How to Have a Gospel-Centered Work Ethic, Part I

Frank Tyger once said, “People will do anything to be able to do nothing.” Is this quote sad? What makes this quote sad is its truthfulness. So do we find it odd that tomorrow we observe a day that acknowledges labor?

Labor Day was first observed in this country in the 1880s. New York State first presented the bill to the legislature in 1884, but Oregon first passed the ordinance in 1885, followed that year by Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and, yes, Colorado. A day dedicated to the social and economic achievements of the American workers seemed appropriate. Founder Peter McGuire wanted to honor those who “from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur of the world.”

What a far cry today is from the mindset of the late 19th century! Pastor Adam preached on Sunday night from Genesis 2:4-17 and had a very interesting opening. He asked us to close our eyes and picture what paradise would be for us. We spent some time doing this, and then he asked, “Did any part of paradise include work?” Some gave themselves whiplash shaking their head saying, “No!”

We must recognize that as believers, God has brought us into a spiritual rest! Matthew 11:28 tells us that all who come to Jesus will find rest for our souls. When God established the Sabbath in Genesis 2 and included this as the fourth commandment, he not only prescribed the rest, but he gave it as an illustration of the rest we would have once our work here on earth was done (Hebrews 3:7-4:11). We are supposed to relish in the rest he prescribes, but also to relish in the work to which he has called us.

Work is a gift from God that reminds us of how God continually works in His world and in us through the Spirit and the gospel!

  1. We work because we are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-31; Genesis 2:15-17).

God created the heavens and the earth and all it contains, but the crown jewel of his creation was man. In Genesis 1:26-31, we see that “God made man in his image” both male and female. And as God’s imagebearers, they were to “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.

Then in Genesis 2:15, God took man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. This was before the Fall, before sin entered into the world, that God called His creation to work the land.

Albert Mohler makes an interesting insight:

Christians understand labor as a duty, but miss the fact that it is a gift. In the first place, God has made us able to work — to manipulate things, to cultivate the ground, to manage herds, and to invent microprocessors. Secondly, He has allowed us through labor to understand at least part of our purpose in life — to fulfill a vocation. Furthermore, we can often see the result of our labors. The farmer takes pride in his orderly rows of crops; the carpenter sees the beauty of his cabinet; the doctor is fulfilled in his recovering patient; the mother sleeps content after a day of unceasing work with children.  Still, many people have difficulty seeing labor as the gift that it is.[1]

Both work and rest are gifts from God that feed each other. I began to realize this on our vacation to Kentucky. I had a difficult time pulling away from church matters while there, and would often engage in conversations about church issues while gone. But I began to realize that the best thing someone can do on a vacation or during a Sabbath is to pull away. Pulling away from work is the best thing you can do for your work. We don’t work so we can rest, we rest so we can work as God has called us.

In speaking of recreation, Richard Baxter (the Puritan from centuries back), noted that recreation is “to fit the body and mind for ordinary duty to God.” Joe Thorn followed this up by noting that when it comes to rest, relaxation and recreation, and vacation, our culture tends to get it backwards. “We tend to work to play, when we should be playing to work. In other words, recreation itself is not the end, but a means to an end. It serves the purpose of refreshing and restoring us so that we may return with energy to the work God has called us to.”

As imagebearers of God, he has ordained for us work and rest. May we have those in the right priority.

(To listen to the entire sermon, click here—apologies in advance for the persistent hum.)

[1]Albert Mohler, Leisure and Labor—Two Gifts from God. [accessed 28 August 2013].

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