Christianity 201

April 9, 2018

Receiving What You Work For

Isaiah 65:23 They will not labor in vain,
    nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the Lord,
    they and their descendants with them. (NIV)

Isaiah 60:11 Your gates will always stand open,
    they will never be shut, day or night,
so that people may bring you the wealth of the nations—
    their kings led in triumphal procession. (NIV)

Today we’re again returning to the website, Theology of Work, part of the Theology of Work Project. Many scripture references are embedded in the commentary today; open a second window with your browser using the Bible sites you prefer, and feel free to click back and forth.

Work’s Ultimate Meaning

Throughout the book, Isaiah encourages Israel with the hope that God will eventually put to right the wrongs the people are suffering in the present. Work, and the fruits of work, are included in this hope. By chapter 40, as the book moves from telling the truth about the present to telling the truth about the future, the sense of hope increases. The material about the suffering servant in chapters 40-59 can hardly be understood except as God’s gift of hope in the future fulfillment of God’s kingdom.

In chapters 60-66, this hope is finally expressed in full. God will gather his people together again (Is. 60:4), vanquish the oppressors (Is. 60:12-17), redeem the rebellious who repent (Is. 64:5-65:10), and establish his just kingdom (Is. 60:3-12). In place of Israel’s faithless leaders, God himself will rule: “You shall know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob” (Is. 60:16). The change is so radical that it amounts to a new creation, of parallel power and majesty to God’s first creation of the world. “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind” (Is. 65:17).

Chapters 60-66 are rich with vivid portraits of the perfect kingdom of God. In fact, a large fraction of New Testament imagery and theology are drawn from these chapters in Isaiah. The final chapters of the New Testament (Revelation 21 and 22) are, in essence, a recapitulation of Isaiah 65-66 in Christian terms.

It may be surprising to some how much of Isaiah 60-66 is related to work and the outcomes of work. The things people work for in life come to complete fruition at last, including:

  • Markets and trading, including the movement of gold and silver (Is. 60:6,9), the bringing of firs, and the opening of gates for trade. “Your gates shall always be open; day and night they shall not be shut, so that nations shall bring you their wealth, with their kings led in procession.” (Is. 60:11)
  • Agricultural and forest products: including frankincense, flocks, rams (Is. 60:6-7), cypress and pine (Is. 6:13)
  • Transportation by land and sea (Is. 60:6, 60:9), and even perhaps by air (Is. 60:8)
  • Justice and peace (Is. 60:17-18, 61:8, 66:16)
  • Social services (Is. 61:1-4)
  • Food and drink (Is. 65:13)
  • Health and long life (Is. 65:20)
  • Construction and housing (Is. 65:21)
  • Prosperity and wealth (Is. 66:12)

All these things have eluded Israel in their faithlessness to God. Indeed, the harder they tried to achieve them, the less the cared to worship God or follow his ways. The result was to lack them even more. But when the book of Isaiah presents Israel’s future hope as the New Creation, all the preceding promises in the book come to the fore. The picture portrayed is that of a future eschatological or final day when the “righteous offspring of the servant” will enjoy all the blessings of the messianic age depicted earlier. Then people will actually receive the things they work for because “they shall not labor in vain” (Is. 65:23). Israel’s sorrow will be turned into joy, and one of the dominant motifs of this coming joy is the enjoyment of the work of their own hands.

February 6, 2017

Avoiding Dishonest Gain

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Titus 1:7

Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless–not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.
 (NIV)

For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain,
 (ESV)

dollar signI had bookmarked this verse in my computer to return to later, but a month later I can’t remember what particular feature of this had caught my attention. This time around I locked onto the phrase, “pursuing dishonest gain.”

In a world of capitalism, there is a sense in which person “A” is exploiting person “B” by way of their possession of a scarce resource or a unique talent. My plumber or electrician (both Christians who have been very fair with us over the years) have skills and abilities that I do not have and the KJV scripture reminds us that “the workman is worthy of his hire.” (NIV/NLT: deserves his/their wages/pay.)

How do I know if my “gain” is “unjust”? A page at Knowing Jesus provides some scriptures to help us make the call.  (They have 12 key verses, I added #3 and #7)

  1. It has come about through violence. “So are the ways of everyone who gains by violence; It takes away the life of its possessors.” Prov. 1.19
  2. It is achieved through misrepresentation and lies.   “The acquisition of treasures by a lying tongue Is a fleeting vapor, the pursuit of death.” Prov 21.6
  3. It is accomplished through trickery and deception. “The LORD detests the use of dishonest scales, but he delights in accurate weights.”  Prov 11.1
  4. It exploits the poor. “He who oppresses the poor to make more for himself Or who gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.” Prov 22.16
  5. It exploits done by others. “As a partridge that hatches eggs which it has not laid, So is he who makes a fortune, but unjustly; In the midst of his days it will forsake him, And in the end he will be a fool.” Jeremiah 17.11
  6. It involves not properly paying staff or contractors. “Woe to him who builds his house without righteousness and his upper rooms without justice, Who uses his neighbor’s services without pay and does not give him his wages”  Jeremiah 22.13 also “Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord” James 5.4
  7. There are underlying, unjust motives. “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD.” Prov. 16.2

I think the word “pursues” is not to be overlooked in this phrase as well. See resources on this at OpenBible.info.

  1. It exhausts you. “Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich. Be wise enough to know when to quit. Prov. 23.4
  2. There is never contentment. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
  3. It can cost you your soul. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Mark 8.36  also Luke 18.25 “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.
  4. It may cause you to neglect the poor. “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.” Prov. 28.27
  5. It will divide your loyalties. “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Prov 16.13
  6. Achieving it may be elusive or temporary. “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” Luke 12 18-20
  7. It can leave you miserable. “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” Rev. 3:17

You’ve heard the phrase, “You can’t take it with you.” Growing up in the church founded by Dr. Oswald J. Smith, people were encouraged to invest their money, time and talents in world missions with this motto,

You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.

In other words, you can invest it in the Kingdom of God (“where moth and rust do not corrupt”) and where it lasts.

Someone else also shared with me that

The main thing that Bible teaching has against money is that it perishes with use.

So while we may determined we have not pursued dishonest gain, we need to be careful we haven’t become caught up in pursuing gain itself.

April 19, 2013

Six Days Shalt Thou Labor

Exodus 20:9 (NIV)

Six days you shall labor and do all your work

I couldn’t help but notice this passage a few weeks ago. As I read it, I thought about the number of families that are faced with massive household consumer debt, and wondered if perhaps this offers a solution. Even if one of the income earners in a house picked up something on Saturday, that could mean an extra 20% income, provided such jobs were available.

But the note in my NIV Study Bible was somewhat dismissive, saying something to this effect, ‘A shorter work week in an a modern industrialized culture is not in view here.’

Furthermore, we focus on the distraction of the six-day work week here at our peril, because our entire attention in this commandment should be devoted to the practical and spiritual implications of the concept of cessation from labor for the purposes of sabbath rest (i.e. to rest as God rested, to give God worship, etc.).  The Voice Bible says in essence that you’ve got six days to get everything else done, the seventh is a day of rest.

You have six days to do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is to be different; it is the Sabbath of the Eternal your God…

Still, I believe we skip a possible secondary takeaway from verse nine too easily, especially in western society where ‘long weekends’ and ‘casual Fridays’ push us further and further toward a four day work week.  It’s said that we live in a culture of entitlement, and certainly we feel we are entitled to enjoy a certain degree of comfort and a certain number of consumer goods; so we amass great levels of personal debt to obtain those things.

While we should be pleased if our employer offers us extra work that will help reduce that debt, our labor laws insist that we be paid overtime, which means the employer thinks twice before offering us extra hours. And I do wonder what the agriculturally-based readers of the Decalogue in Moses’ time would think of our modern concept of vacation.

The website Theology of Work Project looks at different areas where the Bible addresses this topic.

John MacArthur notes the erosion of the work ethic in a sermon devoted to this topic that you can either read or listen to online.

When God doesn’t matter anymore, then there is no universal, transcendent standard for behavior. And natural human corruption runs rampant to the degree that any individual person chooses to live. And one of the basic moral virtues that disappears in a culture is work…work. People once worked hard because of the influence of Scripture and because Scripture is a reflection of the will of God. God is the authority and the Bible is the revelation of His will as that authority. Work, you see, is a virtue, work is a moral behavior.

People worked hard because they believed they were accountable to God and they were accountable to the revelation of God in Scripture. They had reverence for biblical authority and they had a basic fear of God. Even those who weren’t particularly evangelical Christians understood the place of God in society, understood the place of Scripture in society that it was the will of God and understood they had a transcendent responsibility before God to behave in a certain way. Now that God doesn’t matter, and the Bible is ridiculed and removed, if not banned from speaking authoritatively on any subject, there is a kind of fearless immorality. And one of the things that’s going to disappear is the virtue of work…the virtue of work. Sinners are happy to think that they answer to no one, but to themselves.

And later

Somebody made the suggestion that originally man was a gardener and the curse turned him into a farmer. Originally man was a flower arranger, and the curse turned him into a plow horse. The Fall did not introduce work, it changed its nature. And as the nature of work that is the punishment, but not work itself. Work neither began nor ceased with the Fall, it just took a different shape. It went from being a righteous blessing solely to being a righteous blessing with a curse on top.

And so, man seeks to restore the glory of work with the sweat of his brow, and all of his ingenuity he goes after this cursed earth, using the wonderful creative gifts that he’s been given because he’s in the image of God to abstract out of the richness of this planet everything that he can possibly extract, to provide value to his life, to provide meaning to his life, to provide provision for his life and those in his family, to provide for the needs of others and most importantly to bring dignity upon himself as one made in the image of God who demonstrates God-like creativity…

…In Psalm 104 we read, “He made the moon for the seasons, the sun knows the place of its setting. You appoint darkness and it becomes night in which all the beasts of the forest prowl about. The young lions roar after their prey and seek their food from God. When the sun rises, they withdraw and lie down in their dens. Man goes forth to his work and to his labor until evening.” God has ordained that men work originally six days a week here. You go to work in the morning and you finish in the evening. Work is designed by God to redeem the curse in a measure. You look at the civilized world, you look at the world that has flourished, you look at the western world in particular, and now, of course, many ascending nations in Asia and other parts of the world, and you see the magnificence that is extracted out of the creation by work. Go to Africa, and you see parched lands, starving people, murderous tribal warfare…people don’t work. It’s a tragic reality.

Work was always God’s design for us to be able to draw out all that is in this creation for the demonstration of our nobility being created in the image of God and for the glory of God and for the benefit of all man. It can be redeemed. It must be redeemed and that’s why we work. You know how that works. You redeem your yard every week. And if you went away for six months and came back, you would find out what the curse would do…just no water for six months, that will do it. Or just open all the windows and doors in your house and leave for six months and come back and see what’s inside. See what lives there. It’s a battle and we all understand that battle. We extract goodness out of His creation. That was Adam’s job and now we have to fight against the curse to extract that goodness. We are called to that work because it is noble and because it is God-glorifying.

This is a sermon/article rich with commentary on this topic, and I encourage you to click the above link to get into more of it.

I offer this today not to try to bring back the six-day work week, but rather to allow us to reconsider our attitude and our approach to the five-day work we do.


The Reformation Study Bible offers a theology of work:

God’s purposes in ordaining work

That people should be self-supporting Ge 3:19 See also Ps 128:2; 1Th 4:12

That people should find self-fulfilment Ecc 2:24 See also Pr 14:23; Ecc 3:22; Ecc 5:19

That people should serve others Eph 4:28 See also Pr 31:15; 1Th 2:9; 1Ti 5:8

That people should glorify God Col 3:17 See also 1Co 10:31; Eph 6:5-8 pp Col 3:22-24

Consequences of viewing work as God’s ordinance

Work is seen as a moral duty Tit 3:14 See also Pr 6:6; Ecc 9:10; 1Th 4:11; 2Th 3:7-12

Any legitimate work may be seen as God’s calling Ge 2:15 See also Ex 31:1-6; Ex 35:30-35; Ps 78:70-71; Mt 13:55 pp Mk 6:3; Ro 13:6; 1Co 7:17,20-24

Work is seen as a stewardship from God himself Col 3:23-24 See also Mt 25:14-30 pp Lk 19:12-27; Eph 6:5-8

September 13, 2010

Some Monday Thoughts on Sabbath Rest

This is from Stanley Groothof who blogs from British Columbia (BC) Canada at the blog, The 4th Point.   It was written mid-July…



My family recently returned home from a sunny, week-long vacation at Lakelse Lake Provincial Park near Terrace BC. Once again I experienced how resting can be hard work.  It does not come naturally to me.  I might step out of the office and leave the building, but I’ll still take my work with me in my mind – thinking over sermons, wondering about particular people, planning meetings and ministries.  My body might be out of town, but sometimes it takes two or three days before my brain begins its vacation.  And often a day or two before our scheduled return, my brain already begins thinking it’s back in the office.  Just because we say we’re resting or just because it looks like we’re resting, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are!

Taking a break is not easy.  It means letting go, and I have a hard time doing that.  I want to stay involved (read: I don’t want to be out of the loop and/or not in control).  I want to be continually productive (read: I don’t want to disappoint people who might get the impression I’m lazy).

Nevertheless God tells me and you to take a break, to engage in Sabbath rest.  In His mercy, He does not want to watch us burn out, even if it’s by doing good and worthwhile things.  Our physical and emotional health is important to God.

But I think even more importantly, in telling me to rest, God is inviting me to trust.  He reminds me that the world will not spin off its axis if I take a break.  In her book Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, Marva Dawn speaks of God’s Sabbath invitation to rely on Him, to “let God be God in our lives” (p. 29).  Sabbath rest teaches me to recognize when and where I am trying too hard on my own to secure my future without trusting God or sensing His presence.  Rest keeps things in perspective.

I like Mark Buchanan’s double definition of Sabbath.  In The Rest of God, he has the familiar definition that it is a day, typically Sunday in the Protestant tradition.  But he also defines Sabbath as an attitude:

A Sabbath heart is restful even in the midst of unrest and upheaval.  It is attentive to the presence of God and others even in the welter of much coming and going, rising and falling.  It is still and knows God even when mountains fall into the sea.

You will never enter the Sabbath day without a Sabbath heart. (p. 4)

It doesn’t come naturally (spiritual disciplines typically don’t), but part of trusting God means resting, observing Sabbath – Sabbath moments, Sabbath days, Sabbath seasons.  It lets God be God.  And it helps me be better at being the me God wants me to be.


…Read more about sabbath:  Our graphic (above) is from an article on this subject at Sweet Tea Theology.