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How do you say the phrase, “It’s time to get up and go to work?” Do you say it with excitement? “It’s time to get up and go to work!” Or do you say it with dread, “It’s time to get up and go to work.” Even if you love your job, the word “work” tends to have a negative connotation. You may not consider it miserable, but you probably consider it hard, or exhausting mentally, or physically, or both.
That’s why it’s hard to imagine what it was like when God gave Adam and Eve work to do in Paradise. When we hear the word paradise, we think of putting our feet up and sipping a cold drink on a beach while watching the sun set. We think of a place to relax, a place where we don’t have to get up and go to work. But the Bible says that after he created Adam, God took the man and settled him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to take care of it.
God made Adam his steward. He put him charge of caring for the garden he had made. God could have taken care of the garden by the power of his word and let Adam just sit there and enjoy it, but that would not have been good. Just ask a quarantined person how much Netflix they can watch before they get bored to death.
God created humans and he knew that they needed opportunity for meaningful service. He appointed humans to rule and care for all that he had made. He appointed us as his representatives and gave us the opportunity to serve him by using the gifts he has given us to care for his creation and especially for our families, the people he has placed in our care.
As long as Adam and Eve were in the Image of God, their state of righteousness and holiness, the word work didn’t have any negative connotations. It was a joy, not a burden. It was something they got to do, not something they had to do. Because they perfectly understood who God was and all that he had done for them, they were happy to do whatever he asked of them. It was their opportunity to express their gratitude to God for creating them, giving them life, and providing them with every blessing. It was an opportunity for them to have the joy of discovery as they learned about all the different plants and trees God had created and how the fruit of each one was wonderful and unique. I picture it like a kid in a candy store being told their job is to sample everything there. They would thoroughly enjoy the work of discovering all the different flavors and textures of all the different kinds of candy.
As we know, Adam and Eve didn’t retain the Image of God. Sin affected everything, including their view of work. Since they were no longer in perfect harmony with God, they no longer viewed their work of caring for all God had made as a way of giving thanks to God. Work no longer seemed to be a blessed opportunity to show gratitude to a gracious God. It now seemed like a sentence, a punishment, something they had to do or else.
In addition, because of sin, they were cast out of the garden where everything had been planted by God. In the garden all they had to do was harvest. Now they were going to have to plant everything themselves. Now there would be weeds so they would have to cultivate. Now, only by the sweat of their brow they would have food to eat. We can’t fully grasp what work was like in the garden before sin, but we know by experience what it means to work in a world where there are weeds, and floods, and droughts, and hail, and tornados. We know by experience what it means to be able to eat only by the sweat of our brow.
Those who are without the Spirit of God can only see work as negative, as something they have to do in order to survive. Those who are without the Spirit of God don’t acknowledge God, or that everything that exists belongs to God. Those without the Spirit of God can only see work as something they do to try to get what they want. It can never be for them an opportunity for loving service to God and others.
By God’s grace you do have the Spirit of God. As we heard last week, the Image of God is being restored in you. You have been born again of water and the Spirit. You have a new man of faith that fights against your sinful nature. By God’s grace you have been enabled to see that God owns everything and that you are his steward. He has designated you as his representative and has given you the job of caring for, of being in charge of all that he has made. He gives you many opportunities for meaningful service to him and your neighbor as you live out your life on earth.
Because you have a new man, because the image of God is being restored in you through faith, you have a different view of work. You realize who is it you are really working for. As Paul told the Colossians, work not only when their eye (your earthly master) is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for people, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. That’s a very helpful reminder, especially if you have a boss or employer that doesn’t treat you well.
As someone in whom the image of God is being restored through faith, you see work as an opportunity to provide for your family. In fact, Paul says that if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. Even an unbeliever, even an atheist has the natural understanding that they should take care of their families as best they can. Believers have that natural knowledge, and in addition they have the command of God, so if believers don’t provide for their families, they are going against both the natural law and God’s specific command. So, we heard Paul say in our second lesson today, if anyone does not want to work (implying that they are able to do so), he should not eat. Indeed, we hear that some among you are idle, not busy working, but being busybodies. In the Lord Jesus Christ, we command and urge these people to work quietly and eat their own bread.
Maybe the clearest passage that depicts the difference between the attitude of the sinful nature and the attitude of the new man toward work is Ephesians 4:28. He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. The one governed by the sinful nature is only thinking of themselves. They don’t want to have to work. They think others owe them and if they don’t give them what they think they are owed they justify taking it. That’s the mindset of looters. But those who have been born again and have a new man of faith see work as an opportunity to serve God, to provide for their families, and even as an opportunity to provide for those who are unable to provide for themselves for whatever reason. It’s the contrast between a selfish attitude, and a selfless, Christlike attitude. It’s a contrast between thinking “what can I get for myself without doing any work,” and “what can I do so that I can have something to share with others.”
Matthew demonstrated the change that God had worked in his heart not just by leaving his tax collector’s booth to follow Jesus. He used his work connections as an avenue for bringing many others into contact with Jesus. Whatever job you have you will have opportunities to do what Matthew did. There will be opportunities, as you show that you are working for the Lord, not for people, to explain the reason for your attitude, maybe your lack of the use of foul language. I know I had that opportunity when I worked construction as number of co-workers commented about the fact that I didn’t use foul language. You may have the opportunity to invite co-workers to your home where you may offer a prayer before a meal. You may have the opportunity to invite them to come to an event or a worship service at church. You will have opportunities to tell your co-workers about the hope that you have in Jesus, and that he wants them to have. What more meaningful service could there be than to do what Matthew did, to invite others to meet Jesus!
We all have to admit that, even thought we have a new man of faith and are being renewed in the image of God, we don’t always see work as an opportunity for meaningful service. We don’t always remember that we are really serving God, not people. We don’t always think about supporting our families and those in need. All too often we fail think about bringing those around us at work the good news of the gospel. All too often we want to be served instead of serving. All too often we think of ourselves first, which leads to greed and discontent. We daily sin much and deserve only God’s wrath and punishment for these things.
Thankfully, Jesus always had the proper attitude toward work. He was always eagerly doing the work the Father had given him to do. In fact, he alone served as God’s perfect representative on earth, fulfilling what Adam and Eve and you and I fail to do. On the cross the Father gave him the punishment we deserve for all the times we have failed to see the work God has given us as an opportunity for meaningful service. He punished Jesus for our laziness, our selfishness, our greed, and our discontent. He raised Jesus from the dead to assure us that all our sins have been forgiven. He has called us, as he did Matthew, to trust in Jesus for forgiveness and to see our work on earth, whatever it is, as an opportunity to serve God in faith and to serve our neighbor in love.
Solomon wrote, A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?