JOYFUL should our rest be!?

If we jump forward to Jesus. (The leader better than Moses. And the one who WORKED to bring US REST. Who rescued US from the slavery of sin and death.) Here’s what HE has to say about rest. Matthew 11:28-30. He invites any who are humble enough to receive like little children

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you REST. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find REST FOR YOUR SOULS. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Modern life is about working and striving for success and approval and fulfilment. And it never ends. No matter how long you work, next week there’s always more work to do. It’s wearying, and often pointless. And there’s frustration and disappointment.

That’s a THEOLOGICAL truth, but it’s also a SCIENTIFIC truth. It’s called the first law of thermodynamics. The Universe is set up so that it’s gradually unwinding, getting more and more random and disorganised. (Entropy increases). Left to themselves, things naturally rust and separate and breakdown. Rooms get messy, gardens get overgrown. Machinery breaks. To work AGAINST the forces of randomness and disorder takes ENERGY. WORK. We exert EFFORT to grow things, and tidy things, and manufacture things, and organise and assemble. Of course God’s work of creation was the GREATEST input of CREATIVE, INTELLIGENT ENERGY.

But our efforts of WORK, paid or unpaid, are always working against the tide of things. We’re always pushing a boulder uphill. And it’s a hill that never ends. And if we stop for a MOMENT, it rolls back on top of us, and crushes us. All we’ve achieved is undone.

That’s EARTHLY, PHYSICAL work. Then there’s SPIRITUAL work. IT never ends, and it’s frustrating and pointless. Humanity has an inbuilt SPIRITUAL hunger. Every culture and people group reaches out beyond what they can see/ to GOD, however they define him. And every religion, in whatever age, is about WORKING to REACH their God. Bridging the gap from the earth UPWARD to heaven. Through prayers or sacrifices or obedience or pilgrimages or study or ritual or initiation. And it never ends. Because the deity is never SATISIFED. He or she always wants MORE. And because it all depends on OUR efforts and OUR performance. There’s no certainty. Or assurance. Or REST.

But, instead, Jesus says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you REST.

Isn’t that the BEST NEWS you’ve ever HEARD?! This Sunday, as most of us get to stop and rest, stop and dwell on that promise for a moment. Jesus offers weary and burdened people REST! Knowing God doesn’t depend on building a bridge from EARTH to HEAVEN. Because God HIMSELF, in Jesus, has come down from heaven to EARTH. And it doesn’t depend on your performance, or work, or consistency, or endurance. It’s all about Jesus’ introduction. In the verse just before his invitation to come and rest, he says, (12:27)

27 “All things have been COMMITTED TO ME by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and THOSE TO WHOM THE SON CHOOSES TO REVEAL HIM.

Jesus has the delegated authority – the executive order- to make the introduction. And it’s JESUS who chooses US, not the other way around. And Jesus who REVEALS God to us. Who bridges the gap. Who performs the work. So we don’t HAVE to.  Which means we can STOP. And REST. And CELEBRATE. With CONFIDENT, GRATEFUL CERTAINTY. Job done! Come to Jesus. Hand your burdens over to him. Burdens of guilt, and expectation, and impossible to-do lists. Burdens of living in the mess you’ve created by poor choices, wrong priorities, and selfishness.  Come in humility and repentance. Come when you’re at the end of your rope, and the bottom of your pit. Come with empty pockets and open hands. Jesus invites you, if you’re weary and burdened, to COME to him. And REST.

But that doesn’t mean you never work again! There’s STILL WORK TO BE DONE. Notice that there’s still a yoke to bear. But Jesus promises that his yoke is EASY and his burden is LIGHT. Because he’s GENTLE.  Now we’re following Jesus, work is TRANSFORMED. It’s work that’s done BECAUSE we belong to Jesus. Work done from WITHIN THE RELATIONSHIP. Not work done to ENTER it. Not work done to PROVE something.  But work done for a new Master. For a new PURPOSE. With new perspective and new HOPE. With a new power, and a new MOTIVATION.

And that changes EVERYTHING.  It changes the PAID work we do. AND the unpaid work. It changes WHY we work, and what we want to ACHIEVE. It changes the way we TREAT people at work. And WHY. It changes the MINISTRY work we do. Gives it a new motivation, and a new energy. And it changes the way we THINK about ourselves if we’re unemployed, or unable to work. Because our identity isn’t found, anymore, in what we do, but WHO WE BELONG TO.  And even in the midst of work BUSYNESS and ACTIVITY, we can find REST FOR OUR SOULS. (Peace. Contentment. Satisfaction. Joy.)

Are we still required to keep the Sabbath?

So what’s all this got to do with PHYSICAL rest? With taking regular breaks? And do Christians have to rest on the Sabbath? And if so, WHY? They’re all questions that’d take a little longer to answer than we’ve got time for.

But Jesus, in Mark chapter 2, gives us some help. Out of all the Ten Commandments, KEEPING THE SABBATH is the one that seems to cause the most friction between Jesus and the religious leaders. All the others Jesus affirms, or even STRENGTHENS. But he goes out of his way to DO things on the Sabbath the leaders thought BROKE the command. Like healing people. Or allowing his disciples to pluck grain and eat. He’s not CANCELLING the command. He’s RE-INTERPRETING it. Calling the people BACK to what God had originally INTENDED the Sabbath to be.

And he’s got the AUTHORITY to do it because he’s LORD of the Sabbath. That’s what he says in Mark 2:28. The Pharisees accuse his disciples of doing unlawful work on the Sabbath. And Jesus points them back to what his ancestor, King David, had done. He’d authorised his men to eat the consecrated bread.  And now Jesus is doing the SAME. Because he’s the GREATER king. The Lord of EVERYTHING. Even Lord of the Sabbath. And he gives his ruling, in v27, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

God gave us the Sabbath FOR OUR GOOD. For our refreshment and rest. It was never meant to be ENDURED. Or to lock us in and restrict us. It’s meant to be ENJOYED.

The Sabbath is for US. But it’s also FOR THE LORD. Just like Israel was to keep the Sabbath TO THE LORD, so should WE. Israel kept the Sabbath to remember how God had rescued them from Egypt, and brought them into the rest of the Promised Land. We should do the same. Our Sabbath rest reminds us of OUR rescue, by Jesus, from death and judgment. And how he’s brought us into rest. And it helps us to look forward to the even BETTER rest that’s coming into eternity. And so our God-designed rest is TO THE LORD. In joyful gratitude for Jesus who gives us TRUE, ETERNAL rest.

But perhaps you’re thinking, “Hang on a minute, David! The Sabbath’s A SATURDAY. Why do we rest on SUNDAY?

It seems like the early churches began meeting on Sundays. For example in Acts 20:7 Luke describes how the church in Troas met on the first day of the week. That is, Sunday.  And in 1 Corinthians 16:2 Paul tells the Corinthians to bring their collection on THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK. And in Rev 1:10 John says that he was in the Spirit on what he says was THE LORD’S DAY – that is, the day of Jesus’ resurrection – SUNDAY.  So, that was probably ONE reason.

ANOTHER likely reason was the problems the Gentile churches were having with Jewish legalists. These false teachers were tying SALVATION to keeping Jewish laws, like circumcision and food laws and Sabbath. Galatians and Acts 15 tell us all about that. And Paul may have encouraged the Gentile churches to SPECIFICALLY MOVE AWAY from keeping the Sabbath. And, instead, to meet on Sunday. For example, in Galatians 4:9, he rebukes the Galatian Gentile Christians 9 But now that you know God-or rather are known by God-how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be ENSLAVED by them all over again? 10 You are OBSERVING SPECIAL DAYS AND MONTHS AND SEASONS AND YEARS! 11 I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. It seems like Paul’s worried that by they’re being pressured to keep special days as part of their salvation. But that means they’re letting go of grace. And Paul won’t let that happen!

And in Colossians 2:16, he seems to be thinking of the Jewish legalists when he says 16 Therefore do not let anyone JUDGE you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration OR A SABBATH DAY.  In other words, keeping Jewish laws, including the Sabbath, doesn’t make you right with God. So don’t let anyone put you down, or make you feel inferior, because you don’t keep THEIR VERSION of the rules.

And then he adds. 17 These are a SHADOW of the things that were to come; the REALITY, however, is found in Christ.  In other words. Food and drink, and circumcision, and keeping the Sabbath are just temporary, and shadows. They all point to the REALITY that LASTS. To Jesus. Jesus gives us the REAL rest Sabbath points to. So there’s no need to stick to what’s only a SHADOW. ESPECIALLY if people are making it a condition of salvation.

So, what gave these early Christians the freedom to just change their day of rest from Saturday to Sunday? It seems like it’s the attitude of Jesus in Mark 2. That Sabbath was MADE FOR MAN, not man for the Sabbath. That there’s PRINCIPLES more important than the LETTER of the law. Like doing what’s GOOD for people. And so that’s why most Christians meet on Sundays. And it’s why it’s ok for you to WORK on Sundays if you can’t avoid it.

It’s STILL God’s design for you to REST. And he still wants you to MEET WITH HIS PEOPLE. To HELP you rest TO THE LORD. To gratefully rejoice in his salvation rest.  And the BEST way to do that is if we all rest on the same day. And Sunday’s as good a day as ANY.

So, on this Lord’s Day Sunday, if your tendency is to overwork, can I encourage you? For the sake of your HEALTH, and the sake of your SPIRITUAL HEALTH, and the sake of your family, and your CHURCH family. Take some deliberate, targeted steps to taking regular rest. Most of us have SEASONS of overwork. But if you’re regularly working more than 60 hours a week, sit down and, prayerfully, consider WHY. Are there sinful motivations you need to repent of? Is there GREED? (A desire to accumulate wealth)  Or PRIDE? The pride of perfectionism – that every project has to be perfect. Or the pride of STATUS? Or the pride of being indispensable? (You can’t take a holiday because no one can do your job but you) Is there the idolatry of finding your importance and self-identity in your EMPLOYMENT, rather than in Christ? Or maybe you’re a people-pleaser, who can’t bear to disappoint people. Or is there faithless WORRY about tomorrow? Jesus says you can’t add a single hour to your life by worrying. And that God knows what you need, and provides.

And whether you’re working, or resting. Keep God’s ETERNAL perspective. There’s a FINAL victorious resurrection rest for us. It will make your WORK TODAY more satisfying and purposeful. And it will make your REST more joyful and thankful.  1 Corinthians 15 is all about Christ’s resurrection and then our resurrection on Judgment Day. And there’s 57 verses describing what that will be like. But then in v58 we read the “SO WHAT.” (How that affects our work NOW.) And I’ll make THOSE the last words (Death has been swallowed up in victory… 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.) 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. Amen

Luke 12:13-21: How to succeed in business

What makes someone a success in business? Perhaps you’d START by looking to those WEARING THE DESIGNER SUITS, or expensive watches or shoes. Or driving the expensive cars, or sitting in the big corner offices. But success is more than APPEARANCES.

Or maybe it’s the ruthless, unemotional, profit-maker. The big income-earner. Every decision is about the DOLLARS. Relationships and people don’t matter. But success is more than PROFIT.

Or maybe it’s the ambitious, energetic, competitor, who’ll tread on and crush anyone who stands in her way to success. But success is more than POSITION and PROMOTION.

Or what about the dedicated, committed hard-worker? Every moment is spent on the business. It succeeds, but her family’s sacrificed in the process. But that’s not success, if it’s failure in OTHER areas of life.

Or then there’s the person who LEARNS from all those mistakes. Perhaps she works hard, makes good money. But she keeps a good work-life balance. She takes regular holidays, and she spends weekends with her family. Is THAT business success?

But Jesus says that each of these people has forgotten SOMETHING. They’re successful by ONE measure, but in OTHERS, they’re FAILURES. And so, rather than being WISE. They’re FOOLS.

The Rich Fool

Just like the person who comes to Jesus one day. (v13) “Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” For this guy, money matters more than family! The dollar signs have blinded him to the importance of family relationships– which is MUCH more important.

And so Jesus corrects his wrong emphasis – his BLINDNESS and FOOLISHNESS. V15

“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; A MAN’S LIFE DOES NOT CONSIST IN THE ABUNDANCE OF HIS POSSESSIONS.”

There’s more to life than THINGS. Or material success. And then, to prove the point, he tells a story. A story about a man who meets all the criteria for business success. But Jesus says he’s forgotten ONE THING. And that makes him a FOOL.

v16. A farmer with a bumper crop. His preparation, and planning and execution had all come together to produce more grain than he could store. So he puts together a new business model (v18). Upgrade his assets. Tear down his old warehouses, and build BIGGER ones.

But his planning is more than JUST profits. He had the right work-life balance. Wealth was to be ENJOYED. He was taking the LONG term view. All his hard work was for A PURPOSE. He wanted to get the MOST out of life. Take early retirement. To enjoy the good things in life. V19.

I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”‘

It’s the goal of many people today, isn’t it? Work hard NOW, build up the nest egg. And enjoy things LATER. He thinks he’s got it all worked out! Surely, HE’S succeeded at business! But then in one swift, devastating judgment, v20, Jesus drags him down. He’s not a success. He’s a FOOL. Because he’s planned only as far as THIS LIFE. He’s ignored ETERNITY.

“But God says, ‘You FOOL! This very night your LIFE WILL BE DEMANDED FROM YOU. Then who’ll get what you’ve prepared for yourself?’

All his plans come to nothing. DEATH – the great equalizer – had struck. And left him with nothing! He’d LOOKED like a success. But God’s assessment was he was a FAILURE. He’d thought life was about STUFF. But success is more than just accumulating possessions. He’d thought he was planning long-term. But it wasn’t long-term ENOUGH. He’d planned for RETIREMENT. But he hadn’t thought about DEATH. His planning only stretched as far as grey hair, a stiff back, and his superannuation return. He’d forgotten about heart attacks, or death, or life-after-death. You can’t control THOSE things with money. Or stockpile them in sheds. Or control them with a sound investment strategy.

And Jesus says, “Only FOOLS think differently!” And he concludes his story. V21. “This is how it will be with anyone/ who STORES UP THINGS FOR HIMSELF/ BUT ISN’T RICH TOWARD GOD.”” ONLY A FOOL builds riches on earth, and ignores God. ONLY A FOOL is more concerned with his FIVE YEAR PLAN than his ETERNAL DESTINY.

To be rich towards God means to put HIM first. And then to base your priorities and decisions on HIS ways. FEARING him. Knowing him. Bowing to HIS Son, Jesus. That’s the BEGINNING of wisdom. That’s the TRUE measure of success.

Fear of the LORD

That’s JESUS. And it shouldn’t surprise us that Proverbs AGREES. Success in business begins with putting God FIRST. Proverbs 3:7  Do not be wise in your own eyes; FEAR THE LORD and shun evil. 8 This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. 9 HONOR THE LORD with your WEALTH, with the firstfruits of all your crops; 10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.

In other words, BE RICH TOWARDS GOD. Just like Jesus said. Put him first in everything. Do all your work God’s way, and things generally turn out well. Like 16:3  Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.

Give all your work to God. God’s PURPOSES done God’s WAY according to God’s PRIORITIES. THAT’S the way to succeed in business. It’s the FIRST STEP in WISE WORK.

A wise attitude to wealth

But the trap is that the more SUCCESS we have in business, the more we’re tempted to turn away from God. So we need to keep a wise attitude to wealth. TOO much money can lead to pride and self-sufficiency. Proverbs 30:8-9 Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. 9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’

“Who needs God?” the rich think.  But wisdom knows better. Even if you ARE wealthy. There’s no certainty you’ll STAY that way. 23:4 Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. 5 Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

It’s just not WISE to spend your whole life pursuing something that isn’t SECURE! Some people have this life motto: Whoever dies with the most toys wins. But 28:8 gives us the BIG PICTURE.  He who increases his wealth by exorbitant interest / amasses it for ANOTHER, who WILL be kind to the poor.

This Proverb says, Whoever dies with the most toys, STILL DIES. Instead, wisdom says there are more important things in life than wealth. Like respect and integrity. 22:1 A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.

And righteous living. 16:8 Better a little with RIGHTEOUSNESS than much gain with injustice.

You’ll sleep easier at night, knowing you’ve earned your wage HONESTLY. THAT’S success!

And happiness and peacefulness and doing things God’s way/ make a better life than fine food and expensive houses. 15:16 Better a little with THE FEAR OF THE LORD than great wealth with TURMOIL. 17 Better a meal of vegetables where there is LOVE than a fattened calf with HATRED.  

Integrity and faith MATTER.

It’s such a trap in the materialistic west. How many families are living in million dollar houses, with all the gadgets? A bedroom and a bathroom and a TV for every child. But God is forgotten. And the kids never leave their rooms. And the family can’t EAT together without ARGUING. They hang expensive curtains over huge windows so the neighbours can’t see their desperately miserable lives. THAT’S not success! Wealth is GOOD. But LOTS more things that are more important.

Work hard

And so, with those priorities in place, Proverbs also has plenty of wise business advice about how to make a SUCCESS of your work.  The most consistent theme is that of not being LAZY. 10:4  Lazy hands make a man poor, but DILIGENT hands bring WEALTH.

Many of the funniest Proverbs are at the expense of the lazy man, or the SLUGGARD. 26:14 As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed. 15 The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth.  So lazy, he won’t even FEED himself.

And he’s got a million excuses why he can’t work. 22:13  The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside!” or, “I will be murdered in the streets!”

And that sort of work ethic leads to RUIN and POVERTY. 6:9 How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? 10 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest– 11 and poverty will come on you like a bandit. 

The sluggard will always put off to tomorrow what he can do today. But that leads to poverty. 20:4 A sluggard does not plow in season; so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing.

H eventually gets around to it. But it’s too late, he’s missed his chance, and so there’s no return.

He may THINK he knows best. But the sluggard can learn some lessons about work from an unlikely source. The ant. 6:6 Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! 7 It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, 8 yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.  Hard work, planning and preparation, self-starting initiative. That’s the way to get ahead.

Honesty

Another wise quality in business is HONESTY. 11:1 The LORD hates dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight.

RUTHLESSNESS and GREED will only work for so long. INTEGRITY and TRUTH and FAIRNESS MATTER in business. That’s the way to build a business that LASTS. That means selling a product by describing it accurately. Recording the hours you work accurately. Writing accurate invoices. Declaring your true income. Delivering the services you SAY you’ll deliver. Not hiding contract conditions in tricky language or fine print for your own interests.

And some more advice about honesty. Don’t talk down the value of something you’re buying just so you can get it at a lower price. Pay a fair price. 20:14 “It’s no good, it’s no good!” says the buyer; then off he goes and boasts about his purchase.

Those sorts of great deals have a way of coming back to bite you. 20: 17  Food gained by FRAUD tastes sweet to a man, but he ends up with a MOUTH FULL OF GRAVEL.

If you don’t like being ripped off, don’t do it to others. God LOVES honesty and integrity. And he has a way of making things EVEN.

Generous, not greedy

Another wise quality in business is NOT TO BE GREEDY. It seems NONSENSE in today’s business world, where GREED IS GOOD. Instead, 28:25  A greedy man stirs up dissension, but he who trusts in the LORD will prosper.  Instead, wisdom says, “Be generous.” 19:17 He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done.

What a great image that is. God sees a generous act, and he thinks. “I’m going to fix up that debt. I’ll repay it.” God LOVES to bless the generous giver. Listen to the peculiar upside down logic of God’s economics. 11:24 One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. 25 A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. 26 People curse the man who hoards grain, but blessing crowns him who is willing to sell. That’s KINGDOM ECONOMICS. Look after other people before yourself, and you’ll succeed. Doesn’t make much BUSINESS sense. But it’s God’s wisdom.

Although, what’s fascinating is that there’s a revolution happening in business and management best practice. More and more the literature is reflecting what the Bible’s been teaching for thousands of years. For example, Tim Sanders, in Love Is The Killer App, writes, “the most important new trend in business is the downfall of the barracudas, sharks and piranhas, and the ascendancy of nice, smart people.”

Keith Ferrazzi agrees. In his book Never Eat Alone, he says that networking used to be about looking for what you could get OUT of other people. He argues it’s actually MORE SUCCESSFUL to use networking to find ways to make OTHERS more successful. He writes

“I came to realise at business school that Harvard’s hypercompetitive, individualistic students had it all wrong. Success in any field, especially in business is about working WITH people, not AGAINST them. No tabulation of dollars and cents can account for one immutable fact: Business is a HUMAN enterprise, driven and determined by People. Bottom line: it’s better to give than to receive. If your interactions are ruled by generosity, your rewards will follow suit.”

Matt Perman, in his book What’s Best Next, agrees, adding that putting others first leads to success in EVERY area of our work life. “The key motivation in effective job interviewing is showing how you can benefit your potential employer. The chief principle of effective customer service is to benefit your CUSTOMER. In every area of work, SEEKING THE BENEFIT OF OTHERS is the guiding principle of EFFECTIVENESS.”

Isn’t that JUST what Proverbs is teaching!? 11:25 A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes OTHERS will himself be refreshed. PEOPLE recognise generosity. And even more importantly GOD recognises it.

More advice. The GREEDY person can make foolish business decisions. Because they’re dazzled by the dollars, and blind to the risks. Like falling for get rich quick schemes 12:11 He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who CHASES FANTASIES lacks judgment. If it seems too good to be true. It probably is. Here’s a BETTER idea. 13:11 Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money LITTLE BY LITTLE makes it grow. Better to build wealth slowly and carefully. They’re the basic attitudes, or character qualities to have for business success: HARD WORK, HONESTY, AND GENEROSITY. But Proverbs also has some more SPECIFIC advice about wise work. Here are a few more wise business strategies

Focus on what you’re good at: Focus on what you’re GOOD at. That’s the way to build wealth. 22:29 Do you see a man SKILLED in his work? He will SERVE BEFORE KINGS; he will not serve before obscure men.  Don’t be a doctor just because they make lots of money. Don’t open a dry cleaner if you know nothing about it. Just because there’s no dry cleaner in your town. Begin with what you’re GOOD at. Or you’ve got A PASSION for. Try to build a business out of THAT. That’s the way to success.

Make your income-producing assets a priority: And there are a number of Proverbs that focus on making your INCOME-PRODUCING ASSETS a priority. For example. Identify what your income-generating assets are. And make THEM the priority. 24:27 Finish your outdoor work and get your fields ready; after that, build your house. You might be more COMFORTABLE if you build your house first. But you might run out of money before it’s FINISHED. Better to get your fields sown with grain, while you sleep in a tent. THEN you can worry about building your house, while your field is building your wealth.

A WISE business will make sure it spends money on the machinery that MAKES the money before they worry about flashy desks and lounges and coffee makers. They might work from their garage while the business grows/ before they invest in commercial facilities.

It’s false economy not to buy incoming-producing assets: Another part of prioritising your income-producing assets is to capitalise sufficiently so the business can WORK properly. Buy the equipment you NEED. You have to SPEND a certain amount of money to MAKE money. 14:4 Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the STRENGTH of an ox comes an abundant harvest. You may SAVE money by not buying oxen. (You won’t have to FEED them). But you won’t PRODUCE ANY CROPS, EITHER.

Our family dentist, Craig, has some pretty fancy equipment. Must have cost THOUSANDS. As well as all the usual stuff, he’s got a microscope connected to a video camera that’s projected onto a TV on the ceiling. You can see your teeth in all their gory detail as he works on them. But he’s got a bad back, and the microscope means he can sit upright, looking straight ahead without bending over. It COST a lot. But WITHOUT it, he wouldn’t be ABLE TO WORK. That’s WISE.

Diversify your income sources: And because you won’t HAVE a business without income, it’s wise to diversify your income sources. Broaden the ways you can GENERATE income. When ONE part of the business isn’t so profitable, there are OTHERS that make up the shortfall. 27:25 When the HAY is removed and new growth appears and the grass from the hills is GATHERED IN, 26 the LAMBS will provide you with clothing, and the goats with the price of a field. 27 You will have plenty of goats’ milk to feed you and your family. A WISE farmer maximises what he’s GOT by diversifying his business.

Plan: And here’s a REALLY important one to finish with. PLAN FOR THE FUTURE. Make hay while the sun shines. Prepare for tomorrow, TODAY. Just like the ANT. 30:24 “Four things on earth are small, yet they are extremely wise: 25 Ants are creatures of little strength, YET THEY STORE UP THEIR FOOD IN THE SUMMER;  That means wise businesses FORECAST. Strategize. Stockpile. Budget for repairs and maintenance. Keep accurate inventories. They spend money on research and development. They have succession plans in place for key personnel.

The whole attitude of planning for the future is NATURAL for the Christian. Because that’s what the Christian life is all about. Living in light of Jesus’ return. 2 Peter 3 talks about the day of the Lord, and how THIS world will be stripped bare. Then v11 says

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to BE? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.

Prepare TODAY for the future. Not your retirement. That’s FOOLISH to only think THAT far ahead. Prepare to MEET GOD. That’s the ULTIMATE day of audit. Nothing else matters more. Are YOU ready for that day? Whatever your job, whether it’s paid, or unpaid work with integrity and honesty and generosity and wisdom. FEAR the LORD. Aim to please HIM in your work. That’s the way to TRULY succeed in business. But, more importantly, to succeed in LIFE.

Luke 16:1-15: Work and wealth

Let me warn you. What I’m about to say might SHOCK you. It’s not the sort of thing that’s normally discussed in polite circles. I’m going to talk about MONEY.

It seems to me Christians have an uneasy relationship with money. On the ONE hand, if we’re honest, we LIKE money. We like it because we can do lots of good things with it. It buys ESSENTIALS – like food and clothes and medicine and homes to live in. And light bulbs and refrigerators and electricity. Most of us couldn’t LIVE without money.

And we like money because it buys things and experiences we ENJOY. Like holidays or ice cream or books or toys or TV’s or concert tickets or games of golf or jewelry. Money helps make life ENJOYABLE.

And we like money because we can DO GOOD FOR OTHER PEOPLE. We can buy presents for our family, or give money to missionaries, or help to house and clothe and feed refugees, or buy a meal for a homeless man, or give money to the church, or pay a bill for an unemployed neighbor, or sponsor a Compassion child.

And that’s where WORK comes in. Because, for MOST people, unless they WORK, they don’t have MONEY to be able to DO those things. In fact, Ephesians 4:28 says

He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.

Surely, it’s good to have money, isn’t it? Then why do we feel guilty about having it, or saving it, or not giving enough, or being wealthier than most of the world.

We have a nagging feeling there’s something EVIL about money. Perhaps it’s verses like James 5, that says

5:1 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.

Or 1 Timothy 6:10, that says 10 For the love of money is a root of ALL KINDS OF EVIL. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

And Jesus himself says (Luke 18:24-25) “How HARD it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” It certainly SOUNDS like money’s a bad thing.

Or IS it? Proverbs 3:9-10 encourages us to 9 Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; 10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. That sounds like God BLESSES WITH WEALTH those who are generous to him. And Proverbs 10:22 says it even MORE clearly.  22 The blessing of the LORD brings WEALTH, and he adds no trouble to it.

Then there’s Ecclesiastes 5. It takes a step back, and says that God gives EVERYTHING to DO with wealth. He gives the work we do, the ENJOYMENT of our work, and the possessions and wealth that COME from work. They’re ALL from God.

18 Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him-for this is his lot. 19 Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work-THIS IS A GIFT OF GOD.

Work and wealth are gifts from God, and part of his good purposes for the world. But, like all good, God-given things, we’ve got a way of turning MONEY and WEALTH into something BAD. Into an IDOL. It’s not that MONEY is bad. It’s our ATTITUDE to it, and what we DO with it, that’s bad. See there in 1 Timothy 6:10? It’s the LOVE of money that’s evil. Not money ITSELF. I want to suggest that money and wealth are like medical radioactive isotopes*. DANGEROUS, BUT USEFUL.

ANSTO Nuclear Reactor at Lucas Heights produces medical radioisotopes. They’re radioactive chemicals used in hospitals for scans and cancer treatments. They’re HIGHLY DANGEROUS. And nuclear scientists have to take MAJOR SAFETY PRECAUTIONS when producing them, or handling them. But when they’re used in THE RIGHT WAY, they’re LIFE-SAVING.

And it’s the same with worldly wealth. Treated with caution, and used wisely, it can have WONDERFUL AFFECTS. But when people don’t take its dangers seriously, it can be DEADLY. It’s DANGEROUS, BUT USEFUL.

That’s what brother and sister, George and Nola Mezher discovered.* At the Enmore hairdressing salon they owned and ran, they often joked with customers about the new Rolls Royce or BMW they’d buy if they won the lottery. Then came the day when they weren’t just TALKING about it – they WON it. In 1982, they won $429,000!

But they DIDN’T buy a new car or a mansion. They did something that most people couldn’t understand. Financial advisers would laugh at it. They started a soup kitchen. It was called “Our Lady of Snows,” near Central Railway Station. And not only did they provide the money, but they spent their days there, cooking and serving and shopping and cleaning. And even raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years for OTHER charities.

George says, “Other winners go on trips and buy shares. But it’s better to get out and DO SOMETHING GOOD WITH YOUR MONEY, Because YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU.”

Now, I’m not sure whether they’re Christian, or not. And I’m CERTAINLY not telling you to play the lottery. But George and Nola have EXACTLY the sort of attitude to money Jesus WANTS. Treat it as DANGEROUS, but USEFUL. Like a medical radio isotope. Make it serve YOU, rather than you serve IT.

In Luke 16 Jesus tells a story about a rich man. He finds out his manager is wasting the profits. Either by incompetence, or dishonesty, we’re not told. He calls him in, and asks him to present the books. To show the evidence of his mis-management.

And the manager’s got a problem. There in v3. 3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg-

His options are limited. There’s no way he’ll get a good reference, and word will get around. No one else will employ him. And he’s a PROUD/ WIMP. Too ashamed to BEG. And too PUNY for physical labour. And so he comes up with a plan. V4

I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ 5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 “‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’ 7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

He goes through the debtor’s register. And forgives huge amounts of debt. (Writes it off). We’re only told about TWO EXAMPLES, but we assume he does it for EVERYONE. While he’s still got authority to make those sorts of agreements, he DOES it. Before he loses his job. And the boss will be STUCK with the new arrangements, because they’re LEGALLY BINDING. The theory is/ if he can make some friends/ while he’s still got some influence, when he’s unemployed, he can call in some of his favours, and get some help.

Now, commentators argue about whether he’s done anything illegal or not. Some say he has – he’s defrauding his boss. Others say the boss was actually ILLEGALLY CHARGING INTEREST on the loans. And all the manager was doing was wiping off the interest charge. Or that it was only the manager’s own commission he was losing. Whatever the situation is/ the manager’s been CLEVER. SHREWD.

But now the plan’s finished, what happens NEXT? What will the boss do when he finds out? His response is surprising. Look at it there in v8. 8 “The master COMMENDED the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.

We may not agree with his MORALS, but we have to applaud his CLEVERNESS. Notice, the boss commends the dishonest manager for his SHREWDNESS. It DOESN’T say he commended the SHREWD manager for his DISHONESTY! It’s a funny response for the master to have. It suggests either that it’s illegal interest he’s lost, or else the manager’s commission. Another suggestion is that while the master loses money, he actually ends up with a lot of goodwill from his customers. And there’ll be benefits for him into the future. So, he’s not TOO angry. We don’t really know WHAT the master’s motivation was. But he did recognize a CLEVER use of RESOURCES.

And that’s Jesus’ point. We should learn from the same clever use of resources. See there, halfway through v8? For the people of THIS WORLD (that’s the dishonest manager) are more SHREWD in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light (that’s US).

Often we’re amateurish with the way we use resources. And we’re slow to take opportunities. Or we RUSH and make a foolish decision. Or we’re not CREATIVE in how we make the most of what we have. Or we’re not willing to WORK HARD to DEVELOP proposals. Or we’re unwilling to take a calculated risk.

There’s a lot we can LEARN from the best practices of businesses and entrepreneurs and marketers. Sure, there’s lots for us to AVOID, TOO. But Jesus wants us to learn from the shrewd manager (v9) 9 I tell you, USE WORLDLY WEALTH TO GAIN FRIENDS FOR YOURSELVES, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into ETERNAL dwellings.

That’s the situation with dishonest steward. He made the most of what he had. He didn’t have the strength to do manual labour. He didn’t have the humility to beg. He didn’t have savings or assets of his own. But he had responsibility over the debtor’s register. He used what he HAD, and made the MOST of it before it was GONE. He recognized the times, and was shrewd NOW/ to prepare for THE FUTURE. And we’re to use worldly wealth shrewdly NOW, to make friends. Because there’s A FAR MORE IMPORTANT future to prepare for. Not EARTHLY dwellings, but ETERNAL dwellings.

Jesus is saying just what he’s been saying for the last couple of chapters. The kingdom of God is about the poor and crippled and lame and blind. The outsiders. The tax collectors and sinners. They’re the ones God wants in the kingdom. Use your earthly resources NOW to be HOSPITABLE TO THEM. To look after them. To invite them into the kingdom. Because it’s just what Jesus did. Obedience like THAT results in your welcome into eternal dwellings. Being hospitable NOW leads to ETERNAL hospitality at God’s banquet table. With those new friends there as well. THAT’S what wealth should be used for.

Caron and I went to a fund-raising dinner on Friday night. For Christian Scripture. Raising money from wealthy Christians to make sure kids keep hearing about Jesus in public schools. And the sorts of supporters who were there are WEALTHY. They’ve been WISE with how they’ve used their assets. And they give TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS to these sorts of Christian charities every year. That’s what Jesus is talking about – Use worldly wealth to gain friends for the kingdom.

And it’s not just about being hospitable with your MONEY. The word’s much BROADER than money. It’s worldly wealth in general. Literally it’s UNRIGHTEOUS MAMMON. It can be your home, or food, or car, or trailer, or tent, or holidays, or boat, or books. All you have/ is to be wisely used to MAKE FRIENDS FOR ETERNITY. That’s the only value it has.

It’s not for hoarding, or gloating over. Or collecting. Because it doesn’t LAST. Which is just what George and Nola said – you can’t take it with you! If the rich man sat down to take a look at YOUR books. What would they say about YOU? How have you used YOUR wealth to make a difference in ETERNITY? What RETURN have you achieved? What percentage of your money is used for OTHERS? For missionaries? For hospitality? For ministry? For Christian camps or conferences?

They’re the OBVIOUS ways to use our resources for the kingdom. But what about thinking of our wealth the way Jesus does here? (GAINING FRIENDS for the kingdom?) I’m not talking about buying friendship by spending money on people. But there are all sorts of ways we can use our resources to build friendships. Why not be WISE and INTENTIONAL in DOING that?

Join a sporting team, or go camping with some non-Christian friends. Organise a restaurant meal or a Saturday ferry trip, or a bushwalk. Go for a drive somewhere with a full car. Use your station wagon to help a friend move house, or take stuff to the tip. Think of your resources as a way of fostering and deepening friendships. For the sake of the kingdom.

And then there’s all the ways our combined resources AS A CHURCH help us make friends. There’s the KCentral Day coming up, and the Council Christmas carols in December. Our church BUILDING is a great resource we don’t use very shrewdly. It’s in a great location. With hundreds of people walking past every day. I’d love to be able to open it up during the week. For Bible study, or a lunchtime service, or just for quiet reflection.  Or playgroups or language classes in our halls. Or an after school homework club.  The PLC early learning centre is ONE of the ways we’re using our resources WISELY to make friends for the kingdom. It’s using worldly wealth to make friends for eternity.

Jesus goes on to say / it’s all a matter of being a good steward with what you’ve got. Making the MOST of it. V10.  10 “Whoever can be trusted with very LITTLE can also be trusted with MUCH, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling WORLDLY wealth, who will trust you with TRUE riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

The shrewd manager had to give an account for how he used what he’d been given. And SO WILL WE. Everything we have comes from God. We’ve been ENTRUSTED with it, and he expects us to use it WELL. To be FAITHFUL and RELIABLE and TRUSTWORTHY in how we use it. And Jesus promises a REWARD in eternity. If we can use EARTHLY riches wisely, then there’ll be TRUE RICHES for eternity. A heavenly welcome. A “well done, good and faithful servant” from Jesus himself.

But notice in v13 the word of warning? Here’s where we see that wealth is like medical radioisotopes – USEFUL BUT DANGEROUS.  13 “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”

Wealth is useful when it’s the SERVANT, not the MASTER. When money becomes the MASTER, it’s DANGEROUS. Because you let go of God. You can’t serve TWO MASTERS – God AND money. You can’t LOVE BOTH.

You can never use worldly wealth WELL/ if you LOVE it. (If you VALUE it, for its own sake. If you covet it. Make it your IDOL.)

To love God. To be a good steward. You must HATE money. Treated with caution, and used wisely, it can have WONDERFUL EFFECTS. But when people don’t take its dangers seriously, it can be DEADLY. It’s DANGEROUS, BUT USEFUL.

That’s what we see in 1 Timothy 6. We read verse 10 earlier. But earlier in the chapter, v5, Paul’s warning Timothy about false teachers who see their church work as a means to financial gain. They’re loving MONEY, and not loving GOD. And so Paul gives the RIGHT perspective on money. V6. But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

The business world is always looking for a great investment with great returns. But there’s something that gives even BETTER returns. A greater profit. Profit that LASTS. It’s GODLINESS WITH CONTENTMENT. That’s the best profit to chase. Seek after God, and be like him. Seek after his kingdom, using all the resources God’s given you. Yes, be SHREWD, and be FAITHFUL. Push the limits. Let wealth serve YOU, and use it to build God’s kingdom.

But at the same time, be CONTENT with what you have. Because God’s wisely given you exactly what you need. Don’t let wealth ENSLAVE you. It’s a trap to keep ACCUMULATING. It might LOOK impressive, but it DOESN’T LAST. And you can’t take it with you into eternity.

If you’re CONTENT. And if you see that wealth doesn’t last forever. Then IT can serve YOU. And you can be a better steward with what God gives you. You can make it work better.

May we be people who are SHREWD in the way we use worldly wealth. Good stewards who work hard, and creatively, and faithfully with the resources we’ve got. With contentment. Who USE it to make friends for ourselves FOR ETERNITY, for the sake of God’s kingdom.

 

Colossians 3:22-4:6; Micah 6: The Good Worker

How GRATEFUL you are depends on THE SIZE OF THE GIFT. Imagine you got back from a holiday, and your friend, who’d been collecting your mail, said, “There was a bill that needed paying. So I paid it for you.” If it was a $40 phone bill, you’d be GRATEFUL. And if it was a $1000 car insurance bill, you’d be REALLY grateful. But imagine if it was your annual mortgage statement, with $500,000 still owing. And he’d paid THAT. You’d be SO grateful, words alone wouldn’t be enough. You’d want to show it with ACTIONS. With some sort of grand gesture that was fitting for a gift as big as THAT. The bigger the GIFT, the greater the THANKS.

A great gift

Today we’re thinking about the Christian at WORK. And there’s lots of PRACTICAL DETAILS. About our attitudes, and actions, and words, and priorities. And we can get lost in all the detail. And it can become another TO DO list. Another list of laws to keep. And we can end up feeling beaten up and guilty. As if it’s all about what WE NEED TO DO. So I want to start by reminding us who we’re working for. And what he’s DONE for us. God’s CREATED us. And he’s king over EVERYTHING. He’s CHOSEN us, and given us JESUS. He’s SAVED us, and made us his CHILDREN, and given us ETERNAL LIFE. A great gift! And that gift deserves the BIGGEST RESPONSE we can GIVE. A response of everything we’ve got/ in every part of our lives. INCLUDING at work.

And both our Bible passages –Micah and Colossians –BEGIN WITH GOD.  In Colossians, we started reading from Ch 3 v 22. But the section begins back in v1. Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Think about what God’s done. And think about who you now are. We’ve been raised to LIFE, and given a new identity. And then it continues, with all the practical details of how we RESPOND. V5 – put to death therefore whatever belongs to the earthly nature.

Or v12 “Therefore, as God’s CHOSEN PEOPLE, HOLY AND DEARLY LOVED, clothe yourselves with COMPASSION” etc. In other words, begin with WHO YOU ARE according to God, and then RESPOND to him APPROPRIATELY.

Or v17 And WHATEVER you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the NAME OF THE LORD JESUS, GIVING THANKS to God the Father through him.

In other words, Do the things that PROMOTE the name of the Lord Jesus, and that further his cause and his kingdom. And do them because you’re THANKFUL TO GOD.

And that INCLUDES the verses we read earlier. About slaves and masters. And about praying, and being wise with outsiders, and taking opportunities to talk about Jesus. All of which we’ll think about later in the context of WORK.

Then there’s the Micah 6 passage. It begins with God, too. So put your finger in Colossians 3, and flip over to Micah. God’s angry with his people Judah. He’s brought them into the Promised Land, but they’ve disobeyed him. And so he’s bringing charges against them (v1-2).

But before he gets to the charges, he reminds them of everything he’s done for them. V3. “My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me.  4 I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam. 5 My people, remember what Balak king of Moab counselled and what Balaam son of Beor answered

He SAVED them from Egypt. He GUIDED them with leaders. He’s PROTECTED them from curses. They owe him their LIVES. V5, he calls them to REMEMBER. Remember from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD.” Remember. Set your MINDS on what God’s done for you. And then you’ll know his RIGHTEOUS ACTS.

And “righteous acts” mean more than just good works. “Righteous” means acting according to his contractual obligations – doing what he’s PROMISED to do. God made a COVENANT with Israel. He promised to be the God, and they’d be his people. He promised to RESCUE them. And LEAD them. And PROTECT them. And FORGIVE their SIN. And PROVIDE for them.  And he KEPT HIS WORD. 100%. Always acted according to what he’d PROMISED to do. So those are his righteous acts, because he acted according to the contract.

A grateful response

That’s the GIFT we’re to be grateful for. That’s the GOD who’s done EVERYTHING for us. So the question is how do you show your gratitude in a ways that’s FITTING? What can you OFFER a God like that? In verses 6 and 7, we hear from one of the accused. “How can we respond to a gift like THAT? What’s the best we can offer?” 6 With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil?

Or perhaps even the ULTIMATE sacrifice. Shall I offer MY FIRSTBORN for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

Sacrificing his oldest CHILD! Even though God’s FORBIDDEN it. But even THAT won’t satisfy God’s demands. So what’s the ANSWER? In v8 Micah responds. You don’t need to GUESS. V8. He has SHOWED you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

When God made a covenant with his people. There were TWO SIDES to the agreement. God would do certain things. And he’d expect certain things of his PEOPLE. God kept HIS side – that’s the righteous acts of the LORD, in v5. And he expects his people to keep THEIR side. It’s their RESPONSE to his good gifts.

And what does he expect? Firstly, ACT JUSTLY. Justice gives to everyone EQUALLY. A level playing field. There’s no advantage in being attractive, or educated, or rich. Sexual orientation, or language background, or disability, or race, or age won’t stop you treating someone fairly. And God wants ACTION, not just WORDS or THOUGHTS. And that’s where your colours will REALLY show. Because it’s easy to SAY you’ll treat someone a certain way. But DOING can be a lot harder. And cost a lot more, not just in money, but in time and complications and emotions.

Secondly, God expects us to LOVE MERCY. It’s the Hebrew word HESED, or “loving-kindness”, or “covenant faithfulness”. God wants to see a society where people are COMMITTED to one another. We’re they’re genuine, and consistent, and true. Where honesty and reliability and trustworthiness are VALUED. God’s shown US kindness, or covenant faithfulness. And he expects us to show the SAME. And we’re to LOVE it. VALUE it. ENCOURAGE it. MODEL it. CELEBRATE it.

And as we look back through the history books, we see that, time and again, it’s CHRISTIANS who lead the way in these two qualities in our society. In ACTING JUSTLY. And LOVING MERCY. It’s been Christians who are first to look after, and defend the sick, and the aged, and the handicapped, and the poor, the imprisoned, the foreigner, and the children. Because THEY TOO are made in God’s image, and valuable. Justice treats them EQUALLY. And MERCY is committed to their well-being and flourishing, whether they can contribute or reciprocate, or not.

The THIRD response is to WALK HUMBLY WITH YOUR GOD. Which means to go through life listening to God, rather than yourself or the world around you. It’s trusting HIS WAY, instead of yours. His guidance, his correction, his priorities. He’s your God, and you’re his child. In other words, live within your covenant relationship with God. Live it out as you walk through life. Humility is the ATTITUDE TO GOD/ that will SHOW ITSELF in the ACTIONS TO OTHERS of acting justly and loving mercy.

That sort of response is for ALL of your life. But you can see it’s PARTICULARLY applicable in your WORK LIFE. Because that’s what God focusses on in v9-12. His people WEREN’T acting justly, or loving mercy, or walking humbly before God in their business practices. V10.

10 Am I still to forget, O wicked house, your ILL-GOTTEN TREASURES and the SHORT EPHAH, which is accursed?  11 Shall I acquit a man with DISHONEST SCALES, with a bag of FALSE WEIGHTS?  12 Her rich men are VIOLENT; her people are LIARS and their tongues speak deceitfully.

God cares about how we work. He cares about short-changing people. Or charging more billable hours than you work. Or arriving late, or leaving early. Or being too creative in describing the benefits of a product. Or quoting high for a job because you know there’s no competition. Or quoting low to get the contract, then making up the difference with “unexpected” additions. Or putting pressure on clients or competitors with heavy-handed bullying tactics.

God hasn’t treated YOU that way. So don’t treat OTHERS like that. Respond to him by acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly before him. THOSE are the religious offerings God wants to see before he sees religious offerings like sacrifices or church attendance or donations or prayers. Fulfil your contractual requirements in business as God fulfils his to you. Let YOUR righteous acts reflect GOD’S righteous acts.

That’s MICAH. Flip back to Colossians, and we’ll spend a few moments thinking about work in THAT world – specifically, SLAVES.

It’s probably helpful to say a few words about SLAVERY. Slavery in the Roman world was quite different from slavery in America. It’s estimated that up to a third of people in Italy were slaves. They worked in households, but also in businesses and shops, as teachers and doctors, in mines and on farms. Many of them CHOSE to enter slavery to pay off debts. In lots of ways it wasn’t THAT different from working life TODAY.

So it’s people like THIS who are commanded (v22) Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 WHATEVER you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men,

God is WATCHING. Even when masters AREN’T. And he wants to see CONSISTENT service. In EVERYTHING – the yucky parts of the job as well as the enjoyable parts. Obey at the END of the day just as much as the START of the day. And be RELIABLE. TRUSTWORTHY. KEEP working, even when the boss isn’t checking up on you. Or even if HE’S gone home early. And be SINCERE. CONSISTENT. Don’t be ONE thing when people are watching, and ANOTHER when NO ONE’S watching. Sincerity of heart is about being the same thing INSIDE as you are OUTSIDE.

You see MOTIVATION is important. (The REASON you work hard). Don’t do it to win the BOSS’S favour, or for promotion or a pay rise. Do it with REVERENCE TO THE LORD. In RESPONSE to him. In GRATITUDE for who he is, and what he’s done for you, and for who you are.

It’s the same motivation if you’re a BOSS. Ch 4 v1 says Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.

You value God’s fair treatment of YOU, and so you REFLECT that in how you treat those UNDER you.

And it’s a BIG response, because he’s a big GOD. He wants EVERYTHING. So, v23, WHATEVER you do, work at it with all your heart. The little things and the big things. The things that nobody notices, as well as the things that get you noticed. Because GOD notices. “With all your heart” is more literally translated “from your soul”. Be INTERNALLY motivated, rather than EXTERNALLY motivated. Don’t be motivated by competition, or performance review, or fear of missing out or retrenchment. Work hard, in reverence for the Lord, because YOU’VE BEEN RAISED with Christ. You have a new HEART, and a new SPIRIT, and a new PURPOSE and a new MASTER.

And even though you get a wage at the end of the week. There’s a far GREATER reward that’s coming. A far better remuneration. V24. since you know that you will receive an INHERITANCE from the Lord as a REWARD. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

The WAGES for being a Christian aren’t great. But the retirement benefits are OUT OF THIS WORLD. Our future inheritance. It’s how the chapter began. With a reminder of what God’s promised us in the future. 3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and YOUR LIFE IS NOW HIDDEN WITH CHRIST IN GOD. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then YOU ALSO WILL APPEAR WITH HIM IN GLORY.

That’s the inheritance we’re working for NOW.

V25 adds another future motivation for our work now. REWARD is certain, and so is JUDGMENT. 25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism. That certainty works in TWO WAYS for the slave. It encourages him to work to PLEASE God, who’ll hold him accountable for his OWN actions. But it will also helps him deal with injustices at work. To trust that the unjust oppressor will ALSO receive judgment. We can REST in God’s justice. Romans 12:19 says Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

It’s a temptation for the Christian worker to behave dishonestly, because the BOSS is treating him badly. But NO, we’re to work honestly, because we’re not, ultimately, working for our employer, we’re working for GOD.

It doesn’t mean the Christian shouldn’t seek equity and fairness in wages or conditions. Just that we’re not to take personal revenge. Use the right means of seeking justice. It might bring equity, or it may NOT. But after doing what WE can, we should leave the ULTIMATE justice to God, who’ll audit EVERY set of accounts in the end. And that gives us comfort and hope. And motivates us to just keep working HONESTLY. To act justly and to love mercy.

Prayer and proclamation

In v2 of ch 4, it seems like we move onto a different topic. But I reckon it’s still relevant to this topic of work. V2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Great attitudes to have every day at work. Devoted to PRAYER. Seeking God’s guidance and strength for each decision you make. It’s what walking humbling before God LOOKS LIKE. And be WATCHFUL AND THANKFUL. Watchful for opportunities to show justice and mercy. Watchful for God’s leading. And thankful for him. For everything he’s GIVEN you, and GIVES you each day. If more of us took those attitudes to work, we’d be a lot HAPPIER, and we’d get a lot more SATISFACTION from our work.

In v3-4, Paul wants prayer for HIS work, TOO. That God would open a door for his message. And, v4, that he’d be CLEAR in how he SPOKE the message. And that should be OUR prayer as well – whatever job we do. (Open doors, and clear speaking). V5, we should be WISE in the way we act toward outsiders. It’s literally, “WALK IN WISDOM”. A whole series of wise decisions as you walk through the day, in your conversations and priorities and tasks. And as you deal with colleagues, or supervisors, or those under you, or with clients or customers.

And IN PARTICULAR, be wise in how you use your TIME. “Make the most of every opportunity”. In particular, the opportunities of CONVERSATIONS. V6. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Work is a great opportunity to MEET people. And to TALK to people. You spend more time with your work colleagues than you do with your own family! Those conversations can be an open door for the message about Jesus. Or they can CLOSE doors, and HARDEN people to him.

So your words need to be FULL OF GRACE. There’s no point winning an argument, but you’re such a bully that there’s no chance for MORE conversations. Better to LOSE the ARGUMENT, and be GRACIOUS. But it’s not about just agreeing with everyone, and not standing up for what you believe in. To make the MOST of opportunities, we have to SAY SOMETHING. Gracious YES, but also FULL OF SALT. Which is the idea of being DIFFERENT, and FLAVOURSOME, and INTERESTING.

And if we’re WISE, and GRACIOUS – if we LISTEN to people, and add value with our words, then we’ll have someone helpful to say to EACH ONE. It’s not “everyone” in a GENERAL sense. It’s EACH INDIVIDUAL one. Because every person’s DIFFERENT. And what’s wise to say to ONE person won’t suit ANOTHER person. Which is where being devoted to prayer, and being WATCHFUL comes in. Because it’s GOD who gives opportunities, and wisdom and grace and answers.

And it’s GOD we’re working for. In RESPONSE to his gracious gifts to us. And it’s in the name of Jesus that we’re DOING it all. So that HIS kingdom will grow. For HIS glory.

Luke 3:7-18: Good work

Have you ever stopped and thought about all the people who played a part in the cup of coffee you drink at morning tea? There’s the farmers who grow the beans, or the sugar cane, or the trees for the paper cups, or who milk the cows. There’s all the people involved in the manufacture of those products. And those who transport them. There’s the salespeople who sell them. The teachers who train the barista and the other workers in the process. Then there’s the people who provide all sorts of OTHER things in that process – water, electricity, plumbing. And building and maintaining and cleaning trucks, coffee machines, refrigerators, farms and shops. And they all do their work before the barista combines the ingredients together to make the coffee you enjoy.

Imagine if you stopped and thought like this about every object or service you used in a day! It would transform the way you viewed life and work. And I think you’d be a lot more THANKFUL for the work people do.

That’s what we’re going to do today – think about THE WAYS THAT WORK IS GOOD. We’ll think about how our work is good for OTHERS. And how it’s good for US. And thirdly, how it’s good for GOD, AND FOR HIS PURPOSES.

  1. Work: Good for others

Firstly, work is good for OTHERS. Jesus said the two most important commands were to LOVE GOD, and to LOVE OUR NEIGHBOUR as ourselves. But love is more than just a feeling. It’s ACTIONS. You love your neighbour by DOING GOOD to them. Jonathan Edwards, the 18th century American Puritan author, wrote, “Just as love is the main principle in the heart of a real Christian, so the LABOUR of love is the main business in the Christian life.”

In his letter to Titus, the Apostle Paul spells out what Titus should teach the Christians in his church. And there’s all sorts of commands about how they should live. But there’s one command Paul gives AGAIN AND AGAIN. Especially in the last half of his letter. See if you can pick up what it is. Titus 2:6 Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. 7 In everything set them an example by DOING WHAT IS GOOD. 2:14 Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, EAGER TO DO WHAT IS GOOD.  Ch 3v1 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be READY TO DO WHATEVER IS GOOD, 2 to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.  Ch 3 v8 And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to DEVOTE THEMSELVES TO DOING WHAT IS GOOD. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

And just in case we haven’t got the message already. The second last verse. 3:14  Our people must learn to DEVOTE THEMSELVES TO DOING WHAT IS GOOD, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives.

Christians are called to DO GOOD to people. In fact, God’s even PREPARED the good works we’re to DO. Ephesians 2:10 says For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to DO GOOD WORKS, which God PREPARED IN ADVANCE FOR US TO DO.

Jonathan Edwards thinks about that idea of God’s planning our good works, and he writes, “God has made you for HIMSELF, and for the good of your FELLOW-CREATURES, and not only for yourself. He has PLACED BEFORE YOU HIGHER AND NOBLER ENDS THAN SELF, even the WELFARE OF YOUR FELLOW-MEN, and of SOCIETY, and the interests of his kingdom. The true Christian lives for these ends.” (Charity and its fruits, 181.)

God’s plan for us is that we do good works. And one of the MAIN ways we can DO GOOD for people is in our WORK.

We see a few examples of what that looks like in Luke chapter 3. John the Baptist is preaching that people need to repent because God’s kingdom is near. But it’s not enough just to be sorry. He says, in v8, “Produce FRUIT in KEEPING with repentance.” In other words you show repentance by CHANGED BEHAVIOUR.

The crowd asks, “So what should we DO?” He answers, v11, “The man with TWO tunics should share with him who has NONE, and the one who has FOOD should do the same.” In other words, Stop only looking after YOURSELF. Look after OTHERS. SHARE WHAT YOU HAVE with people. Whether it’s possessions, food, money, skills or time.

In the context of WORK, it’s saying the point of your work isn’t just to build assets for yourself. You work so you can afford to buy a jacket, then a SECOND jacket. But the fruit of repentance doesn’t mean you work to buy a THIRD jacket. It means SHARING what you’ve worked for with someone who DOESN’T have it. Be on the lookout for how to SHARE, not how to ACCUMULATE. Have a strategic financial plan for how you can be GENEROUS, not how you can be RICH.

William Wilberforce, an active Christian, was a 19th century English politician best-known for leading the movement that stopped the slave trade. He also helped set up the Church Mission Society, as well as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Here’s what he said about the Christian’s responsibilities in the world,  “No man has a right to be idle… Where is it in such a world as this/ that wealth and leisure and affluence may not find some ignorance to instruct, some wrong to re-dress, some want to supply, some misery to alleviate.”

And Wilberforce spent his working life as a politician DOING those good things. Often, it’s AT WORK that those opportunities appear for US, TOO. Because work is where you spend TIME. And it’s normally in an area where you’ve got SKILLS to offer. (Something you’re particularly competent at, or equipped for). Whether it’s medical knowledge, or computer or translation skills, or specialised equipment.

Sometimes you’ll be able to offer to help people FOR FREE. Perhaps in your own time. But often it will mean people will PAY you. Especially if you work for someone else. But that’s OK. It’s STILL DOING GOOD to people. I’m happy when my mechanic fixes my car, or my plumber fixes by sewerage. It’s reassuring knowing they’re going to work properly. And I expect to PAY for that. They’re DOING GOOD for me, and I’m GRATEFUL.

That’s John’s advice to the crowd in general. (Generously share what you have). Then there’s the TAX COLLECTORS. V12, they ask John, “What should WE do?” And John answers “Don’t collect any more than you’re REQUIRED to.” We can do good for people by being HONEST. And not taking ADVANTAGE of them. By giving a fair day’s work for a fair day’s PAY. And giving a fair QUOTE, even if the customer’s desperate, and doesn’t have a choice. That’s the FRUIT of repentance, because you know God’s been merciful to YOU, so you won’t take advantage of others.

Then, v14, the SOLDIERS chime in, And what should WE do? John says, “Don’t extort money. And don’t accuse people falsely. And be content with your pay.” More about not taking advantage of people. Soldiers or policemen or security guards or council inspectors or parking officers have the AUTHORITY and the OPPORTUNITY to do HARM to people. To benefit themselves, or not show justice. But the fruit of repentance DOESN’T do those things. It’s fair, and consistent.

And it also means being CONTENT. Content with your pay, and your conditions. If you’re content, and not greedy, you won’t be motivated by what you can GET out of work. And you’re free to be motivated by what you can GIVE. Motivated by the GOOD you do for others. Get satisfaction from THAT. You’ll be MUCH HAPPIER TOO!

It’s interesting, when you think about this passage. It’s God’s will that you’re honest and fair and content. But it’s ALSO saying it’s GOD’S WILL THAT SOCIETY RUNS SMOOTHLY. That taxes are paid, and that soldiers protect law and order. And we can add, it’s God’s will that roofs are fixed, cars run reliably, and clean water is supplied, and electricity supplies are reliable, and light bulbs are replaced, and traffic rules are enforced. God wants people to BENEFIT from a fair distribution of resources, and access to government services, and protection from danger. And WORK is a major way that these things happen.

In Jeremiah 29, God’s people are exiled in Babylon, but that’s no excuse for them to sit back and stop working. God commands them 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; …Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, YOU TOO WILL PROSPER.” A fair and stable society means God’s people can grow and flourish.

But that’s not the ONLY benefit. In 1 Timothy 2, Paul says we’re to pray for kings and those in authority (v2) that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. God wants a society that’s governed well, so that it’s PEACEFUL. Why? The God who’s PLEASED with it WANTS ALL MEN TO BE SAVED. A stable, peaceful society makes the spread of the gospel easier. And God wants EVERYONE to be saved – people in every corner of society, as well as kings and those in authority.

So, Christians doing good, reliable, beneficial work help people. And they contribute to a stable society, which helps God’s purposes of spreading the gospel, and people being saved.

The story of Joseph is an example of how that works out. Joseph had a more interesting resumé (working life) than most of us. His working life began looking after his father Jacob’s sheep (Gen 37:2). Then his brother’s sold him to slave traders, and convinced their father he’d been killed.

He ended up in Egypt, was sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. While he was there, he rose to become the chief household steward, looking after the welfare of the entire household. But he was unjustly accused, thrown into prison without a trial. But even there, he ended up in charge of all of the prisoners, looking after THEIR welfare. He finally got the chance to appear before Pharaoh (Genesis 41). God gave him the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream, about seven years of GOOD harvests, followed by seven years of FAMINE.  And then he passes on God’s ADVICE. About the need for careful management of the GOOD harvests, so that there’ll be enough food to last through the FAMINE. Pharaoh agrees. And decides there’s no one better qualified for the task than JOSEPH. So he’s appointed second-in-command of all Egypt. Looking after the welfare of the whole NATION now. And chief executive officer in charge of grain collection, storage and distribution.

But the point of it all is not just about Joseph’s career development. God’s got BIGGER purposes in mind.  Jump forward a few years to ch 45. The years of PLENTY are over, and we’re two years into the famine. And Joseph’s BROTHERS make the journey from Canaan down to Egypt to buy grain, because there’s famine there too. And they appear before Joseph.

When Joseph reveals who he is, he adds the detail “the one you sold into Egypt.” The brothers are TERRIFIED. But he reassures them, (45:5) And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, BECAUSE IT WAS TO SAVE LIVES THAT GOD SENT ME AHEAD OF YOU. 6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. 7 But GOD SENT ME AHEAD OF YOU TO PRESERVE FOR YOU A REMNANT ON EARTH AND TO SAVE YOUR LIVES BY A GREAT DELIVERANCE. 

You think he’d be bitter, and want revenge. But he’d learned, despite all the struggles and injustices, that GOD WAS AT WORK through it all. That he was using Joseph to SAVE LIVES.  You see, God cares about people having enough to eat. And about wise use of resources. And he equips his people to play their part in DOING GOOD to people.

Work: For your good

So, we’ve seen that your work is good because it helps other people. Second, it’s also good FOR YOU.  At the very LEAST, normally we’re PAID to work. Which means that we’re able to buy the goods and services we need to live, and then to give generously to others. But even if we don’t get paid, there’s OTHER benefits of work. A reason to get up in the morning, a sense of achievement, the joy of teamwork, and satisfaction of creating something or helping someone.

ANOTHER benefit of our work is that it DEVELOPS us. We see that in the life of Joseph. He learned the skills of administrating and overseeing as a slave in Potiphar’s house, and then in prison.  It would have been simpler and less painful for Joseph if he’d just gone straight from looking after sheep to Pharaoh’s court, and given his dream interpretation. But God needed a skilled administrator who could lead the nation through the complicated and sensitive job of collecting the heavy tax on grain during the GOOD years. And building all the storehouses. And keeping records. Even when everyone said they had enough. And then making sure it was justly distributed during the famine years. Without bribery and extortion and the rich and privileged taking advantage. It needed the diplomatic, organisational and leadership skills Joseph would have developed as a steward in Potiphar’s house. Even MORE SO, as a prison supervisor.

None of it was pleasant, and yet with the benefit of hindsight, Joseph could see God’s hand in it all. Over in Ch 50, his father Jacob has died, and his brothers are scared that Joseph will finally take revenge on them. But once again, he reassures them (v19) “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. God intended his brothers’ jealousy FOR GOOD. HE used Joseph’s injustices and struggles to ACCOMPLISH GOOD.

I’m pretty confident most of us won’t have careers as influential or constructive as Joseph’s. But God’s still planning OUR work difficulties for good as well. I’m confident because of promises like Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, God works ALL things for good. Including work. Good outcomes that make us more like Jesus. It may not be PLEASANT, but it’s still for OUR GOOD.

God can use that injustice against you to open up new opportunities, or to teach you compassion for others.  He can use a difficult and needy colleague to teach you not to judge hastily, how to empathise, and how to listen.  That missed promotion teaches you contentment, and means less hours, and more space and time and energy to prepare your Sunday School class. He uses work challenges that stretch you beyond what you’re good at to teach you humility, and teach you new things about yourself, and to lean on him in dependence, and to pray. Roadblocks in the way of your goals teach you resilience, and to be creative in problem-solving. Multiple challenges at once teach you how to prioritise, and be organised. Slow progress at achieving KPI’s teaches you patience, and the wisdom of steady planning.

How is YOUR WORK changing YOU? How have you developed in the last five years? If you can’t see the change, pull out those annual performance reviews. And COMPARE them. Maybe they’re good for SOMETHING.

Work: For God’s glory

The FINAL way our work is GOOD is that God can use it for his glory.  Every one of us who’s a Christian/ is ON SHOW at work. Whether we’re in customer relations or not. The world is watching us, and judging us. Our bosses are watching us, our colleagues, our assistants, our customers. And God is GLORIFIED, or NOT, in how we work. How we relate to people, and situations. How generous we are, how honest, how pure. Your work IMPACTS people. May it be IN A GOOD WAY, not a NEGATIVE way.

Peter commands us, in 1 Peter 2:12 LIVE SUCH GOOD LIVES AMONG THE PAGANS that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and GLORIFY GOD on the day he visits us.

And Jesus says, in Matthew 5:16 Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Notice how, in each of these verses, we’re living IN THE WORLD.  God is calling us to work WITH non-Christians, and FOR non-Christians, and to SERVE non-Christians. All for God’s glory. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says So whether you eat or drink or WHATEVER you do, DO IT ALL FOR THE GLORY OF GOD.

Genesis 2:4-25: God’s design for work

In our church, there are ALL SORTS OF PEOPLE doing ALL SORTS OF WORK. There are school teachers, nurses, doctors, home carers and musicians. There are various sorts of managers, LOTS of accountants, a few theological lecturers, and two types of artists. There’s a couple of aged care chaplains, as well as a navy chaplain. And we’ve also got (in alphabetical order) an actuary, a bursar, a bus driver, a business analyst, a computer programmer, a courier, a librarian, an orthoptist, a pet sitter, a policeman, a postman, a radiographer and a real estate agent.

Then there are those who work, but don’t get PAID. Students, retirees, volunteers, family carers, and parents and child-raisers. Those who serve on boards and committees. And then there’s all sorts of ADDITIONAL work we all do. We don’t get PAID, but it’s WORK. Gardening, cleaning, cooking, driving, car maintenance, paying bills.  Or MINISTRIES we do. Sunday school or Scripture teaching, leading home groups or youth group, playing music, making coffee, welcoming people.

When you think about it, much of our life is WORK. But why do we do it? What’s its PURPOSE? And what difference does being a CHRISTIAN make to how and why we work? Those are the questions we’ll be answering over the next six weeks.

But the place to start is the beginning. When God created everything.

Creation Work

And what we find in the first chapters of Genesis, perhaps surprisingly, is that GOD WORKS TOO. God CREATES. In chapter 1 he creates by his WORD. And he does it all in a six day working week. And he gets ENJOYMENT from what he’s achieved. Each day closes with the chorus, “And God saw that it was GOOD.” And then, at the end of his working week, he RESTS. Gen 2:2 says By the seventh day God had finished the WORK he had been doing; so on the seventh day he RESTED from all his work.

But if we zoom in a little closer, we see that GOD’S work is the BLUEPRINT for OUR work. Or to say it another way; It’s in our nature to work, because we’ve been CREATED that way, right from the beginning, by a GOD WHO WORKS.  Day 6 of his working week, God saves the best ‘til last. He creates HUMANS. And he says in v26. “Let us make man in our IMAGE, in our LIKENESS, and let them RULE 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.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be FRUITFUL and increase in number; fill the earth and SUBDUE it. RULE over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

There are two words there that describe our relationship to God. We’re made in his IMAGE. And in his LIKENESS. “Likeness” just means that God makes us LIKE him in certain ways, which we’ll think more about in a moment.

But “IMAGE” is an interesting word. It’s the same word used in other places for IDOL. And in Middle Eastern culture of the time, when a king defeated another nation, he’d put an IMAGE, or a STATUE, of himself in that nation. And that image would REPRESENT the king. It would show that he was king of THAT nation, as well as his own.  God has made the earth, and then set up his IMAGE there, as his REPRESENTATIVE. Humanity is God’s declaration that He’s KING on the earth. But not only that, we ACT as ruler over the earth, under God. We act on God’s BEHALF. That’s the idea of being made in God’s LIKENESS.

We’re like God in TWO ways: in our FUNCTION, and in our NATURE. In our FUNCTION, we see that God makes us to WORK. V26. We’re to RULE over the animals and plants and the earth. And then, in v28 it adds we’re to increase in number, fill the earth and SUBDUE it.

To RULE has the idea of governing, and controlling the earth. Providing the conditions in which the earth will PROSPER. To rule as God’s representative, or IMAGE, means we’re to rule IN THE SAME WAY GOD RULES. That is, to wisely serve and benefit and preserve the earth. That sort of work includes farming and collecting food, as well as fencing, protecting, guiding, separating and cleaning. Ruling’s also about measuring and investigating – so all the SCIENCES fit in there too.

And then there’s the word “SUBDUE”. To SUBDUE the earth has the idea of CULTIVATING. Of beginning with raw materials, and then DEVELOPING them into something more useful, or complex or effective. Subduing the earth means planting a seed, and then nurturing it to produce a crop of wheat, or an apple tree. But it’s also milling the wheat into flour, collecting milk and churning butter, adding some eggs, cutting up the apple, and then baking an apple pie. It’s also cutting down timber, and building a table. It’s digging up clay, turning a pot, then cooking it in a kiln. Or making paper, gathering pigments, mixing them together, and painting a picture. Or farming sheep, cutting the wool off, washing it, spinning it, and knitting a jumper. It’s journalism, and cooking, photography, and architecture, and electrical engineering, and plumbing.

By the time we get to Genesis 4, we see a few of the ways humanity cultivates the earth. V17, Cain built a city. V20, Adah lived in TENTS, which he made. And he raised livestock. V21, Jubal was the father of those who played the harp and flute. Or Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. All sorts of ways that people DO things to produce a BENEFIT – which is what WORK IS. All living out their God-given creativity in working to subdue the earth.

So, one way of categorising the work we do is that there’s CREATION work. Work that RULES and SUBDUES the earth.

(So, we’re like God in our FUNCTION). The second way we’re like God is IN OUR NATURE. We’re like God because we’re RELATIONAL. It’s not really explained, but 1:26 hints that GOD is, somehow, MORE THAN ONE. “Let US make man in OUR image,” he says, it SEEMS, to himself. (By the time we get to the New Testament we understand that God is Trinitarian, three persons but one God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit, existing together from all eternity.) And he makes humanity in his likeness, MALE and FEMALE. Two different identities, designed to be ONE, connected in relationship. One can’t exist without the other.

So in summary, Genesis 1 shows us that God WORKS. And that he made US to work. And that he made us to work IN PARTNERSHIP.

Genesis 2

We see that idea of RELATIONSHIP explained in more detail in Genesis 2. Chapter 2 introduces us to the GARDEN. And God forms a MAN, and v15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to WORK it and TAKE CARE of it. He’s working, or cultivating, the garden. And he’s taking CARE of it, or KEEPING WATCH over it.

But it’s a big job, and he’s on his own. And, in v18, we read something extraordinary.  18 The LORD God said, “It is NOT good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Up until now, everything God’s made has been GOOD, or VERY good. But here, it’s NOT good. But what is it that’s not good? We often assume the man’s LONELY. But the context suggests something else. He’s been put in the garden to work it and take care of it. And he’s doing it ON HIS OWN. Which is why God’s going to give him a HELPER. Not a soulmate, or a friend. But a HELPER.

And she’s a helper who’s SUITABLE for him. The word translated “suitable” is a compound word that literally means “LIKE OPPOSITE him.” He doesn’t need someone the SAME as him, he needs someone who COMPLEMENTS his characteristics – who’s strong where he’s weak, and vice versa. That way the two TOGETHER can do the ruling and working and subduing. Because the problem isn’t that he’s LONELY. But that he’s doing the work ALONE.

We’ve been DESIGNED to work. And designed to work WITH OTHER PEOPLE. And God’s plan is that we get ENJOYMENT out of that work, just like GOD does. Which explains why work in TEAMS can be so SATISFYING. But often work’s NOT like that. It’s NOT enjoyable or rewarding. Often work is difficult and full of conflict and frustration. There’s more to be ENDURED than ENJOYED.

Fall Work

And we find out WHY in Genesis chapter 3. God sets the ground rules for life. But man and the woman fall into SIN. They choose independence from God. They want to choose for themselves what’s right and wrong. They eat the fruit God told them NOT to eat. And nothing’s been the same SINCE… NOTHING. Marriage and relationships. The earth itself. Even WORK. Down in v16, God issues the verdict. 16 To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” 17 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 you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground,

Notice that this side of the fall, we’ve still got the same two jobs. But they’ll now be a lot TOUGHER. Multiplying and filling the earth will now come through painful childbirth. And the marriage relationship will be soured by CONFLICT and a battle for CONTROL, rather than being a genuine partnership.

And the job of ruling and subduing the earth? For Adam, it will be DIFFICULT, and frustrating. There’ll be drought, and weeds and rocks and frost. And we can add OTHER frustrations to those – computer crashes, and ambitious competitors and unfair promotions, and disagreements and misunderstandings, and unjust verdicts. Because people now do what THEY want to do, rather than what GOD has commanded. Which is, ultimately, what sin is. And so there’s greed, and laziness, and materialism, and selfishness, and bribery and extortion, and pollution, and workplace accidents. It’s a long way from enjoyment and fulfilment and teamwork.

And so what all of that means is that there’s a whole OTHER category of work called FALL work. It’s work that minimises, or protects us from, or undoes the effects of, the fall. It’s policemen and lawyers. It’s doctors and nurses. It’s locksmiths. And dentists. It’s soldiers, and cleaners. It’s industry regulators and marriage counsellors, and social workers, and pharmacists. All sorts of jobs that SERVE people – BLESS them – by reducing suffering, and making their life in a fallen world less painful or frustrating.

Even GOD is involved in FALL work. Look at v21, he’s announced the consequences of their disobedience, and then, v21, The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. Despite their rebellion, an animal is sacrificed so that his people can be CLOTHED. It’s God working to protect us from the effects of the fall. In fact, that verse is a hint of where the big story of the Bible goes after that. And a hint of a THIRD type of work – REDEMPTION work.

Redemption work

The rest of the Bible is the story of how God works to RESTORE and PROTECT and BRING US BACK. That act of generous provision is the first step in a whole series of gifts. Gifts that climax in the gift of HIS OWN SON, Jesus. Another who died to cover us. Not a sheep who died so we’d be covered with skins. But a perfectly obedient human, who freely gave up his own life in place of ours. So that we might be covered with HIS obedience, his righteousness. And restore us to relationship with him. And those of us who are Christians live and work wearing THAT clothing. The pure, white robes of forgiven sin, and restored relationship.  And so, there’s a THIRD type of work we should be involved in. REDEMPTION work.

The big story of the Bible is God working to bring people back to himself. GOD’S involved in redemption work.  And he calls US to be involved in redemption work, TOO. To point people to Jesus. The One who restores them to their Creator, and what’s he’s called them to live for. To prepare them for judgment. For the day when Jesus returns, brings this world to a close, and brings in ETERNITY – a new heavens and a new earth.

Redemption work is praying, and meeting together as Christians. It’s encouraging and teaching and building each other up. Redemption work is living for Jesus, and speaking up for him, in our workplaces and community groups and neighbourhoods. It’s reading the Bible with someone else. It’s teaching Sunday School, or Scripture, or leading Youth Group. It’s doing mission work overseas, it’s doing evangelism here on the streets or in parks. Some of us get to do redemption work FOR A LIVING. But ALL of us who are Christian are involved in redemption work, to some degree.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that ALL Christians, if they thought about all the different work they do, would find that they do CREATION work, AND fall work, AND redemption work. Sometimes PAID, but often NOT.

Why not just do REDEMPTION work?

In the weeks to come, we’ll be thinking in more detail about HOW we work in those different ways.  But I want to finish today by thinking about the question of PRIORITY. Perhaps you’re thinking, obviously REDEMPTION work is the most important work. THIS world’s ending. Does that mean I should give up my creation work, or fall work, and become a missionary or a ministry worker of some sort? Why not just do REDEMPTION work, if that’s what’s going to LAST FOR ETERNITY?

The simple answer is that Christians should continue to do creation and fall work, as well as redemption work, because GOD is still involved in creation, fall and redemption work. He’s still SUSTAINING AND PROVIDING FOR his world, just as he’s calling people to himself and SAVING them. He shows COMMON grace to everyone (creation and fall work), as well as SPECIAL grace to those he’s saving (redemption work).

And not only is GOD doing all three sorts of work. But that’s what JESUS did as well when he was on earth. And he’s the most complete, fulfilled, obedient human who lived. So we should COPY HIM. He did CREATION work. He was a carpenter. And when he began his ministry, he turned water into wine, and 5 loaves and 2 fish into enough food for thousands.  And he did FALL work. He undid the effects of sin. He calmed storms, and cured the sick, and cast out demons.  And he did REDEMPTION work. He preached the gospel, and he forgave sin, and he died in our place, and was resurrected, defeating death. Matthew summarises his ministry, (4:23) Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.

And so, as Christians, we’re to be doing the same sort of work that JESUS did. Preaching the good news of the kingdom, but also LOVING people as we work to HELP them in all sorts of ways.

And here’s WHY. Jesus REVEALED GOD’S KINGDOM as he healed and preached. He LIVED out the Kingdom of God. And he pointed people to the day when his kingdom will FINALLY and COMPLETELY come. He gave them a TASTE of that day.  AND SO DO WE. We live out the Kingdom of God NOW. And we point people to what God’s kingdom will be FINALLY like. Our working lives are entrees, preparing people for what the main course will taste like.  We live out the kingdom as we preach Jesus as King, and as we obey and follow him. But we also live out the Kingdom of God as we LOVE our WORLD. As Christian nurses show love and compassion for the old and the sick. We live out the Kingdom of God as lawyers and policemen and social workers work for justice and equality. And as Christian artists and musicians teach us to notice and rejoice in beauty. And as Christian teachers pass on wisdom and knowledge to kids. And as Christian businessmen practice honesty and hard work in their offices. And provide value for money in the goods they sell. And as Christian farmers and manufacturers and chefs bless us with nutritious and delicious food and drink. That’s living out the kingdom.

No ONE PERSON lives out the kingdom completely the way JESUS did. But that’s where TEAMWORK comes in. TOGETHER, THE CHURCH is the body of Christ. YOU may not preach to the nations, but THE CHURCH is doing it. YOU may not feed the hungry, or relieve suffering, or visit the prisoners, or teach Scripture, or raise children. But the CHURCH is doing it. And there’s joy and satisfaction in that. Together, we witness NOW/ for what God’s kingdom will be like THEN. We don’t BUILD that eternal kingdom by our creation and fall work, but we PREPARE people for it. Like an architectural model of a building that’s going to be constructed. We’re working on building the MODEL. God will build to REAL building in the FUTURE. But the world can get a taste of what the FINAL kingdom will be like as they see what we’re building TODAY.

So STICK AT IT. WHATEVER you do. It’s not wasted. God is USING it. You’re playing your part in what the CHURCH is building. Whether you’re a student or a stay-at-home parent, or retired. Whether you’re on $200,000 a year, or $20,000. Whether you’re a manual labourer, or sit behind a desk all day. Whether you’re all WORDS, or all ACTIONS.

The Apostle Paul rejoiced in the broad diversity of the church working in the world. And I’ll leave the last word about work to HIM. HOW should you work? Colossians 3:23 Whatever you do, WORK AT IT WITH ALL YOUR HEART, as working for the LORD, not for men,

And what ATTITUDE should you have in your work? Colossians 3:16 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

And what’s the big picture in your work? 1 Corinthians 10: 31 So whether you eat or drink or WHATEVER YOU DO, do it all FOR THE GLORY OF GOD.