The Christian at work (Part 1)

21 08 2008

This will be the first in a series of posts on the proper Christian attitude toward work. The content of these messages was inspired by a sermon preached by Charles Haddon Spurgeon on May 22, 1881 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. The sermon text was Galatians 2:20 – “The life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God.” Spurgeon’s thesis was that genuine faith has a profound effect upon the whole man, including his attitude and actions in his vocation. In the introduction, he made the following remarks:

It would be a great pity, dear brethren, if in the process of being qualified for the next life we became disqualified for this; but it is not so. It would be a very strange thing if, in order to be fit for the company of angels, we should grow unfit to associate with men; but it is not so. It would be a singular circumstance if those who speak of heaven had nothing to say concerning the way thither; but it is not so… My brethren, true religion has as much to do with this world as with the world to come; it is always urging us onward to the higher and better life; but it does so by processes and precepts which fit us worthily to spend our days while here below. Godliness prepares us for the life which follows the laying down of this mortal flesh; but as Paul tells us in the text, it moulds the life which we now live in the flesh. Faith is a principle for present use… Godliness with contentment is great gain: it hath the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come. The sphere of faith is earth and heaven, time and eternity; the sweep of its circle takes in the whole of our being-spirit, soul, and body; it comprehends the past and the future, and it certainly does not omit the present. With the things that now are the faith of Christians has to do; and it is concerning the life that we now live in the flesh that I shall now speak, trying, by the help of God’s Spirit, to show the influence which faith has upon it.”

True faith will have its due effect upon how we live our ordinary lives in the here-and-now. It will shape our conduct, not only in “spiritual” matters, but in our callings and vocations. This is true, whether one is called to the office of the ministry, or to the vocation of a butcher, a salesman, or a computer technician. The Bible knows of no division between spiritual life and ordinary life. For the Christian, all things are molded and directed by his relationship with Christ and the precepts of God’s word. What, then, are the Biblical principles that should guide the believer in his daily pursuits?

Spurgeon begins with the principle of industry.

“FAITH INCLINES A MAN TO AN INDUSTRIOUS LIFE. It suggests activity. I will venture to say of any lazy man that he has little or no faith in God for faith always- ‘worketh by love.’ I lay it down as a thesis which shall be proved by observation that a believing man becomes an active man, or else it is because he cannot act, and, therefore, what would have been activity runs into the channel of patience, and he endures with resignation the will of the Most High. He who does nothing believes nothing-that is to say, in reality and in truth. Faith is but an empty show if it produces no result upon the life. If a professor manifests no energy, no industry, no zeal, no perseverance, no endeavour to serve God, there is cause gravely to question whether he is a believer at all. It is a mark of faith that, whenever it comes into the soul, even in its lowest degree, it suggests activity. Look at the prodigal, and note his early desires. The life of grace begins to gleam into his spirit, and its first effect is the confession of sin. He cries, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.’ But what is the second effect? He desires to be doing something. ‘Make me as one of thy hired servants.’ Having nothing to do had helped to make him the prodigal he was. He had wasted his substance in riotous idleness, seeking enjoyment without employment. He had plunged into the foulest vices because he was master of money but not master of himself. It was not an ill thing for him when he was sent into the fields to feed swine: the company which he met with at the swine trough was better than that which he had kept at his banquets. One of the signs of the return of his soul’s sanity was his willingness to work, although it might be only as a menial servant in his father’s house. In actual history observe how Saul of Tarsus, even before he had found peaceful faith in Christ, cried, ‘Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?’ Faith arouses the soul to action. It is the first question of believing anxiety, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ Hence faith is such a useful thing to men in the labour and travail of this mortal life, because it puts them into motion and supplies them with a motive for work. Faith does not permit men to lie upon the bed of the sluggard, listless, frivolous, idle; but it makes life to appear real and earnest, and so girds the loins for the race.”

If you are a Christian, then you have been transformed into a new creature. The principle of newness is the re-creation, renewal, and re-invigoration of the image of God in you that was defaced by sin. Sin had turned all of your thoughts inward, toward self-interest, so that all of your attitudes and actions were geared toward satisfying your cravings for comfort and ease. God created man for honorable – that is, God-honoring – work. When He put Adam and Eve in the Garden, he charged them to tend it and cultivate it, to rule over the earth and subdue it.

Work itself is not part of the curse of sin. But sin has had a profound effect upon man’s attitude toward work. Because of sin, work has become a drudgery – “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your bread.” But sin did not change the nature of work. It changed the nature of man. Instead of seeing work as a means to glorify God, fallen man sees work as a means to glorify and enrich himself. The end he has in view makes the means seem bitter, because the labor involved in work infringes upon man’s enjoyment and leisure. So he looks for ways to cut corners – to exert the minimum amount of effort for the maximum amount of reward. Sinful man is naturally lazy and self-indulgent, and it often shows in the workplace.

But the Christian, by God’s grace, has a new nature. His self-centered and self-indulgent mindset is transformed into one that is Christ-centered and God-honoring. So, for the Christian, work is no longer a drudgery that stands between himself and his desire for honor, enrichment, and ease. It is an honorable calling that allows him the great privilege of serving God by advancing His kingdom, exercising wise and careful stewardship over His creation, and contributing to the welfare and happiness of his fellow man.

“Everyone should follow an honourable vocation. It was a rule of the old church, and it ought to be one of the present- ‘If any man will not work neither let him eat.’ It is good for us all to have something to do, and plenty of it. When man was perfect God placed him in a paradise, but not in a dormitory. He set him in the garden to ‘dress it and to keep it.’ It would not have been a happy place for Adam if he had had nothing to do but to smell the roses and gaze at the flowers: work was as essential to the perfect man as it is to us, though it was not of the kind which brings sweat to the face or weariness to the limbs. In the garden of grace faith is set to a happy service, and never wishes to be otherwise than occupied for her Lord.”

“The text says, ‘The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God.’ Does faith in the Son of God, who loved him and gave himself for him, suggest to the redeemed man that he should be industrious and active? Assuredly it does; for it sets the divine Saviour before him as an example, and where was there ever one who worked as Jesus did? In his early youth he said, ‘Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?’ He was no loitering heir of a gentleman, but the toiling son of a carpenter. In after life it was his meat and his drink to do the will of him that sent him. He says, ‘My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.’ His was stern labour and sore travail: the zeal of God’s house did eat him up, and the intensity of love consumed him. He worked on until he could say, ‘I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.’ Now, it is no small thing for a man to be roused by such an example, and to be made a partaker of such a spirit.”

What is your attitude towards work? Do you see it as a curse, or a blessing? Is it oppression, or opportunity? Are you industrious, or indolent? Is it a means to accomplish your personal goals of enrichment, ease and reputation, or a means to advance God’s glory by laboring in His vineyard? Let the word and example of Jesus Christ challenge you, in whatever calling God has placed you, to be diligently and cheerfully about your Father’s business.

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2 responses

23 08 2008
Brian Panichelle

Doug–Nice work! Far more thorough than my attempts to begin this series on my blog or at Milligantown. I really enjoyed reading your posts. Thanks too for the link to my blog at Competenow!

27 10 2008
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