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Mosaic Spokane

The Sanctifying Power of Work

The Sanctifying Power of Work

I Thessalonians 4:9-12

February 9, 2014

We live in a consumerist culture. It’s never more evident than when you’re watching TV advertisements. Everywhere we turn, we are told that we should be pampering ourselves, indulging ourselves and taken care of by someone else.

  • McDonalds tells/told us “You deserve a break today.”
  • Burger King says we should “have it our way.”
  • BVD Underwear has a cute play on words “Next to myself I like BVD best” (cute…but still self-absorbed).
  • The State of California tourism add tells us to “find yourself here.” Wow, I’m glad I didn’t have to go to CA to do that!
  • Johnny Walker Black Whiskey tells us to “Honor Thyself”. At least they made it sound spiritual! J
  • Loreal Cosmetics “Because you’re worth it,”
  • Ford promises that “Everything we do is driven by you,”
  • American Idol tells us, “YOU Are What This Competition Is All About.”
  • Bank of America: Think what we can do for you.” (After the financial bailout I think they should have changed that to, “Think of how much you did for US!”
  • Twix: Two for me…none for you! Ouch.

So, it sounds pretty foreign to our ears when God comes along in his Word and tells us not to “love yourself” but to “Love one another.” Oh, but that’s…other-focused! And if that weren’t enough, Paul starts off today’s passage in I Thess. 4:10 commanding us, followers of Jesus, to “increase more and more” in love for one another.

The American church, for all its attempts to not ingest the cultural values of the increasingly secular culture around us, has drunk rather deeply at the fountain of self-fulfillment and consumerism over the past several decades. If we were to somehow be able to invent that much dreamed about time travel machine and go back into church in the first few centuries of Christianity, I think we would be shocked at how little the early church focused on themselves and how much they focused on Christ, on each other and on people without Jesus Christ. I’m pretty sure that they didn’t join the Church under the rule of crazy Nero because of what they could “get out of church.” The only consumerist culture going on in Nero’s day was Christians being consumed by fire as they were being used as human torches to light his evening garden parties!

When we make church about what WE can consume from it, we reverse the equation God set up about church. Because we are SO steeped in a culture of consumers, we almost take offense at the suggestion that we might have become people who consume church too.

I’m no advocate of mediocrity, but how long will most of us hang around a “church” where the music isn’t to our particular taste…or the preacher talks too slow…or the youth programs aren’t drawing a big crowd…or the building or facilities are cold and uncomfortable? I hate to say it but the longer I’m in the ministry, the more it feels like we’ve become a country of Christian consumers—consuming comfortable buildings, great music, entertaining preaching, engaging teaching, amazing youth programs, etc., etc.

I’ll be the first to say that church should be an experience that actually delivers something, actually changes us, actually equips us for life and strengthens us for the challenges. But HOW that is to happen seems critical to me. The expectation that a few people in a large crowd should supply that for the rest of us most of the time is not something I see in the New Testament. Instead, we hear challenges like this one in I Thess. 4:9ff…over and over again:

Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more….”

The kind of love Paul is talking about here is one of the two most frequently used Greek words for love—phileo, or in this case Philadelphia from phileo = love and adelphos = brother. It’s a family kind of love, you know, the kind that puts up with irritating habits and quirks just because you’re family. It’s the family-love that laughs and plays together, fights and makes up, cries and hugs.

            No musical group can do that for you. No amazing teacher or preacher can do that for you. No building can do that for you. Only a family can. Only real, live people who have a deep-down commitment to each other can do that.

So Paul tells us that any of us who have chosen to become followers of Jesus Christ and have been given the Holy Spirit by Him have “been taught by God to love each other.”

  • What percentage of people who go to church across American today do you think will love each other today?
  • What percentage of US Christians today will really “love each other” if they don’t gather with other believers today?
  • Better yet, if I told you to take the next 5 minutes and “Love each other more and more,” what would you do??? God’s word says that if you are a follower of Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, God has already taught you what to do.

My standing up her Sunday by Sunday may, in fact, be just the excuse everyone needs not to have to really engage each other in a loving way. So, just so we don’t disobey this clear call of God and command of the Bible, take the next 5 minutes, ask the Holy Spirit what you might do to love someone here today…and JUST DO IT! GO!

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It is no accident that Paul, in the midst of telling us that our sanctification (or our becoming more like Christ in this life) involves our sexuality, also points to a couple of very daily, very time-consuming, foundational parts of our lives: loving God’s family and work. We spent a little time today on the first one—loving God’s family. I want to spend the rest of the time today looking at how WORK plays a big part in God’s sanctifying work in our lives.

So here is what God said to the Thessalonians about work and the place it was to play in their sanctification:

I Thessalonians 4:10ff

“Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so [love the brethren] more and more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”  

Figuring out what this verse says is really quite simple. As equally important as learning to love each other in the Body of Christ is learning to “lead a quiet life.” By “a quiet life”, God doesn’t mean he prefers introverts to extroverts or mutes to conversationalists. It’s not about the number of words you use in a day. It’s about the intent of those words, the content, the tone, the attitudes behind them. It’s really about not letting our mouths do the devils work of criticizing, bad-mouthing, gossiping or slandering other people.

            What’s the relationship between a “quiet life” and work? The tendency for unloving speech about others to happen is decreased the more we work. Working 8, 10, 12 or 14 hours a day, 6 days a week really has a way of cutting into one’s gossip life. But when we have a lot of time on our hands, our minds and mouths seem to go searching for something to do and often that something is nothing that edifies those around us, whether it’s our family and friends we’re complaining to or brothers and sisters we’re griping about.

            This was both the verbal and visual model that Paul & Co. had demonstrated to the Thessalonians when they preached the gospel to them. Back in chapter 2 of I Thess., vs. 9, Paul reminded them exactly how he had lived among them in regard to this huge area of life we call “work.”

                Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.”

            It’s interesting to me how frequently there seems to be a connection between gossips, critics and troublemakers in the church and their work status. I find that those people who are slugging it out in the work world 50 or 70 or 80 hours a week are rarely, if ever, the ones going around ragging on other saints. And that goes for families and marriages too. Unnecessary problems arise when one or both spouses are not busy working on a regular basis. Almost invariably they begin to get on each other’s nerves. They start to find fault with each other more often and are generally annoyed with each other when they aren’t engaged enough in work.

(Now, that is not to say that we should never speak a word of correction or rebuke to a brother or sister or spouse. If we’re in healthy, strong relationships, that will happen from time to time…NOT every day! The vast majority of our interactions need to be commending things, noticing the good, being grateful for the 80% that most people do right while being far more often silent about the 20% they aren’t doing too well. And when correction comes, it must happen with a tone of voice and heart that communicates long-term love rather than momentary irritation. Healthy families and friends do challenge each other to change in healthy ways. But the gossips and critics in families and even God’s family are often the ones who don’t have enough God-given plain old “work” to do. Honestly.)

This must have been a problem in the Thessalonian church because not only does Paul mention it twice in this first letter to them; he mentions it once and very forcefully in his second letter to them. Listen to 2 Thessalonians 3:6-10.

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

            Those are strong words, especially in a culture that automatically thinks that helping people in need of food, clothing or shelter means giving them what they need. Hold onto your seats because I’m going to say some things that may cause many of us (self included) to squirm. (I hate it when I have to preach to myself! J) I don’t do it to rile us, or shame us or make us feel uncomfortable. But I don’t think I can honestly teach the biblical position on work without being significantly counter-cultural to our prevailing American culture today.

Let me show you just how prevalent the wrong view of work is in the American Christian sub-culture.

ILL: One of the classes I usually teach at Moody helps students learn how to take any genre of Scripture and handle it properly so that they can come away from it with good life principles to help them and anyone they teach live more in line with God’s heart and plan.

One of the genres I have them deal with is in the O.T. Law. To do that we go to a couple of verses in Leviticus 19:9 & 10. They are about leaving the edges and corners of a field unharvested so the poor could have some food to eat. It’s the very law that gave Ruth an introduction to Boaz in the book of Ruth. It says this:“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

            When I ask students to a.) make a universal principle out of this and then, b.) give me examples of how we could implement that principle today, less than 1 in 10 students actually include having the poor do anything remotely related to “working” in order be helped. They talk about giving away food or money or buying a burger for someone on the street. They get the part about showing kindness to the poor. But 90% never include work as an integral part of the assistance they think they should be offering. And most of these kids have been raised in churches, many have been homeschooled and all are Christ-followers.

            That in and of itself tells me a whole lot about how we view poverty in the United States and what the vast majority of people in this country…even conservative Christians…think about work itself. We are living in a culture and nation that, for the first time in our history, has disconnected work from food, work from poverty and work from the solutions to both.

            What would a truly biblical (both Old and New Testament) view of poverty do with most of the “government assistance programs” that nearly half of Americans are taking advantage of today?

  • What about the Food Stamp Program? [Require some meaningful work from those who need food stamps.]
  • What would a truly biblical view of poverty do with our Unemployment Benefits program?
  • How about any of the general welfare programs?
  • What about even “Disability” payments (which is now 11 million Americans up for 202 straight months of increases…or almost 17 years). It’s costing us $200 billion /year. If you made a state out of all the Americans receiving disability, it would be the 8th most populous state in the Union. Are we really getting that much sicker as a nation OR are our attitudes about work and taking money from our neighbors changing?

And if I’m going to be fair, I would have to ask about special tax breaks most states are giving to big corporations. Take Boeing here in Washington. To entice them to stay in Washington, our state government voted to give them a $8.7 billion tax credit. When was the last time small businesses like many of you run here get that kind of tax relief?

Honestly, I could go down the entire list of government handouts from college tuition grants to school lunches, health care, child tax credits, etc. Just the fact that many of us are getting defensive right now or mentally making an argument for why OUR benefit should not require us to work for it is evidence of just how far we have drifted from the biblical view of work and its relationship to everything from basic necessities of life to wealth creation.  

Here’s the scary reality, especially given the fact that most of our country seems to know so little about basic economics and basic human nature. Government handouts have reached a level that is equivalent to 35 percent of all wages and salaries in the United States.  Considering the fact that this figure was 14 percentage points lower just 14 years ago (only 21 percent back in the year 2000) and 10 percent total back in 1960 (instead of 35 percent today), is very frightening. The nature of humanity is that most of us prefer free stuff to stuff we have to work by the sweat of our brow to get. But I digress!

So let me address one of the underlying attitudes or ideas that we Christians have about work that doesn’t match God’s ideas and intentions. There is one very big misconception that people like me who earn our livelihood from ministry have, whether purposefully or not, communicated to those of you who earn your living in what we sometimes call “secular employment.” It is simply this: At the root of our failure to integrate our faith and our work is an inappropriate division between what we call “sacred” and “secular” work. Let me come at it this way?

  • What part of Jesus life was “sacred” and what part was “secular”? Answer: “All” (sacred) and “none” (secular)
  • What kind of “work” did Jesus do when he walked the earth? Answer: carpentry (Mk. 6:3—“Isn’t this the carpenter?”), food handler, physician, professor, judge, etc. So, which jobs were secular and which were sacred?
  • Which work that Jesus did had eternal significance? (All)
  • When Jesus told stories and taught using illustrations, did he just use “spiritual” realities like heaven, angels, demons, prophets, etc. OR did he use a lot of everyday business life? (Business life too.) What kinds of businesses did Jesus point to in order to teach? (Physicians, fishing, farming, bakers, real estate business, jewelers, bankers, tax agents, government leaders, soldiers, homemakers, etc.

So if we are to become more like Jesus the longer we live, what jobs or employment or occupations will help us to do that? Answer: just about ANY! (With rare exceptions: idol-makers, prostitutes, false prophets, hit men, etc.)

            So according to Scripture, to Jesus and to Paul, most jobs, no matter how menial, how boring, how repetitious, how minimum-wage, how wealth-producing, how intellectual or how mind-numbing…God considers them to be good, honorable and a proper way to spend a good part of our life.

Work is not a necessary obstacle that prevents us from engaging in truly valuable activities. Work IS a truly valuable spiritual activity, one in and through which God intends to minister to us and the people around us through our involvement in work. Whatever occupation we may find ourselves in is just one more venue for exercising God’s call on our lives to serve Him and people. (Other venues might include family, church, neighborhood, sports, recreation, education, etc.)  

We can also say that Kingdom work in this world doesn’t just mean we care about their souls; it means we get involved in ALL of people’s lives—their physical needs and their spiritual needs, their intellectual pursuits and their emotional pursuits, their wealth and their poverty, their health and their sickness…everything! Work that benefits the entire person IS our calling.

Paul wrote in Col. 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” This would, then, cover any expenditure of energy, whether manual or mental or both, in the service of others, whether or not you get paid for it!

Which leads me to another basic question: How would you define work? What are the necessary elements of a good definition of work? (Wait for responses.)

Necessary elements:

  • An expenditure of energy (mental, physical, emotional, spiritual)
  • …in service of others (employer, customers, clients, etc.)
  • …which brings benefit to the worker (wages, satisfaction, fulfillment)
  • …and others (employer, customers, society, etc.)
  • …and glory to God.

Work is “the expenditure of energy in the service of others which brings benefit to the worker and others and glory to God.” [Revised from John Stott’s definition appearing in God Is At Work by Ken Eldred, p. 297.]

Now, let’s go back to vs. 12 of I Thessalonians 4. Here Paul gives us 2 reasons why Christ-followers are to work.

12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

            Let me ask you, if you know someone who can work (no matter whether it is physical or mental, manual labor or desk work) and they are NOT working, do you respect them more when they don’t work? Do work? Why?

ILL: Something happened a couple of weeks ago that touched me deeply. One of our younger brothers in his 30s is blind due to his battle with cancer. He’s had both eyes removed, had numerous brain surgeries, had part of his skull shaved down because it was cancerous. He lives on the north side north of Northtown and takes the bus to wherever he needs to go. He works at a job with machinery that could seriously harm him if he’s not careful.

            So when I put out the call for people to help one of our single gals move last weekend (remember, it was just a little cold out!), here’s what he wrote back: “If you're still looking for volunteers, I am interested in helping. I'll be arriving there at about 8:45, and someone can watch for me? It's much appreciated. Thank you.”

He took the bus…from the north side of town downtown… tried to figure out which bus would take him closest to the apartment…changed buses at the STA Plaza…rode to the South Hill…got off where he thought he should…spent a half hour trying to find where we were…eventually connected with us…and spent the rest of the morning helping us move. Then he got back on a bus…rode it downtown…changed buses again…rode that to the north side…and walked home from the bus stop with his cane in his hand and ice under his feet.

            Was that work? Did he get paid for it? Do you respect him more than someone who has perfect vision, slept in on Saturday, spent the morning watching TV and didn’t work all week long? His daily life would win the respect of anybody, but I think for some reason especially people who don’t know the love of Jesus that motivates a blind man to give half his Saturday just to help someone in his spiritual family.  

I don’t care how much money you have (or don’t have, for that matter). If you’re able to work but not working, it will impact your testimony with people without Christ. When my father quit being paid for his legal expertise at age 63 and went to work for the next 18 years of his life for $1/year helping a Christian college with his legal experience, did that say something about the life of Christ to his 25+ other non-Christian partners in his firm? You better believe it.

Work broadens our possible impact and testimony with people in a multitude of ways that not working can never do.

  • It puts us around people we would never meet otherwise.
  • It puts us in situations where we can help others or provide a service they need.
  • It makes us servants of people while we’re serving the Lord.
  • It enhances people’s respect for us when they see us caring for our own needs and the needs of others.
  • Work reflects the nature of the God we serve while failure to work means that others must take care of us, whether that’s our neighbors who are working and paying more in taxes or the church or your family or just someone kind enough to care.

Which brings us to the second reason why Christ-followers are to work: so that we will not be dependent on anybody.

It’s interesting that in a culture that prides itself on independence that such a huge percentage of the population doesn’t value financial independence. When half of Americans are actually looking to the other half of Americans to pay for something they want or think is their right, that isn’t independence. It’s not independence for the person dependent upon the government and it certainly isn’t increased independence for the people whose wages and salaries are being taken (i.e. taxed) to fund it.

Furthermore, in the deficit-spending habit our government has been in for the last 4 decades, we’re not handing our children or grandchildren more freedom. If every one of us had to pay off our share of the U.S. debt today, we would all have to cough up just short of $53,000 each! That’s 35% per person higher than what the citizens of Greece are responsible for…and Greece is the EEU’s naughty step-child. This is all the result of the last 44 years of government deficit spending. Of the last 44 years, only 4 of them have not been deficit spending years. In other words, we’ve now had an entire generation of government, 40 years, in which every year we have spent billions (and sometimes trillions) more than we have earned as a government every year.

            As with so much of what God tells us is not good for us, God hasn’t outlined all the negative consequences of living lives that are “dependent” upon others. But as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow, we’re going to have to live through some serious and painful consequences of adopting lifestyles that don’t work for what we consume. Economic independence, financial independence is a godly thing.

As Christ-followers, we are called by God to everything possible, everything moral, everything ethical, everything godly to take care of our own needs. And God doesn’t stop there with His kids. He calls us in Ephesians 4:28 to “work with our hands” so that we will have “something to share with those in need.” We are not only to be a people who take care of our own needs; we are to be a people who earn enough to take care of others who are truly in need—people who are either too sick or too old or too frail or too occupied raising little children to be able to work.

It is that belief that God gives us the ability to work, gives us jobs, and gives us incomes that has led this nation to be THE most generous people on earth. But as we have lost the belief that all of what we have comes from God and we are just stewards of it, we have ceased to be generous and have become a nation of debtors borrowing from others in order to spend what is not ours.

Before I close this message, it is one that really calls for some honest questions and reflection. So let’s start with the questions. (Q & A)

Reflection Time:

1.)    How about we all do a little inventory about our attitudes toward work.

  1. Do we see it as God’s will for us for most of our life or as a necessary evil?
  2. Do you see it as a platform from which to have more Kingdom influence or a prison you have to report to every day?
  3. What needs to change about your belief regarding work? Do you need to ask for God’s help to really see each day’s work as ministry, as God’s sacred call and commission on your life?

2.)    We all need to ask, am I dependent on the government or the good graces of other people for financial responsibilities for which God says I should be independent and personally responsible?

  1. IF so, what will we DO this week to start obeying God’s call to be financially independent through work? Who will we talk with who can help us move towards independence? What class will we take (Financial Peace University—Dave Ramsey)? What government or charity benefits will we stop taking? What work will we start doing, regardless of whether or not we get paid to do it?

3.)    Is there some way in which God has spoken to you about “leading a quiet life”? God asking you to get busier working in His Kingdom in a way that blesses others and wins the respect of people without Christ? This is why we stress serving those in need downtown here at Mosaic. It’s easy to argue with someone’s religious beliefs. It’s hard not to admire someone’s Christ-led compassion in action. What step might God be asking you to take to “work” to bless someone with greater needs than you?

 

Study Questions:

1.)    What is your attitude towards work in general? Write out as many things as you can think of that reflect your attitudes about work by completing this sentence: Work is….

2.)    What does the fact that God is a working God (Gen. 2:2-3; Ex. 34:10, etc) and that He commanded Adam who was, at that time, sinless to work say to you about the nature of work itself?

3.)    Exodus 35-39 talk about lots of different kinds of work that God commanded to be done in the building of the Tabernacle. How many different types of work/jobs were needed? What does that have to teach us about the “sacred-secular divide” that has developed in our thinking about work and ministry? Where do you see that divide impacting your thinking or life?

4.)    There are some jobs/work in which God says we should never be employed (see Deut. 27:15; Rev. 9:20). Besides these two mentioned in the Bible, are there others today you would say are outside God’s will for anyone? In addition, every job can ask you to compromise your conscience or convictions. What issues of personal integrity and character would you not compromise no matter what the potential financial implications?

5.)    What are the biggest spiritual challenges you face in your work today? What can the people of God do to support you in the midst of those challenges?

6.)    In what ways can work be spiritually transformational? What impact can lack of or failure to work have on us spiritually?

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