Sunday Morning Greek Blog

April 19, 2012

Work: The “Rest” of the Story (Ecclesiastes 3)

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Ecclesiastes,Genesis,Old Testament,Work — Scott Stocking @ 6:04 am

I was catching up on my Men’s Fraternity videos the other day when Robert Lewis said something that kind of shocked me: Most people never hear a sermon on the theology of work. He went back through his church’s tape catalog for 27 years worth of sermons and found only one sermon devoted to the topic of work. I had wrestled with that subject several times and have come to my own conclusions, but I’ve never really devoted a blog post to it. Our Dave Ramsey FPU session a couple weeks ago was about work as well, so the topic is fresh on my mind. Since I’ve been in a bit of a dry spell lately, I thought this topic would be just the thing to break my writer’s block.

The Genesis of Work

God himself originated the idea of work when he decided to create all that exists. “The earth was tohu webohu,” says Genesis 1:2, “formless and empty,” “nothing but chaos.” The creation account is one of bringing order to that chaos. The account itself reflects a definite order to it, as I show in Table 1.

Day 0: “In the beginning”—Chaos

Day 1: Light

Day 4: The lighted bodies

Day 2: Sky and water

Day 5: Air and water creatures

Day 3: Dry ground

Day 6: Land-dwelling creatures; Man

Day 7: “God rested from his work.”—Order

 

This reveals, then, one of God’s purposes for work, even though it is not expressly stated in the Genesis account: Work brings order out of chaos. You don’t have to think about that too long to realize it’s true. Look at a mechanic’s garage when he’s rebuilding an engine. All of the parts—pistons, heads, crankshaft, gaskets, bolts, etc.—are (to the untrained eye) scattered, and the unlearned don’t have a clue how it all goes together. But the mechanic has the ability to bring order to that apparent chaos. The mechanic, however, does not have the ability to “speak” order to those parts as God did, but through hard work, he can reassemble the engine into a functional device. This is not to say that God’s speech isn’t “work”, either. When God spoke the universe into existence, he also, by default, spoke into existence all the laws of physics, chemistry, geology, plate tectonics, etc. You and I just can’t create, alter, or suspend natural laws. We have to work within those foundational laws.

The Work of Freedom

When God finished the work of creation, he rested on the seventh day. Here’s the irony in my mind. Not only does God create work, he also creates rest. Work and rest are both good aspects of God’s creation. That concept of rest became so important that God included it in the Ten Commandments. Not only couldn’t the Israelites work, but they couldn’t make their servants work either. It was a day of rest initially, but Jesus turned the conventional view of the Sabbath on it’s head. In Luke 13, he healed a crippled woman on the Sabbath. The synagogue ruler complained that Jesus healed on the Sabbath, but Jesus put him and his opponents in their place. Jesus brought “rest” to this woman on the Sabbath, freeing her from her bondage.

So here, I think, is another principle of work, and a seemingly paradoxical one at that: work brings freedom. Jesus ignored a long-held myth about the Sabbath in order to bring physical freedom to this woman. I think that’s also behind Dave Ramsey’s oft-repeated maxim: “If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.”™ I know the pain of being “slave to the lender,” and it is not pleasant. Some days I was burning the candle at both ends, and I still have trouble shaking that exhaustion. But God has been faithful to see me through it.

The Old Testament Concept

The Old Testament has what seems to be a radically different concept of “work” than what we are used to in the modern day. But a closer look reveals that perhaps the differences aren’t so stark. In the OT, you had your land, and you worked it to grow your food, raise your animals, and provide for your family. The male often had a trade and could barter his services for things his family needed that he couldn’t produce himself. However, if someone got to a point where he couldn’t provide for himself or his family, he had to sell himself (and possibly his family) to the lender. Back then, they called that slavery. Today, we call it “employment.” Think about it: Unless you’re an entrepreneur and can create or contract for your own work, you have to go to someone who can pay you to help with their work. You have to follow their rules, their procedures, their codes of conduct. You’re a “slave” to the “man” (or in my case, the “woman” J).

Sadly, I think we’ve come to rely too much on companies to hire us or even worse, for the government to send us a monthly check (unless we’re otherwise disabled or retired), and we’ve lost much of the entrepreneurial spirit that made America the great land of opportunity. I spent years piecing together a meager income at odd jobs (mostly teaching in various venues and editing, my strengths) so I could be at home with the kids when they were younger. But now that life has forced me, or rather, God has led me, to a regular 8–5 (or now 7–4) job, I have seen work from a different perspective. Sure, I still have an independent spirit that wants to break free and branch out on my own, but I’m kind of sold on the benefits that go along with working for someone who can actually provide benefits!

I think the hardest lesson for me so far is that of teamwork. Setting aside my independence was a difficult thing to do, but I’ve reaped great rewards. I have the added benefit of an employer who has allowed me to work in my strengths and try new things that have both expanded my skill set and produced success I’ve never experienced before. I think this is where the “rest” of work is most evident: Satisfaction in a job well done. Solomon sums it up nicely in Ecclesiastes 3:9–13 (NIV):

What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.

Whatever you do, I pray that you do it for the glory of God. I wish you wild success in the things you put your hands and minds to.

Peace!

Scott Stocking

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