Good morning! I suppose most of you know me, but for those that don’t, my name is Matt Heerema and I usually serve as one of the music leaders here at Stonebrook. I’m on staff here with the church help with that role as well as a few other things, and I also own a business here in Ames that provides graphic design and digital communications consulting. I have a couple employees there, and between these two roles I work A LOT of hours each week. Underneath all that I am married and have three beautiful daughters, so I guess you could say my life is very, very full. And I love every minute of it. Stress and strain, sweat and tears and all.
The reason I bring all of this up is that today we are beginning a 5 week series on a topic that is very near and dear my heart. We’re calling it “Work and Worship: Connecting Sunday to Monday”, and it’s something I’ve been learning much about over the last four or so years and it has impacted me profoundly.
About 14 years ago something in my heart and mind clicked about my relationship with God. I had grown up in a Christian household, considered myself a Christian all my life, but I think there was a sense of “well I’m not an atheist or buddhist, so I must be a Christian.” But 14 years ago, through a series of events I came to the realization that if God is real, and He is who He says He is in this book (and those things I was convinced of for many reasons), then that changes everything about the direction and purpose of my life!
If God is God, and Jesus is His son, then my whole life, every moment of it, is His. I must do what He says, and follow Him at every cost. Death to myself and my puny dreams, I want the life He has for me!
I interpreted this as a call into full-time ministry, to pursue becoming a missionary or a pastor. This was the only framework I had for Christian service at the time. I came to find out that this was almost right, just not how I expected.
I changed my major from computer engineering to psychology, and started looking for seminaries. About that time, I also became involved here at Stonebrook. As my college career came to a close, my aim was to become a supported campus missionary through Great Commission Ministries, because, I thought, that was the most spiritual, significant way anyone could serve God. And so I pursued this, was trained in it and began to raise my support. Some of you here graciously and generously supported me, and I am grateful to this day for you, I believe it was part of God’s overall plan for me at that time.
I would say things like “I want to be freed up to serve God FULL-TIME. I don’t want to have to have a normal job which would mean I would have to sit on the sidelines of God’s service 8 hours a day, with the few exceptions when I might be able to evangelize a coworker or have a Bible study with office-mates. Both of which I had some prior success with.
Later, I came to find out how wrong my line of thinking was.
Most of us have a hard time understanding how Sunday morning worship connects to our daily work at a desk, on the construction site, in a classroom, in the field, or in the home.
Could it be that our work at writing code, processing insurance claims, changing diapers, building houses, growing crops, or studying differential equations matter to God?
Or are we simply "out of the game" of kingdom building until the bell rings or the whistle blows when we can get to the "real work"?
Is there value in my work for God's kingdom beyond the souls I can evangelize or the money I can earn to donate to the "real work"?
If we don’t get this right then we will sense, as I’m guessing many of us do, a disconnect between our spiritual life and our work life, and we will fall into one of several traps.
If we consider our daily work as eternally meaningless then some of us might put zero thought and effort into a potential career in the marketplace that could very well be one or five or ten of the talents that our Heavenly Master is entrusting into our care!
Or some of us might buy into the World’s system of doing work, according to the world’s philosophies of how to conduct business and treat each-other, and if you are a believer this will likely cause you a great amount of guilt or confusion and distance from God.
Or perhaps you will simply resign yourself to the drudgery of a “meaningless” work life, gritting your teeth against the inherent worldliness and worthlessness of it all.
And in every case we will miss the joy, pleasure, and power we can experience when we realize our daily "mundane" and "secular" tasks can glorify God and expand His kingdom in real and ways. And I’m hoping that as a result of this series, we'll learn to be encouraged that our daily work matters to Him and will count for something eternal.
And most of all, because of that, we'll become equipped to live every moment or our life with a constant awareness of His presence, His help, His concern, and His pleasure with and for our work, and let us do all that we do for His Glory!
In order for this to be the case, it is vitally important that we take a careful look at the scriptures and dispel some wrong-thinking that pervades evangelicalism in the West, stuff that I had been brought up here in this church to believe, not so much by explicit teaching, but more by examples and attitudes.
Please open your Bibles to Genesis 1. The very beginning of the book and we will draw this theme out.
Genesis 1:1–2 (ESV)
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
Then God spent six days bringing form to the formless, and filling the void. He made light and separated it from the dark. He separated the water from the heavens, and the sea from the dry land. Then he filled the land with plants, the heavens with lights, the sky with birds, the sea with fish, and the dry land with animals, and then...
Genesis 1:26–31 (ESV)
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
The crown jewel of God’s work was man (and woman), made in God’s own image.
Why did God do all this?
Genesis 2, backs up into the sixth day of creation and pinpoints the location on Earth where God bent down into the dust and got his hands dirty, forming man. Here we see that God also created a garden in the middle of a typical mid-eastern desert, perfectly fit for human thriving: Fruit trees, rivers, gold and precious jewels were all there for Adam’s use. (And by the way, all these things show up later in the story, in the tabernacle God commands Moses to build.)
Obviously we recognize Eden as paradise, as perfection! No pain, everything we need at ready reach, meaningful work, no sin, no corruption. How do you improve on this? You expand it! Adam was given the most significant possible job to do: guard and expand the Garden of Eden.
But it is not simply the expansion of utopia that makes this job so significant and so wonderful. It is that God’s image will be filling the Earth that is the wonderful thing.
What does it mean that man was created “In God’s Image”? Well, turns out there’s quite a debate about that. Entire books have been written, thick ones arguing for precise definitions. For our purposes today, let’s keep it simple: Being made in God’s image means at least that we reflect something about God, back to Him, and to those around us.
God created us specifically, above anything else in all creation, to reflect His Glory back to himself.
I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
What is God’s Glory? It’s a big idea, because He is a big God. Most simply, God’s Glory is magnificence and beauty of who He is and what He is like. When Moses asked God “Please show me your glory.” Appeared to Moses, and hid him between a crack in some rocks so he’d be shielded or else he’d die, and then:
Exodus 34:6–8 (ESV)
The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.
1 Corinthians 10:31 says to “do everything you do to the Glory of God.” We were created to glorify God, our purpose is to Glorify God. The purpose of work is to Glorify God. That is, to help others to clearly see, and to see more clearly for ourselves, who God is, and what He is like. We do this by:
“Being fruitful and multiplying, filling the earth and subduing it, and having dominion over it”, that is to say: by expanding Eden. In other words, we work toward human thriving, in every possible way.
Tim Keller defines work well: “Work is rearranging the raw material of God’s creation in such a way that it helps the world in general, and people in particular, thrive and flourish.”
We are more than just spiritual beings, we are also physical beings. We have social, economic (physical), and spiritual needs, so we work to help others thrive spiritually, economically, and socially. In certain circles, this is becoming known as the “Triple Bottom Line” of a Christian’s work.
Back to Genesis. All is well and good in the happy garden. And then, trouble. Turn to Genesis 3. The Serpent, Satan shows up, and rather than guarding the garden against him, Eve decides to have a conversation with him. He twists God’s words around and confuses her, which opens the door for her to consider disobeying God. and she ends up violating the one and only restriction God placed on them.
Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s command by deciding to work for their own glory, they wanted to be “wise” and be the ones defining Good and Evil, rather than submitting to their loving Creator’s definitions. And in their sin, we recognize our own, don’t we. Our hearts and minds are warped exactly the same way. We would all have committed the exact same sin in their situation.
As a result of this rebellion, the man and woman became cursed, and the ground itself became cursed.
Genesis 3:16–19 (ESV)
16 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
17 And to Adam he 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; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 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.”
Notice how these curses directly target man’s work. Our task has not changed, but the parameters have all changed!
The very act of being fruitful and multiplying is now painful and in some cases dangerous.
The order between man and wife and their roles in the work God has assigned them has now become a thing of tension.
Subduing the earth is now a difficult task, because the ground fights back! “...thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you.” Have you ever noticed that it seems like there is some sort of cosmic conspiracy going on with our work? How many projects have you undertaken that went exactly as you intended or expected, without any problems? A precious few! But most of the time it seems like there is always good mixed in with the bad, doesn’t it? This is part of the curse.
Here’s a quick illustration from the news this past week. The sustainable energy community is all abuzz about the results of a study on Nano-rust and solar energy producing hydrogen for fuel cells.
Basically, you put some rusty metal in a tub of water, and shine light on it, and voila!, hydrogen gas. Well, it’s a little more complicated than that, but not much! The basic components are some carefully constructed rust, water, and sunlight. Can you think of any more sustainable elements than that??
An amazingly promising, ultra-green, ultra sustainable, completely renewable, powerful energy source. But what horrible side effects are we not foreseeing? What new kind of pollution that we haven’t even thought of will come along with this? Or maybe simply never make it off the ground because of politics, bureaucracy and laziness.
As you go about your week’s work, whatever it may be, you will produce a lot of good: “you shall eat the plants of the field”, but you almost inevitably get some weeds, don’t you? Bad code, someone’s hurt feelings, something breaks, maybe literal weeds if you are a farmer or gardener. We all connect with this. The results you want from your work will not be the results you get.
God has given us creative minds which allow us to see great and wonderful things we can make, build, or do, but we will never be able to get all the way there. Case in point, this sermon, if only you could hear how this sounds in my head!
There is a promise in this curse, the ground will yield bread with our hard work. God still will provide for us. So here even in the judgement against our sin, we see God’s mercy. But He is now going to provide for us through toil, rather than food being at ready reach.
What was once a freely offered act of worship is now a compulsory act of survival. “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”
This lifetime is cut short. Sickness, disease, violence, freak accidents, or simply old age, end our individual lifespans in the span of a few short decades. This hampers our ability to acquire knowledge, wisdom, and skill that might otherwise be possible.
But as with the other curses, this one carries a blessing as well. God limits the amount of havoc we are able to unleash on the world this way. Death is mercy in many ways, we are not forced to live forever on this planet in our fallen state. More on this in a bit.
All humans from then on, with the exception of Jesus, exhibit sin and rebellion against authority, especially God’s. We all seek, like Adam and Eve, to make our own definitions of right and wrong, good and evil.
So each one of us is guilty and deserving of these curses.
Adam and Eve knew they were guilty and deserving of death. It’s why they hid themselves in the Garden when God came looking for them. In the same way, we all know we are guilty and deserving of death before God as well. So we work really hard to either try and do enough good to offset our bad, or we work really hard to be holy enough or significant enough, or powerful enough on our own that God will want us back, or we work really hard to deny that there is a God, and that all this religious stuff is just made up niceties.
No such luck. No amount of work will ever make up for that guilt. No amount of work can ever measure up to God’s righteous standard. But there is good news.
Jesus, the son of God, was born into the world as a man into the family of a... Prophet? No. Priest? No. King? No. Philosopher? No. Wealthy merchant? No. He was born to Mary and Joseph, a carpenter, a manual laborer. Think about that for a moment.
Unlike any other human being Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience to his heavenly father, which apparently involved several decades of work in Joseph’s trade. He then went on to fulfill his unique task with a three year teaching ministry where he reminded us of and clarified God’s charge on our life.
Matthew 5:16 (ESV)
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
John 13:34 (ESV)
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
He reminded us that the purpose of all our work is to Glorify God, and he clarified that this looks most specifically like self-sacrificing love for the good of those who do not deserve it.
The book of Hebrews tells us that in his life, Jesus experienced every temptation and weakness we do. He is able to faithfully relate and sympathize to our human experience. Because of this, He like Adam, is our perfect representative, making Him the perfect high priest to give us help in our times of need, because He perfectly represents us, and because He himself is sinless, He was the perfect sacrifice, able to pay for the sins of the entire world. By allowing himself to be killed on a Roman cross, he paid the penalty we owe for our idolatry and rebellion against God’s design for our life and work.
So, Jesus’s perfect obedience meant that He was righteous. Jesus’s perfect sacrifice paid the debt of sin, which means that ALL THE WORK TO RESTORE OUR BROKEN RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD HAS BEEN DONE. Which means that for anyone who stops trying to do it on their own and trust in Jesus’s work, to anyone who submits to Jesus as Lord, God will consider their debt paid, and not only that, but also count Jesus’ righteousness to us!
And this changes everything. This the thing that clicked for me 14 years ago. He gets it all.
But Jesus didn’t stay dead. He rose from the grave three days later. He came back to physical life! He ate fish, he let people touch him, he spoke to hundreds of people. And then he ascended into heaven still in his physical body, however that worked, where he is currently ruling over all creation until the exact right moment when he will come back to restore all things.
See this remarkable passage about that day:
Isaiah 65:17–23 (ESV)
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them.
The Bible is crystal clear that we will live in a physical place, called the new earth, for the rest of eternity. It is clear that we will have jobs to do, live in cities, build houses, plant vineyards, eat fruit. Understanding this changed everything for me. To be honest, I found heaven to be boring, an eternity gathered around a throne, singing the same song over and over. I comforted myself with the thought that “it will be more amazing than I can possibly imagine so maybe that amazement will last forever” but if I was really honest, even with the realization that my fallen mind can’t comprehend how wonderful sitting around on clouds singing songs will be, something about that picture seemed off.
But this picture... Can you imagine an eternity of productive and creative work with no effects of the fall?
What inventions will minds, unhindered by sin, selfishness, pride, flawed logic, and physical misfires be able to come up with? What will teams of people, all working together in unity with no thought of self-aggrandizement be able to build, all to Glorify their great Creator and King? I have a hunch that the vastness of space, the intricacy of every star and planet in the universe, will not be wasted. That God fully intends for us to explore and discover, and understand more about Him.
Jesus’ parable of the talents gives us a clue that people will rule over cities. Revelation 21 mentions kings coming into the New Jerusalem, bringing their glory with them to offer to God.
We all connect with the frustration of our political situations don’t we? Whatever your party affiliation, it always seems like, with only a few exceptions, the wrong people are in charge! In a new world where sin is not in the picture, this will no longer be the case. We will see the rulers of these cities and say “Yes! HE is the right man for the job! God was so wise to put him in charge over here. I am so glad I am under him!”
When we understand that God who is so beautiful, and righteous, and wise, and loving, and merciful, and full of justice, is the creator of everything. And that He has created us specifically as His image bearers, with the task to fill the earth with the knowledge of the Glory of the Lord, and when we understand that we have rebelled against that task, and that through Jesus we can be a totally new creation, and that the resurrection means that we can spend eternity on a renewed, sin free planet, our whole orientation toward our work now changes.
When we realize that the purpose of work is to promote human thriving for the Glory of God we can:
Work with faith that your reward and your recognition will come from God. Don’t seek it from man. Do your job with excellence because you are working for a King. This will free you up to do what all the best cutting-edge management and workplace books are telling us to do: take responsibility, give credit, accept criticism, serve others, be humble, worry about doing your job well, not about receiving credit and recognition.
Your work is about loving others. Any legally and ethically acceptable work work can accomplish this. Look for the connection, help yourself understand where you fit in the big picture.
This present earth will vanish like snow, but that does not mean it is worthless. Our work in this life can still show God’s Glory to those around us as we work according to His command and His character. Use your work here as a pointer to what work and life will be like one day in that new earth.
In this life, you will be frustrated. Your work will seem futile at times. Things will not go according to your plan. Life is hard, and too short. But there is a new one to come.