Spending to the Glory of God

March 21, 2014

Imagine that you are 18 years old, and have just graduated from high school. You are part of a loving family, and have great respect for your parents.

You father comes to you and says, “Your mother and I have decided we’re going to change our plans for the next four years. As you know, we planned to spend $30,000 per year on college to prepare you for the future. But we’ve decided instead to give you a grant of that amount: $120,000. This grant is for you to use over the next four years or longer to set yourself up for the future. You may choose to attend the college we planned on. But if you think there is a better way to prepare yourself, choose it. With this money, you can travel. You can start a business. You can pay your expenses while you work as an intern in a business. You’re welcome to seek my counsel along the way if you wish, but I won’t require that. I only ask that whenever you pay more than a hundred dollars for something, you let me know what you spent it one. But the money is completely under your control. Indeed, I’ve already transferred it to your account. If you like, you can spend it all today on a (used) Ferrari. I can’t stop you.”

Put aside whether or not the father would be acting wisely. Just ask yourself: If you were in that position, if your father said that to you, how would you make decisions? What would spend the money on? Would you buy the Ferrari?

What God has done for us is somewhat similar to what the father in the story did for his child. All we have is a grant from Him to be used for a purpose. But the purpose in this case is to glorify His Name. He created us for His glory. And we are most satisfied when we fulfill that purpose.

Like the child in the story, we now have a grant, given to us for a purpose.  So we’re faced with a question: How do we decide how to spend it? What does Scripture tell us?

The Biblical Motivation for Spending

Let’s look first at possible motivations for spending – both unbiblical and biblical. We’ll see that the key concepts we’ve focused on throughout this series – identity, security, and joy – should motivate and guide our spending.

a) Don’t spend in order to establish your identity

That is: Don’t spend:

  • To keep up with others
  • To show off
  • To assuage your guilt
  • So that others think you are something you are not
  • To make you feel important or loved

Why not? Because if you are in Christ, you have an identity. You are adopted in to God’s family, you are His child, His heir. And you need do nothing to establish your identity. It is already granted to you.

b) So: Spend in a way that is consistent with that identity

Spend as a beloved child of God, as joint heir with Christ, in ways that show who God is and what He is to you.

c) Don’t spend in order to establish your security

That is:

  • Don’t save to establish your financial security,
  • Don’t enter the lottery in an attempt to gain financial security,
  • Don’t fail to give in order to maintain your financial security.

Why not? Because if you are in Christ, you are secure already. God will never leave you nor forsake you. Nothing will separate you from the love of God that is yours in Christ Jesus.

d) Instead: Use the money God puts in your care wisely and prudently

Guard it and protect it not to establish financial security but because it belongs to someone else. It is His.

e) Don’t think you must spend money on _______ in order to have joy.

Don’t ever think, “If only I could buy a car or a house or the latest fashions or a college education or some piece of sports equipment I would be happy.”

Why not? “In His presence is fullness of joy, at his right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). If you are in Christ, already have the greatest joy possible.

f) Instead, cultivate joy in the privilege of being a conduit of God’s blessings, in spending in such as way as to deepen your joy in God, others’ joy in God, joy in one another, joy in your family.

Thus, we spend out of contentment rather than in order to gain contentment. As we saw several weeks ago, the Apostle Paul writes:

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)

Satisfied with God now, confident in God’s continued watchcare over us tomorrow, having all our needs met in Him, we can spend for His glory out of sincere concern for our families and for those around us.

Four Key Ideas That Govern Biblical Spending

With those biblical motivations, we will spend to God’s glory. Four key ideas help to channel that spending rightly. The first is an idea we’ve already mentioned:

a) All you have is a grant from God

This truth colors every spending decision. The money in my possession is not mine to use any way I choose. As in the opening story, God has put in my control for a specific purpose. And that purpose is the glory of His Name.  That does not necessarily mean we should give away all that we have – though it might mean that for specific individuals. But having our identity, security, and joy in God, knowing what we have is a grant from Him, we hold loosely what God has given us. Furthermore, knowing that it all belongs to Him, we guard it carefully. We protect it. We don’t waste it, we don’t squander it, we protect it from thieves.

b) Opportunity Cost

While this term comes from economics, the underlying Idea is simple. Think back to the opening example. If the child in the story buys the Ferrari, how much will he have left to spend on anything else? Nothing. So the cost of the Ferrari is not just the sticker price. The cost is also the joy, the education, the experience he gives up by not spending those dollars on something else.

So if I give $100 to missions, I give up the opportunity to spend that money on food. The opportunity cost is (at a minimum) the joy and satisfaction of eating $100 worth of food. If I spend $100 on clothes,  I give up the opportunity to give that $100 to a friend in need. The opportunity cost is (at a minimum) the joy I would receive from giving, and the joy my friend would get from receiving the gift and filling his needs.

Every expenditure has an opportunity cost, because money is limited. If every time I snapped my fingers a $100 bill would appear in my hand, my expenditures would have no opportunity cost. I could replace whatever I spend immediately by creating more cash. But as long as our income and assets are limited, every expenditure has an opportunity cost.

c) Budgeting & Monitoring Spending

Because there is an opportunity cost of every expenditure, we have an allocation problem. God has given us a grant to be used for His glory. How much should we give away? How much should we spend on housing? How much should we spend on food? Presumably more than zero!

If every time you make a purchase, you have to ask yourself, “Is this best way to glorify God?” you’ll drive yourself crazy. How then can me make these tradeoffs between categories of spending so that we glorify God with our grant?

That’s the role of a budget. A budget is a tool to help you glorify God with your money without driving yourself crazy. Once you have decided on those major tradeoffs between categories, you have freedom to spend up to your budgeted limit, without having to ask questions about every five dollar purchase.

How do you set up a budget to glorify God with your grant?

The first step of budgeting is to keep track of what you are spending now. The budget does you no good unless you monitor what you spend, and abide by your budget limits. Decide on a set of major categories of spending, and track your spending in those categories.

The next step is to pray. Ask God for wisdom concerning how best to use His grant for His glory.

Then plan ahead for the next six months to a year. In light of the opportunity costs of spending in different categories, decide how much you will spend in each, so that you glorify God through what you spend on food, on clothing, through what you give away.

After keeping track of your spending and living within your budget for a while, reassess it. How can you adjust it so that you use this grant for God’s glory even more effectively?

Now, we can’t say there is a biblical mandate to have budget and live within it. But personally I can’t see how I could use the grant God has given Beth and me for His glory without one.

In the weeks ahead, we will discuss helpful tools to use in this regard, and will post some of those on the blog.

d) Diversity

In deciding how to spend money, we all share some similarities:

  • All of us receive a grant from God to be used for His glory
  • All of us have to decide how to best use this grant for God’s glory
  • All of us are faced with opportunity costs for every purchase we make

But in other ways, we are quite different. God calls some to give away all they have. Others follow Him wholeheartedly and give away much less.

For example, in Mark 10 and parallel passages, a man runs up to Jesus and asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus eventually tells him, “Go, sell all you have, give it to the poor (you will have treasures in Heaven) and come, follow me.” Note that Jesus tells not only to give away all his income; He also tells him to give away all his assets.

But in Luke 19 Zaccheus comes to faith, and immediately gives away half of his assets. Jesus then says, “Salvation has come to this house” even though Zaccheus has not done what Jesus asked the rich man in Mark 10 to do.

And then the Apostle Paul, in 1 Timothy 6:17-19, speaking to the rich, tells them not to set their hope on the uncertainty of riches, to be generous and ready to share – but he does not tell them that they must give away all or half of their assets; he doesn’t even tell them to give away a certain percentage of their income.

Personally, I have known people who regularly gave away more than 80% of their income. I’ve never done that myself – I’ve never come close to that.

The point is this: We are different. God calls us in different ways. Our love for Him and His glory will be manifested in different ways.

So be careful here. Don’t be proud if God calls you to some extraordinary step of giving, and you obey. Don’t look down your nose at those who haven’t done something similar. Don’t assume that simply because someone else is spending much more than you, that he is immature, or not a genuine believer.

In light, then, of the biblical motivation for spending and these four key ideas, let’s consider four areas of spending:

How Much If Any Should I Spend On:

a) Giving 

We will consider giving in more detail in the weeks ahead. But from what we have said so far, it is clear that, if we are to glorify God with the grant He has given us, we will give away a considerable proportion of our income, and perhaps a considerable proportion of our assets too.

Giving cannot be an afterthought. It cannot be the result of having a little left over this month, and then giving that excess away. We must decide upfront the minimum from our income that we will give away, and budget that amount before we spend on anything else.

b) Enjoyment

As we have seen, we are to find joy in God, to be satisfied with Him. We are not to think, “If only I could buy that iphone I could be happy!” So it might seem as if we are not to consider our joy when making spending decisions.

However, Paul says that God “richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). One way I glory God is by enjoying the good gifts He has given me. That’s a true, biblical statement. Yet it’s also quite a dangerous statement, that can be, and has been, misused. So we will examine this issue also in more detail later. But for now, simply note: A normal Christian’s budget will include spending on enjoyment.

c) Insurance

Some have argued: If my security is in God, why should I buy insurance?

Insurance as we know it did not exist in biblical times, so there is no explicit command in this regard. But there is in Scripture the general command to be careful with the assets you have, to be prudent in guarding them and managing them.

Consider in this regard Proverbs 22:3. Though this verse doesn’t refer directly to money, it is in the middle of a longer passage that predominantly discusses money and finances.

A sensible person sees danger and takes cover, but the inexperienced keep going and are punished. (HCSB)

Insurance is one way to live that out. We see the possible danger to God’s grant from calamity, disease, or death, and sensibly guard against the possibility of loss through paying a relatively small premium for insurance.

Now, we certainly can have wrong motivations in purchasing insurance (as we can have in purchasing any other good or service). Our security must not be in our insurance. Our hope must not be in our ability to guard against loss. But it can be wise, prudent, and sensible for us to insure God’s grant against loss – even while other believers, in the diversity of God’s church, may decide they will not spend on insurance, but are called to trust God even for such protection.

d) Saving and Investments

We said every expenditure on one item has an opportunity cost of not spending on another item. That same idea holds across time. Every dollar I spend today is a dollar I won’t be able to spend tomorrow. Indeed, the cost is more than a dollar, since I can invest the dollar or put it in an interest bearing account, and have more than a dollar to spend in the future.

So in the opening story, you, the child, have the option of buying a used Ferrari today for $120,000. You also have the option of spending $30,000 on your education and living expenses this year, and then next year having more than $90,000 to spend, if you properly and safely invest the $90,000.

Furthermore, the education itself can work in a similar way: If that education makes me a more valuable and productive worker, or a more effective entrepreneur, I will be able to make more income in the future than I would have had I spent that money on the Ferrari.

Just so with the grant God has given me. I can give it away and spend all of it now, or I can invest it and get more to use for His glory tomorrow.

As with insurance, in biblical times there were no banks as we know them today; there was no stock market. However, people did save and make investments. Consider the owner of a vineyard who gets income through selling grapes and wine. He can spend and give away all of that income now, or he can take some of that income, and use it to plan grapevines on more of his land. Then he can do what the man did in Jesus’ parable recorded in Mark 12: “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower.” That looks a lot different than buying a mutual fund, but the underlying idea is the same: It’s an investment, taking money that could be spent today, and instead using it in such a way that it will generate a greater amount in income in the future.

Throughout history, including in biblical times, people have saved and invested. Such saving and investment is part of biblical stories; it is normal human activity.

The decision of how much, if any, to save or invest is similar to all other budgeting decisions. The question is one of opportunity cost: Is there a compelling use for God’s glory now for all of the grant God has given me, or should I save and invest part of that grant so that there will be more money available in the future to be used for God’s glory.

Once again, we need to remind ourselves of the key ideas that govern our spending. We are diverse. God will call some to invest much. Others, equally with God’s glory in mind, will invest none. So don’t assume that those who make different decisions than you are unwise an imprudent, or are failing to trust God and are finding security in their investments.

And, once again, we must check our own motivations: Are we saying that we are investing so that we might have more to spend for God’s glory in the future – but in reality we do find security in those investments?

Conclusion

God has given you a grant to be used for His glory among the nations.

  • That grant does not lead to security – He is your security.
  • That grant does not lead to joy – He is your joy.
  • That grant should not be the source of your identity – you find your identity as His child.

We by nature are objects of His wrath, having rejected Him. But if we are in Christ, we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9).

This is our security, our joy, our identity. And God gives us this identity for a purpose: “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”

We are God’s people, God’s family. We were in darkness. But by His grace He forgives us through the sacrifice of His Son on the cross. He call us to Himself and gives us this grant of time, of life, of money, so that we might proclaim and display His excellencies, so that we might glorify the One who called us out of darkness.

How will you do that – with money? It’s all under your control. The grant is in your hand. And it’s all given to you for a purpose.

How will you fulfill that purpose?

 

Work to the Glory of God

March 12, 2014

We pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.” How does God answer that prayer? How does God provide the bread?

A friend is sick. We pray, “Father, heal this loved one.” How does God answer the prayer?

We pray, asking God to give us children.   How does God answer the prayer?

Paul commands us to pray for government authorities, in order that “we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2-3). How does God answer those prayers?

  • God answers the prayers for government authorities by working through their passing and enforcing laws.
  • God answers prayers for children by working through the husband and wife, or through an adoption agency, to bring children into the family.
  • God answers prayer for healing by working through physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and researchers.
  • God answers prayer for daily bread by working through farmers and millers and bakers and truck drivers and supermarket workers.

God usually answers prayer through the work of human agents.

God is not limited in any of these ways:

  • He can stop the actions of criminals in their tracks.
  • He can create a child out of the dust of the ground.
  • He can heal any disease in a split second.
  • He can make enough bread to feed 5000 from five loaves.
  • He can daily provide enough manna from heaven to feed more than 2 million people.

But He usually answers our prayers by His working through human work.

Note that: God works through our work. As Martin Luther said, God is masked, or hidden in our work. That makes our work – all our work – sacred.

We glorify God in our work as we fulfill the role He gives us in our work life.

Let’s begin our examination of the importance of our work by going back to the beginning, to the Garden of Eden.

The True Workers’ Paradise

What comes to your mind when you think of the Garden of Eden?

  • Delicious fruit to eat right off the trees – from every tree but one?
  • Walking with God in the cool of the evening, being in an intimate relationship with Him?
  • Having a perfect, loving, respectful relationship between husband and wife – with nothing to hide, no sin, no shame?

That’s all true. But we’re leaving out something important.

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15)

Note: This is before the Fall. Before sin entered the world. Adam worked – in paradise.

Who else is said to have worked? God Himself!

And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. (Genesis 2:2)

Man’s work is one aspect of being made in the image of God.

In His work, God takes what is formless and void and orders it and fills it. In his work, Man – made in God’s image – takes what God has ordered and filled, and protects it, sustains it. Furthermore, using his God-given creativity, man orders it further.

Note:

  • Man in the Garden does not work because he is hungry.
  • He does not work in order to establish his identity – He knows who He is.
  • He does not work in order to enhance his security – He is perfectly secure.
  • He does not try to make up for a lack of joy in the rest of his life by finding joy in his work.

He works at God’s command for his own good and for God’s glory. It is fulfilling work, as he accomplishes an important purpose.

The Fall and Work

But then all changes.

The man and woman doubt God’s goodness and despise God’s command. They turn their backs on the One who has given them everything, arrogantly assuming they know better than God what is in their own best interest. So they eat the fruit God had warned them about.

Consider the results:

  • The close relationship between God and man is broken.
  • The close relationship between the man and the woman is broken – as they try to hide from each other (why else would they cover themselves with leaves?), and as Adam blames his wife when God asks him if he’s eaten the fruit.

In addition, the shame they feel indicates that their sense of identity is marred. They no longer see themselves as beloved of God, as the apex of God’s creation. We might say their relationship with themselves is broken (see When Helping Hurts by Corbett and Fikkert, p. 56-62).

Furthermore, note that a key result of the fall is frustration in work:

To Adam [God] said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ 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)

We might call this a breakdown in the relationship between man and the created order. What was fulfilling is now frustrating. What was done out of joyful obedience is now done out of painful necessity.

With work difficult, poverty now enters the world:

  • Material poverty – hunger, want, starvation,
  • And the shame, the humiliation, the sense of worthlessness, and the marred sense of identity that so often accompanies material poverty.

We rich people often think of poverty only in material terms. Listen to these quotes from poor people in order to understand the importance of other aspects of poverty:

  • From Guinea Bissau:  When I don’t have any [food to bring my family], I borrow, mainly from neighbors and friends. I feel ashamed standing before my children when I have nothing to help feed the family. I’m not well when I’m unemployed. It’s terrible.
  • From Moldova: For a poor person everything is terrible illness, humiliation, shame.
    We are cripples; we are afraid of everything; we depend on everyone. No one needs us. We are like garbage that everyone wants to get rid of. (Quotes are from Brian Fikkert)

Do you hear the shame of being of no use to anyone, of being dependent, of not being able to offer anything? “We are like garbage.” A marred identity. No security. No joy.

But it is not only the materially poor who suffer from the Fall. Even for those who don’t end up materially poor, the fall leads to common work-related sins.

The first such sin is laziness. Work is hard, so we are tempted to be lazy. The temptation is so powerful Scripture must encourage us time and again to fight against it. Indeed, the book of Proverbs warns us 14 times not to be sluggards. For example:

The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing. (Proverbs 20:4)

The lazy person, the sluggard, doesn’t have joy – and tries to find joy in not working, in avoiding work.

Then there’s the opposite type of sin: The sin of being a workaholic. The workaholic doesn’t have joy, and tries to find joy (or identity or security) through working. He tries to get people to look up to him, to respect him, or tries to find fulfillment in what he can build or accomplish.

Consider again Proverbs 23:4-5, which we quoted first under security:

Don’t wear yourself out to get rich; stop giving your attention to it.  As soon as your eyes fly to it, it disappears, for it makes wings for itself and flies like an eagle to the sky.  (HCSB)

And remember what Jesus said: One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (Luke 12:15).

So the Fall leads to a lack of joy, a lack of security, a lack of identity. It leads to spiritual poverty for all, material poverty for many. Regarding work, it leads to the twin sins of the sluggard on the one hand, and the workaholic on the other.

Work in Today’s Fallen World

That’s where we find ourselves today: In a fallen world where work can be frustrating, and at the same time can be all-absorbing.

But in this fallen world, God is implementing and fulfilling His eternal plan of redemption. He is redeeming us – and He is redeeming work.

How can we work today in a way most like Adam in the Garden, most like what will be our eternal work in new heavens and the new earth?

What to Avoid

If we are to work like that, we must avoid the effects of the Fall: Being workaholics or being sluggards.

As we’ve seen, both sins result from working or avoiding work in order to find security, identity, and joy.

Now, we don’t normally admit, “I’m working on a PhD in order to find my identity,” or “I’m being lazy because I think that’s the way to happiness.” Indeed, most lazy people don’t even realize they are lazy.

So what are the clues that we are trying to find identity, security, or joy in work or laziness?

  • When money is my main motivation
  • When pleasing my boss is my main motivation
  • When promotion is my main motivation
  • If the thought of losing my job makes me feel sick
  • If I’m depressed about missing out on a promotion
  • If I stay late even when I know of important needs at home

All these point to aspects of being a workaholic, of finding your security, joy or (especially) your identity in work.

Here are other clues:

  • If I regularly procrastinate when I have much to do
  • If I work much harder when my supervisor is present
  • If I continually watch the clock
  • If I try my best to extend breaks
  • If I regularly arrive late

These are signs of laziness, of being a sluggard.

What to Pursue: Seven Exhortations

We are to avoid those temptations. What are we to pursue?

At one level, the answer is obvious: Find your identity, security, and joy in God!

But how do we do that in the realm of work? What does that look like?

Consider these seven biblical exhortations. The first three come from Colossians 3:17, 22-24:

17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. . . .

 22 Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

1) Serve God in your work

Verse 17 tells us to do everything “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” That is, we are to do all things to His glory, not to my own.

Verse 23 tells us we are to work “as for the Lord;” verse 24 says we serving (or “slaving for”) the Lord Christ.

Note what type of work Paul is talking about. He is speaking to slaves. Now, slaves in the Roman Empire could be highly educated and skilled; they were sometimes artists or teachers. But many, of course, were manual laborers. Paul here is speaking to all of them, regardless of what type of work they do.

Thus we must conclude that all work – what we call secular as well as the work of the church, what we call skilled as well as what we call unskilled – is to be done to the Lord.

  • As I pastor I am to do my work as to the Lord, I am to serve the Lord
  • As a mechanic Rick is to do his work as to the Lord, he is to serve the Lord
  • As a homeschooling mom, Julia is to do her work as to the Lord, she is to serve the Lord
  • As a nurse, Julie is to do her work as to the Lord, she is to serve the Lord
  • As an engineer, Karl is to do his work as to the Lord, he is to serve the Lord
  • The artist, the musician, the landscape designer – all are to do their work as to the Lord

Whatever your work is – and it can be any honest labor – you can, you must glorify God in it.

As stated in the introduction, God is masked, He is hidden in our work. God works through our normal, everyday labors. It is all sacred. So do it to the Lord

Note here: Work does give us an entree into the lives of others. As we share work experience with unbelievers, we have an opportunity to share the Gospel with them. That is a command. That is a way to glorify God.

But that’s not our point this morning.

Rather: You glorify God in your work when you do it well, when you serve God in the work itself. So, yes, use those relationships to glorify God through bearing witness to the Gospel to your co-workers, and use your work itself to glorify God through the way that you work, as you do it unto Him.

2) See your eternal inheritance as more than sufficient remuneration

Again, Paul is speaking here to slaves. Many probably felt they weren’t receiving a fair share of what they produced. And they were most likely right. But Paul says in verse 24, “From the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.”

Take care here. We must interpret Scripture with Scripture. Paul is not saying, “By working unto God you will earn your eternal inheritance.”That would contradict much of the rest of Paul’s teaching, even in this book of Colossians.

Rather, Paul is saying: “If you are in Christ, God is giving you all things. You will live for eternity in a perfected creation. You will see God face to face. You will be His delight. You will have fulfilling work, stretching your every ability and skill. However poor you may be now, however unfair your pay here might be, you will received a hundredfold, a millionfold in the new heavens and new earth.”

You work for God now. And you always receive from Him far, far more than you deserve.

3) Work diligently.

Verse 23 tells us to “work heartily,” or, as the NET puts it, “work at it with enthusiasm.”

This, rather than being a workaholic, is the biblical opposite of being a sluggard.

In Christ, we have an established identity. We are secure in God. We have great joy in God. We work for Him– and thus, unlike the sluggard, we work whether the boss watches or not. And unlike the workaholic, we stop work when it is time to serve God in other parts of our lives.

Note again: We work diligently primarily because we are working for the Lord. Diligent work may enhance your reputation. It may lead to your boss being happy with you. It may lead to promotion. And all of those are good. But the main motivation for our diligent work should be God, the One we work for. So we will work diligently even if no one notices, even if the boss is a pain in the neck, even if there is no chance of further promotion.

4) Work so as not to be dependent

Don’t misunderstand: All of us are dependent on God for everything – including what we earn through work. We are to delight in our dependence on God. Furthermore, we are to help one another, and to receive such help with thanksgiving (as Paul does in Philippians 4).

But if we are physically and mentally able, we should with rare exceptions work to support ourselves and our families.

Paul exhorts the church in Thessalonica in this regard. Evidently, this church was sharing resources with the poor, like the church in Jerusalem (Acts 2 and 4). But some who were perfectly able to work were being sluggards. They were receiving handouts intended for the poor, and then not working, trying to find joy in avoiding work. So Paul writes a mild exhortation in his first letter:

Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)

Evidently the laziness remained, or even increased. So in his second letter, the Apostle is much more direct:

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. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 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 3:6-12)

Paul reminds the Thessalonians of the example he set among them. Though he had a right to be supported financially, he didn’t use that right. He worked to support his own ministry, night and day.

The Apostle then commands: Don’t give any support to such people. If there’s work available, and they’re not willing to do it – if they are able to work but simply prefer not to work – don’t provide anything to them. They are to glorify God through supporting themselves and their families. If they are unwilling to do so – let them go hungry, for hunger may prompt them to do what will be to God’s glory and to their own good.

On the other hand, if they are unable to work, or no work is to be found, the church is to provide support. And they should feel no shame in receiving such assistance. Don’t lose your sense of identity in God, your security in God, your joy in God when you need help. Graciously accept it.

But do all in your power to find work. Unless you can’t work, such help should be temporary.

The fifth exhortation is a corollary, a consequence of first four:

5) Encourage others to work.

We are to help others to work diligently so as not to be dependent. This exhortation is particularly important for parents. We are to teach our children the value of work, and to teach them a biblical view of work.

When we provide support to others, we are to avoid giving in ways that undermine work, in ways that make work seem worthless. For when our giving undermines work, we are hurting the recipients, not helping them.

Furthermore, on a public policy level, we should not support government policies that undermine work. Now, often it is difficult to know which policies do that. For example, that has been part of the debate about extending unemployment benefits. Most agree that some short term unemployment benefits encourage work; most agree that never-ending unemployment benefits would undermine work. But at what point does the negative incentive kick in?

But in some cases, it is obvious that government policies undermine work. When even the advocates of a law agree that many people will choose not to work because of the law, that’s a serious problem.

6) Work in order to give

We’ve seen that we are to have sincere concern for one another, and thus are to give generously. In the next several weeks we’ll talk much more about giving. But for today, simply note: Giving is one motivation for work. We work, in part, so that we might display the image of God by giving:

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. (Ephesians 4:28)

Instead of taking what is not his, the thief is to work so that he might freely give what is rightly his.

In Acts 20 Paul speaks of his own example in this regard:

You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Acts 20:34-35)

We who are able must help the weak. Giving is an obligation – but giving is also a blessing, a joy. As we saw when speaking of generosity, out of the overflow of joy in God, the Macedonians begged Paul for the privilege of giving. We have the great privilege of displaying the love of Christ, of being one way He answers prayer. So we display Jesus when we work to Him – and we display Jesus when we take the proceeds of work and give them away.

7) Know the outcomes of godly work

Often, but not always, godly work leads to recognition in this life:

Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men. (Proverbs 22:29)

This may mean, “He will be recognized by kings,” but more likely it means, “He will be brought into the palace to serve kings.”

Good employers are always looking for diligent laborers. Often they will recognize and promote such workers. If you work heartily, as to the Lord, you may benefit in that way.

That’s a general rule, not a promise. However, one outcome is assured:

  • Godly work always leads to the glory of God
  • Godly work always accomplishes God’s purposes
  • Godly work always displays something of God’s image

Think again of Colossians 3:17:

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus

When we do everything in His Name, to His glory, we fulfill the purpose of our creation. We find and fulfill our identity. And this leads to the greatest joy.

Conclusion

Work is a gift from God. God chooses to work through our hands, through our work, to answer prayer, to display His glory.

How are you working?

Examine your attitude:

  • Are you tempted to laziness? Are you tempted to find joy in avoiding work, unless someone is watching over you?
  • Or are you tempted to being a workaholic – to find identity, security, and joy in the work itself?

(It’s even possible for the same person to be tempted both ways.)

Remember: You are serving the Lord Jesus. All your work is to Him! All your work is for Him!

So work diligently. And stop working at the hour when He has other responsibilities for you to fulfill.

  • Work is a gift.
  • Work is a privilege.
  • Work is an imitation of God.
  • Work is sacred.

But realize: He has done the work you can never do. He has sent His Son to live the life you should have lived, to die in your place on your account, and to bring you by grace into the eternal joy of His presence.

You don’t earn that. You can’t earn that. You could never merit that.

So find your identity, your security, and your joy in the work God has done on your behalf.

And then, out of that identity – work to the glory of God.