Finding Worth in Your Work
Acts 20:35; Ephesians 4:28
September 2, 2001 | Brian Bill
Three boys were bragging about who had the best dad. The first boy said, “My dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, calls it a poem, and they give him $100.” The second boy jumps in and says, “That’s nothing. My dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, calls it a song, and they give him $1,000.” The third boy grins and says, “Oh, yeah? My dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, calls it a sermon, and it takes six men just to collect all the money!”
As we kick off a new series today called, Building For The Future, I’m mindful of the fact that there is some risk in talking about giving from the pulpit. I recognize that you’ve placed some trust in me as your pastor. My responsibility is to preach the full counsel of God, and when some things I say step on your toes or make you uncomfortable, I hope you know that my intention is not to hurt, but to help.
I’m putting that trust at risk because many of you feel threatened by the topic of money. Some of you have been in churches where you felt cajoled out of your cash. Some of you have felt pressured to give to a building campaign. Others of you have been turned off by televangelists who badger viewers to give until it hurts. I also understand that some of you are here for the first time today. And right about now you’re looking for the exits. I’m risking that you’ll walk out of here and never come back.
Let me come clean with you about my motivation for preaching this series.
1. The Bible has more to say about money than almost any other subject.
For instance, there are more verses about money than about Heaven and Hell combined. Of the 38 parables Jesus told, 16 of them are about money. The Bible has fewer than 300 verses on prayer, less than 500 on faith and over 2,000 verses that deal with wealth and possessions! The inescapable conclusion is that how we handle money in general, and what we give in particular, is a big deal to God. And so we need to talk about it, no matter how uncomfortable we may feel about it.
2. Giving will help us get where we’re going as a church.
Through the regular and sacrificial giving of many of you, this church is able to fulfill our IMPACT marching orders in this community, this county, our country, and on the continents.
3. There are incredible benefits to giving.
Whenever we do things God’s way, we will experience His blessing. Malachi 3:10 says, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”
Now, having given you my motivating factors for this series let me reiterate what I stated in my recent letter: “I promise that you will not receive any pressure to give during this campaign. Since God loves a cheerful giver we will not use any underhanded or emotional appeals just to get your money. You have my word on that.”
Your Job Matters
On this Labor Day weekend, we give national tribute to the contributions that laborers have made to our country’s strength and vitality. As we focus on Finding Worth in our Work, I came across some excuses you can use if your boss catches you asleep at your desk…
- They told me at the blood bank that this might happen.
- Whew! I must have left the top off the whiteout.
- This is in exchange for the six hours last night when I dreamt about work!
While you may get tired at your job, or even be tired of your job, the Bible teaches that work has intrinsic value for at least two reasons:
1. God is a worker.
Most of us don’t view God this way but that’s how He first reveals Himself in Scripture. Genesis 1:1 states that God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 2:2 calls this activity “work”: “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all his work.” And He didn’t stop working after creation. No wonder Psalm 111:2 declares: “Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them.”
2. We are His co-workers.
Not only is God a worker, but we are workers as well. Genesis 1:26 says that man is to “rule over” the creation. Genesis 2:15 states that Adam was placed in the garden to “work it and take care of it.” I should point out that this work was given to Adam before the fall. God planted the garden and man cultivated it. This was a partnership that continues today. God gives to us and we manage what we’ve been given.
The challenge for us is to recognize that even though labor can be hard and challenging, we’ve been designed to work in tandem with God, not just for ourselves
Tragically, with the entrance of sin in Genesis 3, this stewardship and partnership was distorted. Adam and Eve became self-centered, with the desire to take instead of give, to dominate instead of serve and to hate instead of love. In addition, because of the fall, in Genesis 3:17 God says that work would involve “painful toil.” Verse 18 declares that work will no longer be completely efficient because the ground would “produce thorns and thistles.” The challenge for us is to recognize that even though labor can be hard and challenging, we’ve been designed to work in tandem with God, not just for ourselves.
Someone once said, “Hard work never killed anyone, but why take the chance?” The Book of Proverbs has quite a bit to say about the importance of hard work:
- Proverbs 14:23: “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.”
- Proverbs 21:25: “The sluggard’s craving will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work.”
- Proverbs 31:17 refers to a godly wife this way: “She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.”
Why We Work
This morning we’re going to look at two passages that were written years apart but contain essentially the same message. Please turn in your Bibles to Acts 20. Paul is on his third missionary journey and is headed to Jerusalem and eventually to Rome where he will end up in prison. On his way, verse 17 tells us that his boat pulls into the seaport city of Miletus where Paul asks for the elders from the church at Ephesus to come and meet him. It’s almost like he has a layover at the airport and he invites some church leaders to meet with him before he has to catch the next plane!
During his farewell message, he reviewed his three years of ministry among them in verse 18-21. Next, in verses 22-27, he opens his heart by explaining that no matter what happens to him, he knows that he has “proclaimed the whole counsel of God.” Finally, in the last section he challenges these men to shepherd the flock and to be ready to deal with false teaching that will arise.
I want to first draw your attention to verses 33-35: “I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Now, keep your finger in this passage and turn over to Ephesians 4. Several years later, while Paul is in prison, he wrote this letter to the church at Ephesus. As I read verse 28, listen for similarities to what Paul said in Acts 20: “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.”
I see at least three helpful principles from these passages that will help us find worth in our work.
1. Work at being content.
Acts 20:33 says that Paul did not covet anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. It was not Paul’s aim in life to get more money or more things. To covet means to have a consuming desire for what others have and for more of what we already have. It’s interesting that in Ephesians 4:28, Paul warns people to stop stealing. When we covet, we break the last of the Ten Commandments, and in the process, we can end up breaking the other nine. If I covet something of yours, I may try to steal it so that I can have it for myself.
Stealing has a number of different faces. I love that Norman Rockwell painting which shows a woman buying a turkey. As the bird lies on the store scale, she is discreetly pushing up on the scale to make the turkey appear lighter, while the man is pushing down to make the scale read heavier.
In their book, The Day America Told the Truth, James Patterson and Peter Kim reveal some shocking statistics about how far people are willing to go for ten million dollars. When people were asked what they would do if they were guaranteed this much money, this is what they said:
- 25% would abandon their family
- 25% would abandon their faith
- 23% would become prostitutes for a week or more
- 16% would give up their U.S. citizenship
- 16% would leave their spouses
- 7% would kill a stranger
The importance of being content was illustrated this past week when four co-workers of one of the winners of the $249 million Powerball jackpot went to court to demand a piece of the prize. The winner said she was “devastated” that her co-workers were suing her. According to her attorney, when she heard what they were doing, “She put her head on the table and sobbed. When I comforted her, her first words were, ‘Let them have the money.’” In this case, coveting led to conflict and ruptured relationships. Incidentally, the sin of coveting leads many people to play the lottery and participate in other forms of gambling.
Friends, we have to work hard at being content, don’t we? Remember this, contentment is not having everything you want, it’s wanting everything that you have. I love what G.K. Chesterton said, “There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more; the other is to desire less.”
Let’s follow Paul’s example and strive to be content. 1 Timothy 6:6-10 serves as a warning to us: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
Hebrews 13:5 challenges us to “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” We like to quote the last part of this verse but forget that it’s linked to contentment. Only when we grab hold of the fact that God will never leave us or forsake us, can we be at peace with what we have. The craving to covet or steal is really not a money issue; it’s a faith issue. If we believe that God will take care of our needs and that He will never bail on us, we can trust Him with our lives and cultivate a spirit of contentment.
2. Work in order to have.
In Acts 20:34, Paul describes how he worked hard with his hands in order to supply his own needs and the needs of his companions. He was a tentmaker, getting up early and staying up late in order to cut and sew. These tents were commonly made of leather, which was a difficult material to work with.
Our responsibility is to work hard so that we can take care of our needs and the needs of our family members. Ephesians 4:28 urges the one who was ripping others off to stop and begin working: “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work…” This word for work literally means to “feel fatigue.” We’re to throw ourselves into our jobs by doing something useful with our hands. One of the purposes of work is so that we can have what we need to live. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 says that “if a man will not work, he shall not eat.”
Work provides our food and shelter and also allows for us to take care of our companions, or family members. The Bible is very pointed in this regard in 1 Timothy 5:8: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
We’re to work at being content. And we’re to work in order to have. But there’s a third purpose.
3. Work to have in order to give.
Ephesians 4:28 states that we work so that “we have something to share with those in need.” The word “share” means to “give over or distribute.” Those in need are people who lack something. We work to have in order to share with others. Or, as someone has said, “We make a living by what we get and we make a life by what we give!”
Early in the 20th Century, Milton S. Hershey became one of the wealthiest men of his day. But working to amass wealth was not how Hershey defined his life. He measured his financial success in terms of what he could accomplish for others. He built a town that provided pleasant living conditions for his employees, a medical center, a family amusement park, and a school for underprivileged children. Milton Hershey loved to make chocolate, but to him, work was primarily a means to serve God and provide enjoyment to others.
Working only to have is an American ideal, but it’s not biblical. The most radical thing about this text is that we’re commanded to do all our work with a view to meeting the needs of others. God is calling us to have a new attitude toward work. In our society, we usually think in terms of having a job so that we can have money to meet our needs and fulfill our desires. Because we’ve been made into new people through Christ, we need to view our jobs differently. When you get up and go to work, one of the main reasons you are going is so that you will be able to give part of your paycheck to someone else.
It’s God’s money that is entrusted to us for His use, for our needs and the needs of our families, and for the needs of others
Actually, it’s not our money that He asks us to share anyway. Psalm 24:1: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.” It’s God’s money that is entrusted to us for His use, for our needs and the needs of our families, and for the needs of others.
We can live to have or we can live to give like Hershey did. This is counter-cultural and radically revolutionary. God wants to take your job and turn it into a work of grace. Ephesians 4 challenges us to not steal in the service of illegal greed and to not work in the service of legal greed. Everything is to be done out of grace, not greed. Don’t covet or steal in order to have. Don’t just work in order to have. But work in order to give.
Why? Because that’s what it means to walk by faith. John Piper writes that the “very essence of faith is the delight of the soul in the experience and display of God’s grace. Faith is the power, by grace, to be content with what we have. And faith is also the power, by grace, to be DISCONTENT with what others DON’T have.” We don’t have to steal or hoard to be happy. But we do need to give in order to be happy. Proverbs 22:9: “A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.”
Paul models this kind of giving in Acts 20:35 when he writes, “In everything I did, I showed you by this kind of hard work we must help the weak…” The word “weak” means to be “feeble in any sense.” Paul not only preached about what they should do, he lived it for the three years that he spent in Ephesus. He exhorted them and he was an example to them. He worked hard in order to help the weak, when he very easily could have coasted and thought only of himself.
Paul knows that this is a radical way to view their jobs, so he encourages them to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” This saying of Jesus is recorded nowhere else in the Bible but was evidently well known and quoted often by first century Christ-followers. This should not surprise us because not everything that Jesus said and did was written down in the Gospels. John 21:25: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”
This teaching was so important that God made sure it was placed in the permanent record of Scripture. Jesus demonstrated the truth of this throughout His life as He gave and gave and gave. We could paraphrase verse 35 this way: It’s better to share with others than to keep what you have and collect more. In other words, the blessing does not come in accumulating wealth, but in sharing it.
This is somewhat of a paradox, isn’t it? At first glance, it seems better to receive. Just ask any kid sitting around the Christmas tree. But giving is better than getting for at least four reasons.
1. Givers experience deep satisfaction in knowing that they are participating in God’s priorities.
God is a giving God and He wants to use us to distribute His gifts to others. When you give to someone in need, they receive a gift from God through your hands and you become more like Him.
2. Generous givers find great joy in giving.
Some of the happiest people I know are people who love to give and some of the grouchiest people I know are those who don’t give at all. If you find your joy waning, look for ways to become a giver. To be “more blessed” means to become more happy or joyful.
3. Givers are thankful that they’re in a position to give.
People who practice the joy of giving recognize that all that they have is a gift from God. As they give some of it away, they are reminded that it’s not really theirs in the first place. Many of you can testify that the more you give, the more God gives to you, which allows you to give even more.
4. Givers will be rewarded.
When we give, we experience rewards right now, and we know that according to Matthew 6:20 we’re also storing up treasures in heaven.
Let me summarize this message in one sentence. If you want to find worth in your work, view your job as a calling, not just a career. A career can become the altar on which we sacrifice our lives in the pursuit of money and possessions. A calling involves recognizing that we are co-workers with God in accomplishing His purposes by being content, by working in order to have so that our needs can be met, and by working in order to give so that God can meet the needs of others through us.
In the first part of Acts 20, those who were sailing with Paul got together with the other believers in Troas and “broke bread.” This time of communion served to help them remember the work that Jesus had done on their behalf. It also helped them remember how much Jesus had given to them through His death on the cross. Jesus viewed His work as a way to give to others.
When Jesus came to earth, He came as a worker. In fact, for most of His adult life He worked as a carpenter. But, He had a much more significant job assignment. His work was to do exactly what His Father wanted Him to do. In John 5:17, Jesus declared, “My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” The primary work of Jesus was to come to earth and to die as our substitute on the cross. Because He completed the work that He was given to do, you and I can now experience the full benefits of His labor.
Labor Day provides a day off from work. Let it also be a reminder that we don’t have to work in order to please God. Jesus did it all for us. He paid the price. He completed the job He was given to do. And He now gives to us so that we can in turn give to others.