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TEXT: Colossians 3:22-25
SUBJECT: The Gospel Changes Everything #6: Work
Several months ago we began a Sunday afternoon study called, The Gospel Changes Everything. The key text is Romans 1:16-
For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
The Gospel is not a set a rules, either the rules we make up for ourselves or the ones God gives us in the Bible. It is Good News, an announcement of what God has done, and is doing, in Christ. The News came into sharp focus in the First Century AD, but that's not where the story began: it began in the beginning and it is still going on. The Gospel says three things:
This is the Gospel that brings salvation to everyone who believes it, and by 'salvation' I don't mean conversion only, but the whole thing. In other words, it is the Gospel that changes us from what we used to be to what we ought to be. The change is never complete in this life, but it is real, and what changes is nothing less than everything. Through believing the Gospel we become new creatures in Christ, and that means new creatures at church, in the home, in the neighborhood, and-today's topic-at work.
The Gospel changes the way you work.
Does the Gospel change what you do for a living? In a few cases, it does. As a young man, John Newton commanded a slave ship, but when the Gospel worked its way into his heart, he quit that shameful line of work. I knew a man who made a living as a mechanic, but supplemented his income by selling drugs on the side. When he believed the Gospel, he flushed his drugs down the toilet. Thus, every now and then, the Gospel does change what you do for a living.
For most people, it does not and should not. Though some Christians say otherwise, God does not call most plumbers to quit their trade and become pastors. Or most public school teachers to take jobs in Christian academies at half the pay. Or most musicians to leave the symphony orchestra to play, Jesus loves me, this I know.
Please understand me: there's nothing wrong with any of the above. If a plumber is called to be a pastor, let him become a pastor; if a public school teacher thinks she can do more good in a Christian school, let her do it; and if a flutist prefers playing Fanny Crosby to Igor Stravinsky, have at it.
But Christian work is not confined to the Christian ghetto, and the Gospel doesn't tell us we can only do the Lord's work if we leave our secular jobs. To the contrary: the Gospel says: there is no such thing as a secular job!
The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof;
The world and they who dwell in it.
And whatever you do, do it heartily.
For you serve the Lord Christ.
The Gospel, therefore, does not change our work, but it changes the way we do it. When the Gospel has its way in our lives, it makes us better doctors, better salesmen, better waitresses. It may not make us better than our unsaved colleagues, however. An atheist engineer may be far better than the Christian who works alongside him. What it does is to make the Christian a better engineer than he would be if he were not a Christian.
So.has the Gospel made you a better whatever you are? If it hasn't, it is because it has not sunk in to that part of your life. And what a shame! Fifty hours a week, fifty weeks a year, fifty years untouched by the Gospel!
How does the Gospel make you a better worker? The answer lies in the Gospel itself, which-you remember-is a three part message. The first of which is: God made the world good.
On this point, some Christians have misread the Bible badly. After Adam fell, God told him he would have to work by the sweat of his face till he died, and a lot of that work would be disappointing-full of thorns and thistles for him and for us, bent nails, unbalanced books, and, now, computer viruses wiping out weeks of work.
Work is seen as an evil-a necessary evil, perhaps, but an evil for sure. Maybe you remember the old song, I'm just working for the weekend, and you've seen the bumper sticker, I owe, I owe, so off to work I go. The idea is: to have fun on the weekends, you've got to work Monday through Friday. Skiing is expensive; boats cost a lot of money and parties? They don't come cheap. These are the things worth living for and to get them you put in your time at work.
This idea of work as a bad thing has even leaked into our eschatology or doctrine of last things. When they think of heaven, what comes to mind for most people is a resort. Heaven is like Hawaii without the sunburn. Or Jamaica with good service!
The Gospel says otherwise. Work is a creation of God, and as such, it is a good thing-not a necessary evil, but a necessary good.
Work is a big part of being what we are-and that is the Image of God. God Himself worked for six days before resting on the Sabbath, and He has given the pattern to us-and not as a punishment, but as a great blessing. Work brings out the best in us, potentials that are hidden until we find them in our work. Work is a way of loving our neighbor. The butcher for example, works all day in an icebox so his neighbor can have a steak dinner in a warm restaurant. And the work we do now contributes to the future, to neighbors who are not born yet, whom we'll never know, but whom we bless by our work.
The Gospel reminds us that work is a good thing-not just the money in brings in-but the work itself is good because it comes from the hand of God, and helps us be like Him.
If work is good, it is also fallen. Sometimes the carpenter drives the nail; sometimes he bends the nail. Sometimes the doctor saves the patient; sometimes he loses the patient. Add to the problem of work itself, the politics surrounding it: people are putting pressure on you to do more than you do, and maybe more than you can do. Or, they're pushing you to do things that are not quite honest. The boss is bullying you or the man beneath you is angling for your job. Or, every time you go to the lunchroom, somebody is making a dirty joke or taking the Lord's name in vain.
The Gospel speaks to all of this. It says: What did you expect? If the world wasn't sinful and messed up, it wouldn't need the Gospel. If every boss was kind and every annual review was fair, and nobody ever plotted against anybody, Jesus wouldn't need to die. But He did need to die because every boss isn't kind and every review isn't fair and some people do plot against others.
The Gospel dispels fantasies and makes us realistic about our jobs and the people we work with. I know a man who quit preaching because the people weren't doing what he told them to! He needs to revisit the Gospel and work in the real world with more of his hope in God and less of it in man.
Best of all, the Gospel says, your work is part of God's plan for making all things new. If the Gospel's only purpose is to snatch souls from the Lake of Fire, you're work doesn't do much for that-unless you're an evangelist. But what if the Gospel aims to renew the whole world? If it does, your work is very much a part of that.
The Christian who teaches math well is working with God to renew the world; and so is the believer who keeps cars running or computers online or weeds cut back. Paul says this kind of work, what we call secular is, in fact-
Serving the Lord Christ.
THE GOSPEL AND THE RULES
Back to the text, Colossians 3:22-25. Speaking to servants, Paul tells them to obey their masters, and to do it conscientiously-and not just when they're looking. He tells them to do it with reverence for God, and heartily, knowing their works won't be missed in heaven.
It is easy to imagine how some would preach this text, men thought of as expository preachers. They would explain what it means to obey, how we're to do it, what the result will be if we do, an if we don't. I'm sure everything they'd say would be true, but if they left it there, it would also be legalism, another dreary list of things we're supposed to do, and to feel guilty about if we don't.
This is not how Paul approaches it. The duties are there, but where is the 'there'? If you go back to Chapter 3, you see where it is: it is inside the Gospel. Obey your masters-Paul says-because-
You are raised with Christ.
A resurrected and ascended Christ would be a good worker, and you're resurrected and ascended with Him. So, be a good worker. And when you're not, confess your sins and accept the forgiveness God has for you for Christ's sake, and then be a good worker.
This is how the Gospel changes you at work: by telling you work is good, work is fallen, and work is part of God's plan to set things right.
A FINAL QUESTION
This is where the sermon ought to end, but there's one last thing I ought to say. It doesn't really fit here, but I couldn't find any other place for it, so I tacked it on at the end.
What place should witnessing have on your job? Suppose you're a salesman working for a meat company. You meet with the regional manager of Safeway and he's got a worried look on his face. You ask him, how he's doing, and he says, 'fine', but you know he isn't.
Should you tell him about the high quality of your meat and its low price? Or should you try to relieve his sorrows by telling him about Jesus? If you talk meat only, have you sinned against the Lord, putting profits ahead of the Gospel?
The short answer is: follow your calling. From nine to five, you're a Christian salesman, and this means you serve the Lord primarily by selling meat. If the opportunity presents itself, you can give the worried man the Gospel, but if it doesn't, you can pray for the man and go to the next appointment with a clear conscience.
I'm not alone on this one. Martin Luther gave the same counsel. A man came to him one day eager to serve the Lord and wanting to become a preacher. Luther asked him what he did for a living, and the man replied, 'I am a shoe maker'. Luther said, 'Serve the Lord by making the best shoe you can and selling it at a fair price'.
This does not undercut your witness at all; in fact, it supports it. By being a good worker, you win the respect of the people you work with. And, when you've got their respect, they'll bring their problems to you, and want your advice.
Thus, the best witness at work is not keeping a Bible on your desk, praying aloud over your lunch, or lacing your conversations with 'Praise the Lord!' Rather, it is doing your work heartily as to the Lord. When people see you doing that, they'll-
Ask the reason for the hope that is within you. [And you'll] sanctify the Lord God in your heart and be ready to give a reason.
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