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Our Work, God's Glory

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In the midst of a society which both idolizes and demonizes work, it is important for believers to resist the pull to either extreme. Rather, as God's chosen people, Christians orient their view of work—its importance, function, and its potential—around who God is and how He models both labor and rest.

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Introduction: Work and the World

A Brief Comment on Labor Day

Every year there is one last boom in the national sales of hotdog rolls and hamburger buns—one last chance to head to the beach before the rhythm of daily life transitions from the lazy summertime waltz to the staunch back-to-school march. For most of us, myself included, Labor Day marks the disappointingly-early end of summer and the beginning of fall—a return to school for students and a return to fuller schedules, tighter deadlines, and longer meetings for many in the world of work. And although we typically take advantage of this last breath of summer to do anything but think about work, thinking about work—and specifically acknowledging and celebrating labor of American workers was exactly what the U.S. Congress had in mind when it voted to make the first Monday in September a national holiday—Labor Day, in 1894.
Now depending on your particular constitution, Labor Day might present one of two options. For some, this is the last hurrah—please do not talk to them about budgets or proposals, and whatever you do, don’t bring up working late next Friday. This is sort of the Ostrich, head-in-the-sand approach to Labor Day. But this is not everyone’s cup of tea. There are those for whom this is not one last day of vacation, but one last day of preparation. These are the eager beavers—they are raring to go—they are the ones calling about next month’s staff meeting while they polish their ID badge, refill their staplers, and color coordinate the employee handbook.

Two Attitudes Towards Work

I would guess that many of us don’t see ourselves at either end of these extremes—we neither loathe work nor live for work—but even if this isn’t you specifically, chances are it is someone working (or has worked) beside you. Here is one side of the picture:

Workist Attitude

On average, Americans put in more hours than workers in other developed countries. With nearly half of the workforce working between 35 and 45 hours per week, and a quarter of all employees working between 45 and 60 hours per week.
Americans also take less time off—much less—than workers in other countries: about 20 days (including vacation and sick days, and holidays).
Even compared to ourselves, we’re working more than in the past. In 1960, only 20 percent of American mothers worked. Today, 70 percent of American children live in households where all adults are employed.
Nevertheless, in 2017, just more than 70% of Americans said that they were satisfied with their boss, their vacation time, and their chances for promotion.
But here’s the other side of the same coin:

Anti-Workist Attitude

In 2021 (largely triggered by the disruptions caused by the Pandemic), more than 47 million workers quit their jobs—this has been dubbed “The Great Resignation” or “The Big Quit.” Majorities of those who quit their jobs blamed:
Low pay (63%)
No opportunities for advancement (63%)
Disrespect at work (67%)
Last year, only 36% of employees were considered “actively engaged” at work—which is to say that they feel involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace.
In March of this year, the gap between open jobs and available workers hit 5.6 million, a new historic high.
So on the one side—Americans are working more hours per week, with less time off than those in other countries, most families have two working parents, and most say they’re pretty satisfied with how things are going. On the other side, record high numbers of people are quitting their jobs, feeling unappreciated, stuck, and disrespected. On top of that, only about one third of workers feel enthusiastic about their work.

Three Observations (Spiritual Reality Check)

Work is an important and significant part of life and deserves our attention.
Romans 12:1 NIV
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
We are living in a time of “work extremes.” (Loving it too much, Hating it).
Romans 12:2 NIV
2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
The way we measure our satisfaction/dissatisfaction with work reveals what/who motivates and is important to us.
Matthew 6:24 NIV
24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Three Spiritual Reality Checks (Main Thesis)

Our “work life” is not opposed to our “spiritual life,” as if we had multiple competing lives.
Our work is an essential part of how we live for, honor, and ultimately glorify God.
If we do not cultivate and maintain a Christ-centered view of work, we will likely find ourselves led (consciously or unconsciously) by predominant worldly ideologies.

Worldview (Weltanschauung)

Worldview (Weltanschauung): The set of beliefs about fundamental aspects of reality that ground and influence all one's perceiving, thinking, knowing, and doing.
“A worldview is seen as lying at the heart of every cultural entity… Worldview is the deep-level assumptions, values, and commitments in terms of which people govern their lives.”
Charles Kraft. Christianity in Culture. 1979.
[Next Slide]
Four-fold table: perceiving, thinking, and doing on the bottom (“deep”) and doing on the top (“surface”).
James 1:22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

Work-Centered Worldviews

Worldviews are all around us—no one lives without one.
Colossians 2:6–8 (NIV)
6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
Materialism: The idea that only material things (matter) exist.
Consumerism: The idea that increasing the consumption of goods and services is always a desirable goal and that a person's wellbeing and happiness depend fundamentally on obtaining consumer goods and material possessions.
Workism: The idea that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose.
This misplaced trust in and devotion to work is not just apparent to believers, but also to non-believers. One journalist (writing from an atheist perspective) describes it as “The Gospel of Work” and says that after turning away from God, people often attempt to fill the void of identity, purpose, and security through their jobs:
“The decline of traditional faith in America has coincided with an explosion of new atheisms. Some people worship beauty, some worship political identities, and others worship their children. But everybody worships something. And workism is among the most potent of the new religions competing for congregants.
What is workism? It is the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose; and the belief that any policy to promote human welfare must always encourage more work.
Homo industrious is not new to the American landscape. The American dream—that hoary mythology that hard work always guarantees upward mobility—has for more than a century made the U.S. obsessed with material success and the exhaustive striving required to earn it.”
Derek Thompson, Workism is Making Americans Miserable. 2019.
These worldviews are apart of the “hollow and vain philosophies” that Paul is talking about in chapter 2.
[Next Slide]
Solomon, in all his wisdom, speaks to the fruit of such work:
Ecclesiastes 2:4-8
4 I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. 5 I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. 6 I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. 8 I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces.
Ecclesiastes 2:10-11
10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. 11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun
Ecclesiastes 2:10-11
10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. 11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.
[Yellow-text Slide]The problem with these work-centered worldviews it that in reality, they are essentially, self-centered. [Review Worldviews]

The Christ-Centered Worldview

How do things like building houses, planting vineyards, making gardens, parks, generating wealth, become self-centered? They become de-centered, eccentric if you will.
Colossians 2:18–19 (NIV)
18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
We can protect ourselves from falling into this trap of a self-centered view of our work (and it is indeed a trap), by continually checking our connection to the Head.
Who am I working for? Who is the foreman on this project? Who am I ultimately trying to please with the work that I am doing?
Christocentrism: “Christ at the center.”
Psalm 127:1–2 (NIV)
1 Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. 2 In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves.
What do we do if we realize that we have lost or have never had connection to the Head in our work? Let’s turn back to Colossians 3:1-6.
Colossians 3:1–6 (NIV)
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. 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.
It is not easy. We must be remade, in a way.
We set our hearts
Set our minds
We voluntarily die—hiding our own life in Christ (putting our sole trust in Him).
Put to death our old self
Put on the new self.
Transition: Three distinctives of a Kigdom perspective (or mindset, or worldview) as it concerns our work.

A Kingdom Perspective on Work

1. We shouldn’t dissociate our work from our faith because God Himself brought the two together in the first place. God made us to work.

Genesis 2:15 (NIV)
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
We bring glory to God by acknowledging who He is as Creator (Elohim) and how He made us—His creations.
*Elohim is the Hebrew word for God that appears in the very first sentence of the Bible. We remember that he is the one who began it all. This ancient name for God contains the idea of God's creative power as well as his authority and sovereignty.
Someone working really hard to be someone they’re not instead of living into who they were MADE to be. (Thinking of the Parrot in 101 Dalmatians who thinks he is a Rottweiler.
Transition:
In the same way that God, in His perfect and loving knowledge of us, is trustworthy when He tells us which activities are fruitful and life-giving (like work and rest for example), He can also be trusted when He tells us how—and in what spirit—these pursuits are good, as He intended.

2. God made us to work and made us to work in a particular way.

*Place special emphasis on “Clothe” yourselves. This is first and most important employee handbook.
Colossians 3:12–14 (NIV)
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
He gave us special uniforms that are just as important as the work we perform. These uniforms are clothing of the new self (Co. 3:12-14). (Think of a profession in which it is useless to do the task if you’re not wearing the correct uniform; i.e. Firefighter).
We glorify God when our hearts, work, and our behavior reflect the heart, work, and behavior of His Son—who is our life.
Colossians 3:4 NIV
4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
*Note the list in 3:12-14 which does not specify any particular hierarchy of virtue, except for one: love (v. 14).
Compassion
Kindness
Humility
Gentleness
Patience.
Forgiveness
Love -> perfect unity
Romans 13:14 says “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” If we work hidden in, and clothed by Jesus, our work—absolutely no matter what it is, takes on eternal meaning and significance. It doesn’t matter whether you’re cleaning toilets, checking in library books, weeding the garden, or negotiating mergers and acquisitions, if you do it with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love, your work will be distinctive to the those around you and glorifying to God.

3. We work to glorify God. Regardless of who is our earthly higher-up, God is always our true and ultimate higher-up.

Colossians 3:22–24 NIV
22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry 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 human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
We glorify God in our work when we
seek first His kingdom (business interests)
honor Him with our first fruits (labor/finances)
recognize His ultimate authority (ethical standards/judgement).
Christians work on another pay schedule: we receive the ultimate payment for our work not weekly or bi-monthly, but in a lump sum in Eternity.
We are contract employees, lent out from God’s service to labor among our neighbors on earth, but HE is our true boss, our true master.

Conclusion: Our Work, God’s Glory

Though we are diverse in our talents, skills, careers, and passions, we are united and are two work in perfect harmony in our singular vocation: To love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourself. (Matt. 22:36-40)
Paul writes in Colossians 3:11, “Here there is not Greek and Jew...slave or free; but Christ is all, and in all.” We can add to this list: Here there is neither Executive or Intern, Essential or Expendable—In Christ, we all have the same employment status: Servant. (We all work in the same industry: Kingdom construction).

Exhortation

To work diligently, offering our work to God as we bear His image and emulate His creative and productive character.
Colossians 3:23–24 (NIV)
23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
For any who might see our work and call it good, we respond by acknowledging and praising the one from whom every blessing flows, saying:
Psalm 115:1 (NIV)
1 Not to us, Lord, not to us
but to your name be the glory,
because of your love and faithfulness.

Invitation (last slide)

Colossians 3:1–10 (NIV)
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.
10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
Let us stand together and offer our lives, consecrating them to the Lord.
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