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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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  • 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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To God be the glory.

The Meaning of Life

We started a new bible class today, and I am blessed to teach adults this year every 2-3 weeks. Not that I wasn’t blessed teaching 3rd graders last year, but teaching married adults will be infinitely more challenging. I look forward to what God teaches me this year.

Anyway, I’m going to try to share my notes each time, so here’s this week’s lesson:
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