SENSITIVE TO THE SPIRIT
By Pastor Glenn Pease
George Burns said, "There will always be a battle between the sexes because men and women want different things. Men want women and women want men." This is, of course, what God intended, but like all good things that are carried to excess this too becomes an area of life where the sinful nature of man thrives. Sexual immorality is the first fruit of the flesh that Paul refers to, just as love is the first fruit of the Spirit.
This means that one of the first signs that you are not being led of the Spirit, but are being led by your sinful nature, is the desire to be sexually immoral. Since everyone is so tempted at some point in life, this confirms Paul's point of the conflict between the flesh and the spirit. Now this has a direct bearing on the work place. The one thing I learned in my years of secular work is that sex and work go together like love and worship. On Sunday we focus on agape love and worship, and then on Monday we enter a world of work where the focus is on sex. It is no wonder we have a hard time bridging this gap and trying to relate the one to the other.
In the plants I worked in where a secretary came out of the office into the plant, the men would whistle and then have crude discussions about anatomy. You didn't learn anything about love, but you could pick up some ideas about sex, because that is the theme of the work place. If that was true 30 years ago, I cannot imagine what it is now. Sexual harassment laws have no doubt curbed some of the sexuality, but there is no way it can eliminate it. In the place where I worked men sometimes had pinups by their machines, or in their lockers, and the flirting that went on was a major factor in that environment.
In my counseling over the years I have noted that most of the Christians I am aware of who have had affairs have done so because of their relationships in the work place. Many a Christian marriage has been killed by the work place morality that exalts sex over love. Surveys reveal that working wives have twice as many affairs as do non-working wives. It is not entirely due to a immoral focus on sex. There are natural factors that add to the danger of the work place. Work and sex are linked by the fact that they both begin about the same time in life. Young people are getting their first serious jobs at the same time they are going through puberty, or when they are at the peak of their sex drive.
I didn't have to read about this to know it, for I worked with a gang of teenagers in a theatre for several years, and I know how the theme of sex is never far away if it is not dominating the environment. Then there is the factor that people who work together often develop a greater intimacy than people who get married. People who get married often cease to talk, and they lose a sense of a growing intimacy. But people who work together keep on talking and learning about each other, and sometimes even about their mates. They have more time to talk at work often than mates do at home. The result is people develop the inevitable feeling of desire, and the work place becomes a breeding ground for the lust of the flesh. People at work often spend hours a day in romantic flirting. This is the very thing that mates are to do, but they don't do because they are too tired after a day of work and flirting.
The work place is a dangerous place, not just because of industrial accidents, but because of its predominant emphasis on sex in contrast to love. If the Christian is going to have any impact in his work for the cause of Christ, he or she has to somehow bring the love of Sunday back to that Monday environment, and help people to see that love is not a mere hot house flower too weak to survive in the world of the work place. Christians bring some of the lust of the work place back to the church, but it is suppressed. You don't walk in and find men telling off-colored jokes, and you don't see them poking one another and saying, "Did you see the legs on that gal in the first pew." Lust is always latent in our lives, and can surface even in a sacred setting, but we suppress it and say, "Get thee behind me Satan."
But I wonder if we do not then do the same thing at work in reverse. We suppress the issue of agape love, and then unconsciously say, "Get thee behind me Lord." Where lust is king it is as embarrassing for us to talk of love as it is to talk of lust where love is king. So we compartmentalize life, and on Sunday we worship and love, and on Monday through Friday we work and lust. It is sort of the best of both worlds. The only problem with this is that it misses the whole point of Sunday's worship and love. It is meant by God to so fill us with the love of Christ that we want to go into the world and bring to it the fruits of the Spirit that men might see there is more to life than the fruit of the flesh. The work place is our world that Jesus wants us to reach. It is our mission field where we can plant the kingdom of God.
If we could only see this, we could see that whatever we do can be our calling, for it can be a key way by which God can use us to open the door to the kingdom for people who may never see the inside of a church. There, you are on a mission field just as real as the missionaries we send overseas. You work with these people, and they are just as loved by God, and just as died for by Christ as anyone who has ever lived. But they are in bondage to the lust of the flesh, and all the evils that Paul lists here as acts of the sinful nature. We are fighting against these forces constantly says Paul, and the only way we can win this conflict is to be led of the spirit, and to produce the fruit of the spirit.
Let's face it, this is a David against Goliath conflict. Work and sex gets 8 hours a day 5 days a week, and worship and love gets one or two hours a week. It is not just the kids who face these odds. Many watch dozens of hour of secular TV for every hour they are in Sunday School. No wonder they know more about Hollywood stars and cartoon characters than they do about biblical characters. But the adults have the same unfair odds, and they are swamped with secular sex all week, and then they get a smattering of sacred love on Sunday. The only hope for the Christian underdog in this lopsided battle is to do what David did against Goliath. He came up with a special weapon that was superior to the armor of Goliath. He took his sling and five smooth stones, and one stone did the job and the underdog won.
In a very real sense Paul is saying that the fruit of the Spirit is to us what those stones were to David. And maybe in any particular conflict one of them also will do the job and give us the victory. The fruit of the Spirit are our 9 stones that enable us to counteract the sinful nature. There are more of them than Paul lists here, and so the list is long. If we are going to see Christ transform our daily work, we need to be a people who cultivate the fruit of the Spirit, and not just on Sunday, but Monday through Friday in the work place.
You need to carry these fruits into the workplace and let the world see they are not antiques preserved in the museum of the church to be gently touched on Sunday. But rather, they are hardy life changing fruits that can enter the atmosphere of the workplace, and beautify it and be relevant to daily human need. The world needs a demonstration that the fruits of the Spirit are superior to the fruits of the flesh, and if they never see it, why should they find anything appealing about being a Christian?
We need to exhibit these fruits for our own sake as well, for they are the weapons that keep us from being engulfed by the acts of the sinful nature. Many of these acts that Paul lists are just as appealing to the Christian as they are to the worldly person. They are counterfeits of the fruits of the Spirit, and many fall for Satan's deception and think that an affair will bring love, joy, and peace. The only way a Christian can stand and have a clear witness for Christ is to have a clear grasp of the distinction between what is of the flesh and what is of the Spirit. Only the Christian sensitive to the Spirit's leading, and consciously aware of the values of the fruit of the Spirit in the workplace, will be able to have an impact for Christ at work.
We do not have time to look at how each of the 9 can be applied, but as we look at the first 2 we can get an idea of just how precious and powerful they could be if we would let the Holy Spirit use us to display them in our daily work. First lets look at-
I. THE FRUIT OF LOVE.
The first thing we need to do is break down the wall between the sacred and the secular. We have a hard time transferring the love of Sunday to the workplace on Monday because it almost seems sacrilegious to take the treasures of Christian love into the pagan temple of the workplace. It is this compartmentalizing of life that makes it so hard to be a Christian witness.
The fact is, Jesus never had any such wall in His life. He ate with publicans and sinners. These were the cut-throat business men of the day. Jerusalem had about 80,000 people in it, and that meant a lot of people who could be conned out of their money. The religious racketeers got them in the temple exchange, and the publicans got them by overtaxing them, and then in their despair the prostitutes could offer them some comfort for their remaining sheckels. My point is, life was not different in the basics than it is from now. The masses of working people were victims of one injustice after another, and sinful indulgence of the flesh seem to be their only hope for some joy and pleasure in life.
Yet we see that Jesus did not avoid these kinds of people where the atmosphere had to be one of foul talk and sensuality. We never get a hint that Jesus was embarrassed to talk to a woman who was married to 5 husbands, and who was now living with a man out of wedlock. Here was a woman sold out to sensuality and the flesh, and yet Jesus does not withdraw, but confronts her with love. He never ran for cover either when they brought the woman taken in the very act of adultery. He faced the very things that you face at work with all of the lust, folly, and people damaging their lives and others in a futile quest for happiness by means of sin. He faced it as a friend of sinners offering forgiveness and pointing to a higher path where people could find what they were seeking for in love.
Jesus loved these people who were slaves of the flesh, and whose two main idols were money and sex. Yet from these ranks of the publicans and prostitutes Jesus won a great following by the power of love. We need to get the idea out of our heads that Jesus does not know or understand the atmosphere where we work. He knew it better than you long before you were born. There is no chance of shocking Jesus, and we are being foolish if we think we are protecting Jesus from the world by keeping Him in church, and trying to ignore Him through the week. He has been there, and He knows the heart of man and the depths to which His foul flesh can go.
In fact, Jesus put all men into the same category. He did not have the system of segregation that we do. The good guys and the bad guys are how we classify people. He said nobody is good but God, and so He put all in the category of bad guys. But then He loved the bad guys, for they are all the same, and they all need to be set free by love.
Jesus did not hesitate to associate with sinful people, and reveal that happiness is attainable without following the sinful nature. Jesus demonstrated the power of the fruit of the Spirit. He was loving and joyful, and He had peace with Himself, with God, and with man. He was cool and kind, and always in self-control in the midst of sinful human beings. Jesus knows what its like to be in the workplace, and He know it is a giant force for the flesh, but He also knows it can be an arena for victory if we throw fruit at it. Not stones, but fruit, and the fruit of the Spirit; especially love.
Jesus took an interest in people as individuals. He listened to their needs, and He was sensitive to their problems. He healed their children and their servants. He helped His disciples caught fish when their job was boring and fruitless. He even helped Peter pay his taxes in tough times, and He healed his mother-in-law. He helped people who were captives of Satan to break free and become honest citizens. Jesus teaches us that love listens. Listens to people because listening is often the key to helping people find love.
The Christian who is sensitive to the Spirit will strive to exhibit the fruit of love in the workplace by becoming a person who listens. Can people come and share their burdens with you without being judged and condemned? If worldly people feel you are never interested in listening, you will have a hard time convincing them that Christian love is of any value to them.
We are such a nation of talkers, but so few people are into listening-real listening. A young psychiatrist who was always exhausted at the end of the day said to his older partner, "How can you listen to your patients all day and still be so fresh and unfatigued?" The senior just smiled and said, "Who listens?" That is a good question, and the answer is only those who are concerned about exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit, for almost all them involved listening to some degree. It is work to listen, however, and the sinful nature is more concerned about using others for self rather than being used in the service of others. It takes a conscious effort to suppress selfish ambition for the sake of ministering in others in love.
We listen, but so often just as a polite basis to launch our own appeal for attention. An unknown poet put it-
I lend a sympathetic ear to other people's woe,
However dull it is to hear the real or fancied throe.
I pay attention to every gloomy line, attention undiminished.
Because I plan to start on mine the moment he is finished.
We have all been guilty of such half-hearted listening, and even this does some good, but real loving listening at work can change people's lives.
Leo Buscoglia in his Bus 9 To Paradise tells of the stewardess who came to him and told of her cheating husband and her disturbed child, and of her feelings of depression, helplessness, and fear of not being able to cope. After a while she gave a sigh of relief and said, "Oh Dr. Buscoglia, you've helped me so much." He hadn't said a word. All he did was listen with love, and with no judging or even advice, and this was a service that uplifted and strengthened another for the battle of life.
He is one of the most popular authors on love with his books like Love, Loving Each Other, and Living, Loving and Learning. In his latest book he gives some ideas that are just perfect for the Christian in the workplace. He took one of his own personal frustrations for example, which is the case of the missing socks. Like many of us, he has quite a pile of single blue, green, and black socks. He can't throw them out because he does not know if the mate to any of them will mysteriously reappear just as it disappeared. He has checked his machine for teeth and escape hatches, and special tubes for siphoning off socks, but to no avail.
He has sought to solve this mystery and even gone so far as to consider the theory of reincarnation. That would mean it is a punishment for his former life of being a foot mugger who stole foot ware to satisfy some fiendish fetish. Now he is paying for it. He has no answer to this frustration, but what he discovered was that most problems in life are less frustrating when they are known to be common. Love, he says, can be shown in very practical ways by helping other people know that there frustrations with life are the common lot of other people as well. This can be a very loving act of friendship that relieves a lot of life's stress.
To be this kind of person at work is to take the Sunday into Monday, for one of the version of Scripture that we stress is I Cor. 10:13, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man." We need to identify with the sinner even as Jesus did. He was tempted in all points like as we are, but he was without sin. Let the people you work with know that Christians do have all the same problems, frustrations, and temptations, but they also have a solution in Christ. Then demonstrate that solution that they might have hope of doing the same by faith in Christ. The point of what I am saying is that love fits into the workplace. It is the only thing there is superior to the forces of the flesh, and if people never see it, they will never believe there is a higher way.
Love cares about lost people finding the right way in Christ. The job then becomes a place of Christian service as a mission to a lost world. How can you serve at work? I don't know for you, but creative people who are sensitive to the Spirit find ways. Pierre Odier wrote the history of Alcatrez Island called The Rock. He spent a week on the Rock with his students trying to get a feeling of such ultimate confinement. No contact with others was allowed. All communication with the outside world was forbidden. In this hellish place love still found a way, and one guard risked his job by slipping candy bars to the prisoners on a regular basis. No one ever discovered the identity of this man who was the only person who ever communicated that he cared for these men. Do people where we work know that we care about them as people?
Christians are often too judgmental to love. We are so busy calculating how awful people are that we don't have room in our mind for loving. A secretary was sent out to buy her boss's wife a Valentine card. She complained to other workers, "If my husband couldn't take the time to personally buy me a card, I'd kill him." Instead of rejoicing in her chance to serve him and his wife, and possibly be a tool for their love to quickened into flame, she was burdening herself and forming a cloud of gloom on the atmosphere of her workplace.
Jesus did not come into the world to judge it and condemn it, but to love and serve it. If we are going to let Him change our daily work, we must let the fruit of His love grow in every way possible in that setting where there is no end to things to condemn and complain about. Next we look at-
II. THE FRUIT OF JOY.
There are few blessings of greater impact on daily life than a job which is a source of joy. The first American to win a Nobel Prize was Dr. Michelson of California. He worked for years to develop a way to accurately measure the speed of light. On his 74th birthday his friends expected him to retire, but instead he announced a new project to find ways to be even more accurate in measuring light. When they asked him why he wanted to go on working he said with a twinkle in his eye, "Because the job is so much fun." There are people who make a good living just by having fun because their work is fun. Edison who worked such long hours in his lab was asked why he did it, and he replied, "I never worked a day in my life. It was all play."
This is ideal work, and it will be the kind of work all Christians will have in eternity. This was what work was for God in creation. It was a joy and a pleasure, and He never said at the end of a day, "I'm glad that is over." He always said, "That is good." Joy in work is the ideal, but in the real world of millions work is not a joy. Millions of people hate their jobs and despise the work they do. I have been miserable in many of the jobs I have had. I have had jobs where I became terribly dirty and fatigued, but I never hated a job, because I was always grateful to have a job. But I knew they were all temporary because I was heading for something greater. I would not claim that I could have been happy for 40 years pulling toe nails off pigs, or cleaning printing presses.
All I can say is that I was happy doing those things for a limited time. I did a good job at each one and I enjoyed it because each was a challenge to see it I could do it well. There was fun and pleasure in doing a job well, even if it was a lousy job. I don't ever remember thinking about it in those years of secular work, but now that I reflect on it I can see how joy is a key element in your happiness at work, and in your witness being effective at work.
Paul wrote in Col. 3:23, "Whatsoever your task, do it heartily, as serving the Lord and not men." Lensky the great commentator paraphrases it, "Throw your soul into the work as if your one employer were the Lord!" The Living Bible has it, "Work hard and cheerfully at all you do, just as though you were working for the Lord and not merely for your masters." Now if we take this verse seriously it means every Christian is in full time ministry working for the Lord. It means every job is a vocation, or a calling, and one in which there is a task to accomplish that can serve the cause of Christ.
If Christians could grasp this and really believe this it would transform every job the Christian has, and they could do that job with joy, for they would be fulfilling a sacred task in their secular toil. One of the major reasons why so many jobs are not satisfying to Christians is because they seem so secular and of no real value to the kingdom of God. There is little joy connected with them, even if done on a level of excellence, because they do not seem to have any ultimate value.
Dr. Carl Lundquist, when he was president of Bethel, said this about so-called secular work: "The dichotomy is man-made that insists there is some work called sacred, in which God is especially interested, and some work called secular, in which God has little or no interest. This simply is not true. To the Christian, all work is sacred. God is concerned not only about what a man does when he serves on a board of deacons, or sings in the choir, or teaches a Sunday School Class, or preaches a sermon. He is equally concerned about what he does when he sells an automobile, or works on an assembly line, or coaches a football team, or hooks up a plumbing installation. If God could be interested in the work of Roman slaves, to whom Paul sent this advice, he certainly is interested in the work we do from 8 a. m. Monday morning until 5 p. m. Friday afternoon."
If there is joy in serving Jesus, and your daily work can be just that, then there can and ought to be joy in your daily work. Christ can transform your daily work by helping you to see how you can do it in such a way that you produce this fruit of the Spirit, which is joy. Murillo painted the famous scene called "The Miracle of San Diego." A door opens and two noblemen and a priest enter a kitchen and are amazed to find all the kitchen maids are angels. One is handling a water pot and another meat, and a third a basket of vegetables, while a fourth is feeding the fire. The message of the artist is that even the lowliest tasks of service are sacred. This was the point of Jesus when He said, "The greatest among you will be the servant of all."
If your job is of service to anyone, it is a job worthy of being classed as sacred, for Jesus came to serve, and any job that serves is a job for Him. John Newton, author of Amazing Grace, said that if two angels were sent from heaven, one to lead an empire and the other to sweep a street, they would feel no inclination to change employment. Both would be equally engaged in a God given task of service, and they could do their job heartily as unto the Lord.
If we can be sensitive to the Spirit, and see how our job is a mission and a service for Christ, we could do it with greater joy and love. It is a jungle out there, but it is a jungle where love can confront lust and win, and where joy can encounter cruelty and critics and come out on top. It is a competitive world, and the evils of the workplace are a giant of an opponent, but we have an answer, and it is to throw fruit at it-the fruit of love and joy. We can do this everyday we go to work if we will just be sensitive to the Spirit.