Work. What does that word mean to you? Is that a bad word? A scary word? A good word? An exciting word?
What’s your relationship with work? Do you avoid work? Do you work out of necessity? Or do you love work? Do you love work a little bit too much? Have people ever called you a workaholic?
Students, what about you? We use the word “schoolwork.” Do you think that school is work? Do you work hard at your learning?
For all of us, when does our work end? When the work day or the school day is over? When the kids are in bed? Do you work on the weekends? Does it feel like work spending time with your family? What about Sunday? Does it feel like work coming to church? What about serving here at church on a committee or Awana. Does that feel like work?
Those are a lot of questions, aren’t they? Would it surprise you to know that we’re talking about work today? And I ask these questions to help stir your pot, help get you thinking about work and your relationship with it.
Today we’re really just getting started on this third section of our sermon series where we’re considering the difference that the big story of the Bible makes to our lives here and now. We’ve surveyed how the Bible fits together, and how Jesus is the main character, and how his death and resurrection has fulfilled the whole story and changed everything. And in the past two weeks we’ve looked at our place in the story. And so now we’re finally prepared to ask: “What difference does all this make, today?”
And today we’re talking about the difference that the storyline of the Bible makes in the way we work.
Work in Creation
So why are we starting this part of the series with work? Why is that our first topic? The reason is that when we look at people in the story of the Bible, work is one of the first things that they do. Right after creating Adam, Genesis 2:15 says that “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15).
Humans get created and we get put to work. So that’s why we’re talking about it first. But this is also our first point in the message today: God created us to work. Adam and Eve were given a job to do, there in the paradise of Eden, before any sin entered the world.
So just think for a moment about that word “paradise.” What would be paradise for you? Does your version of “paradise” include work? I hope so, because God’s version does. Work is not a result of the fall. Work is a part of what it means to be human.
Work After the Fall
And yet we know that the work that we experience today is a very different kind of work than what Adam and Eve experienced. Because they chose to fall into sin, and God cursed the earth in response to their sin, our experience of work has been completely changed—and not for the better
Just listen to God’s words of curse to Adam, and think about everything this passage says about work: “…cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17–19).
What’s new here isn’t the idea of work. Adam had to work before the curse. What’s new here is the idea of difficulty and pain. What’s new is the fact that the ground was now going to work against Adam by growing weeds.
And what’s new is the idea that ground was eventually going to win this fight. Adam would die and his body would become a part of that ground he had struggled with his whole life.
This is what the curse means. We work hard, just barely trying to stay ahead, and then we die. Sounds kind of pointless, doesn’t it? It is. This is what’s going on when Ecclesiastes 1:2–3 says, “All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?”
This word for “vanity” in the Greek language is the same word Paul used in Romans 8:20 when he says that “the creation was subjected to futility.” That’s what God’s curse did. It subjected the creation to futility, and made all of our work ultimately futile.
Work in the New Creation
But this cursed creation isn’t going to stay that way. Romans 8:20 says that God subjected the creation to futility “in hope,” and that one day “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).
In other words, the curse is not permanent. God has promised a New Heavens and a New Earth (Revelation 21:1). And when we read about the New Earth in the last two chapters of the Bible, what we discover is that it’s going to be like the Garden of Eden all over again, but better. There will be no more curse, no more futility. And in Christ, that’s our hope, that’s our ultimate eternal home.
So let’s ask an important question. If we worked in Eden, do you think we’ll work in that better-than-Eden New Creation?
I don’t see anything in Scripture that would tell us “no.” And in fact, when we read Revelation 21, which talks about the New Earth, we read that by the light of the New Jerusalem “will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations” (Revelation 21:24–26).
So, there will be nations on the New Earth, and they will be walking, which means living—doing stuff. And they’ll be producing things. And the best of the best things that they produce—the glory and the honour of the nations—will be brought by their kings as tribute to King Jesus in the New Jerusalem.
So yes, we can expect to work in the New Earth. We’ll finally get to experience work the way God intended us to. Can you just imagine the things we’ll be able to cultivate and grow and invent and build and write and produce with no sin, no conflict, no death, no pain, no futility? Can you just imagine how incredible the “glory and honour of the nations” will be? I can’t wait to see. There’s so much good work ahead of us.
Good Works Today
But guess what? We don’t have to wait until the New Creation to experience work that has been set free form futility.
Do you remember what we’ve seen in the past two weeks—that because Jesus died for us and rose again, we are already New Creations in him (2 Corinthians 5:17)? And as New Creations in Christ, God has already given us new work to do that is not futile. Work that matters. Work that lasts. Work that is not pointless.
And the phrase that the New Testament uses for this new work is good work. Or, more properly, good works.
If you have a Bible app on your phone or computer, sometime you should just do a search for that phrase: good work. You might be astounded at what comes up. And what you’ll see is that good works are the things God has called his people to give themselves to at this place in the story.
Just listen to these words from Ephesians 2:10. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). Do you hear that New-Creation-in-Christ language again? We were created in Christ. We are a part of this New Humanity. And we were created for good works. And he’s already prepared them for us, so that we can walk in them. Which means that we can live in them.
Or think of Titus chapter 2, which we read together already: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11–14).
“Zealous” isn’t one of those words we use a lot, but we’ve all seen it. People who are enthusiastic. Excited. Passionate. Jesus died to make us zealous for good works. And so, as Titus 3:8 says, we should be “careful to devote” ourselves “to good works.”
1 Timothy 2:10 says that we should be adorned with good works. Good works should be as much a part of us as the clothes we wear. 1 Timothy 6:18 speaks about being rich in good works. And we could go on and on. At our place in the story, God calls His people to the work of good works.
What Are Good Works?
So if this is true, then a question we should ask is: what are good works? I mean, it’s obvious that they are works that are good, but what’s that mean?
1 Timothy 5:10 helps us put some handles on this idea. In that chapter, Paul has been talking about widows in in the church who should have a reputation for good works. And then what he does in verse 10 is list off what he means by that. Here are some examples of “good works:” “if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.” (1 Timothy 5:10).
So notice there the first thing he mentions: “if she has brought up children.” Bringing up children and raising a family is work. It’s hard work and worthy of as much honour as any job. But it’s also fairly “normal” work. It’s not some super-spiritual work where you go off by yourself and pray on a mountaintop for days. It’s the normal, every-day work of dishes and discipline that many of you are already doing.
And this verse suggests to us that “good works” can include out “normal” work, when we do our normal work for Jesus.
And that’s really what we see in Colossians 2:23-24, which we read earlier. In this passage, Paul is speaking to bondservants or slaves. These were guys who were owned by a master. They had no choice but to work for him. They couldn’t quit their jobs to go do good works. And so Paul tells them in verse 22 to obey their masters. And then he says this to them in verse 23: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23–24).
So in other words, you can work for Jesus in your normal job. He’s your boss now.
Another place we see this connection is Titus chapter 2. In verse 9 & 10, Paul tells slaves or bondservants that they are to make Jesus look good by being honest and obeying their masters. And in the next three verses he gives the reason for why they should be that way. And those next three verses are the passage in your bulletin we just read, about the grace of our God appearing. In other words, you should be a good employee because Jesus died to make us zealous for good works.
And when you put it that way, you see another connection between our normal work and good works. And this helps us see again that our normal work—raising a family, working for our employer—is a platform for us to do good works by serving Jesus and making Him look great. And this means that none of this work is futile or pointless anymore, because Jesus is going to reward us in Eternity for these good works. All of our work can have eternal significance.
Good Works With Our Money
There’s another way that our “normal” work connects up with good works. And this specifically applies to our jobs where we earn an income.
For example, we read in Titus chapter 3:14 that one of the “good works” we should do is support missionaries. Giving money to them. In order to do that good work, we need money in the first place, which means, at least most of the time, that we need jobs.
And so our jobs connect up to good works when we earn an income and use that income to be generous instead of buying more toys for ourselves.
This is kind of a side point here, but it’s worth mentioning that there were some Christians in the Thessalonians church who misunderstood their place in the big story. They thought that because Jesus had come and was coming again soon, they didn’t need to worry about things like jobs, and they could just count on other rich Christians to provide for their needs.
And in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-8, Paul addressed this situation when he said, “Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you.”
And then in verse 10, he said, “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (2 Thessalonians 3:10–12).
So for the most part, God expects his people to stand on their own two feet financially, so that we’re not a financial drain on others, so that we’re all more free to use our money to support missionaries and be generous with the truly needy—in other words, so that we can do good works.
So we’ve kind of wandered a little bit here, but let’s remember that this all comes from 1 Timothy 5:10 where the first “good work” Paul listed was bringing up children. And we’ve seen in in Christ, our normal work like raising a family and working at our jobs has been set free from futility and can connect up to our our mission of good works.
There’s a lot more to say about this, and I actually have a bunch of material that I’m going to post on the blog on our church website this week. So go check that out tomorrow and put in your email address for updates, because there might be more than one post this week that fleshes out more of this for us.
Other Good Works
We have a couple of other brief stops to make this morning, all coming out of 1 Timothy 5:10. Bringing up children was just the first item on the list of good works. Let’s briefly take a look at what comes after that: “has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted.”
These are all the things that the New Testament tells us Christians to do for people, and especially for each other. You open up any book in the New Testament and you’re going to read these kinds of things. We’re told in multiple places and in multiple ways that we should care for each other and do good to everyone, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ (Galatians 6:10).
And if we’re supposed to be devoted to good works, it means that these good works like hospitality and caring for our bothers and sisters in Christ and supporting missionaries and serving at Awana and teaching Sunday School and serving on committees aren’t little extras that we sort of fit in around everything else in our life. This isn’t what we do after we’ve done everything else that we want to do.
Instead, these things should be our life priorities. We should be planning and scheming about how to do good works and how to do more of them.
Isn’t that what it would look like to be “carefully devoted” to good works? Isn’t that what being “zealous” for good works would look like?
See, this is where the rubber hits the road in terms of the Bible’s storyline impacting our lives today. It’s when we realize that being a New Creation in Christ is more than a side hustle, more than membership in a club. Being in Christ means that our whole life’s mission and direction has changed. We’ve been given a whole new definition of “work.” Work is not just this thing we have to do to pay the bills and buy groceries and finance our hobbies. Instead, “Good works” is this huge category that fills up our whole life.
And so, as a result, we’ve been given a whole new definition of “normal life.” We now see ourselves as full-time Christians who are devoted to the good works we were created to do. And everything else fits into that. For example, our hobbies, instead of becoming the focus of our lives, now become things we do from time to time that help us rest and rejuvenate so that we can get back to our real focus, which is good works.
So where do we go with this? How do we take these big ideas and break them down to the level where we can actually start to do something about them?
I have four suggestions.
1) My first one is be encouraged. As I was working on this sermon this week, many of your faces flashed in front of my mind’s eye as I wrote different sentences. So many of you are so rich in good works. You’re using your jobs and your money for the glory of Jesus, and you’re using your time to love and serve others.
You might not realize how many of the things you are already doing are “good works.”
And maybe you need to be encouraged and humbled by the prospect of Jesus Christ personally rewarding you for the good works you are doing in His name. So be encouraged. And maybe, if you know someone in your life who is doing this well, you should encourage them this week.
2) Second suggestion: learn more. Titus 3:14 says, “And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works.” And maybe that needs to start with just learning about work and good works. There’s lots to think about here and lots to understand. I’ve already mentioned the blog on our church website this week, where I’ll be posting some things that will help us understand this “good works” thing a little bit more.
I don’t know if you noticed in the bulletin that the featured library book this week is about work. It’s not a big book and it will help you dig a little deeper into this whole thing. It’s right up on top of the bookshelf in the library there.
I’ve already mentioned another idea, which is doing a Bible study on the phrase “good works.” Search it on your phone or computer, and spend a few days or weeks reading through the different chapters, and soak it all in.
And beyond this, one of the best ways to learn to devote yourself to good works is probably to learn from those who are doing it. Titus 2:3-4 describes the older women in the church teaching and training the younger women on these things. And in verse 7, Titus himself was told to be a model of good works. So we see that one of the best ways to learn is from each other.
So let’s be intentional about watching and spending time with and learning from those who are doing well in this regard. Go for coffee with someone and say, “You do this well. Tell me how you think. Help me figure this out.”
3) My third suggestion is to reflect. Take some time this week—maybe even today—to take stock of your life. What’s your relationship with work? What’s your involvement with “good works”? How much of a gap is there between your lifestyle and what we read about today in the pages of Scripture? What would it take for you to close that gap and begin to devote yourself to good works? Do you need to make any changes with how you approach your job, your family, your hobbies, your life priorities?
You’re not going to figure any of that stuff out by accident. Titus 3:8 says we should “be careful to devote” ourselves to good works. This all takes careful and intentional thought.
I also think of Hebrews 10:24 which says “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” It doesn’t just say “let’s stir up one another to love and good works.” It says, let us consider how to do that. We need to think about this.
So let’s take an hour this week to turn off the TV and grab a pen and some paper or have a conversation with someone else, and take this as seriously as Jesus Christ tells us to.
4) My fourth suggestion is obvious. Let’s work. Let’s do good works this week. No matter who you are, no matter what stage of life you’re in, this week—this day—will present opportunities for good works. That might be on your jobs. With your families. With friends or neighbours. With your brothers and sisters in the church. Here in this building this morning or at some other point this week.
And so I just want us to end by hearing the encouragement that we read earlier from 1 Corinthians 15. Paul had just spent all of chapter 15 speaking about the resurrection from the dead and the future hope that awaits each of us who hope in Christ. And his conclusion to it all? “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
In the Lord, because of the hope of the New Creation, your labor is not in vain. So this day, this week, this year, this one life we get to live, let’s be always abounding in the good work that our Lord has given us to do.