Walking in the Favor of God: Labor

This morning, we’re continuing our message series where we learn to walk in the favor of God.

 

Tomorrow, we celebrate Labor Day.  As a result, most of us will be receiving a well-deserved day off.  Labor Day was introduced as a national holiday in 1894.  It was established as a national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

 

No doubt about it, America became a great nation because of the work ethics empowered by the American dream.  This concept is that everyone has an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative.  Countless families and individuals became US citizens with little more than the clothes on their back, yet became tremendously prosperous because of their willingness to work hard and use their skills to benefit others.

 

Each person carried a sense of responsibility to give all that they had to create a great and successful nation.  They knew that their work was not in vain, but that they were working toward something far greater than just themselves.

 

Today, unfortunately, generations such as my own have risen up without these ideals.  All too often, this same sense of personal responsibility has been replaced with a personal sense of entitlement.  Instead of a willingness to give all that we have to make a better life for others, there is a desire to know what everyone else can do for me to make my life better.

 

Equal opportunity has been replaced with a cry for simple equality.  Many think that if they show up at a job, that they should receive the same pay and benefits of those around them with the same job title.  There is little concern that the other person had been there ten times longer than them and works at least ten times harder than they do in any given day; they believe themselves to be entitled to what they worked hard to obtain.

 

The very government established to maintain freedom and equal opportunity has, in my opinion, grown too large and establishes laws and regulations that enable and reward this very mindset.  Healthcare is free and provides incredible coverages with little to no copays to one who doesn’t work.  To the one who works, healthcare, if even available, is expensive with high deductibles and copays and very limited coverage.

 

The towns in our area were built on the rich natural resources God has abundantly blessed us with such as coal and natural gas.  Our families worked hard, but became very prosperous as a result.  It’s amazing to research what towns right here such as Nu Mine, Sagamore, and Atwood looked like and what they offered less than 100 years ago and the poverty that now has swallowed those same once prosperous towns.  A quick drive through most local towns quickly reveals abandoned company houses and the remains of the once huge and prosperous businesses that created them.

 

Government regulations have resulted in a painful reality that it is now cheaper for a company to export materials oversees, have something manufactured, and then have it imported back into the United States to be sold than it is to manufacture it here.  The American dream has begun to fade for many.  Instead of booming factories being constructed for people to work at, a new, shiny mental health facility rises to take their place.  Depression has become an epidemic and hope runs dry.

 

Unemployment statistics are frightening.  In July of this year, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that out of 324 million US citizens, 95 million are able to work, but not seeking out employment, 15 million are unemployed, but seeking employment, 70 million are unable to work, and 144 million are employed.  144 million are employed, but 180 million are not.

 

Now bringing the dismal state of our current economy back around to Biblical truths and finding God’s favor.

 

Mankind was created to work.  If we don’t do what we were created to do, there will be negative side effects.  If we fail to embrace the purpose for our very existence, then we will of course, end up feeling empty and depressed and unfulfilled.  Let Labor Day stand as a reminder to us that God created us to work.  We find this truth even before mankind existed:

 

Genesis 2:5-7;15-24

5 Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, 6 but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. 7 Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

 

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

 

18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

 

19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

 

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.  24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. (which is why even in wedding ceremonies today, the father brings and presents the bride to the husband even as God did that day)

 

Now this was recorded before sin entered the picture.  Hard work was not the result of sin, it was what we were created by God to do.  Adam was created to work and Eve was created to help him in his work.  When God created the earth, it was not the lush, green paradise that we see in the kid’s picture books.  It looked like that after Adam cultivated what God had created.  God’s very word says that it was a muddy bunch of nothing.  It says that no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had sprung up because no one was there to work the ground THEN god formed Adam from that same dust.

 

Now, after sin entered the picture, hard work still existed, but it would not perfectly produce the fruit that it did before sin.  Now, our hard work produces thorns and thistles that interfere with what we’re trying to accomplish.

 

How many here can say an, “Amen!” to that?  Thorns and thistles and interference.  Anyone who farms or gardens understand the literal reality that weeds are and how they can ruin the work of your hands.  However, there is an applied truth to this curse as well.  How many times have we started on a project and ran into problems that we never anticipated?

 

I believe that America became the great nation that it was because the American dream is in perfect alignment with the will and word of God.

 

Proverbs 14:23

All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.

 

As a bit of a disclaimer, God’s desire is also that those who are unable to work and care for themselves be taken care of by those who can.  In Acts chapter six, we find that the church daily distributed food and finances to those who legitimately were unable to work.  God’s word has a tremendous amount to say about this balance of us working hard as well as taking care of the poor and needy.  Here are just a few of the hundreds of scriptures regarding God’s view of the poor and needy.

 

Proverbs 28:27

Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses.

 

Proverbs 19:17

Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.

 

Proverbs 14:31

Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.

 

Matthew 19:21

Jesus said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

 

Leviticus 25:35

If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you.

 

1 Samuel 2:8

God raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor.

 

Psalm 82:3

Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.

 

Deuteronomy 15:11

There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.

 

James 1:27

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

 

Paul, when he was leaving Ephesus to Jerusalem, said:

Acts 20:32-35

32 “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. 35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

 

However, our focus this morning is on the bountiful blessing of working hard.  We’re here to honor those who work hard to provide for themselves, their families, and others.  After all, how can I help care for the needs of others if I do not first take care of my own needs?  How can I be a blessing unless I am first blessed by God?  How can I generously give if I do not first work hard to earn the finances to give?  To walk in the favor of God is to work hard.

 

Now personally, and I firmly believe Biblically, there is no difference between ministry and work.  There is no such thing as what we often label, “secular work.”  Secular work is something that we made up all on our own to make people like me feel better about what we do.  We created the terms, “full time ministry” and “secular work” as if though they are different.  In my strong opinion, we’re all in full time ministry, each and every one!

 

To minister simply and literally means to serve.  Whether you are here at the church, at home, out shopping, at your workplace, or anywhere else, you are doing the work of ministry.  You are being given opportunities to serve others, to live out your faith as an example to them, to share the hope that is within you, to teach the word of God.  Here is why I say this:

 

Colossians 3:23-24

23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

 

I love how The Message translation reads these verses:

 

Colossians 3:23-25 (MSG)

Don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up bad work.

 

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart because you are working for Jesus.  Whether in the church, at home, out shopping, at the workplace, or anywhere else you may find yourself, you are serving Jesus by what you do.

 

In my opinion, there is little more offensive than to see someone who claims the name of Jesus and is either lazy at the workplace, or acts just like their coworkers coarsely joking and swearing up a storm on the job, then praising Jesus on Sunday.  God is calling us to be men and women of integrity.  We’re not to put on a show or a facade anywhere, but to be wholehearted servants of Jesus, representing Him no matter where we are or what we are doing.  Jesus sees our attitude and actions on the job just the same as our attitude and actions in church; it is all done before Him.

 

I believe that this morning, God is reminding us of this truth.  To walk in the favor of God is to work hard and to labor for Him.  Whether that means that you are bringing people their daily food, or laying down fresh pavement, or doing laundry, or taking someone’s blood pressure, or changing a dirty diaper, or packing their groceries, or anything else, it is all labor done for Jesus.  It is all ministry.