The Danger of Work
Hey, everybody. You are beautiful to behold. I still haven’t gotten over … I know it’s sad that we’re not all together. We greatly miss our brothers and sisters who still are worshiping from home. But it’s just so great to be together this Lord’s Day. And we’re going to be back in Psalm 104, but it’s just going to launch us into a follow-up from what we did last week. So, if you want to start in Psalm 104, you can turn there. But I want to begin with a Clifton quote, CEO of Gallup.
“Six years into our global data collection effort, we may have already found the single most searing, clarifying, helpful, world-altering fact. What the whole world wants is a good job. [What the whole world wants is a good job.] This is one of the most important discoveries Gallup has ever made.”
That’s significant, isn’t it? The world wants a good job. But what does it mean to have a good job? What is a good job? This pandemic has brought that question to the surface in a striking way for several reasons. One is because of the unhelpful debate between “essential” and “non-essential” work and workers. That brought it to the surface. Secondly, because of a spike in unemployment. That will cause you to really rethink: What is a good job? What is the purpose of my work or lack thereof? The third reason I would say is the massive migration from working in an office to working at home. Many, many made that migration. So, all of these and many other examples at this particular time just bring that to the surface, something we know is very important to everyone, everywhere. And Americans are no different. We want a good job.
And so, one of the purposes of this series called, “Work on Purpose” is to wrestle with that question. Has God called us to work? Is work a sacred calling? What is a good job? What is the purpose of work? How does it get perverted?
Last week we began way up in the air with a massive vision of the purpose of work by talking about the story of work — God’s Poetry of Productivity — in Psalm 104. And the whole message was, up to the very end, was positive. Look what work can be because God is a person who loves his job. He (this is the way we said it last week) God delights in his work and invites us into his joy. That’s the focus of Psalm 104. And perhaps the reason the world wants a good job is because it was made by someone who has one. The world was made by a person who enjoys his job. He makes us in his image to enter his joy, joy in him, and so that gets worked out in what we do.
We summarized the seven stanzas of Psalm 104. And if you want these details with verse references and explanations, you can go to the message last week on the website and then scroll down. You’ll see a transcript of all of this. Let’s just mention really quickly these seven stanzas. The work he does accomplishes his intention, brings satisfying results for others and for the environment, empowers others to flourish, enables others to improve their situation, creates healthy rhythms of work and rest, is universal, diverse and even playful, generates the raw materials of culture. He delights in his work and invites us into his joy.
We even learned a new word. Do you remember that? Cosmoselation. Cosmoselation. Combination of cosmos (world, arrangement, has that idea of order), elation (joy) — to bring joy and order into this world. The joy of bringing beauty and order into the world.
And this is what Psalm 104 is describing, the kind of work from God for the common good. But at the end of Psalm 104, and this is why we’re beginning here. Rather than exposing another passage, I want this just to be a catapult that launches us into a different discussion. Because in verse 35 we ended with this warning, or really a call, for sinners to be consumed.
And the experience at the end of Psalm 104 is like when you’re on the side of a pool. The sun is warm. You’ve fallen asleep in a chaise lounge or whatever chair, sunbathing. And then some gweeb grabs a big bucket of water and dumps it on you — heart attack, shock, woken up from your comfort. That’s Psalm 104. All the psalm is beautiful, joyful, things are the way they’re supposed to be, and then all of a sudden at the end of the psalm, “Let sinners be consumed!” Whoa, whoa, whoa. It’s a wakeup call that we live in a sinful world, a broken world. And we are broken, and we bring brokenness into our workplaces. And so, things at our work are not the way they’re supposed to be. And that’s going to launch us into today’s discussion. Last week, all positive. Today, all negative. No, we’ll end positive. The danger of work. Work can easily cause more damage than good because of our sin or the sin of others. So, let’s talk about what it means to work in a broken world. Eugene Peterson said it this way:
“Work is a major component in most lives. It is unavoidable. It can either be good or bad, an area where our sin is magnified or where our faith matures. For it is the nature of sin to take good things and twist them, ever so slightly, so that they miss the target to which they were aimed, the target of God.”
What he’s saying is, we can take a gift called work. We can twist it into something it was not intended to be. We want to talk about that. Peterson gives two major general examples of the way work is twisted. He calls them Babel and Buddha. Babel and Buddha. Babel, typifying what we’re going to call an overly optimistic view of work. It’s trying to make work do what it was not intended to do. And then Buddha, typifying an overly pessimistic view of work, under-appreciating the value of work. So those two extremes, very general, but it will help us talk about a lot of things that the Bible gets at when it’s talking about working in a broken world.
Number one, let’s talk about overly optimistic. The example of this is Genesis 11, Babel. The workers in verse 4 united and said,
“Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” Now, there are three ingredients that are communicated in this verse that can make up a perversion, a twisted version of work. Pride, gets mixed up with … I’m sorry, first, productivity. Secondly, pride. Third, what we can call provincialism.
So, pride is the “tower with its top to the heavens,” making “a name for ourselves.” The productivity, is “let us build.” There’s nothing wrong with building. God has called us to be builders. But when productivity meets pride and then that last one, provincialism, which is kind of a secluded, inverted “lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” It’s when work turns inward, just on us. God said, be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth. And the people at Babel said, “No, no. We’re going to try to secure, we’re going to try to use work to secure our future. And we don’t really care what God says. We don’t really care about anyone else.”
There’s an amazing contrast if you keep reading Genesis 11 to Genesis 12:1-3, because 1-3 of chapter 12 is the call of Abraham, and it seems to directly flow from this curse on Babel. The call of Abraham, God says what? First word, “Go.” Go from your country, from your people. And then he promises in this list of promises, I will “make your name great.” He had just cursed Babel for trying to make their own name great. And it’s a powerful picture, that I want to see you flourish. But you will never flourish if you try to flourish, if you try to use work to do what it was never meant to do. That’s not the way it works.
So, case study. We’re going to do a case study for each of these, the overly optimistic and the overly pessimistic. The overly optimistic view of work, we’re going to do a case study on capitalism, the potential danger within capitalism. And then in the second one, we’re going to do a case study on socialism.
But I want to put all my cards on the table, okay? Some of you have been here for a while; this is not a surprise to you. But if you’re visiting, maybe it would be helpful for you to know that I’m biased, so, to be upfront with that. I am not neutral about these two economic systems. I am far more optimistic about capitalism than I am about socialism. And there’s a reason for that. I have studied it, traveled around the world, been in communist, socialist, capitalist countries. I believe capitalism is the number one human vehicle of bringing more people out of poverty. I could prove it to you historically, today, all that garbage. I could go on and on and on. That’s not the purpose today. I just wanted you to know that I’m biased. I care about poor people. I feel like that’s the best economic system to help people flourish. And nothing compares to it.
However, this is the point I want to make before we get back on track. As one of the shepherds who will give account for your souls, I am 10,000 times more passionate that you have a flourishing relationship with Jesus Christ that can flourish in any economic system than I am in convincing you of the superiority of an economic system. Do you understand that? Our calling as Christians is so great in our love for Jesus and our passion to communicate the gospel of Christ, the life of Jesus Christ. When you’ve tasted that, any economic system pales into insignificance compared to the glory of Christ. And the reason that is so important is today it seems to be disappearing. We as Christians often have a hard time believing that we can have strong convictions about a particular economic system and still engage fruitfully, lovingly, joyfully, in person, online (I know that’s a miracle) with people who disagree with us. And the reason we can do that is because we love Jesus way more than we love our economic system. We got some “amens” at North Hills! A couple.
This is big. It’s one of the big differences between churchianity and Christianity. Churchiantity is way more interested in guarding the status quo. And I say that from both sides. This is not a slam on capitalists because socialists are the same way, people who are promoting it. Because one is quite in vogue today. The other is quite out of vogue. And both sides can dig deep trenches and say nasty things to each other. Christians, we’ve got to be different. And the reason we can be different, while not flushing our economic or political perspectives, is because Jesus has so taken a hold of our hearts that we know ultimately … and many of you have, too. I’ve traveled to countries that are totalitarian, communist, socialist, Islamic regimes. And you find everywhere Christians flourishing because of their love of Jesus. That is a beautiful thing. And that takes away the fear and allows us to love people regardless of their perspective, because we know his kingdom is so far above an American kingdom or Canadian kingdom or British kingdom or any other kingdom. Okay, we’ve got to get back on track. I just wanted to get my cards out there, get our perspective aligned.
Let’s talk about the danger of capitalism. Capitalism is a free-market economy based on private ownership and the rule of law. Your work (in capitalism) provides your needs by providing for the needs of others. Profits are an indication that you’re doing that. So, if I grow some corn (God grows the corn, but I plant it, water it). I harvest my corn. You’re hungry. You have something I need — money to buy other things, seed to grow more corn. So, we have a freely agreed upon price where I sell you the corn for a particular price. Your needs are met. You give me money so that I can provide for my family in other areas. That’s it. It’s a free exchange based on mutual needs met. What could be the danger in that? Remember, sin takes good things and twists them. Let me mention just really quickly (this isn’t comprehensive) four ways the Bible warns us of dangers within these kinds of transactions.
First of all, we can forget who provides. Who caused the corn to grow? We learned in Psalm 104 God causes even the grass to grow. He causes … Anything that we can harvest comes from him. God warned Israel, don’t forget when you experience prosperity, Deuteronomy 8:17,
“Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’”
The sin of Babel. Secondly, we can lose the ability to enjoy God’s provision. 1 Timothy 6:17, God warns:
“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.”
We know you can have everything and enjoy nothing. That’s why last week we began with the joy of God, because it doesn’t matter how prosperous or how poor you are. If you don’t have the joy of your Maker in your heart, no amount of riches or sacrifices will ever make you happy.
Number 3, we can mistreat others. James 5:4, the passage we heard read.
“Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.”
That is so strong. Do you understand what God is saying there? Look at it carefully. What is crying out, first half? Wages are crying out. What? God is saying that money that you took from selling the harvest that your workers brought in or whatever transaction you did, that money that you received and you kept back that’s in your wallet right now is screaming out to the God of heaven saying that is unjust. That is wrong. You have defrauded your brother, this worker. And not only the wages are crying out. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. And look at who God calls himself, the Lord of hosts. That word “hosts” is armies. In other words, “I’m ready to go to war against the owner of a company who defrauds the people who work for him.” That is strong. And there are many of us who would not do certain sins but have no problem doing other things in business that God is very concerned about. Anytime we mistreat our brothers and sisters, workers, specifically, or customers, through fraud, exploitation, unjust business practices, bribery in business and politics, inhumane working conditions — all of that would fall into the category of what God warns us against.
Number 4, we can become bound by greed or materialism. Jesus warned, you can’t serve me and money. 1 Timothy 6:9,
“Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmless desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money [Notice it’s not the money, it’s the love of money.] is a root of all kinds of evil. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves through with many pains.”
The word “pains” is the idea of grief. You’re losing the joy God has in his job because you’re trying to make money be something it can never be to you. What is God doing here? Is God wanting us to be miserable? No, he’s fighting for our joy and the joy of our neighbor. Isn’t that amazing that God is so interested in the way we work that he’s looking in our wallet to see, “Have you defrauded that guy who works for you?” That he’s warning us, “Don’t let what you just inherited or earned take hold on your heart or what you think you want or need.” Overly optimistic view of work, trying to make it do what it can never do.
Let’s talk for a bit about an overly pessimistic view of work. If Babel is frantic, Buddha is lethargic regarding work. Think withdrawn, legs crossed, inactive. 2 Thessalonians 3 is an example of this. Paul confronted this problem, verse 6,
“Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.”
Paul here goes on to talk about his example of work, why he works and how (this is really big), how work is a way we love our brothers. When you pull out of your driveway in the morning, a way you love your neighbors, one reason you’re going to work is so that your neighbor doesn’t have to take care of you. That’s the way Paul is describing it. You’re actually loving others by providing for your families. And then, hopefully, by God’s grace, you’re able to help others. You’re contributing. Now, let me give a quick clarification here. That doesn’t mean we’re all able to contribute all the time. There are times where we’re jobless. We want to work but can’t. There are times we go through seasons of life, whether through sickness or disability or some other means, we can’t contribute as much as we formerly could or want to. Please. God is not trying to heap any guilt on us in those moments. But what he’s saying is, generally speaking, Christians want to contribute. That’s the way God has wired us. But yet there were some here who were trying to take advantage of their brothers’ and sisters’ diligence. And so, in verse 11 Paul says very directly,
“We hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.”
Do you see that? The value God’s word places? Go to work. Do your job. Provide. Now, we don’t know why these people that Paul confronts were not working, some of them may have been hyper spiritual and just figured, “Hey, you pagans that have to work a job, we’re more spiritual. We float. We don’t work.” Perhaps, there’s some evidence of that. More likely, there’s evidence of an erroneous eschatology where they were thinking, Jesus is coming, so why do I need to work? We’ll just wait. Which can become a kind of a version of Christian socialism where you guys work so I don’t have to. So, let’s talk about the potential dangers within socialism. Socialism is a government-owned or directed economy where the means of production are in some form (there are many versions) in the hand of the government.
A couple of potential dangers of socialism. One, we can diminish the significance of private property. A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation on the phone with a man who was trying to convince me (from another place), trying to convince me that if you’re Christian you’re a socialist. You should be. And I asked him where he finds that in the Bible, and he went straight for Acts 2 and Acts 4 where the Christians were gathering and giving, having all things in common. But if you step back, as we discussed in this conversation, and look at the context, a couple of things are important. First of all, you’re talking about the church, not the government. We should not go theocratic here.
Secondly, you’ll notice in the context there is no mention of government control of the means of production, nor mandating the distribution. Everyone was giving freely. There was no obligation. There was a movement of the Spirit of an intense generosity, but it was nothing like what we would call socialism today. It actually just illustrates the generosity of God’s people. And some people may say, well, if you’re relying just on the generosity of God’s people, then there are Christians who are going to hoard and not share. Yes, and that’s where the passage goes. Look at Acts 5. Ananias and Sapphira wanted the reputation of givers but did not want the reality of it. So, they pretended to give more than they gave. Peter confronted them, and listen to his emphasis on the significance of private property. God holds this very, very important. From the very beginning, the Ten Commandments, there are two clear statements. Don’t steal — private property matters. Don’t covet — private property matters. And Peter reaffirms this in verse 4.
“While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? [Socialists can never say that.] Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” Peter is saying, God doesn’t want you to be coerced into being sacrificial or to pretend. He wants your heart. Stop clinging and be willing joyfully to share.
Number 2, we can foster, socialism can foster, class conflict and envy. Galatians 5:25,
“If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”
Winston Churchill, who fought against socialism much of his life — Hitler’s nationalized socialism and Stalin’s state socialism — defined socialism quite succinctly. It is “the gospel of envy.” The gospel of envy. Envy means I cannot rejoice in your success. I have to have it. I resent it.
So, if we viewed, think about this, if we viewed health like socialists view wealth, then when you are healthy, and I am unhealthy, it means that you’ve stolen some of my health, and I can never be healthy until you’re less healthy, until you’re more sick. At the core, that’s how socialism works. It views health as a pie. There’s only so much of it. If your piece is big, then mine’s probably little because your piece is big. If socialism viewed health like they view wealth.
Capitalists don’t think that way, because they have the means of production to expand the pie. So, the goal is not, I’ve got to make you more sick so that we can be equal. But the goal is, how do we help each other flourish so the means of production actually swells, and we can share in health, or share in wealth in this case. It’s a totally different mindset. That’s why wherever socialism is coming into vogue, you will hear two dominant things: class conflict and envy will always be on the rise. And it’s true right now. It always has been and will be.
Number 3, we can stifle the motivation to work. Socialism can stifle the motivation to work. Proverbs 16:26,
“A worker’s appetite works for him; his mouth urges him on.”
What is he talking about there? He’s talking about how hunger energizes labor. If you tell me in the morning, you’re going to show up with money at my door every morning and food serving me if I’m not disabled, I’m a healthy individual, and you offer that, then why should I go to work is what Proverbs is saying. Part of the motivation is, I’ve got to provide for my family, put food on my table.
James Wilson wrote in the 1700s of two American colonies which basically tried, they called it “joint industry” — having common labor and common harvest. Today we would call it socialism. And the results were predictable. Listen to what Wilson writes. This is in the 1700s.
“Happy was he that could slip from his labor, or slubber over his work in any manner … [Haven’t used the word slubber lately, have you? It means to work carelessly.] Even the most honest and industrious would scarcely take so much pains in a week, as they would have done for themselves in the day.”
In other words, productivity greatly diminished. Both colonies came to the brink of starvation. They both separately switched to private ownership, where they gave a plot of land to each family to work and to harvest, and the change was dramatic.
In William Bradford’s words, he was over one of those colonies, he wrote this:
“The failure of this experiment of communal service, which was tried for several years, and by good and honest men proves the emptiness of the theory of Plato and other ancients, applauded by some of later times — that the taking away of private property, and the possession of it in community, by a commonwealth, would make a state happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For in this instance, community of property (so far as it went) was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment which would have been to the general benefit and comfort.”
So, we’ve looked at an overly optimistic view of work and then an overly pessimistic view of work. How does the gospel change this? Look at Ephesians 4:28. This is probably the most succinct summary of how the gospel changes this. Ephesians 4:28,
“Let the thief no longer steal, [You have a member of society that is taking from others, a misuse of work.] but rather let him labor …”
And we need to emphasize this. Part of discipling Christians for Paul was to teach them to work. That is not an un-Christian thing. That is a core part of Christian discipleship as we learn to be followers of Jesus, living in his kingdom. Stop stealing. Start laboring.
“Doing honest work [This is what it means to have a good job.] with his own hands [Why?] so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”
So, you’ve gone from a taker to a worker to a giver, a sharer. You’re actually not just providing for yourself, no longer sapping off others, but you’re actually contributing to the common good. What a dramatic 180 change. That’s what the gospel does.
Let me just give you one example that I pray will stimulate our thinking. And even though we can’t develop this now, we’ve mainly focused on the negative today, this will launch us into other messages that can develop this further.
Fred Keller started Cascade Engineering and built it into a global provider of engineered plastic systems and components. The company is financially successful, utilizes sophisticated robotics, and is environmentally sensitive. Listen to one of the directors.
“We want to create an environment in which everyone has value, has a purpose, and likes coming to work. This provides us with less turnover and long-term stability and hence sustainability as an organization.”
They have what they call a welfare-to-career program where they have helped (get this) over 800 people move from welfare to a career, to flourish in a career. They have a full-time social worker on staff to help people deal with real challenges like childcare, transportation, learning how to be on time — all these things that can undermine our ability to work and work well. They take pouring into their employees seriously to help them flourish. And they identify people who might not be hired by other companies because of their records, and they go after them. Let me show you one example.
[VIDEO — Jahaun McKinley] “Why should we give somebody that’s been in prison a second chance? This person is still a part of the community at large. And I think that you have to look in and say that this person will continue to be a part of our community. Why not give them a second chance?
“I grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, started my elementary school here, middle school and high school. At the age of 18 I was incarcerated. I would spend the next 19 years in prison. As I was approaching parole, I was very determined to beat the odds. And so, everything that idea was calculated from the point that I’m not going to be a statistic. I knew that I was going to be a worker for Cascade Engineering. That was my dream.
“The first day at Cascade I felt as though I had arrived. I was willing to do any work because this company had given me a second chance, knowing that most employers would not even look at a person with a criminal background. So, it rooted a sense of loyalty to me to this company. I was promoted to a supervisor within a year, and I was recently promoted to a leading manufacturing manager.
“Success is when potential meets opportunity. And so now my potential is to grow so when the next opportunity comes around it’s successful. To my knowledge, there has never been an African-American director in operations. And so, I want to be the first African-American director of operations.” “Oh, I think you said you wanted my job.” “Yes.” Now I’ve been granted the ability to go into the juvenile systems and talk to the young men about their course, their life course, and redirect their life and change their journey. And Cascade puts its stamp of approval on that.”
Father, just like you stimulated our imagination last week as we gazed on you and the joy you find in your job, the delight you experience as you work in your creation, we pray that you would stimulate our creativity today. And if that means confessing and repenting of sin, of the way we have mistreated people who report to us, the way we have not cared for them financially or relationally in some way that your Spirit has put his finger on, we pray that we would repent readily, completely, honestly, and where appropriate, make it right. And Lord, also that you would stimulate our creativity in new ways. There are people in our church who own companies or oversee teams. And we ask that during this series, we would hear of new ways in which we can help others flourish for the glory of your name, by your grace. In Jesus’ name, amen.