In Session 4 we saw that we are to do our work (along with all things we do), for the glory of God. It is also possible however, to shift to the other extreme and express some wrong ways of working. Work itself can become an idol, or the pursuit of money, wealth and/or possessions can become that idol. Rather than bringing glory to God we can end up chasing after glory for ourselves alone. Others fall into the opposite danger: namely idleness. Instead of working to make a living, they can end up being a drain on others. Primarily this fifth instalment is about various ways in which we can get it wrong.
The danger of Idolatry (1 Tim 6:6-10):
Idolatry is when something takes God’s rightful place in our lives. We might instinctively think about an idol as something physical like the Golden Calf (Exodus 32), but it is so more much than that. Tim Keller in his book Counterfeit gods describes an idol as “…Anything that absorbs our hearts and imagination more than God, anything we seek to give us what only God can give”.
In 1 Timothy 6 Paul has been talking about false teachers and he describes them as thinking that “godliness is a means to financial gain” (v5). Paul however strongly disagrees with this and tells Timothy instead that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (v6). Paul wrote about contentment in Philippians 4 where he writes that he had “learned the secret of being content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:12). When we are content we no longer live with the itch for more. Keeping things in the right perspective really matters:
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 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.1 Timothy 6:6-10
Paul realised that we bring nothing into or out of the world. He says that there is a huge danger for those who want to get rich – namely that they will fall into temptation. The love of money “is a root of all kinds of evil” (v10). Notice that he doesn’t say that money is itself evil, but rather that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. In the following verse Paul explains how some who had been eager for money had wandered from the faith. It is not hard to understand why money can be such a stumbling block for us. After all, at the end of the fascinating parable of the Shrewd Manager (see Luke 16:1-15), Jesus says definitively that we “cannot serve both God and money.”
In the workplace I saw the kind of raw ambition and commitment that was needed to go places fast. I myself did move up pretty quickly, but eventually I hit something of a ceiling. To go beyond that, you needed to work all hours, know the right people and stop at nothing to win that next promotion. Now I am not at all wanting to knock the rightful desire to improve, grow and develop. However, we need to be very careful that the desire for a pay rise, promotion or power doesn’t become the object of our worship. Let’s do our very best in our work to keep in perspective what it’s all about and who we are really serving.
The danger of Idleness (2 Thessalonians 3:6-13):
For the past twenty years or so I have been been a cat owner and lover. Over the years we’ve had 4 long term cat lodgers and one thing that unites them all is their love of lazing around in the afternoon sun or of snuggling up for cuddles at night. Some of the cats have been more adventurous than others, but it would not be hard to make a case for their general idleness. It seems that there something similar going on in Thessalonica. Paul urged the church to avoid such idle believers who were scorning the instructions he had given to them.
6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, labouring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.’ 11 We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. 13 And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Paul and his companions had sought to set a very different example when they lived among them. Rather than being idle they had worked day and night so that they would not be a burden to any of them. In other places Paul relied heavily on the gifts of others, something he saw as a right as a Christian worker, but not here. He says that they did this so that they would have a model to imitate, in the midst of a very different example set by others. Paul urges those who are idle to settle down and earn the food that they eat. Now these are not people who were unable to work, but those who simply couldn’t be bothered. Even if we are not the kind of people who would be content to spend day after day lying on the sofa, we probably all know the kind of people that really are not motivated to put in a decent shift and go the extra mile when needed! Lets work wholeheartedly for the glory of God.
Lessons from Jesus (Luke 12:13-21 & 18:18-30):
It is probably no surprise to hear that Jesus talked often about money, wealth and possessions. He too warned against these things especially in his parables. Sadly there is no space to look at these passages in detail, but I want to draw out a few things here:
First in Luke 12:13-21 we hear of two brothers arguing about their inheritance. Jesus warned them to “be on their guard against all kinds of greed” and He said that “life does not consist in an abundance of our possessions” (v15). To illustrate this Jesus told them a parable about a rich man who had an abundant harvest. The man declared that he would tear down his barns and build bigger ones to make space for all his surplus grain. The shock comes when he declares to himself “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry” (v19). God then tells the man that he is a fool because his life would be demanded from him that night. Jesus’ explains the parable saying: “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich towards God” (v21). We must hold lightly all that God has given to us, knowing that we are but stewards. If we find ourselves working towards the aim of taking life easy, and sitting back to eat, drink and be merry then we’ve really missed the point. Our responsibility as stewards is to use all that God has given us to bring glory to Him.
The second example comes in Luke 18:18-30 and is the sad encounter of the rich ruler who was too attached to his wealth to be willing to give it up. His initial question was about what he must do to inherit eternal life. It was a great question. They went back and forth on the subject of the Commandments before Jesus hit the nail on the head for him. He told the ruler “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (v22). The man was sad when he heard this because of his great wealth. We are told nothing further but it doesn’t sound like this had a favourable end. Jesus declared how hard it was for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God – easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.
This sparked concern from Jesus’ listeners about who could be saved. Jesus assured them that God could do the impossible. I want to finish this blog with Peter’s response to this:
28 Peter said to him, ‘We have left all we had to follow you!’ 29 ‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus said to them, ‘no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30 will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.’Luke 18:28-30
We too can have the assurance that all that we give up, for the sake of the glory of God, will also be rewarded many times over. Interestingly, Jesus promises this reward both now and in the age to come. On the face of it, we may be tempted to think that there is merit to indulging in some of these wrong ways of working. The idolatry of loving and chasing after money, wealth and/or possessions have their appeals. The temptation to down tools and resort to idleness can also at times be very real. If however, we take Jesus at His Word, then we would have to conclude however, that there is far, far greater merit in working to build the Kingdom of God. Let me encourage you to surrender everything to God and use whatever gifts, talents, wealth and possessions God gives you, for the glory of God and for the sake of others.
See other posts in this series
- Created for work
- Working from a place of rest
- Finding Purpose in our work
- Working for the glory of God
- Wrong ways of working
- New Creation Work