Sermon Extra – Glorious Work

July 11, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Work is a blessing from God.  Do you believe this?  I have talked to far too many people who do not believe this – at least if the way they talk about their jobs is any indication of what they believe.  Complaints about the incompetence of co-workers, the ineptitude of the boss, and the inequity of one’s paycheck are all commonplace.  Granted, even Scripture admits that work involves frustration and difficulty.  This is a result of the Fall into sin.  God tells Adam after he has eaten from the fruit of the forbidden tree:  “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food” (Genesis 3:17-19).  The Hebrew word for “painful toil” is isabon, which refers to both physical and emotional pain.  And certainly this can be true of our work.  There are days at the office, in the shop, or on the site that are not only physically exhausting, they’re emotionally exhausting as well.  But it must be remembered that the isabon of work is a result of sin and not part of God’s original design and desire for work.  Work was originally created to be a privilege and joy.  Indeed, work was part of creation even before the Fall.  Immediately after God creates Adam, God takes  “the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15).  God has weaved and woven work into the fabric of His creation.

Such a high view of work is unique to Christianity.  Ancient pagan literature takes a much grimmer view of labor.  The ancient eighteenth century BC Akkadian Epic of Atra-Hasis has its own account of the origin of human work. The epic opens:  “Great indeed was the drudgery of the gods, the forced labor was heavy, the misery too much.”  The gods, according to this epic, were tired of having to work.  They considered it “drudgery.”  How do the gods solve their drudgery dilemma?  They declare, “Let us create, then, a human, a man. Let him bear the yoke! Let him bear the yoke! Let man assume the drudgery of the god.”  In Atra-Hasis, humans are created to do the work the gods do not care to do themselves.  Work, in and of itself, is, in this epic, an awkward annoyance, to be pawned off and passed off by any means possible.  This, however, is not Christianity’s view of work.

According to Christianity, work was not originally created to be a burden, but a high and holy privilege.  It was part of the authority God graciously allowed human beings to exercise over His creation.  God says in the creation account, “Let man 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).  The work of ruling the earth was meant to be an awesome honor, not a cumbersome curse.

The German sociologist Max Weber coined the phrase “Protestant work ethic” to refer to the premium on which Protestants, and the Puritans especially, put on work.  Unfortunately, Weber understood this ethic moralistically, glorifying the “self-made man” and trumpeting the tangible rewards of hard work, rather than understanding one who works hard as carrying out his divinely ordained vocation before God for his neighbor, regardless of the earthly rewards.  The true “Protestant work ethic” is wrapped up in the doctrine of vocation, which sees every job, be it stately or homely, as a gift from God as long as it is not immoral in its nature (e.g., prostitution, drug dealing, etc.).  Thus, work – all work – is a gift from God to glorify Him and to help one’s neighbor.  Work – all work – is meant to impart dignity, not drudgery, to human beings.  In the words of John Milton:

Man hath his daily work of body and mind
Appointed, which declares his dignity,
And the regard of Heaven on all his ways.

Heaven regards your work well.  So praise and thank God for your work and stand honored at eternity’s acclaim.

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