Navigating the Seas of Life: Manning Your Post | Selected Proverbs
Brian Hedges | September 22, 2019
We’re going to talk about work this morning, and one of the things that the Reformers and the Puritans really recovered for us was a vision of work that that was done for the glory of God, and that included all forms of work; not just the work of the pastor or the missionary or the preacher, but all of work—the craftsman, the artisan, the educator, the politician, the physician, the day worker. Whoever it was, they had a vision that all work could serve God and could serve our fellow human beings. Of course, they got that vision from the Bible, from Scripture.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that we spend a lot of our waking hours in a week at work. Every one of us has the same amount of time: we have 168 hours, and most of us spend 40 hours (sometimes more, sometimes 50 or even 60 hours a week) on the job. Even if you’re not currently working—let’s say you’re a stay-at-home mom—you’re still spending the majority of your time working, doing tasks for the sake of others, right?
So all of us, if we’re adults, unless we’re handicapped in some way or we’re not able to, almost all of us are regularly involved in our day-to-day life, employed in some kind of activity. It’s interesting that we spend so much of our lives at work, and only about two hours a week together at church on Sunday. But we don’t tend to talk about work very much in the church, do we? I mean, when was the last time you heard a sermon on work? Of course, if it’s been a long time, whose fault is that? It’s probably mine! You have heard sermons on work, probably the last time we went through Proverbs, at least, which was in 2012, so it’s been a few years.
As I’ve revisited this topic this week, I’ve just thought about how important it is to talk about the integration of faith and work and the need we have for this kind of instruction. So this morning’s a single message, but perhaps in the future we’ll actually do a whole series and take six weeks or so to really dig into everything the Scripture has to say about work.
Here’s what I’m hoping for this morning. This is what I hope you’ll walk away with. I hope that every single one of you will walk away feeling that your work, whatever your employment is, whatever your occupation, that you will that your work is intrinsically valuable and meaningful; that your nine-to-five, your Monday-through-Friday, or if you work a third shift—whatever it is, that what you do for a living contributes to society and is a part of your obedience and your worship of God.
I also hope that as we look at what Proverbs has to say about work that you’ll be able to discern some of the sinful tendencies in your own heart when it comes to work, because Proverbs has a lot to say about that.
Then I hope that all of us will be able to embrace a vision for a better kind of work, work that glorifies God, work that seeks the good of others and brings flourishing to the world. Then I hope by the time that we’re all done that we’ll be able to connect the dots to Christ’s work for us and the rest that he gives us in the gospel.
To do that, we’re going to dig into Proverbs. This is the third in a four-week series. We’ve kind of built this series around the idea of navigating, “Navigating the Seas of Life.” So the first message was “Charting Your Course” and we were talking about decision-making and guidance and wisdom in that whole realm of life. Last week was on “Choosing Your Crew.” It was about friendship and relationship and wisdom for our relationships. Today is about “Manning Your Post.” It’s doing your job, it’s faithfully doing what God has called you to do in life.
The way I want to get at is by kind of breaking this into three basic ideas. The first is I want to connect work to creation, and I want you to see that God himself, the Creator God, is the greatest workman of all, and he’s created us in his image, he’s created us for work.
Then I want us to see sin and the Fall corrupts our work and think about some of the sinful tendencies that can happen in work.
Then, last of all, I want us to think about work, wisdom, and redemption. What does it look like to work wisely as a redeemed human being?
Maybe you’re picking up the narrative here of the gospel, right. The narrative of the gospel frames this whole sermon: creation, fall, redemption. That’s really what I want us to see this morning, is, how does our work fit into the big story of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
I. Created for Work
Okay, so first of all (and this one can be fairly brief), I just want you to see that we are created for work. It’s really interesting that in Proverbs the very first use of the word “work” occurs in Proverbs 8. Proverbs 8 is not one of the chapters that we tend to spend a lot of time on when we’re doing teaching in Proverbs. It’s kind of a strange chapter; it’s sort of like a poem. It’s a poem that personifies wisdom, where Wisdom speaks with a voice, as if Wisdom is a person. Wisdom is personified as a woman. So here you have lady Wisdom, or woman Wisdom, Madam Wisdom.
She’s speaking, and she’s speaking about God in his creative work. So the first mention of work in Proverbs goes all the way back to creation, and it’s a description of God’s work.
One of the things that Proverbs is doing, wisdom literature does, is it’s connecting our daily lives with the order of God that’s been given in creation. There’s a close connection between wisdom literature and creation; it’s trying to connect us to God’s order in creation. Wisdom literature is written to help us live life according to reality, life as it really is. Right? It’s trying to show us the way the world is and how to live accordingly. So this poem from Lady Wisdom is looking back to God the Creator, and I just want to read it and want you to notice God’s characteristic as a Creator, and then remember, of course, that from Genesis 1 and 2 we are created in God’s image, and work is a part of our image-bearing.
Proverbs 8:22-31. Lady Wisdom is speaking. “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth, before he had made the earth with hits fields, or the first of the dust of the world. When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.”
It’s a beautiful poem, isn’t it, and it’s a poem that maybe as we read it you noticed how it emphasized the work of God, all of these creating-type verbs, describing the work of God. God is the one who brought forth the depths, he shaped the mountains, he made the earth, he established the heavens, he made firm the skies above. God is the Creator God.
In fact, because God is the Creator God and because work is part of God’s very nature—God creates, he makes, he builds—because of that, we can say, as one author does, that the God of the Bible is preeminently a worker. This is his characteristic, his character. He is a working God.
Another author explores some of the specific images of God that are used in Scripture, and it’s interesting that when you think about the many images that are used of God in Scripture, almost all of the occupations of the ancient world were used to describe God in some way or another. God is seen to be a composer, a performer, a metal worker, a potter, a garment-maker, a gardener, a farmer, a shepherd, a physician, a judge. All of these are occupations that people in the ancient world would have recognized, but they are used as descriptors of God, as metaphors for the work of God.
It just reminds us of God’s character, that God is a God who works, who makes things. He has created us in his image (Genesis 1), and then in Genesis 2, do you remember that he put Adam in the garden? Genesis 2:15, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”
So here’s what you need to know: you were created for work. That’s part of what it means to be an image-bearer of God; it means to imitate him in his work.
This is what J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings and all the fantasy novels, called “sub-creation.” His whole idea was he was creating his own little world, but he was doing it in imitation of the Creator God. Now most of us, probably, don’t do that by writing fantasy novels, but every time you make something or you fix something, or you repair something, whether it’s repairing a machine or helping repair a human body, you are joining with God in his work of creation.
One of the implications of that is this (this is the most important thing I want you to get from this first point): there is no distinction to be made between sacred work and secular work. This is a mistake that the church made for centuries, where they kind of elevated the work of the clergy—priests, monks, nuns. If you really wanted to be holy, if you really wanted to be devoted to God, you’d go up to a monastery or you’d take holy orders or you would become a missionary or you would become a part of the ministry, go into full-time Christian ministry, and so on. That was one of the hallmarks of the Roman Catholic church.
When the Reformation came, they were really trying to recover all of life for the glory of God. This is one of the things that Luther and Calvin made a great deal of in their books, that our callings as believers include our normal, ordinary lives, in work, in family, in community, in the things that God has called us to do.
In fact, Luther thought this was so important that he kind of built it right into his Small Catechism, in his “Table of Duties,” vocation. It’s right in the center of it. He called vocation a “mask of God.” That’s kind of a strange word for vocation. What did he mean by that? He meant that God hides himself in the workplace, in the family, in the church, and in the world.
One other quotation. This is from a contemporary author named Skye Jethani. He’s written a really thought-provoking little book called Discipleship with Monday in Mind. Skye Jethani says this, “All work matters to God. Collecting trash matters to God. Preparing lattes matters to God. Changing dirty diapers matters to God. Cooking a meal matters to God. Developing an Excel spreadsheet matters to God. As someone once said, ‘If it is not sinful work, it is sacred work.’”
So believer, brother or sister, what I want you to know right now is that your work matters. Your work is important. God has dignified work. He blesses work. He’s called you to work. He’s given you a particular station in life, and he wants you to faithfully man your post and to work for the glory of his name and for the good of others, and he intends for work to bring satisfaction to our lives.
II. How Sin and the Fall Corrupt Work
The problem, of course, is we live in a fallen world, so we not only can see the inherit dignity of work, there are all kinds of problems with work. How many of you have experienced work stress in the last week? That’s a lot of hands already, right? We all experience this. We know what it is to face the effects of the fall and corruption and sin in our work.
There are lots of ways we could talk about it this morning. We could talk about wrong motivations in work, we could talk about corrupt business practices, we could talk about overwork, our tendencies to idolize work.
I just want to focus on two things that Proverbs shows us about how sin and the fall corrupt our work. These two things are with two different characters. It’s, first of all, the slothful or the sluggard, and then secondly the unjust, unrighteous person. Notice just a couple of things about each one.
(1) First of all, the problem of sloth, the problem of the sluggard. Let’s look at Proverbs 26:13-16. This, by the way, is just a fraction of the texts about the sluggard. As I was kind of skimming through Proverbs this week (I was trying to mark every verse that has something to do with work), it’s overwhelming. I mean, you could easily spend three or four Sundays just looking at everything Proverbs says about work, and one whole message just on what it says about the sluggard! I’m just going to pick one passage, Proverbs 26:13-16. Notice what it says.
“The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion in the road! There is a lion in the streets!’ As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed. The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth. The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly.”
It’s almost a comical portrait, isn’t it, of the sluggard, the slothful man. Proverbs uses both words almost interchangeably, the slothful and the sluggard. What is he trying to tell us here about the sluggard? I think you look at those verses and you can see several characteristics of the slothful person, the sluggard.
One characteristic is they’re always making excuses for not getting their work done. You see that in verse 13. “The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion in the road! There is a lion in the street!’” Now, it’s a ridiculous excuse, right, but they’re making excuses. A lot of us, perhaps, tend to do that. When we’re not getting our work done, we make excuses. “Oh, I was just too busy. I just got distracted. I was going to encounter this unexpected problem,” whatever. But we’re not actually faithfully attending to the task and getting work done. Well, it’s a characteristic of the sluggard.
Here’s another characteristic: motion without progress. Verse 14, “As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed.” Think of a door. It’s just going back and forth, right, but it’s not really—there’s movement, there’s motion, but it’s not going anywhere. The author here is saying that the sluggard is like that. He’s turning on his bed, but he’s not actually making any progress in life.
Here’s another one: he doesn’t complete tasks. Verse 15, “The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth.” Again, this is hyperbole. It’s describing in extreme terms an extreme situation. He puts his hand in the dish to eat something but he’s too lazy to even bring it back to his mouth. Another proverb says that he hunts game but he doesn’t actually eat his game. He doesn’t actually eat and prepare that which he has taken when he’s been hunting. It’s a failure to follow through on tasks.
Then in verse 16, he doesn’t listen to others. “The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly.” I think the application for us—we have to be careful here, because it would be easy to think, “Oh, well, I’m not a sluggard! I work 55 hours a week.” Right? But the problem with sloth is that you can actually have the character of a slothful person while you’re still employed, when you’re not actually following through and doing what you’ve been hired to do, right, or when you’re making excuses for poor performance, or when you’re not teachable, and no one can actually tell you anything. Anytime a supervisor gives you direction, you’re defensive; or anytime a peer gives some kind of critical feedback, you can’t take it. All of those are characteristics of a fallen, sluggardly, slothful attitude towards work, and it’s one that we need to beware of.
(2) Here’s the second problem: the problem of injustice. Here I want to give you several different proverbs. Let me give you three.
Proverbs 20:23. This is the problem of dishonesty in work. “Unequal weights are an abomination to the Lord, and false scales are not good.” This is obviously the merchant who has kind of tipped his scales in a way that when he’s measuring out something to sell to someone, he’s giving them less than he’s actually saying, right? It’s dishonest business practices. It’s unjust.
Proverbs says a lot about that. There are actually quite a few verses that have to do with this kind of lack of integrity or lack of honesty and justice in work. We might think about our own lives in terms of how do we log hours, do we have ethical business practices, are we deceiving, are we doing any kind of deception, say maybe in our paperwork, when we’re turning things in? All of that would be condemned by Proverbs.
Here’s another aspect of injustice and work, in Proverbs 29:4-7, and this has to do with our people use their power, their influence, their authority. Proverbs 29:4 says, “By justice a king builds up the land, but he who exacts gifts tears it down.” Verse 7, “A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.”
Again, this could be a whole message from Proverbs just on justice, but Proverbs is really concerned about justice and about equity, and justice not just in terms of doing that which is honest and working with integrity, but also in caring about other people, in caring about the rights of other people, in caring about doing justice for other people.
It’s similar to Micah 6:8, “He has shown you, O man, what is good,” right, “to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Doing justice! God is really concerned about that, and especially how people in power use their authority. This is a theme that runs through Proverbs, where rulers and kings, those who have authority, are called to use it in order to do good for other people and to protect the rights of the vulnerable.
Now, as far as I know there are no kings in the room this morning, but there are lots of us who have influence on other people. For example, if you’re a teacher, are you using the authority you have in a classroom for the flourishing of students? I have four kids in school, and I’ve had experience with a number of years (I have one who is a senior in high school now). Over the years, I’ve seen really, really good teachers and I’ve seen pretty bad teachers. I’ve seen teachers that actually care about students and want to see students flourish and grow, and I’ve seen teachers that seem like they get a power trip from correcting students all the time. It’s a misuse of authority, a misuse of power.
Or, if you’re an employer, do you care about the wages of your employees? If you’re a middle manager, are you using your influence both above you and below you to help those who are working under you for a lower wage? All of these would be the ways that we need to think about how we use our influence and our authority in order to help others, so that people really do flourish.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon is one of my great heroes of the faith. I’ve mentioned this a number of times; I’ve been reading through Spurgeon, reading sequentially through his sermons, and I’m learning all kinds of things about Spurgeon. Here’s the interesting thing with Spurgeon: most preachers, when they quote Spurgeon, are quoting Spurgeon on faith, they’re quoting Spurgeon on the cross, they’re quoting Spurgeon on the doctrines of grace. There’s actually a lot of Spurgeon that gets overlooked.
It was really interesting, as I was reading volume three of the New Park Street Pulpit (these were the sermons, I think, that were preached in 1857), Spurgeon one time preached to a crowd—I think it was around 18,000 people. It was huge. It was a fast day service in London, and it was during the Sepoy Rebellion. It was a rebellion that took place; this was during England’s colonial period, kind of the imperial period, so they had a strong presence in India. There was a rebellion in India, and massacre, thousands of people were killed. The atrocities were happening on both sides; the Indians were massacring and killing British people, but the British soldiers were massacring men, women, and children. It was an awful thing.
So there was a fast day, kind of like a national day of prayer, called for the nation, and Spurgeon preached, and he preached on judgment, on God’s judgment on England. He was talking about all the sins of England, including the debauchery in certain parts of London. But then he got to something that I’m sure stepped on a few toes. He started talking about what he called “class sins.”
It really struck me. I want to read the quote, because it shows how Spurgeon is using his influence to try to encourage others who have influence to be just in the way they deal with their employees. Listen to what Spurgeon said.
He said, “But, my friends, I am inclined to think that our class sins are the most grievous.” Now, this is after he’s already talked about the pornography district in London and the depravity in the theater and drunkenness and all these other kinds of sins. He says, “...[the] class sins are the most grievous. Behold this day the sins of the rich. How are the poor oppressed, how are the needy downtrodden! In many a place the average wage of men is far below their value to their masters. In this age there is many a great man who looks upon his fellows as only stepping-stones to wealth. He builds a factory as he would make a cauldron. He is about to make a brew for his own wealth. ‘Pitch him in! He’s only a poor clerk. He can live on a hundred a year; put him in.’ There’s a poor timekeeper; he has a large family; it does not matter. A man can be had for less. In with him! Here are the tens, the hundreds, and the thousands that must do the work; put them in, heap the fire, boil the cauldron, stir them up. Never mind their cries. The hire of the laborers kept back may go up to heaven. It does not matter; the millions of gold are safe, the law of demand and supply is with us. Who is he that would interfere? Who shall dare to prevent the grinding of the faces of the poor? Cotton lords and great masters ought to have power to do what they like with the people, ought they not? Ah, but ye great men of the earth, there is a God, and that God has said he executes righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed. Yet the servants who earn your wealth, who have to groan under your oppression, shall get the ear of God, and he will visit you. Hear ye the rod. It is for this the rod falls on you.”
Now, it’s no wonder that Spurgeon was both a loved and a hated preacher. The poor loved him, and many of the rich did not. But he was carrying the burden of the poor, and he was using his influence to seek justice for the oppressed.
Brothers and sisters, we should do the same. We should be sure that we do not oppress others with whatever authority we have, and we should be sure that we labor for the justice of the oppressed in our own society.
Two ways that sins corrupt work. It corrupts work through sloth, it corrupts work through injustice.
III. Wisdom, Work, and Redemption
What, then, does it look like to work in a redemptive kind of way? What are the characteristics of redemptive work? I want to end by thinking about what we might just call wisdom, work, and redemption, the characteristics of wise, redemptive work. I want to give you four. These are four things that you get through Proverbs, you get in terms of wisdom, but they’re also four things that, ultimately, we get in Christ, when we’re looking to Christ for our worth and our value and we’re bringing our work under the lordship of Christ. These are four characteristics that should be true of our work, very briefly.
(1) Number one, diligent work. This is the opposite of sloth. Look at just one text, three verses in Proverbs 6:6-8. “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.”
What a simple object lesson! The wise man here is pointing the sluggard, he’s pointing the slothful, to the ants, and he’s just highlighting certain features, certain characteristics of their work that we should imitate.
The ant is characterized by initiative. Right? The ants are self-starters. They have no chief, officer, or ruler. In other words, they’re not doing work simply because they’re told to do it, they’re not merely doing what they’re told to do, they’re not having to be constantly prodded on by a manager or supervisor; they’re taking initiative to do their work.
They’re also characterized by industry. They work hard, preparing bread in summer and gathering food in harvest.
And (I think this is an important thing that Proverbs says a lot about) the ants are attentive to the rhythms and to the seasons, right? They’re preparing in summer, they’re gathering in harvest. There’s a lot about work for us to think through in terms of seasons and rhythms in life. There are times in life where harder work is necessary, and there are other times when a retreat is necessary.
Nature understands that. The ants understand that. It’s something that you and I have to learn as well. Diligent work. We learn it from the ants.
(2) Here’s the second characteristic of this work, what we might call deep work. Deep work. Look at Proverbs 28:19. “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.”
Now, immediately you see a contrast here, and there’s a contrast between two different kinds of activity. One person is working his land. Anyone who’s ever farmed—my dad was a farmer, so I know a little about farming. Anyone who’s ever farmed knows that farming is long work, it’s long-term work, its hard work, it’s work, again, where you have to be attentive to the seasons. Not only that, you have to be attentive to the land itself, because different kinds of soil will grow different kinds of crops. You can’t just plant any kind of seed in any kind of soil; you have to be attentive to the land.
In other words, you have to be really attentive to the very nature of things. You have to pay attention to the deep structures of reality and work in correspondence with that. That’s what I’m calling deep work. There’s a contrast between this person, who works his land, and the person who pursues worthless things, vain things, worthless pursuits.
One reason I’m bringing this up is because this actually a current topic in a lot of the literature on work right now. There’s a guy named Cal Newport who wrote a book a few years ago that’s called Deep Work. It’s a contrast between what he calls “deep work” and “shallow work.” He defines deep work as work that is “performed in a distraction-free concentration that pushes our cognitive capacities to their limits,” and he says these are the kinds of efforts that create new value, improve our skills, and are hard to replicate.
He’s contrasting that with what he calls shallow work. Shallow work would be things like the tyranny of the urgent, a lot of the things that maybe we tend to fill our days with, especially in a very electronically-driven society. There’s a difference, a profound difference, between the really deep work that actually contributes meaning and value to a company, to a business, to a whole field, to other people, that develops our skills, work that’s hard to replicate; and really shallow work that a lot of times is just busy work and is not really accomplishing anything of value.
It’s a very thoughtful book. If you find yourself—I know this doesn’t fit every person in the room, necessarily, but if you find yourself kind of in that tension between wanting to do work that really is valuable and contributes to others but finding yourself busy with shallow kinds of work, this would be a good book for you, with a lot of wisdom in it.
We need deep work, and what I mean simply is this: work that attends to the nature of things and really contributes value to the world in which we live.
(3) That leads us to the third thing: work for the common good. In other words, when we’re at work, we’re not merely thinking of ourselves, we’re also thinking of others. Let me show this in three places.
Proverbs 25:13. This is an employee who is working in a such a way as to bring value to the employer. Proverbs 25:13, “Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest is a faithful messenger to those who send him; he refreshes the soul of his masters.”
In other words, here’s someone who’s dependable. They’re actually getting their job done, and they’re refreshing those who are over them. It’s work that’s not merely thinking about the bottom line, it’s not merely thinking about personal ambition or personal comfort; it’s also thinking about the people we work for. We should care about that.
Now reverse it, flip it, and here’s a proverb that has to do with hiring well. Did you know that the Bible can actually give you good advice about the kind of people you hire? Look at Proverbs 26:10. “Like an archer who wounds everyone is one who hires a passing fool or a drunkard.”
Now, an archer who wounds everyone, I mean, this is someone who’s carelessly, thoughtlessly shooting arrows and people are getting wounded. The proverb is saying that someone who hires a fool or a drunkard is actually wounding everybody else, wounding other people. Isn’t it interesting; the proverb does not appeal to the best interest of the person making the hire, but is saying, when you make a bad hire you hurt other people.
So it’s important, if we are in positions of authority, when we’re hiring people that we’re careful in that process and that we are hiring with wisdom. When we do that, we benefit the company, we benefit fellow employees, we benefit those who work under us.
Here’s one more, Proverbs 31:8-9. This goes along with what we’ve already said about justice and using power for a positive influence. This is a word to a king, and listen to what it says. “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Again, it’s working for the common good, it’s using our influence in order to benefit others.
There are so many wonderful examples of this in history, and perhaps one that I’ll just mention quickly is the Clapham sect. Have you ever heard of the little village of Clapham, in the late 18th, early 19th century? This was a small village on the outskirts of London, and it was a group of pretty diverse people. There were educators and politicians and teachers and preachers and artisans and craftsmen and poets, but it was a Christian community that was working together to bring all kinds of reform in England.
One of the key leaders in that group, one of the key men, was William Wilberforce, who was instrumental in Parliament in abolishing the slave trade, and then 25 years later abolishing slavery itself.
Now, it’s interesting, secular historians have tried to find out what was the motivation for this, because, from what they could tell, the people who were involved in the abolition of the slave trade had no way to benefit economically from this whole enterprise; and indeed, they didn’t. They weren’t doing it for their own bottom lines. They weren’t doing it to benefit economically; they were doing it for the good of others, and of course, they were doing it because of their faith in Christ and because of their love for neighbor.
I just love the story that is told of Wilberforce. The day after Parliament abolished slavery, he came into Parliament and said, “Gentlemen, what shall we abolish next?” That’s the attitude that we should have, that we’re looking, whatever realm of influence we have, we’re looking to use it in order to bring good to others by abolishing evil and by bringing flourishing into our world.
(4) Here’s one more. We’re almost done. Not just diligent work, deep work, work for the common good, but also restful work. It almost sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Contradictory terms. How can you have restful work?
Look at one more Proverb, Proverbs 10:22. It says, “The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.” It’s interesting, the word “sorrow” here. It’s a word that’s only used six times in the Hebrew Old Testament, and the first time it’s used is in Genesis 3:16, when the curse is spoken to Adam and Eve, and it’s the word spoken to Eve, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing. In pain your shall bring forth your children.” That’s the word, sorrow. The NIV translates it like this, “The blessing of the Lord brings wealth without painful toil for it.”
In other words, the blessing of the Lord on your work, on your life can bring success, but in a way that is not what is most characteristic of work in a fallen world, without the painful toil, without the sorrow, without the labor. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have to work, it doesn’t mean we don’t have to work hard, it doesn’t mean we entirely escape from the drudgery of work; but it means that there is a way for us to relate to God that eases the burden that a lot of us tend to feel in work.
Here’s another passage connected to this, another place where this word is used. This is Psalm 127:1-2. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” Now get this. “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil...” There’s our word. “...eating the bread of anxious toil, for he gives to his beloved sleep.”
You see the contrast? Here’s a person who’s building their house, but they’re building it in vain because they don’t have God’s blessing. They’re eating the bread of anxious toil. In contrast to that, it’s possible for us to build and to labor and to do our work, but do it without anxious toil, to rest in our work. How does that happen? There’s a way of performing our tasks, of doing what God has called us to do, where we do it restfully.
One of the best illustrations I can think of this is from that old movie Chariots of Fire. You remember Chariots of Fire? It’s the story of these two Olympic runners, and that was their work, right? They were athletes, but that was their work for this time in their life.
It’s a contrast between Harold Abrams and Eric Liddell. Both of these are true figures from history. In the film, Harold Abrams is driven, he’s ambitious. He actually calls himself an addict. He’s addicted to running.
There’s a place in the film where he’s talking about his running, and he’s speaking to his girlfriend at the time. Listen to what he says. He says, “Contentment. I’m 24 and I’ve never known it. I’m forever in pursuit and I don’t even know what it is I’m chasing. I’ll raise my eyes and look down that corridor, four feet wide, with ten lonely seconds to justify my existence.”
You know what that is? That’s someone who is eating the bread of anxious toil. They’re looking to their work to justify their existence. They’re looking to their work to actually give them rest in their work. It doesn’t work!
You see, this is one of the ways that we tend to use work wrongly. We make work too important, we make an idol of work. We look to our work to justify our existence, to give us our identity. What we need, rather, is to the rest that comes from finding our identity in Christ and in his finished work. He’s already done the work for us. We get that in the gospel.
The contrast to Harold Abrams is Eric Liddell. Do you remember what Eric Liddell said? He said, “God made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure.” Now that’s restful work. That is the kind of activity that’s sanctified because it’s brought under the lordship of Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters, we need restful work. We get that rest in the gospel, because what does the gospel tell us? The gospel tells us that Christ came and he bore the curse. We live in a fallen world where work suffers from the curse—thorns and thistles, right, in the ground, so that it’s in the sweat of our face that we earn our bread. What did Jesus Christ came and do? He came and he took a crown, but he took a crown not of gold, he took a crown of thorns. He was crowned with our curse! He took the curse in our place so that we could, in turn, be blessed. He came and he did all the work that is necessary to do, so that we could rest in his finished work and we could move forward, then, in our work, not making it ultimate, not using it to justify our existence, not building our identity on it, but finding our identity in Christ, and doing our work for the glory of God and for love of neighbor.
Does that characterize your work? Does that characterize your life? Have you found rest in Jesus Christ? You can this morning if you look to him in faith. Let’s pray together.
Our gracious, merciful God, we thank you this morning for your grace and mercy given to us in Jesus Christ. Thank you that the gospel holds out to us the promise of rest to all who are weary and are heavy-laden, to those who labor under the burden of sin and sorrow and disappointment. You invite us to come and find rest for our souls.
So, Lord, we do come this morning. We pray that you would minister to us by your Spirit, Lord, as we come to the table. We pray that you would feed our souls with the living bread, the true bread from heaven, Jesus Christ. We pray that we might find satisfaction and rest in him and be fueled for the work that you’ve called us to do. So Lord, meet with us now in these moments, be glorified, we pray in Jesus’ name and for his sake, Amen.