Does Your Work Matter?
9What do people really get for all their hard work? 10I have thought about this in connection with the various kinds of work God has given people to do. 11God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. 12So I concluded that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to enjoy themselves as long as they can. 13And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.
14And I know that whatever God does is final. Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. God’s purpose in this is that people should fear him. 15Whatever exists today and whatever will exist in the future has already existed in the past. For God calls each event back in its turn.
The Injustices of Life
16I also noticed that throughout the world there is evil in the courtroom. Yes, even the courts of law are corrupt! 17I said to myself, “In due season God will judge everyone, both good and bad, for all their deeds.”
18Then I realized that God allows people to continue in their sinful ways so he can test them. That way, they can see for themselves that they are no better than animals. 19For humans and animals both breathe the same air, and both die. So people have no real advantage over the animals. How meaningless! 20Both go to the same place—the dust from which they came and to which they must return. 21For who can prove that the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of animals goes downward into the earth? 22So I saw that there is nothing better for people than to be happy in their work. That is why they are here! No one will bring them back from death to enjoy life in the future.
Introduction: God sees your job as an important part of His work on earth.
A. Labor Day
1. Tomorrow is Labor Day and it seems like at times we do not even think about what it is all about except that it is the time of year for school to start again.
a) The holiday started in the late nineteenth century, when labor activists pushed for a federal holiday to recognize the many contributions workers have made to America’s strength, prosperity, and well-being.
b) By 1894, 28 states had adopted the holiday, and on June 28, 1894, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday.
2. Labor Day is an annual celebration of the social and economic achievements of American workers.
a) So labor is important to workers, but the question we are looking at today is, “Does your work matter to God?”
B. Making Pallets for God
1. There is a man who operates a company that makes pallets, the platforms used to make it easier for forklifts to load and unload stacks of goods.
2. His pastor spent hours encouraging him as a friend to live a life that pleases God.
a) They studied the Scriptures together, prayed together, and talked about his spiritual life at length.
b) But nothing motivated the man to practice his Christianity more than relating what he does all day on the job to what he believes God wants done in the world.
3. But does God want pallets made?
a) Does it matter to God, or not?
b) If it does, then this man should do it with his whole heart, knowing that he is “working for the Lord, not for men” (Col. 3:23).
c) If not, he is wasting his life.
C. The Connection to Your Job
1. The same holds true for you, too, no matter what your work—especially if you have a “secular” career.
a) Unless you can connect what you do all day with what you think God wants you doing, you will never find ultimate meaning in your work—or in your relationship with God.
b) How can you make that connection?
2. The question, of course, assumes that there is a connection.
a) Many Christians think God cares mainly about the work of “ministry”—preaching and teaching, evangelism and missions, and so forth.
b) Jobs like manufacturing pallets, they think, are second class in the divine economy.
c) They hold what we will call the Two-Story view of work.
d) They carve life into “secular” and “sacred” categories and assign work to the “secular” category, or “first story,” assuming that God cares only about “sacred” areas of life, the “upperstory.”
e) Work has no inherent value in their view.
f) Nothing about it recommends it as a worthwhile or noble human activity.
3. You can see where this thinking leads.
a) If someone wants to please God, they must feel guilty for working in a “secular” career.
b) They should concentrate less and less on work, and more and more on “the things of God.”
c) In fact, they might even decide to sell their business or quit their job go into the ministry.
d) After all, that’s what really counts to God.
4. Many people have entered the ministry through just this sort of reasoning process.
a) I don’t fault them for their zeal.
b) But I’m astonished at their sub-biblical view of work.
I. The Value of Work
WORK’S INTRINSIC VALUE The Bible’s view of work stands in bold contrast to the Two Story view. Work is not something outside of God’s concern. Instead, it is a major part of human life that God takes very seriously. Work has intrinsic value—it is inherently worth doing. Why? There are two reasons:
A. God is a Worker (Genesis 2:2)
1. You may never have thought of God as a worker, but that is how He first reveals Himself in Scripture.
a) In Genesis 1, God says He created the heavens and the earth; Genesis 2:2 calls this activity “work.”
b) It uses the same Hebrew word that refers to man’s work in the Ten Commandments.
2. God didn’t stop working after Creation.
a) He continues to work, upholding the creation (Col. 2:16–17; Hebrews 1:3).
b) He also meets His creatures’ many needs (Psalm 104).
c) He is working out His purposes in history (e.g., Deut. 11:1–7).
d) And of course He accomplished the great work of Atonement at the Cross.
3. No wonder Psalm 111 says:
Praise the LORD.
I will extol the LORD with all my heart
in the council of the upright and in the assembly.
Great are the works of the LORD;
they are pondered by all who delight in them.
Glorious and majestic are his deeds,
and his righteousness endures forever.
4. God is a worker.
a) This alone tells us that work must be significant, that it must have intrinsic value.
b) For by definition, God can do nothing that is not inherently good, or else He would violate His own nature and character.
c) The fact that God calls what He does work and calls it good means that work has intrinsic worth.
B. God created people to be His co-workers (Genesis 1:26)
1. Most of us know that man was created in God’s image.
a) But since God is a worker, man—created in God’s image—must be a worker, too.
b) And that is precisely what Genesis says he is:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” —Genesis 1:26
2. Not only is God a worker, but man is a worker, too.
a) Mankind’s ruling over other creatures, subduing the creation, and eating the produce of the earth all point to man as a worker.
b) In fact, Eccles. 3:13 calls man’s work a gift of God.
3. But here’s a twist on what we have said so far:
a) Man was created not to work for himself, but to work as a coworker with God.
b) God placed man in the garden “to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:8; Genesis 2:15). God planted the garden; man cultivated it.
c) The first partnership! What an incredible privilege!
4. Psalm 8 describes this partnership in vivid terms.
a) The psalmist opens by praising the Creator for His being, character, and work.
b) He essentially asks, “In light of who You are and what You have done, God, of what significance is man?”
c) The answer is that man has great dignity and value as God’s coworker “You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet” (Psalm 8:5–6).
5. This and other passages of Scripture lend awesome dignity to our work.
a) Created in God’s image, we do something very Godlike when we work.
b) Not only God’s work is significant; human work is significant, too.
c) It is ordained by God.
d) The fact that we work is, in the words of Genesis 1, “very good.” Intrinsically good. Valued by God.
6. This means that all legitimate work is an extension of God’s work.
a) By legitimate work I mean work that somehow contributes to what God wants done in the world, not to what He does not want done.
b) Of course, because of sin, none of our work completely fulfills God’s intentions.
c) But this does not take away from the inherent dignity that God has assigned to work.
II. God’s Work = Your Work
But sometimes it’s not immediately clear how some work contributes to God’s work.
How does a cashier, a data processor, or an actuary contribute to God’s work? Or someone who sits in a cherry picker all day and repairs faulty traffic signals?
What about an international currency trader who sits in front of monitors, jumping in and out of the market, trying to score a few hundred extra dollars for the bank?
Does God care about jobs like these? How can they contribute significantly to His work in the world?
To answer these questions, let’s look at five reasons for the work God gives us.
These show that work has broad instrumental value in addition to its intrinsic value.
Work is a means to several ends:
1.Through work we love people by serving them.
2.Through work we meet our own needs.
3.Through work we meet our family’s needs.
4.Through work we earn money to give to others.
5.Through work we love God.
Let’s examine each of these in turn.
A. Work As Service: Through Work We Love People by Serving Them.
1. How does my friend, who manufactures pallets, fit into God’s work in the world? Let’s see.
a) On any given morning my family might sit down to a breakfast of ruby-red grapefruit from the Rio Grande Valley, boxes of cereal from Battle Creek, Michigan, and milk from Coppell, Texas.
b) Before we eat, one of my children thanks God for the food.
c) Why? Because He has brought to our table something we need.
2. But God hasn’t just dropped it out of the sky.
a) He has used an extensive system of workers to give us this food.
b) He has used farmers to plant and cultivate citrus trees and wheat and to raise dairy cows.
c) He has used scientists to check the food for purity, and bankers to arrange financing.
d) Then, too, there are dealers in farm equipment, and behind them builders of that equipment, steelworkers who make the steel for it, and miners who mine the ore for the steel.
e) There are railroad workers who transport the ore, and oil workers who provide the diesel to run the train engines.
f) Then we should remember the trucks and their drivers that God has used to haul this food our way (and the rubber plantation workers who grew rubber for truck tires, and merchant marines who shipped it to America).
g) And the truck stop operators along the way who have pumped diesel fuel and poured coffee.
h) And of course, someone had to lay down those miles of interstate highways!
i) And finally, we should thank God for the supermarket stock clerks and checkers, for the guy who carries the bag to our car, and for my wife who has put it all on the table.
3. Oh, and—by the way—did you notice my friend’s pallets?
a) They were tucked away under those crates of grapefruit, boxes of cereal, and gallons of milk.
b) Pallets are an important, albeit humble, link in a complex chain that God uses to meet my needs and your needs.
c) They are an indispensable part of the trucking industry—an industry that delivers the grapefruit, cereal, and milk we enjoy for breakfast.
d) Though they are obscure, God uses them to meet my family’s needs.
4. But are they really significant?
a) Yes, because meeting a family’s needs is significant.
b) It is Godlike.
c) It is something He wants to done.
d) It is loving that family.
e) Consequently, my friend contributes directly to God’s work in the world.
f) Through his work, he serves the needs of people like my family.
5. In a similar way, God uses your work to meet people’s needs.
a) Sometimes the connection is obvious, sometimes it is obscure, as with my friend who manufactures pallets.
b) Or the engineer who writes micro-code for an integrated circuit.
c) Or the comedian.
d) Or the stockbroker.
6. Jobs like these often appear to be unconnected to anything that serves people.
a) Recognizing their contribution requires us to think broadly about the amazing web of relationships God uses to meet human needs.
b) But we need to realize that God uses our work, whether or not anyone ever tells us, “I thank God for what you are doing!”
B. Work As Provision For Us: Through Work We Meet Our Own Needs and Those of Our Families. (2 Thessalonians 3:6–12)
1. In 2 Thes. 3:6–12, Paul explicitly says that we should pursue gainful employment to provide for our own needs.
a) So we are commanded to work. (See also 1 Thes. 4:11–12.)
b) Furthermore, we are to work to provide for our families: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).
c) This is strong language!
2. Failing to try to meet the basic needs of one’s family is denying the faith.
a) Why? Because it directly opposes God’s command to love those who are our own.
b) In fact, it is to act worse than an unbeliever, because even pagans have the sense and decency to provide a livelihood for their families.
c) Providing for the family is one of the most important reasons why many people go to work.
C. Work as provision for others: Through work we earn money to give to others. (Psalm 37:25–26)
1. Scripture adds a purely benevolent purpose to work: to earn money to give to others.
a) Even those who once lived by theft but who have come to Christ are instructed to work with this goal in mind (Ephes. 4:28).
b) In fact, the overwhelming thrust of Scripture is that as God makes us prosper, our abundance should spill over to benefit others who, for a variety of reasons, are in need (2 Cor. 8:13–15).
c) For example, David looks back on his life and says, “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed” (Psalm 37:25–26).
d) In other words, the righteous person’s prosperity, given by God, overflows in generosity toward others.
2. Scripture teaches that giving some portion of our income away is both a discipline and a privilege. I believe that every Christian, no matter what his income, should use part of it to meet the material needs of others. Of the five purposes of work, this is probably the one that gets neglected the most.
D. Work as loving god: Through work we love god.
1. The final reason God has given us work is so that we can love Him.
a) Does this sound odd to you, the idea of work as a means of loving God?
b) In fact, is the concept of loving God itself nebulous to you? It is for many Christians.
2. Work makes loving God practical.
a) An investor once explained why he invests in convenience stores and restaurants: “I like to take a raw piece of land and make it productive,” he said. “The store or restaurant I put up sells food and other items that people need. And it provides an income for the employees I hire. It also gives me a good return on my investment.”
b) Does God want people to have food and other items they need? Yes.
c) Does He want people to have jobs? Yes.
d) Does He want my investor friend to get a fair return on his investment? Yes (cf. Matthew 21:33–41; Matthew 25:14–30).
e) Consequently, we can say that my friend is loving God through his work, because in his work he is doing something God wants done.
E. The Test Of Love (John 15:9–15; Romans 13: 10)
1. That is, after all, what it means to love God: to do what God wants us to do, and to do it out of a sincere desire to please Him (John 15:9–15; Romans 13: 10).
a) In fact, that is the only way we can love Him.
b) If we want to love God through our work, then we need to determine that what we are doing in our jobs is something God wants done, and that we are doing it because God wants it done.
2. Have you thought through your job on this basis?
a) Since everything about you should be involved in loving God, it makes sense that your work should be involved as well.
b) Just think about how much of your heart, soul, mind, and strength go into your work.
c) Imagine, then, as you spend yourself at that task, being able to say, “I’m here to do something God wants done, and I intend to do it because I love Him.”
d) If you can make this statement, you’ve turned your work into one of your primary means of obeying the greatest of God’s commandments.
3. Work matters to God.
a) He takes it seriously.
b) It has intrinsic value, like all good gifts to us from God, and it has instrumental value as a means of loving and serving God, others, and our families.
4. Looking at work this way can revolutionize our attitudes and behavior on the job.
a) Perhaps for the first time, we’ll see a connection between what we do all day and what God wants done.
b) In other words, we’ll become coworkers with God in the everyday tasks of life.
c) Even if our task is manufacturing pallets.
5. “Whatever you do,” Paul wrote, “work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward” (Col. 3:23–24).
a) When we work with this attitude, we fulfill the highest and noblest destiny to which anyone can aspire.
b) We are partners with God in accomplishing His work in the world!