Work and Leisure
13/07/2003 at 9.30am / 11.15am
Genesis 1-3; 2 Thessalonians 3
Jesmond Parish Church
A sermon preached by Jonathan Redfearn
"WORK TILL YOU DROP!" No, that isn't one of the conditions of service here at JPC. Neither is it taken from the JPC Holiday Club training, although many of you involved in that may feel like dropping in two weeks time! Rather that was the headline in one newspaper the other week when it was revealed that many of us will probably have to work until we're 70 before we can draw a pension.
Already employees in Britain work longer hours than those in any other European country. Yet despite the increased levels of stress reported by even the Institute of Management there is evidence that some prefer this to their unpaid work of, say, bringing up the family. So for some, paid work is the new leisure and can be their god.
Research in the USA backs up this trend: despite family-friendly policies in the workplace, employees are opting to spend more, not less, time in the office.
Over the past two decades, the average worker has lengthened his or her work schedule by 164 hours every month and shortened holiday time by 14 percent. Of the 21,000 employees in one major company, only 53 (none of them men) chose to work part time in response to the arrival of a new baby. One percent of the employees worked from home even though the company permitted it. Most employees didn't even use all their holiday.
The report asserts that Americans are not working overtime because of money or a fear of layoffs. Instead, the average worker doesn't mind that work is eroding time at home. Apparently, somewhere in between "Have a good day, dear" and "Honey, I'm home," there has been a role reversal between home and work. Thanks to concepts such as company spirit and loyalty, the workplace is becoming increasingly cosy and comfortable, while home, with, for some, its nappies and dirty dishes, is becoming increasingly harried and hectic. One interviewee said, "I come to work to relax."
But modern management philosophies like 'total quality' are geared toward empowering the worker and making him or her feel appreciated. That can be all to the good. The downside is that under certain circumstances, the family cannot compete."
Some of us are no doubt wrestling with some of these issues, such as the balance between work and home. I know I am. Others of us are perhaps struggling with unemployment, under employment and too much leisure time.
So what is the Biblical view and balance? What does God say in his Word about work, both paid and unpaid, and leisure? So first:
1. WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT WORK?
Well, in one sense, the Bible says that we will work till we drop. For work in the Bible, as we'll see, is not just paid work but all kinds of work: church work, housework, looking after your family, schoolwork etc. Even if we make it to retirement the work God has created us to do does not stop when we leave paid employment. John Calvin's work ethic meant that he did not like to waste a minute of his time. Even on his death-bed, his friends pleaded with him to refrain from his labours. He replied: "What! Would you have the Lord find me idle when he comes?" While we're on this matter of what is work, it also needs to be said that Christian work is not just work for the church. We need to re emphasise today what was reclaimed at the Reformation that the Lord calls each one of us into our various spheres of work whether that be as a teacher, a doctor or any other kind of legitimate paid work, or in unpaid work as a parent, grandparent or in service of the community. As Colossians 3:23-24 says:
Whatever you do, 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. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Author and preacher Tony Campolo said that when his wife, Peggy, was at home full-time with their children and someone would ask, "And what is it that you do, my dear?" she would respond, "I am socializing two Homo sapiens into the dominant values of the Judeo-Christian tradition in order that they might be instruments for the transformation of the social order into the kind of eschatological utopia that God willed from the beginning of creation." Then Peggy would ask the other person, "And what do you do?"
We were created by God, in part, to work. Have a look at Genesis 1&2, chapters which are about how God made and meant the world to be. Look first at 2:1:
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing: so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.So God is a worker. Now look at 1:26-27:
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule…" So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.So if God is a worker and he created us in his own image, then chapter 2:15 should come as no surprise:
The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.God created us supremely for a relationship with him, and then for a relationship with others in marriage, family and community (see Genesis 2:18-25) but also to work. Work is part of the created order. Work belongs to the original perfect order of things; it is part of God's intended purposes for his people.
But because of man's rebellion against God, because of Adam and Eve's decision that they could live without reference to God in Genesis 3, God put a curse on work. Look at 3:17-19:
To Adam God said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it, 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 until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return."So work would become harder and more time consuming. There would be long hours. There would be painful toil. There would be thorns and thistles. Work would be less satisfying and more frustrating. And 'By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground.'
This side of heaven work will not be perfect. And our lives will not be perfectly balanced or prioritised. We live in a fallen world. We are fallen and sinful. We get it wrong. Only in heaven will we experience perfect work and perfect leisure (Revelation 14:13). Yes we will work in heaven. That might come as a shock to some but yes, if we put our faith in Jesus, we will work beyond 'dropping' here in heaven. Only work there will be very different. There will be no painful toil or thorns and thistles. We don't know the precise details but Christians will do perfect work perfectly in heaven. Jesus' parable of the ten minas in Luke 19:11-27 makes it clear that the amount of responsibility we will be given in heaven will depend on what we do on earth with what God gives us.
But don't misunderstand, we can't earn our way to heaven. The only way to heaven is through faith in Jesus Christ. He is the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). Who needs to hear that glorious hope this morning and put your trust in Jesus as Saviour and Lord? Perhaps you're weighed down with guilt about work or about not working. Perhaps work is out of control and so is life. Well Jesus says:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.David Bloom came to Jesus, who then began to change his attitude to his work and his family. David was an energetic and popular TV news reporter in the USA. Bloom, who was 39, recently died of a pulmonary embolism while covering the war in Iraq. Bloom left a wife, Melanie, and three daughters. A friend acknowledged that it was just two years ago that he began to allow his faith to really influence his life. Bloom's very last report out of Iraq was not for publication, because it was an email to his wife. The message was read at his memorial service: "I hope and pray all the troops get out of this in one piece. But…I am at peace. Here I am, supposedly at the peak of professional success but it's nothing compared to my relationship with you and the girls and Jesus."
Jesus makes a difference to the working lives of those who come to him and submit to him as Lord. If he's Lord of your life then he will help you with work, balance and priorities. In Colossians 3:17 the Apostle Paul writes:
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus…
And in 1 Corinthians 10:31 Paul says:
So…whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.So, if Jesus is our Lord, how are we to work to his praise and glory until he comes again?
Well let's turn briefly to 2 Thessalonians where Paul is writing to a church struggling with these very issues of work and priorities in the light of the fact that Jesus will return as Judge. 2 Thessalonians 3: 1-15, p1190. The problem was that some Christians had stopped working because they believed that 'the day of the Lord had already come' (2:2). Look at v6,11&12:
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us…We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.Now before we go any further let's note what Paul is not saying. The end of v10 says: 'If a man will not work, he shall not eat.' So Paul's not talking here about unemployed people who want to work but can't. He's talking about people who could work and should work, but won't.
Their idleness and their 'busybodying' was having a negative effect on the church and on the witness of the church. And that still applies today. If we are idle at work or at school or college then what kind of witness to Christ is that? So what does Paul tell us positively to do?
In 1 Thessalonians 4:11&12 he's already said this on the same issue:
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.We are to make it our ambition to 'Lead a quiet life': in other words, not to be so spiritually over-excited that we neglect quietly carrying out our daily responsibilities. We are to 'mind our own business'. There's a temptation to get improperly involved in the affairs of others when we don't have work to do, whether that's during the holidays, or if we're job-hunting, or retired or mainly at home during the day. And we are to 'work with our own hands'. We are to work whether manually or otherwise, for there's no hierarchy of labour. Why? 'So that our daily life may win the respect of outsiders.' That will then lead to gospel opportunities. As someone has said, 'Non-Christians can fear that we're some kind of cult that withdraws from the real world. So we need to show them that, far from withdrawing us from the real world, the Lord Jesus sends us back into it to take our responsibilities more seriously than they do.' Which is in contrast to what many studies suggest are common worldly working practices.
Did you know that 50% of American workers admit to acting unethically or illegally in the past year. The same is probably true here too. The five most common types of unethical or illegal behaviour that workers say they have engaged in because of pressure are:
--Cutting corners on quality control
--Covering up incidents
--Abusing or lying about sick days
--Lying to or deceiving customers and
--Putting inappropriate pressure on others.
Our attitude to and our actual carrying out of the work can be a very effective witness to Christ if we live and work for him. Is Jesus Lord of our work?
We should also be willing to stand up for Christian values in our work. It was a Christian who blew the whistle on the dodgy accounting practices of Enron. As Martin Luther King once said: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
And, we are to work Paul says, 'so that you will not be dependent on anybody.' We are to work to be a giver not a getter and so help others, whether helping to release people for Christian ministry or helping the poor.
In 2 Thessalonians 3:1-15 Paul underlines these points further. In our daily lives and work we are told to obey the Word - 'to do the things we command' (v4&6), to spread the Word (v1) - 'pray for the message of the Lord to spread rapidly and be honoured', to pray and be strong in the Lord who 'is faithful and who will strengthen and protect you from the evil one' (v3), to not be idle and not to associate with those who are (v6&11), to earn the bread you eat (v12), to follow the Apostle's example in working night and day if necessary to not be a burden to anyone (v7-10) and (v13) to 'never tire of doing what is right'.
God created us to work. But God also created us for rest. So secondly, finally and very briefly:
2. WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT LEISURE?
Let's go back to Genesis 2:2:
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.This pattern of having one day's rest in seven was established by God from the start. We were not created to work all the time. Interestingly when the Communists came to power in Russia they tried to make people work a ten day week followed by one day off. It didn't work. God's design is one day off in seven. And rest is productive too. Without rest we will not be as productive as God wants us to be.
The story is told of two men who had the tiring job of clearing a field of trees. The contract called for them to be paid per tree. Bill wanted the day to be profitable, so he grunted and sweated, swinging the axe relentlessly. Ed, on the other hand, seemed to be working about half as fast. He even took a rest and sat off to the side for a few minutes. Bill kept chopping away until every muscle and tendon in his body was screaming. At the end of the day, Bill was terribly sore, but Ed was smiling and telling jokes. Amazingly, Ed had cut down more trees! Bill said, "I noticed you sitting while I worked without a break. How'd you outwork me?" Ed smiled. "Did you notice I was sharpening my axe while I was sitting?"
As with work Jesus is to be Lord of our leisure time.
The fourth of the Ten Commandments says this:
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work…For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.Now Colossians 2:16-17 says 'do not let anyone judge you with regard to a Sabbath day'. But the New Testament also shows that Christians did think of Sunday - the day of the Resurrection - as a special day. God led them to move his special day of rest from the 'seventh day' of the week (that had celebrated the first creation) to the 'first day' of the week (that now celebrates the new creation). Jesus encountered a great deal of legalism with regard to the Sabbath. And he would have none of it. But he still kept the day of rest himself. And the change to Sunday, from Saturday, showed that one day in seven as special was still important after Christ. We should prioritise a Christian Sunday to meet together as a church. And we should make daily time 'holy to the Lord' for Bible reading and prayer, both individually and as families and in small groups. As I said at the beginning God did not create us only for work, but supremely for relationship with him. And of course we should steward all our time for the Lord and not just one day in seven.
He also created us for relationship with others in marriage, family and community. So we are not to neglect them and allow our daily work to push them out. In our family and in the community we are called to make disciples, be salt and light, inviting families to sign their children up for the Holiday Club etc. When was the last time you ate and read the Bible together as a family? When was the last time you invited non Christian friends or colleagues for a meal? When was the last time you were involved in something with the local community?
God also created us to enjoy his world. Genesis 1:31: 'God saw all that he had made and it was very good.' So some of us were able to enjoy time away at Blaithwaite in the Lake District recently.
In our leisure time we don't stop being Christians. We are to never tire of doing what is right in that time too. We are to live to please God. He called us to live a holy life. That is not always easy in this multi-media world with the temptations of the internet etc. But in 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul says, 'Each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honourable.' So I conclude with 1 Corinthians 10:31:
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
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