October 25, 2015
In 2014 the Washington Post said that the average work week is 47 hours. When I was growing up the average work week was 40 hours. But according to Wikipedia, in the 19th century it was estimated that the average work week was over 60 hours per week. Work takes up a large amount of our time. We sort of have a love-hate relationship with work. We need to work and yet we are happy whenever we can get a day off.
We have been talking about living life to the full. Living life to the full begins with acknowledging God. But interestingly enough, work also has a place in our living life to the full. In Genesis 1-2 we see that meaningful work is God’s gift to mankind.
I. CARE FOR THE EARTH. Gen.1:26-31; Ps.24:1; 115:16
In Ps.24:1 we read, “The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.” Since God created the heavens and the earth, it all rightfully belongs to him. And because it belongs to him, there is a sense in which all that God has made is holy. There is a sacredness about creation because God created it. We do not worship the earth or anything that is made from the earth. We do not worship the sun, moon or stars. That would be idolatry. We worship God. Creation speaks to us of the beauty and greatness of God. “The heavens declare the glory of God.” So it all belongs to him.
But that said, there is a sense in which mankind shares in the ownership of creation. In Gen.1:26, we read, “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." Verse 28 says, “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." Psalm 115:16 says, “The heavens are the LORD's heavens, but the earth he has given to the children of man.”
Clearly God has granted to mankind a stewardship over his creation. In Gen.1:28 we find two different words that help us understand our relationship to the earth. The first word is “subdue.” It literally means “to bring into bondage.” According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, “…‘subdue’ in Gen.1:28 implies that creation will not do man’s bidding gladly or easily and that man must now bring creation into submission by main strength.” The second word is “have dominion.” It basically means what it says. We have rule over the earth.
There are some implications that flow from this. First, I see this as an invitation from God to explore and study the earth and all that is in it. If we are going to subdue and have dominion over the earth in a responsible way we need to know as much about it as we possibly can. Because of this I would say that scientific research is what God would have us do. In Gen.2:20 Adam gave names to all livestock, birds, and beasts. I don’t know how Adam did this but he must have had some way of organizing and categorizing the various animals. He was learning about his environment. We continue to do the same.
But a second implication is that we must care for the earth. Since we have been given a stewardship we must exercise our stewardship in a responsible way. The earth is ours to subdue, but it continues to belong to God and because the earth is God’s property we are to respect it. This isn’t difficult to understand. As you know Angie and I live in the church parsonage. We have been given a stewardship that allows us to live in the parsonage as if it were our own home, but in fact it is not our home. It belongs to the church. If we trash or destroy the parsonage or let it fall apart, the congregation would not be happy. So we try to be responsible with that which does not belong to us.
So what does it mean to be good stewards of the earth? This is not an easy question. Over the many years in which this earth has been occupied by mankind, it has become apparent that mankind does not respect the fact that the heavens and earth belong to God. In 1992, American novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer, Wendell Berry, spoke at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KT. Berry identifies himself as a Christian. The address was called, “Christianity and the Survival of Creation.” In the address Berry says, “We have no entitlement from the Bible to exterminate or permanently destroy or hold in contempt anything on the earth or in the heavens above it or in the waters beneath it. We have the right to use the gifts of nature but not to ruin or waste them. We have the right to use what we need but no more, which is why the Bible forbids usury and great accumulations of property.”
I don’t know what you believe to be true about climate change and global warming issues. I don’t know how you feel about strip mining, or the abuses that take place in the raising of poultry, pork, and beef. There are many specific concerns when we speak about our stewardship of the earth. You may feel that there is nothing you can do to make a dent in caring for this earth. But that is not true. There are many things that can be recycled. We can try to be more energy efficient. We can try to conserve water. We can walk, ride a bike, or take the train. We can try to avoid polluting the earth with toxic chemicals. There are many ways we can be responsible in our care for the earth. If you want to read more about this you can go to www.greencommunityconnections.org.
God has given us a stewardship. It is a holy calling to treat this earth with the same care that God took in creating it. When I was growing up I was taught that if I borrow a tool from someone I need to return it as clean, or cleaner than when I received it. In other words I must take care of it because it isn’t mine. Well, this holds true for our stewardship of the earth. We are called to care for it. It is part of our God given work. If we do it well, we will find joy in the earth and it will contribute to our fullness of life.
II. DEVELOP THE EARTH’S POTENTIAL. Gen.2:4-7, 15
In Gen.2:5 we learn that when God created the earth, “there was no man to work the ground.” After God created man, in 2:15 we read, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”
All of this took place before Adam and Eve sinned. In other words, work is a gift to us from God. It is part of God’s common grace to all mankind. By giving mankind work to do, God was providing a means for living life to the full.
Work enables us to be engaged in life. Work allows us to produce something that contributes to the wellbeing of society. Work enables us to provide for ourselves and our family. And lest you think that work is something to be avoided, just try to go for a long stretch without work. People become depressed. They feel useless and hopeless when they cannot work. Work is a gift from God.
Now what kind of work are we talking about? Well in Gen.2:15 we see that God put Adam into the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it. Clearly Adam’s first job was agrarian in nature. He was given the task of developing the earth’s potential.
I’ve shared this story before, but it fits here. Years ago a farmer bought a field that was in terrible shape. It was filled with rocks, weeds, and briers. He worked hard to clear the field and eventually sow seed. After a few years of hard work, the field looked abundantly beautiful. The pastor was driving by and stopped and said to the farmer, “My look at what you and God have done together.” The farmer said, “Well, I don’t about that. You should have seen the field when God owned it.” Adam was called to develop the earth’s potential.
As we move forward in Genesis, in Gen.4 we read about a descendant of Cain named, Lamech. Lamech took two wives. Adah had two sons, Jabal and Jubal. About Jabal it says that “he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock.” About Jubal it says, “he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe.” Zillah, the other wife, bore Tubal-cain. It says that Tubal-cain was the “forger of all instruments of bronze and iron.” I point this out to show that mankind developed various kinds of technology, unleashing more and more of the earth’s potential.
In giving mankind work, God clearly intended that mankind take initiative and put his mind to work in developing new skills and better ways to do things, all the while caring for the earth in a responsible way.
In Col.1:10, Paul writes, “so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” In Col.3:23 Paul writes, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” In 1Thess.4:11 Paul tells us, “to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you.” Of all people, believers are called to do their work, whatever it may be, as unto the Lord. When we do this, our work becomes the Lord’s work. We work to bring honor to His name.
Now this is not so easy. Much that goes for work today can seem meaningless. My dear brother was serving as a campus pastor in a multisite church. Unfortunately his campus was closed down. My brother is four years younger than me. Over the last number of years he has discovered that most congregations do not want to hire a 58 year old man to be their pastor. He has gotten close, but the churches seem to go for the younger guy. Today my brother works in a plastics extrusion factory. It is drudgery. But I must tell you that my brother has looked for ways to increase his ability to make a meaningful contribution in his work. He looks for opportunities and takes initiative.
You may not be satisfied with your job. Maybe it doesn’t pay enough for you. Maybe you don’t get along with your co-workers or supervisors. Maybe you don’t like the work. Okay. If you can find another job, go for it. But do not undervalue the work that you have. As a Christian, God has placed you to be an ambassador for Jesus Christ, and God has called you to do you work for his glory. He wants to use you for good where you work. It is not always easy. Weariness and drudgery often robs our work of meaning. Try to be faithful and to do your work with a good attitude. Put it in your mind that God is using your job to shape and mold you in your character and conduct.
III. ENJOY THE EARTH IN REST. Gen.2:1-3
In the creation account of Genesis 1 we find the phrase, “It was good,” six times. The seventh time it appears it refers to everything God made and says, “It was very good.” God took delight in what he created. And then we come to Gen.2:1-3 (read).
Think about this. God rested on the seventh day. Really? Does God need rest? Of course not. The work of creation did not diminish God in any way. Instead what we have here is a very important theme that God initiates for mankind. It is the theme of rest and worship.
In Gen.1:27 we see that mankind is created in the image of God. Not only does this give mankind significant value, but it tells us that our point of reference is not the earth, but God himself. This is why we have been saying that fullness of life begins with God. We experience the greatest fullness in living when we are most like God.
So God rested on the seventh day, delighting in all that he had made. Throughout the scripture the seventh day, the Sabbath, is a special day. The third commandment in Ex.20:8 says, “"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” This is reiterated again and again in the Pentateuch. In Heb.4:9-10 we read, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.”
The principle of Sabbath is found before the Law of Moses is given and even after Jesus did away with the Sabbath observance as a law to be followed. Sabbath has to do with rest and worship. Today the church observes Sunday, the Lord’s Day as a day of rest and worship.
Now this principle is very important. First it is important because it calls all people to acknowledge the Lord and his greatness and goodness. We begin the week with worship of the Lord. There are many Christians who find it convenient to forget about this. Sunday is no different from Saturday. In one sense that is true. Every day is a day for the Lord. But in the history of the Church, Sunday is the day given to corporate worship. This allows us to begin the week with God front and center. “Oh,” you say, “I can worship God at home.” Indeed you can, but few really do. Christianity was never meant to be merely a personal experience. God is calling out a people unto himself. Believers belong to the Church of Jesus Christ and we worship together.
Second, this principle of Sabbath is important because we all need a day of rest. God never intended that we define our lives by our work. I realize that there may be seasons when we must work overtime or put in extra hours, but this ought not to be the rule. Everyone needs a rest, a break. We need a day when we can rest and recharge. I do not believe that observing a Sabbath means we just sit around and read our Bibles. I like to work outside or with wood. It’s how I recharge. Sometimes after Sunday worship, I just sit quietly at home because I feel as if I’ve been talking so much.
But our resting is a resting in God. It is a delighting in all that God has made and done in our behalf. It is not just a day for ourselves; it is a day for ourselves in relationship with God and his Son, Jesus, who is our very life. Sabbath resting enables us to live life to the full.
You may be wondering, “Okay, so what’s the point?” Good question. Some of us do not even think about how we might respect God’s good earth. We may have develops habits that exploit the earth. Some of us get by on our jobs with as little work as we have to. We don’t view our work as a gift from God. Some of us never take a Sabbath rest. We are busy, busy all the time. In other words, we do not live our life as unto the Lord. Such living does not bring life to the full. What changes do you need to make in your relationship to creation and work? Amen