The Purpose of Community

 

Introduction

Ecclesiastes is a unique book.  Most think it was written by Solomon near the end of his life, and it’s a book of perspectives and of insights about the purpose of life.  It’s a book of depression as Solomon tries to find pleasure in this world, only to find that eternal pleasure in this temporary, human world is not possible.  Nothing gives him meaning, everything is like chasing after the wind.

Solomon pondered many questions from his own perspective, and Solomon’s thoughts and actions were not always based on God’s principles.  From Solomon’s laments, we learn from his mistakes so we don’t spend our lives chasing after the wind.  Here are some key verses that sum up this book –

      • Ecclesiastes 1:2, “’Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher, ‘vanity of vanities, all is vanity’”.
      • Ecclesiastes 1:18, “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”
      • Ecclesiastes 2:11, “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”
      • Ecclesiastes 12:1, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them.'”
      • Ecclesiastes 12:13, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”

Two phrases, “vanity” and “under the sun,” are repeated often in Ecclesiastes. The word “vanity” (your version may say “meaningless”) is used to emphasize the temporary nature of worldly things.  In the end, all of our achievements and accomplishment will be left behind. And the phrase, “under the sun” occurs 28 times, and refers to our human world.  Everything under the sun is meaningless, the Preacher says.

Maybe the Preacher didn’t try everything, you may be thinking.  Solomon was the wisest and richest man who ever lived, and here is what he tried –

      • Scientific discovery (Ecc 1:10-11)
      • Wisdom and philosophy (Ecc 1:13-18)
      • Amusement / entertainment (Ecc 2:1)
      • Alcohol (Ecc 2:3)
      • Architecture (Ecc 2:4)
      • Property (Ecc 2:7-8)
      • Luxury (Ecc 2:8).
      • Materialism (Ecc 2:19-20)
      • And even different moral codes (Ecc chapters 8-9).

Everything was meaningless, a temporary diversion.  Without God, nothing had purpose or longevity.  The remaining chapters 8-12 of Ecclesiastes discuss the conclusion about how a worthwhile life should be lived.  Without God, there is no truth.  Without God, there is no meaning to life.  There are many evils in this world, and even the best of man’s achievements are worth nothing when compared to eternity.  So what should we do?

      • Acknowledge God from our youth (Ecc 12:1)
      • Follow God’s will (Ecc 12:13-14).

Slide4For all of the vanities described in the Book of Ecclesiastes, the answer is Christ.  Here are some examples –

Before After
Ecc 3:17 God judges the righteous and the wicked, 2 Cor 5:21 Only those who are in Christ are judged righteous.
Ecc 3:11 God has placed the desire for eternity in our hearts. John 3:16 God has provided the Way to eternal life through Christ.
Ecc 5:10 Striving after wealth is vanity and does not satisfy. Mark 8:36 if we could gain the whole world, what good is it if we do not have Christ and lose our souls.

Ultimately, every disappointment and vanity described in Ecclesiastes has its solution in Christ, the wisdom of God and the only true meaning to be found in life.

The Greeks gave this book the name ‘Ekklesiastes’ which means “assembly.” In essence, the writings of this book are based on community, an assembly of people.  In the New Testament, this same word is used to mean “church.”  The writings in this book are meant to teach and preach to the church, to teach us how to live in our community, and we’ll spend the rest of today’s lesson in Chapter 4 of Ecclesiastes and what it means to be in a community.

Our worldly culture is weird when it comes to history.  On one hand, we are pulling down statues left and right.  The original excuse may have had racial overtones, but now we are pulling down statues of Abraham Lincoln and the Virgin Mary.  Seems there are many people that want to eliminate the past and pretend it never existed.  At the same time, Ancestory.com and 23AndMe.com have surged in popularity, DNA testing is more available than ever before.  People want to know their heritage, their background, and their cultural makeup.  They want to know who they really are.

Slide6.JPG

And then we are weird when it comes to being categorized.  Have you taken a personality test like Myer’s Briggs or Strengths Finders?  We want to know our strengths and our uniqueness and how we best connect with others.

Whether it is ancestry or personality, people want to know who they are.  Our worldly culture begins the exploration of self-discovery by starting with ourselves.  That seems natural.  If we want to know ourselves, we should study ourselves, right?

But the Bible begins the exploration of self-discovery by starting not with us, but with God.  And the better we know and understand God, the more we understand who God made us to be.  And much of the purpose that God has for us can be found in the community God has placed us, to bloom where we are planted.

 

God in Community

What is the purpose for community?  It’s obviously related to people, but not all people are, well, people persons.  Some are extroverts or naturally ‘social butterflies’ or those who are exuberant extroverts.  Others are more introverted, preferring quiet time or very small groups.  Is one better than the other?

Whether extrovert or introvert, our personality type does not depend on community.  If community determined who we are, then how we relate to our community would either boost our pride or deepen our despair, based on wherever we fell on the personality spectrum.

The purpose for community is not some sort of competition that God has set before us.  Community is his demonstration to us on how to experience more of Him and how we are to experience the life we were meant to live.  Our ideal community doesn’t have to be large or small or deep or wide or every day or twice a week.  There’s no formula except the book of Hebrews says it ought to be frequently.  Hebrews 10:24-25,

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

We mentioned earlier that the Greek root word for Ecclesiastes means “assembly or “church.”  What “Ecclesiastes” doesn’t mean is music.  Or tithes.  Or a sermon.  Or even a mid-week bible study.  What makes church “church,” our “ecclesiates,” is the people, the gathering of the body of Christ, to make a covenant with one another, and meet together frequently.

Meeting together as a church and maintaining a level of biblical community is for our soul.  But perhaps the greatest of all reasons is that God models community, and we are made in His image.  Community helps reveal who God is.  God exists in community, and He has done so for eternity.  Even before time, space, and matter were created, God existed as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  God exists as one in three, and three in one.

In other words, if God exists in community Himself, and if we are designed in His image, this means that God wired the need for community deep within our souls.

When we neglect community, we become less of what God designed us to be.  To be made in the image of a triune God means fundamentally to be in community.  Jesus Himself surrounded Himself with the larger community of His twelve disciples and we would be foolish to think that fullness of life can happen without the Christian community.

 

Purpose in Community

Since creation started with a triune God who exists in community past, present and future, and since God created us in His image and all of life, this means the purpose of community is woven throughout the very purpose of our lives.  To really live, and to really experience the life God designed us to have, we weave our lives into the lives of others, reflecting the perfect, good, and communal nature of God Himself.  Let’s look at Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 for the purpose of this community –

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.   For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion.  But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.  Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone?  And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.

Three ideas here –

  • When we fall, community can pull us up

King Solomon also wrote in Proverbs 24:16,

“For the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.”

In the times of the Old Testament, the number seven represented the number of completion.  Solomon is saying that the righteous person falls completely, the righteous person falls frequently.  But righteousness is not determined by whether we fall, but what we do after.  We get up, we rise again.

So how can a righteous person get up and rise again after falling?  Ecclesiastes 4 says it is by living in a community where others can help them back onto their feet.

Living life in community is a safeguard from calamity, from being broken by our circumstances or by our own sin. The Bible does not promise that living in community means that we will not stumble or fall; in fact, we know that everyone stumbles and falls at some time, and Christians are not spared.  But living in a community will provide help from others around us.  If we cannot help ourselves, others can.

  • When you are spiritually cold, community can warm you up.

Ecclesiastes 4:11 says, “Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?”

Did you know over 600 people in the US die from hypothermia each year.  Stuck in the cold, the body begins to shut down.  Decades ago, might have been in the early 1800’s when I was in the Boy Scouts – when they were still the Boy Scouts – I remember taking my First Air merit badge courses.  In mild hypothermia, one can warm themselves back up.  But as hypothermia progresses, the body loses it’s ability to warm itself.  One of the solutions was to crawl into a sleeping bag with another person and use the heat of somebody else.

Slide13.JPG

When we face the coldness of life through pain or grief or hardship, it is a temptation to isolate.  We think that we do not want to be a burden to other people.  Somebody offers to help, and we say no.

But when we reverse the roles, and somebody else is in pain, we offer to help.  And then we’re disappointed when they don’t take us up on our offer.  As a community, we want to help.  It’s receiving help we often struggle with.  And if we’re not helping one another, we become indifferent.  Callous.  Even cold.

It is easy to slip into a pattern of callousness towards the person of God, the Word of God, and the mission of God when we are not a community of helping hands.  Hebrews 3:13 says –

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

I’ve always loved that line, because it is always called “Today.”  The key is that the people of God and the Word of God move and act together in encouragement.  We stay warm when we are together; we grow cold when we keep each other distant.

  • When you are weak, community can strengthen you.

Next, our scripture says, “And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him.”  A third truth about the purpose of community is that in our weakness, community will make us strong.  We may try to go it alone, but going it alone isn’t a sign of strength.  It’s a sign of weakness.

Our pride hides our own weakness from us and deludes us with overconfidence in our own abilities.  This is the nature of sin in our lives: underestimating our weaknesses, overestimating our strengths.  And the solution isn’t, “Memorize more Scripture!” Even though that is important.  The solution isn’t, “Pray more!” or “Get more sleep!” or “Listen to more sermons!”  Although all those things are beneficial, but alone, we are still weak.  We have strength in community.

I think it’s because when we live in community and get to know one another, others will truly see us, know us, and can help us where we need it most.  Darkness of sin loses its hold over us.  When we live in community, things that are hidden are brought into the light, and it cleans us up.

Community can pull us up when we fall; it can warm us up when we grow spiritually cold, and it strengthens us against the power of sin.

 

Three in Community

Then the last phrase in our scripture always seems peculiar to me.  It begins with “Two are better than one” and then describes what you do better when there is a second person.  But then, the end of verse 12 says, “A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.”

Maybe it’s a typo.  Maybe the author meant to say, “A twofold cord is not quickly broken?”  Or maybe it is because in a biblical community, there are never only two parties involved, but three.  God is also present.

Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew, 18:20 –

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.

Slide16.JPG

There are always three parties involved in the body of Christ: you, your community, and God.  If it is your spouse and you, your cord is not quickly broken with God in the middle.  If it is an accountability partner and you, your cord is not quickly broken with God in the middle.  If it is your church community, Bible study class, small group and you, your cord is not quickly broken with God in the middle.

In a biblical community, there are always three parties at work. The Apostle Paul gives us a picture of how this works in 1 Corinthians 12 –

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.  Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?  If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?  But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.  If they were all one part, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

Paul writes that God has given each of us unique passions and abilities so that we work with one another, minister to one another, and be nourished by one another.

If we cut ourselves off from the community of the church, we are fundamentally cutting ourselves off from the primary method God uses to minister to us through others.  And it also means the reverse.  If we cut ourselves off from the community of the church, we are also cutting ourselves off from the main means through which God is trying to minister through us to others.

In other words, whenever we think we are reducing our threefold cord down to two strands, we actually reduce our threefold cord down to one strand. Because when we remove one strand from the equation (such as God or community), we actually lose both strands in the process. God ministers to us through community.

Biblical community, therefore, always happens in three.  Even in the Gospel, you see all three persons of the Godhead working together, ministering together, and accomplishing together. The Father planned our salvation, the Son accomplished our salvation, and the Spirit applies our salvation.  And now, we have access to the Father because of the Son and through the Spirit.

Truly, a threefold cord is not easily broken. It is modeled in our salvation and also in our community.

 

Conclusion

This year, 2020, is certainly one for the history books.  The impact on our lives has been staggering.  And the effects are almost entirely negative.  And quarantined, we feel isolated, depressed, angry.  We aren’t meant to live like this.  From the time of Adam and Eve until now, God has wanted us to be part of community.

Community is not our idea, it is God’s idea.  Christian community is simply sharing a common life in Christ.  It moves us beyond the self-interested isolation of private lives and beyond the superficial social contacts that pass for “Christian fellowship.”  The biblical ideal of community challenges us instead to commit ourselves to life together as the people of God.

Slide19.JPG

We need each other.  We need to be connected to the body of Christ – not just for our own sake, but for the sake of others as well.  So that we can be a blessing to them, and so that they can be a blessing to us.  It is God’s plan for us, to live in community with one another.

Ecclesiastes offers Christians an opportunity to understand the emptiness and despair that those who do not know God grapple with. Those who do not know Christ are faced with a life that will ultimately end and become irrelevant.  If there is no salvation, and no God, then not only is there no point to life, but no purpose or direction to it, either. The world “under the sun,” apart from God, is frustrating, cruel, unfair, brief, and “utterly meaningless.”

But with Christ, life is but a shadow of the glories to come in a heaven that is only accessible through Him.  We need each other, so let us meet one another, talk to one another, encourage one another in our community, as long as it is called today.

Slide20.JPG

To God be the glory.

The Purpose of Freedom

I. Introduction

Two hundred and forty years ago, our nation was in bondage. Made up of 13 colonies of the British Empire, the colonies were governed by rules from far across the sea. Twelve years prior to that, the British and the French were in a great race to colonize the Americas, leading to a great amount of tension. In 1754, the British, under the command of 22-year old George Washington, ambushed a French patrol and set off a war against the French. There were about 2 million British colonists and only 60,000 French colonists, so the French enlisted the help of the native American Indians. This French and Indian War lasted 9 years before the British finally defeated the French, and the French ceded control of all of land east of the Mississippi River to the British.

This was an expensive war, and the British felt the American colonies should pay the brunt of the expenses. The British levied higher taxes against the 13 colonies to pay off the war debt, and also imposed other rules that were very inconvenient, such as if the British felt the need to guard your town, you were required to house British troops in your home at your own expense.

The colonies had no say in these taxes. But of particular irritation was the monopoly given to the East Indian Tea Company. No tea could be imported to the colonies directly; instead, The British imported tea to Britain, marked it up 25% to pay for war debts, then sold it to the Americas. In 1773, the Sons of Liberty raided a shipment of tea and threw it all into the Boston Harbor with the rallying cry of “No taxation without representation.”

Three years later, in 1776, the Thirteen American colonies declared their independence from Britain.

II. Independence

What does it mean to be independent? The dictionary defines independence as “freedom from the control, influence, support, or aid of others.” When the young American Colonies rebelled against the British, they wanted representation, they wanted a say in their own fate. They wanted to govern themselves. Others were not going to dictate their day-to-day lives; the colonists were going to choose their own way.

From a historical perspective of developing countries, this was unique. It had never been tried. No country had ever attempted self-governing rules. No country had ever tried a system where the governed were also the governors.

But in the history of mankind, this attitude is hardly unique. The ultimate authority is the God who created us, and we (the creation) have always wanted to govern ourselves.

It seems like every time I teach a lesson, I go back to Genesis 1:1 again. But today, in a fantastic improvement over that record, we’re only going back to Genesis 2. Verses 16 & 17,

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

And man joyfully obeyed and enjoyed a sinless and holy relationship with God the Father. And that lasted maybe a day. After that, we decided we wanted to govern ourselves, and we ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We said to God, “You are not the boss of me.”

III. Bondage

When we ate, we rebelled. We looked to our rebellion and said, “See? We are free to do what we want. We don’t allow anyone – including God – to tell us what to do.” We believed that this rebellion was the same as independence which was also the same as freedom.

But these three words are not the same. Yes, we rebelled and declared our independence from God. But were we then free? What did we gain by rebelling from God?

In our rebellion, we decided to go our own way. In our rebellion, we decided on our own not to follow God’s plan. Since God is holy, and God’s plan is holy, our rebellion is… unholy. It is a sin. Our sin separates us from God. In the Old Testament, Isaiah laments this rebellion in Isaiah 63:10 –

Yet they rebelled
and grieved his Holy Spirit.
So he turned and became their enemy
and he himself fought against them.

In other words, our sin nature, passed along from the first rebellion of Adam all the way to us, vexes the Holy Spirit and makes us enemies of God. We saw this rejection of God in 1 Samuel 8:6-9 when the people of Israel – people supposedly free since they had rejected God – demanded somebody to rule over them. It seems they recognized they needed somebody to lead and guide them, but they just didn’t want that somebody to be God –

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

In 1 Samuel 15:23, our rebellion is described like this –

For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.

Our rebellion against the Lord doesn’t lead to freedom. Our rebellion makes us enemies of the Lord. Rebellion aligns us with forces that oppose God. As enemies of the Lord, we become family with a relative we don’t really want, but we share a common goal with him. John 8:44, Jesus tells us who we are when we are in a state of rebellion –

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

Yuck. I don’t like this family. So my rebellion against the Lord didn’t lead to freedom, it led to sin. To oppose God’s plan, I have to align myself with the devil, and I am in bondage to this sin because I am rebellion. I cannot escape sin because I am in rebellion which is sin. Instead of freedom, I am in bondage. I am in bondage to sin. In John 8:34,

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.

And in Romans 7:14-15, Paul recognizes this bondage –

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

We all sin. We are in bondage to that sin. We’re going to look at 2 verses that describe just how awful the rebellious bondage to sin looks to our Lord. First, let’s look at 2 Timothy 3:1-7 –

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

In that description, I see my own bondage to sin, and I see that our great United States of America has rushed from independence into bondage to sin. From “loving ourselves” on social media like Facebook and Instagram and Twitter, to “loving money” and our fascination with pop culture and the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Allowing men to use women’s restrooms if they “identify” as a woman and then brutally verbally bashing those who are trying to promote a chaste and safe public restroom experience. Over a half-million abortions every year because having a baby is inconvenient. In my lifetime I’ve seen this nation go from prayer in schools to prosecuting people who pray in schools.

And our national fascination with sex. How much of the internet is related to porn? A study from Columbia University estimates Psychology today estimates as much as 20% of all web traffic and web searches are related to porn.

Our nation is in bondage to sin, and we celebrate it and put it on the internet for everybody to see.

Romans 6:16 also points out that ultimately we only have 2 choices –

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?

Our rebellious sin nature is a trap. We are stuck in our sin nature and we cannot free ourselves. Romans 1:24 says that God eventually gives us over to the sinful desires of the heart. There is no middle ground. There is no “mostly obedient” state. Giving to the Red Cross or the Salvation Army or the Star of Hope or tithing to the church cannot save us if there is one little speckle of disobedience in us. And this verse tells us that we are either trying our very best to find God’s will in our lives, or we are not.

We’d like to believe there is a middle ground, where we can be good people and go to heaven. We’d like to have compassion on good people that aren’t Christians. Surely good people go to heaven? Isn’t that fair? Isn’t that nice? Since God is such a nice guy, surely He’d see it my way?
But that misunderstands God’s purpose in our lives. God loves all His children, and He wants what is best for us. And that means voluntarily giving up our own independent rebellion and agree with the Lord that His will is the best way, and ultimately is the only way. And God tells us that there is one way to gain the promised land, and everything else belongs to sin. Galatians 3:22,

But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

IV. True Freedom

So our rebellion gives us the illusion of independence, but in reality we are trading our allegiance. I pledge allegiance to God and His ways, or I pledge allegiance to our father the devil. There is no third option.

So here’s an interesting quandary. Can we be in bondage, and yet be free?

In the story of the Exodus, we start to get a glimpse of God’s purpose. What was the exodus? It’s the miracle of God leading His people out of bondage, out of slavery. And once the people were free, what did God do? He gave them the Ten Commandments. He set rules for that freedom.

We make a mistake when we confuse our independence with what we truly desire. We desire freedom. Freedom to follow our God-given passions and desires, to seek for God in all the wonderful places He designs for us, to seek His will and find that His plan for us is far, far better than our own independent plans.

Why should we trust this freedom to God? How many hairs do you have on your head? Is it 1000? 100,000? I have no idea. But this is how well God knows me: Not only does He know how many hairs are on my head, but he’s numbered them. 1, 2, 3, 4…. Luke 12:6-7,

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

A very good reason for trusting the Lord is that He knows me far better than I know myself. Should I continue to maintain my independence of God? I certainly have that choice; I can choose to be independent of my creator. But it turns out that is the same as the sin of rebellion, which means independence from God is bondage to the devil. Or I can be independent of Satan, and choose to be in bondage to God. I am in bondage either way.

What does this look like, being in bondage to God? Do I just follow the Ten Commandments? Do I just avoid the Seven Deadly Sins? Do I follow all 613 mitzvots?

Let’s go back for a moment to 2 Timothy 3:1-7 and look at what bondage to sin looks like.

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

These things that bind us to sin are lovers of ourselves, lovers of money, proud and boastful and abusive and disobedient and ungrateful and unforgiving… and if I am honest with myself, I can see my own sinful nature in this description. These are the descriptions of the last days. It’s what the Father of Lies would call love. It’s a perversion of what God calls love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 –

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

I don’t know how to do this. Not on my own. At least, not at the level necessary to meet the standards of a Holy and Perfect Lord of All. I’m going to fail.

So the answer to whether I have to follow the Ten Commandments or avoid the Seven Deadly Sins is… yes. All of them. And none of them.

You see, since God knows how many hairs I have on my head, He knows me better than I know myself. And even when I try to run, He knows me. Jeremiah 23:24,

Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord.

God is everywhere I am. I cannot hide. Even in my rebellion and my so-called independence, I cannot escape. The Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins judge me and my shortcomings. They show me how I fail, they show that despite my own efforts, I’m going to fail at being holy. And that’s ok, because God loves me and has given me a solution. God has given me His Son.

We don’t just “stop sinning” by trying to stop committing the Seven Deadly Sins. Obeying the Ten Commandments doesn’t stop us from sinning. That is is “legalism,” that is trying to save ourselves by “works.” We stop sinning by recognizing that we are in rebellion, that our entire lives have been devoted to bondage in sin, remembering that there is no halfway decision, and then choosing to be bondservants of Christ. We choose to cease our rebellion against the Lord.

What about the Ten Commandments? The Seven Deadly Sins? These give us insight and direction as to what pleases the Lord. For those who have had children, if your child takes a cookie before dinner after you expressly told him not to, do you say, that’s it, I’m done. You’re on your own. Go outside and never come back. From God’s perspective, is our identity as His child dependent on whether we ate the forbidden cookie?

Of course not. We set rules for good behavior for our children. We discipline them when they are disobedient. We raise them, we forgive them, and love them. God does the same for us, and all our sins are forgiven when Jesus took them to the cross. We just have to choose to be in God’s family. Then if we are imperfect, if we only follow eight-and-a-half commandments, our Father still loves us.

In fact, that’s where our freedom comes from – being within the will of God, being a slave to His love, and recognizing His word protects us. Psalm 119:44-45 puts in this way –

I will keep on obeying your instructions forever and ever. I will walk in freedom, for I have devoted myself to your commandments.

So our goal then, is to recognize our rebellion against God did not lead to freedom. It just led to a different sort of bondage. This is where we once were, from 2 Peter 2:17-19 –

These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity – for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”

 

When we accept Jesus, then this is who we become from 1 John 1:12 –

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.

And when we are children of God, then there is no condemnation for falling short of God’s perfect will. Romans 8:1,

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

V. Conclusion

When mistake rebellion and independence with freedom, we wallow in a lifetime of sin. The rebellion against God results in death and misery and frustration. Or we can attempt to save ourselves by doing good, but the rules we set for ourselves are burdensome and joyless. Worse, we try to set rules for others so we can demonstrate how superior we are.

God’s way is to accept that we are powerless on our own and full of sin, but His Son will take the punishment for our rebellion so we can be slaves to righteousness and serve one another in love. It’s not rules imposed from the outside, but the power of the Holy Spirit from the inside that brings glory to God, peace and joy to us, and blessings to others.

There is a song by Watermark that I love, called “Captivate Us.” During the chorus, she sings, “Let every chain be broken from me as I’m bound by your grace.” Choosing to be a bondservant of Christ Jesus doesn’t restrict our freedom, but gives us freedom to be who God created us to be.

It’s like a train, a locomotive, intent on going its own way. And it jumps the track in search of independence. These train tracks are too restrictive, the train says. And when the train has fallen off the tracks, it’s powerless, it’s useless, it’s stalled. When the train is put back on the track, then the train is free to do what it was created to do.

This is the truth that brings glory to our Father in Heaven. John 8:32,

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

That is true freedom.

To God be the glory.

The Purpose of Work

I. Introduction

Welcome back, everybody. I think it feels weird to see people again.
We’re still not back to normal, though. Diane & I were blessed during this lockdown. I was able to work from home, and I got an extra hour of sleep because I wasn’t commuting and we saved on gas. But at the peak of the lockdown, 43 million Americans filed for unemployment. People that I reached out to last year when I was looking for work are now reaching out to me.

I’ve returned to work at the office, but we’re at 25% capacity with the rest still working from home. Maybe you’re affected. Maybe you’ve been furloughed, maybe you’ve filed for unemployment. If you haven’t, it’s likely you know somebody who has.

Which I find amazing that God has a word for us today to talk about work. Our key scripture today, Ecclesiastes 9:10,

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

Slide2

We’re going to take this verse apart and put it back together, but first, let’s talk a little about the book of Ecclesiastes. Most theologians attribute the writing to Solomon, who, blessed with more wisdom that anybody in history, found wisdom provided no meaning to life or any comfort.

Whatever we have here on earth, we see from a limited perspective, and only God’s perspective will give us true wisdom and comfort. The book begins in verse 1:2 with

Meaningless! Meaningless!

And ends in verses 12:1 and 12:13,

Remember your Creator.
Fear God and keep His commandments.

Slide3

In between these two verses, man can find comfort and meaning to life. And in between these two verses, the book of Ecclesiastes talks about “work” frequently. Our work can be frustrating and sometimes feels meaningless. Why are we working? What are we trying to accomplish? Will it mean anything after I’m gone? In between “Meaningless! Meaningless” and “Remember your Creator; Fear God and keep His commandments, Ecclesiastes 9:10 has a lesson for us about the design of work, the dignity of work, and the delight of work.

II. The Design of Work

So Ecclesiastes 9:10 begins with,

“Whatever your hand finds to do…”

Let’s face it, it’s really hard to do nothing. If you were at home during the lockdown, maybe you started feeling a little stir-crazy.

We are designed by God to do work. God created us in His image, and God is a creative and working God. God creates. We, too, are creative beings, designed to create and designed to work. The capacity for work is part of our DNA. The ability to work is part of our DNA. The mentality to create and to work are part of what it means to be a human made in the image of a working and creative God.

When God created humanity, God’s very first command to Adam was to get to work. Genesis 1:26-28,

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Get to work, Adam. And in Genesis 2:15,

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

Slide6

Get to work, Adam. You have to read another 10 verses before Eve, his helper, makes an appearance. And the Fall of Man is still another chapter away. So before marriage, before family, before sin of man ejected Adam from the Garden of Eden, God created man to work. Adam tilled the ground, managed the garden, named the animals, and was appointed steward over God’s creation. Get to work, Adam. In working, we are practically demonstrating the image of God on earth.

“Whatever your hand finds to do…”

The phrase “your hand” represents our capacity to work, but also our individuality. And the phrase “finds to do” means there is always something that we can do. We are to be good stewards of this earth and contribute to the flourishing and development of this world. It is in our DNA to do something.

But we’re not all cut from the same cloth. We are not a cookie cutter design. I am different from Chris. And Tony is different from everybody.

We, by our design, are uniquely created for a specific type of work. God not only created us with the capacity to work in general, He also created us to complete certain types of work in particular. God designed each of us with different abilities and personalities. We are not the same. We do not all have the same serial number. Rather, God made each of us unique for our unique work.

This means that God did not design everyone to be a teacher or a preacher. God did not design everyone to be a car mechanic or a counselor. Instead, God designed people to be engineers, lawyers, teachers, anesthetists, IT technicians, accountants, geologists, dentists, and writers. For humanity to truly have dominion over all of creation, God endowed different types of people with the unique ability to govern over, serve in, and contribute to virtually every area of life.

Slide8

Each one of us is attracted towards an area of work that we are particularly equipped to accomplish. We each have God-given strengths, skills, leanings, passions, and spiritual gifts that naturally lead us into one ‘profession’ or ‘vocation’ or ‘work’ over another.

And everyone of us has struggled at some point in our life with the question, “What is God’s will for my life?” or “What is my personal calling?” We all want to figure out what our role and contribution ought to be in our short time on earth.

How do we our purpose for work? We can find our purpose at the intersection of 3 main things: our abilities, our affinities, and the affirmations of others.

Slide9

  • Our abilities refer to our God-given strengths, our gifts, personality, and skills.
  • Our affinities refer to our interests and what brings us the most amount of joy and energy.
  • And affirmation of others means that other people can testify whether our perception of our skill is an actual, substantial strength.

All three, working together, can help us draw out our purpose from our own guesswork. In other words, do what you do best for the glory of God.
God has specifically designed us – our abilities, affinities, and affirmations – to strategically position ourselves for the greatest impact for His glory. When we follow God’s design, our work will not only become more personally enriching, but our work is our witness and our examples of our excellent and creative God.

So the phrase “Whatever your hand finds to do,” are instructions, it reveals how we should evaluate ourselves, evaluate purpose so that we can enjoy work, serve others well, and contribute to God’s kingdom.

III. The Dignity of Work

In the second part of the verse, “do it with your might,” God challenges us always to do our best with the gifts He has given us. There is dignity concerning work.

There is value in work with the best we have to offer. The reason for engaging wholeheartedly is not simply because that is what we ‘ought’ to do. We should engage wholeheartedly as a response that work itself is a gift from God and a dignifying responsibility on its own terms. There is no work that is undignified.

We should not approach work because we’re threatened, or somebody may condemn us, but because all work is good.

Back in Genesis 1, every time God created something He called it ‘good;’ then He created mankind and called us ‘very good.’ God has selected us do work as He does, and when we manage His creation to His glory, it is a high and noble honor. Work is one way that demonstrate Christ within.

Slide11

So work is more than just our duty. It is a privilege. The only right response to the reality of work, and serving God in our work, is to expend our might and to give our best, which is an act of worship.

Work, then, becomes primarily a response of stewardship and faithfulness. However, when work becomes something different than a responsibility of stewardship and faithfulness, it decays and maligns everything else in its path. Hence the next part of our verse, “do it with your might.”

Our work should be done for the sake of work itself. Not for our own significance, not to make us important, not for other’s approval. Not even for money. A biblical view of work as the means to something else. Work well for work’s sake.

When work becomes a means to an end, when we are working for something other than work, we may find ourselves bowing at the feet of an idol. There is nothing wrong with financial stability, providing for your family, or approval from others. However, when we see our work primarily as a means to achieve these, we have ruined the very essence of what makes work beautiful on its own terms.

Sometimes when I watch an old movie, the mom brags to her neighbor that her son is a doctor or lawyer. Always a doctor or a lawyer. Now, there is certainly nothing wrong with being a doctor or lawyer. But 90% of the workforce should not be doctors or lawyers. And I’m pretty sure God did not create 90% of people to serve as doctors and lawyers.

Slide12

So, why the obsession to be a doctor or lawyer? It is because those two professions in our American society are associated with status, stability, and prosperity. Who would not want those things? And so, becoming a lawyer or doctor becomes the means to attaining status, stability, and prosperity.
So many then, who strive to be a doctor or lawyer, are sacrificing their God-given skills and passions to join a a profession they do not like or have no skills in, just because they feel like they must do so to attain the ‘good life.’ Not only do these people become embittered and finding no satisfaction in their work, but their God-given skills and passions are left unused and they begin to atrophy. People unhappy with their work also make those around them unhappy. In other words, instead of working for the dignity of work and to God’s glory, they work for themselves, and the design and dignity of work suffers. It was never intended to be for them after all. It’s all for God’s glory. God’s call is for us to “do it with your might” and not with or for anything else. When work is done with any other purpose or motive, it becomes defective and destructive.

Regardless of your vocation, there is dignity and purpose when seen in the light of God. It is not about the kind of work you do; it’s about how you do the work. With dignity as a Christ follower.

IV. The Delight of Work

Our scripture verse then says,
“for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in [death].”
Your translation may say “sheol” as a location for death.

So I have news for you. You’re going to die. You have an expiration date. So do I. Eventually, you and I are going to run out of the one precious resource we cannot replenish: Time.

Slide14

Time is a limited resource. We all desire more of it. We wish we had more time in a day to finish that project. We wish we did not have to sleep as much so that we could maximize our productivity. And so our available time limits our capacity for accomplishment and completion. It humbles us, and it sobers us up to realize that we may never get to finish it. Time marks the end of our work, and the end of our lives.

This is a short life. Once we’re dead, whatever happens in Heaven and the glory we shall see when Christ returns, this life is over. Rather than doom and gloom, the calamities in this life enrich us, they challenge us, they are God’s way of getting our attention, they are opportunities for us to grow and to show the world that, regardless of the calamities, the hardships, the pain and suffering, that we are enjoying our limited life. Our life gives us the chance to choose our eternal destination and to share the joy of living as a child of God to others that do not yet know the Lord. We live out our limited life in the hope of continuing in our eternal life.

And it is our eternal life which we should value. The time is so short, and eternity goes on, well, forever. That’s the definition of eternity, and our lives continue through eternity, compared to this very short time here on planet earth. So why am I not afraid of Covid-19? Because Covid-19 can only change my expiration date on earth. If I depart early, I begin eternity with the Lord Jesus Christ sooner.

Jesus said in John 9:4,

As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.

Slide15

I once went to an estate sale my wife had organized for an elderly couple. They had collected years and years of Asian art, sculptures, beautiful furniture, but in their last few years they decided to move into assisted living, limited space, and it was time to relinquish their material possessions. At the estate sale I couldn’t help but notice that all this art, loaded with their memories was being sold for pennies on the dollar. All these memories, once this couple was gone, were meaningless. We can’t take it with us, and we leave almost nothing behind.

The message is that we live in a world plagued by frustrations towards the completion of our goals, aspirations, and work. But in God’s economy, when our work is done with hearts and hands bent on God’s Kingdom and eternity, our work means something, whether it was completed in this life or not. Without God and eternity, all things ‘under the sun’ simply have no meaning or lasting impact. But with God and eternity, even our smallest efforts matter and carry into eternity. Our work means something to God. This knowledge ought to give delight, that what we do, when done for the glory of God, pleases Him and we will understand that in eternity.

In Timothy Keller’s book, “Every Good Endeavor, he writes the following:

If this life is all there is, then everything will eventually burn up in the death of the sun and no one will even be around to remember anything that has ever happened. Everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any difference, and all good endeavors, even the best, will come to naught.
Unless there is God. If the God of the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavor, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever. That is what the Christian faith promises. “In the Lord, your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

How can we truly delight in our work? It comes from the assurance that God values us and our work; and in the Lord, our labor will carry into eternity. He infuses our work with meaning and eternal significance in a way that we simply could not on our own. Only the Christian is privileged to enjoy his or her work in this way. And in light of this, we can rejoice.

V. Conclusion

God works, and therefore, work on its own terms is a good thing. It is a glorious extension of His attributes. And when God created us in His own image, He made us both agents of work (giving us the capacity for work) and regents of work (entrusting us with the responsibility to work). Work is part of what it means to be human. God has in store a certain design, dignity, and delight for us in the privilege of working.

When we do not work, we simply become less than what God designed us to be. If work according to God’s design is humanizing, then not working at all or not working according to God’s design is dehumanizing. As Christians, we realize that our work is not our ultimate worth, stability, security, or satisfaction. Christ is. Under this framework ‘under heaven’ our work, becomes redeemed to being what it was always meant to be all along: work.
When we live according to God’s will for work, we will find God’s unique design for work, His special dignity in work, and His particular delight for us to enjoy within work. His plan truly becomes our purpose. Let nothing deter you from the work God has for you. Do it with joy, with gusto, with purpose, and love.

Slide17

To God be the glory.