Wednesday 19 August 2020
Ps Ben Hooman
Listening to Sunday’s message on ‘Wisdom in Work’, many correctly say that they are hard-working men and women. They say, “We don’t procrastinate and do what we do to the best we can. We are just tired.” Others might have a lot of time on their hands, idle time for many different reasons. But what is work to you, and how are you spending your days?
Please open your Bible at 2 Thessalonians chapter 3. I previously ministered on this aspect of life but find it necessary to revisit it to connect with wisdom in work.
“As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.” (2 Thessalonians 3:13)
Another translation says, “As for you brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is right.” (2 Thessalonians 3:13 NIV)
The writer is speaking to believers. This is what the second book of Thessalonians is all about: the encouragement to persevere. It’s about staying the course when you’re tired of the battle. “Never tire of doing what is right”. This verse is our focus, but it comes in a passage that sets out a Christian doctrine of daily work.
View of work
Let us tonight begin with this question: If you knew that Jesus Christ would return in seven days would you go to work this week? It’s a fascinating question because it gets to the root of what we believe about our daily work.
A secular view of work says, “Work is simply a means of getting money and the sooner I can be done with it the better.” This view of work asks, “How much money do I need to make before I can get out of doing this and go do something better?”
In this view work is a means to an end, and the end is money, “As soon as I have enough money, I’m done with work, and I’m off to the beach or to the golf course. Or better yet, off to the golf course next to the beach.”
If that’s your view of work, your answer to the question is obvious, “If I knew Jesus was coming in seven days, there’s no way I would go to work this week. I have enough money to get by for seven days, so why go to work? Especially under the current circumstances”.
This seems to be what was happening in Thessalonica. Some people were so certain Christ was about to return that they had quit their jobs. They said “Christ is coming. There’s no reason to work.” They packed in their jobs, and they felt sure that it was God who was calling them to do this.
The people who are addressed in this letter had made a virtue out of not working. It isn’t hard to imagine how a movement would develop, “Do you have the faith to give up your job?”
Here are some Christians with a lot of time on their hands. They don’t have any work to do. You know what happens next. It’s what always happens with people who don’t have enough to do, they end up causing trouble!
Time on hands
“We hear that some of you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.” (2 Thessalonians 3:11)
They had no business of their own, so they spent their time sticking their noses in everyone else’s business. The devil always has work for idle hands.
The problem here was not that these people didn’t have work; it was that they refused to work, and even made a virtue out of it. There is always work for willing hands that want to work. That’s why Paul says, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). He does not say, “If a man cannot find work…” or “If a man is unable to work…”
“Now such people [who refuse to work] we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.” (Thessalonians 3:12)
These people had a completely unbiblical view of work. If you think work is only a means of making enough money to get yourself on the beach or on the golf course, please think again. Many in the world only work for the weekend to come. I see them sitting outside after payday drinking and socializing. That is not a Christian view of work.
Work is a gift and a calling
Your work is a gift and calling from God to be pursued for His glory and for the good of others. When we say “your work” here, we don’t only mean your employment.
The definition of work in the Bible is not tied to compensation. Adam made no money working in the garden, but it was work given by God. Many of you give yourselves to work for which you are not paid. Some of you work as homemakers. Some of you work as volunteers, visiting the sick, caring for children or serving the poor.
For some of you, your work right now is looking for work. If that is what you are doing, then do it with faith. Do it with vigour. Persevere in it. In the very pursuit of work, you can do it to the glory of God.
Sometimes people look at pastors and preachers and say, “God has given them a special work to do.” That’s true, but God has given you a special work to do. Your work is a gift and a calling from God.
The dignity of work
The dignity of work is rooted in the nature of God. At the beginning of the Bible, God introduces Himself as a worker. What is He doing? He’s expressing Himself by creating.
We are made in God’s image. That means we express ourselves by creating as well. That could mean building a car, making art, or making music, doing a garden, teaching children, writing a document or establishing a company. In some sense, all work is a reflection of the nature and character of God.
This is always where the carpenters smile, “I’m in the same trade as my Saviour.” For everyone who is in construction or manual labour you can say, “I do the same work as the Son of God.”
What about the rest of us? If your work is to flip burgers, you are reflecting the work of God in providing food. If you are a homemaker, you are reflecting the work of God who created order out of chaos.
If you are an accountant, your work reflects the integrity of God. If you are a CEO, you are holding things together and moving things forward. This too is a reflection of God, who holds all things together by the power of His word. (Colossians 1:17)
Here are two questions to discuss as you start with your life groups again: What is your work? In what way does your work reflect the character of God? If you cannot work these out on your own, someone in your group will help you work it out. Once you see it, you will be encouraged.
God gives each of us work that in some way reflects His own character. If you can’t think of a way in which your work reflects the character of God, it’s probably work that you shouldn’t be doing.
I hope that this will be an encouragement to you in work that sometimes makes you weary. There is great dignity and great joy in seeing how your work reflects the character of God.
Back to our question about a Christian view of work: If you knew Jesus Christ would return in seven days, would you go to work this week? If you have a Christian view of work, your answer would be “Yes, absolutely!”
Remember this when you are at your desk, on the job site or at the shop: If someone were to ask you, “Would you be doing this if you knew that Jesus Christ would return tonight?” your answer would be, “Absolutely!” Because this is what He has called me to do today.
Since your work is a gift and calling from God to be pursued for His glory and the good of others, it follows that your example matters more than your rights.
Example matters more than rights
“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.” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-8)
The apostle Paul worked incredibly hard. He was a brilliant scholar, a Pharisee from the school of Gamaliel, but he also had a trade that he used at times to earn money while he was serving the church.
Sometimes there was money to support Paul, sometimes not. When there was no money, here’s what Paul did; he made tents and sold them and then gave himself to the work of ministry. Especially when he was in Thessalonica, Paul was bi-vocational. He gave himself to two jobs, which is why he says that he “worked night and day”. That is extraordinarily difficult to do, but Paul was ready to do whatever it would take to make the Gospel run.
Here is the great irony: In order to not be a burden on other believers, Paul is working two jobs. At the same time, there are Christians who refuse to do any work, and they’ve become a burden to other believers!
The Bible says, “Those who preach the Gospel should receive their living from the Gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14). Paul says that this is a command of the Lord. So, as an apostle, Paul had the right to financial support from the church. But look at what he says,
“We did this [work night and day] not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.” (2 Thessalonians 3:9)
Do you see what Paul is saying? Being an example to others is more important than having what is mine by right. This is so important, especially in the workplace. As a Christian employee, my example matters more than my rights.
When you find yourself in conflict and you say, “What are my rights?” make sure you also ask, “What is my example?” Never ask, “What are my rights?” without asking, “What is my example?”
What would happen if everyone did what I’m doing? What is my example to my children? What is my example to unbelieving colleagues who see my life? What is my example to the church and to angels and to demons, who scorn the work of God? How does what I am saying and doing look in the eyes of God, who gave His Son to die on the cross for me?
Notice, we not saying, “Your rights don’t matter.” but “You should never claim them.” Your example matters more than your rights.
Never tire of doing what is right
“As for you brothers, never tire of doing what is right.” (2 Thessalonians 3:13)
Paul shifts gears here, from rebuking those who insist on being idle, to encouraging those who have persisted in being faithful. Here are people who are “doing what is right.” They’re on the right track. The issue they are up against is that they’re getting tired.
This experience comes to all of us at one time or another. Some of us tire more easily than others, but all of us struggle at some point. There are times when we easily become discouraged and tire of doing what is right, especially in the times we find ourselves in.
- When doing good brings trouble in return
Some of these believers had shown great kindness to the ones who were idle, and these ones had caused trouble in return.
It’s very discouraging when you reach out to help someone and then that person turns on you and starts bringing you trouble. It feels like a slap in the face. If this has happened to you, you know how discouraging it is – once bitten twice shy. You tire of doing what is right.
- When doing good brings little thanks
You extend yourself for your children, for your company or even in the church and nobody seems to notice or care. You feel undervalued, taken for granted and it drains your energy, “If nobody else cares, I won’t care either.” You tire of doing what is right.
- When doing good brings slow progress
Is there any parent who has not felt this at some point? Pastor James Philip says, “[This is] the common ground that parents and teachers share, namely, the sometimes, desolating sense that they are getting absolutely nowhere with their young charges, and that they are complete failures, so far as getting anything over to the children is concerned.”
Writing about the battle with weariness and discouragement that many faces in the middle years of their work life, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “I am… convinced that the most difficult period of all in life is the middle period. There are compensations in youth and there are compensations in old age which seem to be entirely lacking in the middle period… They have got beyond that stage of developing and building up and have attained to a certain level. For many reasons it is impossible to develop further. There they are on the level, and the difficulty is to keep going on that level while lacking the stimulus that took them there.”
You were climbing this ladder, with all the stimulus of getting there, and now you’ve hit a ceiling. How will you keep going? When this happens at work, in marriage or even in the church, we’re tempted to respond in one of three ways:
We give up
You throw up your hands in frustration and say, “I quit. I’m out of here. I’m done with this marriage. I’m done with this job. I’m done with this church. I’m done with this Christian life.”
We abandon hope
You say, “Well, this is all my life is ever going to be. I have to make the best of it, then grin and bear it.” The light goes out in your life. You become a joyless person.
We find an escape
You turn to artificial stimulants; drink, drugs, an affair or gambling. All of these are responses to discouragement. But God says, “Never tire of doing what is right.” How?
How to persevere through discouragement
- Look back to what Christ has accomplished
“Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:3)
Think about the trouble that came to Jesus as He went about doing good. They called Him “Beelzebub” and hung Him on a cross. Think about how little He was thanked. Ten lepers healed – a miracle! Only one came back to say thank you. Did healing from leprosy mean nothing to them? Think about the slow progress of the disciples under His teaching, “Do you still have no faith? Do you still not understand?”
When I look at my own sins, the way I take God’s many gifts for granted and my slow progress in the Christian life, it’s amazing to me that Christ would not throw up His hands and say, “I’m done with him. He’s not worth it.” Don’t you feel that? Our Saviour never tires of doing us good!
Consider all that Christ has endured and it will put strength into you and help you to press forward.
- Look around at what Christ’s people endure
“Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (1 Peter 5:9)
We all have times when we feel sorry for ourselves. When I feel sorry for myself and I start thinking that I’m carrying a heavy burden, I find it really helpful to look at the burdens of others. It helps me. It strengthens me.
The apostle Peter says that the suffering of other Christians will help you to resist Satan and carry your own burdens. When I feel sorry for myself, the best thing I can do is go visit someone else in need. When I see the burdens they are carrying, I ask myself, “Why did I ever complain?”
Ted Olsen has a wonderful phrase that I have found so helpful, “Irrigate your soul in the joys and sorrows of other people.”
- Look forward to what Christ has promised
“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.” (Isaiah 40:31)
Jimmy Connors wasn’t the most gifted of tennis players. What was admired about him was his sheer determination. One year at Wimbledon he was playing a guy by the name of Mikael Pernfors. Connors lost the first two sets six-one and six-one, and he was down four-one in the third set. He was nursing a leg injury that required the help of the doctor, but incredibly he came back to win the match.
Afterwards, an interviewer said to him, “You are thirty-four years old and you are carrying a leg injury. You are two sets down and four games to one behind, and you’ve already won all this stuff. Don’t you ever think to yourself, ‘Is this really worth it?” To which Connors said, “It is always worth it!”
Never tire of doing what is right. It is always worth it. Jesus said that even a cup of cold water, the smallest act done in His name, will have its reward. One day you will stand in the presence of Jesus, and on that day, every act that honoured Christ, every decision to do what is right, every sacrifice you ever made in the Christian life will be of infinite value.
You will never regret one good deed you have done. You will never regret one sacrifice you have made for Christ. You will never regret one costly decision to do what is right when you are in the presence of Jesus.
So, look at what is ahead of you, look at what He promises and press on!
Let us pray:
Father, work is a gift and calling from you. Help us through the Holy Spirit to pursue it for Your glory and for the good of others, and to persevere by looking what our Lord Jesus Christ has accomplished and also looking forward to what He has promised. In the Name of our loving Lord Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.