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Why Your Work Matters to God, Part 1

From the series Answering the Call

Would you like to take your job and turn it into a place of joy, fulfillment, opportunity, and, yes, even ministry? If you’re ready to take your work to the next level join Chip Ingram today as he continues his current series, “Answering the Call.”

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Message Transcript

And now, in your notes, it says “A Theology of Work.” I’m going to take a run at something. Okay? Sometimes, when you’re going to do something, you feel like you’re going to crash into something. I like to tell people – are you ready? – we’re going to try and crash into something.

It says “A Theology of Work.” Theo means God; -ology is “the study of.” We’re going to do a study, from God’s perspective, of how He views work.

So, with that, let’s just do a little study together.

First is, God is a worker – Genesis 2:2 and 3. Notice in your notes: “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He has done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because He rested from all His work which He had created and He had made.”

And we don’t have time to get into it, but there are about four Hebrew words that are translated when “work” is done. Two of these Hebrew words talk about times where work has to do with anguish, and toil, and suffering, and it’s after the Fall, or when it’s self-imposed. When the Egyptians were making the Israelites work – there’s a Hebrew word for that in there, their tiresome toil. It’s their suffering. Someone’s making you do something you don’t want to do.

The other two Hebrew words talk about building, creating, activity, delighting – very, very positive. The God of the universe – are you ready for this? – He works. So, it can’t be evil, right? He works. He creates. He builds. He makes. He constructs. He sustains. God is a worker.

Have you ever thought of God as a worker? Have you ever thought that God has a job? God has a career. And His career is to speak into existence all that there is, and He is working right now! The Scripture says He upholds all things – what? – by the word of His power.

Jesus has a job. Do you know what Jesus is doing right now? He’s praying for you, 24/7. How’s it work? I have no idea. But He’s at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for you.

The Holy Spirit – third Person of the Godhead – He has a job. What’s His job? His job is to manifest the presence and the power of Christ, in the life, inside of believers, to give you grace, to impart all that you need to create, actually, the want-to and the ability to allow Christ to live His life through you.

And the Holy Spirit has a job description for those who are not yet in Christ. What’s He do? He convicts the world of sin, and righteousness, and judgment. The Spirit of God has a job; He’s working! So, work must not be bad.

The second observation in our theology of work is God created people to be His coworkers. Look at Genesis 2:15: “Then the Lord God took the man, put him in the Garden of Eden to tend it and to keep it.” God made the world, and when He made the world – remember what He said? “It is good.” And then, God made mankind, Adam and Eve, and then He said, “It is very good.”

And so, what I want you to get is, God is a Worker. We are created to co-create, and work with, Him.

And then, notice, work after the Fall – Genesis 3:17 through 19, in your notes. We notice that this is where there’s a shift, there’s a turn, and it gets pretty ugly. After Adam and Eve have sinned, sin enters the world, and the sin impacted human mankind, but it also impacted creation.

Jot down, in the side of your notes, Romans chapter 8, because a little later what we’re going to learn is, the whole creation is going to be groaning for a day when it comes out from under the subjection of what the Curse has done. Work is going to be different. It’s going to be frustrating.

The work will not be cursed – be careful with that. The ground is cursed. The work is still to be a co-creator with God. The work is to have meaning, and purpose, and creativity. But now, instead of it being all delight, and being downhill, it will always be uphill. But you’re still made in the image of God. Now it’s going to be in an environment of hostility and war.

Look at what the text says: “Then to Adam God said, ‘Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, “You shall not eat of it”; cursed is the ground’” – why? – “for your sake. In your toil” – or “work” – “you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of your face you shall eat the bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you will return.”

What’s happened is, work didn’t get cursed. The ground got cursed. And it produces – what? – frustration.

Now, by the way, this was a gift of grace. Did you notice that little phrase? It was “cursed for your sake.” I don’t know about you, but I know God – every perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of lights, so how does this gift of cursing the ground – where’s grace in that one?

Let me step back, and have you look at something. Mankind lived in a perfect environment with a God that loved them perfectly. Now they sin, and there’s a guard put around, and the guard put around is so that this state can’t stay there forever.

From the foundations of the earth, God giving us freedom and free will to make choices to rebel against Him – knowing that would happen, but knowing the price tag of willful, voluntary love – it was to give people the opportunity to say “yes” or “no” to the One who wants to love them.

And then, after the Fall, this curse, every single day, when we get up, and work is hard and relationships are hard. What’s the scientific word for it? Entropy? Everything is winding down.

I don’t mow my yard, and then it starts looking better every day, right? I don’t know about you, but every single day, I get uglier and uglier, and older and older, not better and better, right? That’s why you’ve got to work out, and cream, and vitamins, and no matter what you do, it happens anyway. But since the Fall, that’s life! Right?

You know what that tells you? It tells you something’s wrong. It reminds you, every single day, relationships are hard. Work is hard. It’s frustrating. It’s uphill. It’s doable, but the Curse was given to remind mankind that this is not how it was ever intended to be.

And when do most of us turn to God, with all of our hearts, all of our souls, all of our minds, and seek Him and say, “Oh, Lord, I need You”? Is it when everything is going great – the family relationships are wonderful, the money is pouring in, peace like a river, everything’s wonderful? Everything’s so good that you say, “I think I’ll just – you know, I usually only pray for an hour or two. I think I’ll pray for ten or twelve.” I’m teasing.

You run to God, and I run to God when pain hits and you’re frustrated and you don’t have answers and when relationships break apart and when biopsy reports come back positive and when jobs are lost and when retirement that you worked for, for years and years and years, drops out of sight, when the stock market drops five hundred or a thousand points, when you find out that the company that you work for, and the money that you put in it – is gone, when you find out one of your kids is on drugs, when your mate of twenty-one or thirty-two years leaves a note on the refrigerator door that says, “You know what? It’s been nice, but I don’t love you anymore,” and they’re gone. It’s in our pain, and frustration, and disappointment that we recognize, I can’t make it. I’m not God. I have needs. Please help me.

The ground is cursed to provide an ongoing frustration and difficulty of doing life in your own power, where we all – what was the temptation? “If you eat of this, you will be like God.” The cursing of the ground is to remind you, and to remind me, you ain’t like God, at all. You are not self-sufficient. You are not in control. You are not the center of the universe. And the pain and the difficulty of a fallen world drive us back to say, “God, I need Your mercy. I need Your forgiveness.” And so, one of the consequences of the Fall, with regard to work, is, the ground is cursed, and our lives are frustrated.

Our response to this, in my experience, is two extremes. Imagine, if you will, this idea of work, and I want you to imagine, way over here is an extreme, and then all the way over here. And on the top of the line it says “W-O-R-K.”

And people’s responses, after the Fall, to work, is – one extreme on the far left is that work is a necessary evil. We’ve touched on that. In other words, work, Genesis 3, the Fall, unconsciously, work is bad, work is cursed. God’s judgment is on work, instead of the ground. It’s a necessary evil. Find something. Make enough money. Get those things taken care of so you can really live. Just get it out of the way.

You need so much money to pay the mortgage, you need so much money for food, you need so much money to buy or rent a house, you need so much money for a car. Life isn’t about that. Just get that part of it over with, so that you can have meaningful relationships, serve God, love people, care for kids and grandkids. And you just bite your lower lip and say, “Work is a royal, royal pain, but I guess it’s because of the Fall, and I’ll just get through it.”

The other extreme, in response to the Fall, is over here, is that, I will find my significance, and I will rule my world, and I will win, and work is what will make me significant. And I’ll show you. I’ll work harder. I’ll work longer. I will build bigger. I will build better. My life is my work. My identity is my work.

And then, we create an entire pecking order, right? So, if you have a job where your hands don’t get dirty, you’re way up here, and if you have a job that creates a lot of zeros around your name, at the end of it, then you’re way up here. Or if you have a job – even if it’s not that much money, if there are a lot of letters after your name – you know, PhD, or Th-something, or Ed-something, or MS, or MBA – well, that’s something. And then, we have the pecking order. But if you have a job where your hands get dirty, or you do certain things that we decide – then you’re not as significant.

So, our work becomes the value and estimation of our significance. And every little boy, and every little girl, grows up in a world where, by and large, that’s true.

And I want to suggest that both of those extremes are unbiblical. If you don’t think we have them, let me play this out. “I’m talking to my son” – or daughter – “and they’re ready to go away to school” – or they’re graduating from high school, and they’re making career choices – “and they’re asking me what they ought to do. And this is supposed to be a spiritual, wonderful, godly response, because I so love my kids.”

And so, when they talk with their kids – in counseling for many, many years – here’s what I hear, over and over and over: “My son” – or daughter – “they have to declare their major, and they don’t know exactly what they ought to do. And you know what I did? I just said, ‘Well, honey, whatever will make you happy, that’s what I want you to do. You see, I believe you’re a narcissist, and I believe I’m the parent of a narcissist. And so, what really – the world centers around you, and whatever you want to do, whether it’s valuable to society, whether you’re gifted for it, whether it has any value whatsoever – I just want you to be happy.’” And we slide into it, don’t we?

And then – there’s the other side of, “What should I do?” “Well, what’s the job market like, and what can you – that’s a stupid job. Man, you’re going to be cleaning tables the rest of your life, if you do something like that. Well, I’ve looked at it. Tell you what, this is the job where you can make money.”

And so, what we tell our kids is one of two things: “We want you to have a job where you make a lot of money, and you can be successful, because money is how you become significant, and money is how you get stuff, and stuff is what makes you a somebody, and comfort and pleasure is what will really fulfill.” Of course, that kind of breaks down when you go to LA, and you see all those people with all that money, and all that comfort, and they put all that white powder up their nose, and change mates like underwear, about every six weeks. But anyway – well, let’s not deal with facts right now. “You’ve got to make a lot of money.” Or, “We want you to be happy.”

And my point is, all that goes back to a perverted, unbiblical view of work after the Fall. God is a Worker. It is good. God called us to co-create, to build, to make, to shape, to subdue. And so, it is a good thing. But the Fall has introduced that it is going to be hard, it is going to be difficult, and that produces frustration for us, and a tendency to think it’s a necessary evil, or it’s the answer.

Fourth, work under the lordship of Christ, Colossians 3:17. Colossians 3:17. The apostle Paul says, “In whatever you do in word or deed” – that covers about everything – “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God through God the Father.” So, he says here, “Wait a second, in whatever you do, in word or deed – working, talking, speaking – do it unto – you take it, it’s sanctified, and you do it as an act of worship and service unto God.”

Many of you maybe have read the little booklet. It’s just a thin, little paperback about Brother Lawrence, and Practicing the Presence of God. And he was a monk, probably four hundred years ago or so. And his job in the monastery was to do the dishes. And he began to write how he would offer each dish to God. And in every moment of the day, he would pray, and honor God, and take his life as, literally, a living moment-by-moment sacrifice.

And if you’ve never read that book, that book was a little turning point. I’d been a Christian maybe a couple of years, and so I would get up, and I would pray, and I’d read my Bible – because I was with a group where that was really important, and I’m glad. It really helped me.

And I’d maybe memorize a verse, and then once a week I’d go to a Bible study. And I would pray, and then I would click off, and then I’d just go do through my day. And I could go all day and not think about God, and then, oh, before I go to bed – click¬ - “Hi, God, I’m back.” Like He went somewhere. And I would pray, because you’re supposed to do that, and then I’d go to bed.

And I read that little book, and I realized I was missing about twenty-three and a half hours of the day. God was with me at basketball practice, and God was with me when I walked from class to class. And I could talk to Him anywhere, any time.

And I could be in a test, and not remember something, and say, “Lord, could You bring this back to my memory? I’d like to do the very best I can. I want to do my schoolwork unto You. I don’t want to impress my teachers. My grades are not the indication of my value, or my worth. Lord, every moment of every day of everything, I’d like to learn how to practice Your presence.” And this is what he’s talking about here, that it changes work. It sanctifies work.

I met a couple from a Lutheran background, and they said, “Well, we’ve been big on this for a long time.” And Luther actually made this great statement about, if a woman is just scraping a pan, or changing a diaper, and doing it as unto the Lord, it’s just as holy as the Pope giving a speech. It kind of got him in a little trouble in his day.

But I would rephrase it: A young mom, driving kids to school, cleaning the house, and creating an environment that is nurturing and loving is as important to God, done unto the Lord, and will receive the same kind of reward, as any pastor, any missionary, preaching God’s Word in the most difficult places of the world. Because when you do what you’re called to do, and when you do your work unto the Lord, it is sanctified. It’s set apart.

And see, we, unconsciously, are always comparing ourselves with other people. I’ve got news for you. You know what? This is not a party line. God doesn’t call and get half a dozen people on the wire and say, “Hey, here’s what I’m thinking about all of you, and in about ten years I’m going to check up and find out who’s doing best. And then, I’m going to rank you – one, two, three, four.”

He has my number. He’s got your number. He has a reason to call me. He’s got a different reason to call you. He made me different than He made you. He gave you a different background, different parents, different intellect, different personality, different spiritual gifts than me.

So, His call and success is you doing what He made you and called you to do, and when you do that unto the Lord, whether it appears grandiose and outward, or whether it’s quiet and behind the scenes, then you are working unto the Lord, and it has eternal value. Think of that.