An Ikthus East Sermon
The Porch, Lopue’s East
(1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, NIV)
“Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and 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.”
As most of you know, we’re studying the book of 1 Thessalonians. We’re now in the 4th chapter, which teaches us about pleasing God. We’ve learned that we can please God by (1) being holy, (2) by loving our brothers and sisters in Christ, and (3) by working hard. We’re now in number 3: we please God by working hard.
Work is such an important part of our life. A large chunk of our life-time – maybe 30% – is devoted to work. So it won’t come as a surprise if the Bible has a lot to say about work because God is interested in all aspects our life, and if so, he surely must be interested in what constitutes such a large part of it.
There are three things I’d like to share with you regarding the subject of Work based on our text: First, Why Work? Second, How to Work. And, finally, The Results of Work. Or we can put it this way: The Reasons for Work, the Recipe for Work, and the Results of Work. Since we don’t have time to cover all of these points, I plan this morning to focus only on the first point: Why Work? And in relation to that question, here are some answers. Why Work? Because (1) We were created to work. (2) We were saved to work. (3) God himself worked. (4) Working is the best way to wait for the Lord’s return.
WE WERE CREATED TO WORK.
Some people think that work is a curse. But the Bible doesn’t say that. It says that because of the sin of Adam and Eve, the ground was cursed, so much so that now it is by the sweat of our brow that we shall live. (Genesis 3:17-19) The ground was cursed, not work per se; although, because of sin, work has become incredibly more difficult. The fact remains, however, that work is a good gift of God. It pre-dates the fall. When God created man he did so with the intention of putting him in the garden of Eden to work! That is, to take care of the plants and trees, and to name the animals, and in general to bring out and unfold, that is, to cultivate, the potential of God’s good creation.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
In other words, human beings were put here on earth to work as faithful stewards of creation. We are here to take care of God’s work, that is, the world he has created and whatever is in it.
But more importantly, to work in this way is what is meant by being created in God’s image. God is a worker (as we shall learn in a little while), and when we are doing good work we are simply reflecting his image which he has imprinted on our souls.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
So there you have it. We work because we are created in God’s image. And he did that so that we could act as his stewards and caretakers of everything he’s created. We’re also meant to develop and bring to fruition the potential of creation. That includes developing our own potential and gifts and talents, and using them for the glory of God. We’re designed to work. And that’s why when we don’t have meaningful work to do, we feel unfulfilled, depressed, and we even get sick! When we do good work, we are simply being what God has created us to be.
WE WERE SAVED TO WORK.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.
[Jesus Christ] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
GOD HIMSELF WORKED.
God is a worker. His work displays not only profound wisdom and great power, but also breath-taking beauty and creativity.
Genesis 1:1; 2:1-3
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth… Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
Just a couple of nights ago Pastor Joe Ascalon’s pictures showed up on my FB page. He apparently stayed up all night taking pictures of the beautiful blood-blue moon hanging in the sky. Yes, that’s what they call it: a blood-blue moon! I actually looked out the window at the time but unfortunately night sky was too cloudy. At any rate, this is God’s creativity in action. He is able to paint a blood-blue moon in the center of the night sky. God is not just a worker; he is a creative worker; an artist: a maker of beautiful things.
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Not only the Father, but also the Son is a worker.
But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”
And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.
I have glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.
WORK IS THE BEST WAY TO WAIT FOR THE LORD’S RETURN.
I’m making this point because the passage following our text has to do with Jesus’ Second Coming. (See 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) Now it is possible to misunderstand the doctrine of the Second Coming in a way that disparages the value of work, especially secular work. According to the New Testament scholar William Barclay –
The preaching of the Second Coming had produced an odd and awkward situation in Thessalonica. Many of the Thessalonians had given up their daily work and were standing about in excited groups, upsetting themselves and everybody else, while they waited for the Second Coming to arrive. Ordinary life had been disrupted; the problem of making a living had been abandoned…”
I’ve heard a number of people say something like this. “The Lord might come back anytime from now. Therefore, we should all give up our secular jobs and become pastors and preachers.” But surely this is not what the Apostle Paul is teaching us in this passage. The fact that he tells the Thessalonians to mind their own business and to go on working, even though it is quite possible that Christ might come back anytime, means that we don’t have to abandon our jobs in order to wait for Christ’s return.
As William Barclay points out,
The thought that Christ will some day come, that life as we know it will end, is not a reason for stopping work; it is a reason for working all the harder and more faithfully. It is not a hysterical and useless waiting but quiet and useful work which will be a man’s passport to the Kingdom.”
Martin Luther is reported to have answered – when asked what he intended to do if he knew the Lord was coming back tomorrow – “I will plant a tree.”
In my case, if asked the same question, my answer would be, “I will finish the affidavit of loss I promised to make for my client.”
Actually, this way of preparing for the Lord’s return is eminently biblical. Read the parable of the talents. (Matthew 25:14ff.) The point of the parable is when the Master returns we’re going to have to give an account of the talents he’s entrusted to us. I’ve been entrusted with the talent of being a lawyer. I will have to give account of this talent. I can’t just set this aside because of the mistaken idea that nothing is more important than preaching! No, I have to give account of all the talents God has given me. That includes my work as a lawyer.
Sometime ago, I was watching the finale of season 6 of Suits. It’s about a brilliant young man who pretended to be a lawyer when actually he never took the bar. (By the way, in the show he’s the boyfriend of the woman Prince Harry will be marrying in real life.) He was imprisoned for fraud; then he was released from prison. Then, finally, he applied to become a real lawyer this time. But he had to appear before a board of commissioners who made it very difficult for him to become a lawyer. In the end, he became a lawyer. Watching that episode made me realize how much I’ve taken for granted. I am thankful God made me a lawyer, and one of the ways I can prepare to meet the Lord when he returns is to become the best lawyer I can be. Because I’m sure when he returns he’s going to ask me to give an account of all the talents he’s entrusted to me, including the privilege of being a lawyer.
The point is: The work, the profession, the calling God has entrusted you with is something for which you’ll have to give account to him when he returns. That means the best way to prepare for the Lord’s return is simply to do well the work he’s assigned to you.
Let me conclude by saying that our Lord Jesus did everything well. (Mark 7:37) I’ve read somewhere that before he became an itinerant preacher, Jesus was a carpenter, just like his step-father Joseph. And it is said that people from all over came to his shop because of his excellent workmanship. And I wouldn’t be surprised if such were indeed the case, because when Jesus was given work to do, he set his mind to do it. And that’s precisely what in relation to our salvation. The Bible says, ”And when the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:1) God the Father assigned to him the work of saving us from our sins. That meant dying on the cross and paying for the penalty of our sins. That was such a terrifying prospect that the Bible says Jesus sweated great drops of blood in the garden of Gethsemane. He even prayed, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me!” But at the end of the day, he rose up, went to the cross, and finished the work his Father asked him to do. If ever we are saved, it’s because Christ didn’t abandon his work; instead, he did the work and finished it. And the question is: Have you received this great gift of salvation which the Lord Jesus worked so hard to accomplish, even to the extent of giving up his life? If not, I pray that you will open your heart to him and say, “Lord, I am a sinner who deserves to be punished eternally for my sins. But thank you that you died on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. I believe that you rose from the dead and conquered sin and the grave. Please forgive me all my sins. Please save me. Please give me eternal life. I repent of my sins and I trust you with all of my heart. You are my Savior, You are my Lord, now and forever. Amen.