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. (Colossians 3:23-24)
Work is an act of worship.
Work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (I Thessalonians 4:11b-12)
Work is a way to witness.
Well, it is Labor Day weekend. The state of Oregon was the first US state to make Labor Day an official public holiday. It became a Federal Holiday in 1894. This weekend honors the American Labor Movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, laws and well-being of the country. Tomorrow, to honor the contribution of workers, many will rest from their work.
We now live in a time when many consider w-o-r-k a bad four-letter word. We all know that business after business has had to modify and shut down parts of their business due to a lack of employees. We could have a long discussion about the reasons why that is the case, but I will just say that work, as a value, as an aspiration, the passion to work, no longer is a conviction of many people. People used to just need a hand up because they wanted to work, but needed assistance finding a job. Now many want a handout because they no longer want to work.
I stumbled across this illustration this week that says what I have observed: The sign in the store window read: NO HELP WANTED. As two men passed by, one said to the other, “You should apply–you’d be great.”
The crisis of having a shortage of workers in our country points to an even bigger problem. We have a character and commitment crisis that reflects that people have lost sight of the God-given responsibility we have to work. I’m not just talking about earning an income, but I am also talking about productivity for as long as you are able to be productive. We are not on planet earth just to sit back and crave and consume. We are here to contribute, to manage, to organize, to oversee, to manufacture, to produce, to strategize and to create.
When God created Adam and put Him in the garden, before Eve came along, before marriage was established, before their failures and fall in the Garden Temptation, Adam was given a job. He was to be the gardener. Gardening is hard work, isn’t it? Now, I know because of sin, and the curse that followed, gardening became a lot harder with thorns and thistles being introduced into the mix, but still, Adam had a hard job. It’s interesting, as well, that he didn’t get to pick his job. I don’t suppose I need to try to make a theological point where there may not be one, but Adam was simply told, “This is your job.” I am sure God created him with gifts and talents that would make him a good Gardener which would have made the experience even enjoyable. It’s been said that if you can get paid to do what you enjoy, you have found what you are meant to do. I’m assuming there was enjoyment for Adam before sin messed everything up.
Before God introduced the idea of relationships and before He ordained marriage, He introduced work. Now none of y’all need to interpret what I just said as a license to be a workaholic and put your job before your family. I’m simply saying, it was there, right from the start. God didn’t introduce work just so that Adam wouldn’t be bored. God introduced work because it would be through work that Adam would be able to glorify God and find meaning in his life.
Let me re-read our first Scripture and sermon point: 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.
You have a boss, but it isn’t your earthly boss that you are primarily working to please. It is the Lord. He has given you gifts and talents and an opportunity to take responsibility and to exercise dominion. To do nothing with those gifts and talents and to disobey the mandate to have dominion on the earth is to thumb your nose at the very Creator of your life. At the end of the work week, we would do well to ask God, “Have I pleased you in my work this week?”
The very act of work is a reflection of who God is. God is a worker. In fact, He is always at work (John 5:17). God didn’t create the world and then rest on His laurels, hoping we keep could things going. No, He has been active and working in the world from Creation until now. Trust me, it is true, or we would be in even worse shape than we are in because of the sinful ways of humanity. God is working overtime all the time.
Jesus was and is a worker as well. He said that He came to finish the work that God sent Him to do (John 4:34). I’m glad Jesus didn’t get bored with His assignment and quit. I am glad He didn’t try to clock out early. I’m glad He didn’t walk off the job. I’m glad He didn’t try to cut any corners. Our salvation depended on Jesus completing the work God sent Him to do. What may be resting on us doing our jobs well? What may be hanging in the balance? I guarantee you, it is more than the bottom line for your company. God has a reason for placing you where you are, and the main reason is that you would glorify Him.
We have been created in the image of God. We have been created with gifts and talents so that we can work. One way we reflect the glory of God and point people to the Creator is through the work we do. In that respect, our work becomes a form of worship. Taking pride in our work, doing it to the best of our ability is not only a compliment to the Creator who formed us, but it is worship at one of the highest levels.
Think of it from a parent/child relationship. I love my adult children. I am thrilled to get a text from them. When they take time to include me in their day, I am tickled pink. Face-timing is next-level satisfaction, and when they stop by (with or without their laundry) and when they want to hang out with me (not just because I have a credit card) but when they want to spend time with me, that fills me with great joy. When they say they love me, my heart melts. All of those actions show honor and respect.
But listen, I didn’t raise them to just to keep me posted on their life happenings. I didn’t raise them just so they could hang out with me. No. Thom and I have raised them to know they have a purpose. We have raised them to understand they have a responsibility. They have a destiny. They have skills they are expected to use. They have capacities that must be exercised. They are to grow and stretch and develop into people who can care for themselves and also help care for others. They are stewards of the gifts God has given them, and they have been tasked with figuring out just what work God intends for them to do.
When they work hard to get a good grade, when they take on odd jobs to earn money, when they extend themselves to help someone in need, that is when my buttons burst. That is when pride swells in me. That is when I feel like they are honoring Thom and me as their parents.
Work is not the end all, be all. We need to rest, of course. God doesn’t get depleted from work, but we do. So, we need rest. We need to have time for relationships. We need to have hobbies and recreation. I’m just saying that when we work, we pay homage to, we honor the God who created us with abilities and the expectation that we would work in some capacity.
The world says, “Eat your heart out. Play your heart out. Spend to your heart’s content.” God’s word says, “Work with all your heart. Put your heart into doing an excellent job because at the end of the day, you are working to please the Lord.” It is with our hearts that we worship the Lord. Work, when done with excellence, when done with integrity, when done with passion, when done with a joyful attitude, all in an effort to please God, becomes an act of worship. Of course, we have to guard against the dangers of allowing work to become an idol, of using work to try to glorify ourselves. Genesis 11:4 talks about a group of people who decided to take on a huge work project, the construction of the Tower of Babel, but it wasn’t to glorify God. It was to make a name for themselves. Anything good can become perverted when our end goal isn’t to glorify God. In God’s Divine plan, He has established work. When we work according to His design, we honor and glorify Him. To refuse to work, to be lazy and half-hearted in our work would be the opposite of God’s directives. I suppose you could call that disobedience.
Not only is work an act of worship, but it becomes an opportunity to witness. Let’s re-read Paul’s words to the Thessalonians: Work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (I Thess. 4:11b-12) The Apostle Paul saw hard work as a strategy to witness. Notice the emphasis here was on “outsiders.” By outsiders, Paul meant, make an impression on those who are outside the faith. Paul helps us see that excellent work, honesty in our work, faithfulness to our employer, integrity in our efforts, working to the best of our ability can help non-believers see Christ in us. Our hard work, motivated by our desire to please Christ, becomes an open door for our witness for Christ. As you go about your work, pray, “Lord, help me do more than make an income. Help me make an impact for the Kingdom of God.” You spend a lot of time at work. You are around the same people day after day. For many people, you spend more time interacting with people at your workplace than you spend in your home with family. As your co-workers watch you work, they take note of your character. They watch how your spend your time. They get to see the quality of your work. They evaluate your peace. They see your joy. They observe your work ethic or lack of all of the above. You have a God-given call to leverage your faith in the workplace.
God goes with you to your workplace, and God wants to be seen through you in your workplace. Remember, you are working not for a paycheck, but for Him. The Bible calls us the Light of the World. Some workplaces can be very dark. They ought to be lighter because we work there. I read a short article by Adrian Rogers who offered four ways to witness at work and they began with the word, “don’t.” While there are things we can say and do that would be a witness like offering to pray for people, reading our Bible on a break, hanging a Scripture as a witness in our office, and inviting people to church, there are things we could also refrain from doing that might speak volumes to them. His four suggestions were: Don’t brag, don’t nag, don’t lag and don’t sag.
Humility goes a long way in helping people deem you as approachable. In order to share the Gospel, you have to be someone others want to talk to and spend time with. How do you handle success in the workplace? Are your accomplishments a team effort? Do you lift up those who made the project a success instead of enjoying all of the credit? Do you go to work with an air about you as if to say you are God’s gift to the company, that they would never make it without you, or do you report to work with a humble spirit? Don’t brag.
Don’t nag. People who aren’t believers don’t want to be brow beat over the head with Bible verses and Christianese. As awkward as you might feel about talking to someone about Jesus, imagine them feeling ten times more awkward having to listen to you, especially when they know the way they are living isn’t right. Don’t focus on their behavior. Nagging on someone’s behavior never convinced them of their need for Jesus. Focus, instead on God’s love for them and how Jesus has made a difference in your life. We aren’t to interact as if we are holier than thou or as if we are the ones trying to bring conviction on them. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job. We must always respect others and speak in a way that is loving, kind, patient, and gentle. Colossians 4:5 says we are to walk in wisdom when we are around people who aren’t believers. We have to be smart about when to speak and just how to say what we might say. We need to look for an inroad into the person’s world we are trying to witness to. Jesus entered our world. He came to meet us where we are. What if we took a personal interest in something that was of interest to our co-worker? If they have a side gig and sell something they make, perhaps look for a way to ask questions or make a purchase. If they have a kid in a sport that you enjoy or excelled in, ask how the season is going. Maybe there could be a connection over a shared hobby or interest, or you could build a rapport over lunches and get to know more about someone’s history or family before you start inserting conversation about the Lord and the church. What if you offered some practical help during a time of illness or loss? Don’t nag. Just nurture the relationship, and give God room to work.
The “don’t lag” piece is about making sure we pull our weight at work. We want to contribute to the success of the business and to the quality of the environment. We don’t want to make work more difficult for our co-workers because we aren’t willing to put in the effort it takes to do our jobs well. Even non-Christians can be driven by a healthy work ethic and will be annoyed by people who just want to do the bare minimum.
His final suggestion was, “Don’t sag.” What he meant by that had nothing to do with your body parts, so everyone over 40 can breathe a sigh of relief. He was talking about your affect, your attitude, your demeanor. He needed a word that rhymed with the rest to say, “Don’t be a Debby Downer.” Be fun to work with. Exude the joy of the Lord. Be consistently pleasant.
Let me add some things. I would challenge us not to enter into negative talk and gossip about others in the workplace. I had a young adult recently share with me how sad it was to be in an environment where a group of Christians was talking about how annoying one of their co-workers was. The young adult, newer to the workplace, found themselves trying to steer the conversation in another direction. Imagine if it had been a non-Christian in that circle, overhearing a bunch of church-going believers bash one of the employees.
In addition to not speaking negatively about others, I encourage you to not participate in the kind of talk Ephesians 5:4 outlines: Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. When the sexually explicit jokes and conversation start, you need to opt out. When the foolish talk begins, you need an exit strategy, or you need to be able to redirect the conversation. Swearing should not be a part of the vocabulary of a Christian. We need to be people of thanksgiving, looking for things to celebrate, looking for ways to encourage, looking for ways to foster positive communication. This is all part of our witness.
Paul helps us understand also that we can pray for open doors to share the Gospel. Colossians 4:3-4. Many workplaces aren’t open doors for the Gospel, so you will have to pray some doors open if you will be able to successfully witness. Are you trustworthy? Do people confide in you because they know what they tell you will stay confidential? If so, you are earning the opportunity to pray for people’s needs and to let them know how, with God’s help, you might handle the same situation.
Are you an honest employee? Are other people challenge to stay upright and not to cheat their employer because of your example?
Ultimately, witnessing isn’t so much about talking about Christ as it is demonstrating who He is in the way you work and relate with others. If you are clothed with Christ, others will take notice. Jesus was the ultimate Servant. Can you find ways to serve those in your workplace and as you do, do so with the recognition that you are being like Jesus to them. It will have an impact!
I suppose making a difference starts with the desire to do so. Do you want Christ to be seen in and through your life? Expect Him to use you in your work setting for sure.
Let your work reveal the difference Christ makes in you as you worship Christ by excelling in your work and as you witness to others about who He is to you as they watch and encounter you at work.