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Christian Apologetics (6): The Christian Work Ethic (2)

D Vallance, Detroit

Work Should be Evangelistic

"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" (Mt 5.16).1

A happy, hearty work ethic opens doors for gospel witness. If we do the kind of work that makes co-workers sit up and take notice, they will want to know more. When they see that we are doing our best, operating ethically, remaining cheerful, accepting oppressive bosses, and refusing to make other employees look bad, they will sense a difference and want what we have (Phil 2.14; Col 3.22-25). If they already know we are Christians they will make the connection, and glorify our Father in heaven (Mt 5.16). Of course, they may scorn us if we refuse to party with them, but a scorner only scorns because his conscience has been pricked (1 Pet 4.4).

If we do shoddy work, gripe about our pay, belittle the boss, and then cover it all over with an evangelistic glaze, no one will want our religion. If we spend our employer’s time proselytizing instead of working, we are stealing from the employer. On company time we preach the gospel with our works, not with our words. Consider the faithful labour of Joseph, Daniel, and Nehemiah, which caught the attention of their earthly masters (Gen 41.37-38; Prov 22.29). So we too can "adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour" (Titus 2.11) — we can make Christianity look good. Once we have established faithful works, however, our job is only half done: we should definitely proceed from works to words, telling others about Christ on break, after work, or in a gospel meeting.

Work Should be Balanced

"Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s" (Mt 22.21).

Ethical employees doing excellent work are likely to be given more responsibilities by management, and are likely to be promoted. As Christians, however, we must remember that the work ethic applies to all areas of life, and not just to employment. If the promotion will keep a believer from his family and leave no time for God, he should turn it down. Others may admire him for the promotion if he takes it, and credit him for possessing a strong work ethic. By taking an all-consuming position, however, he shows that he is in fact a sluggard. He has reneged on his responsibilities as a husband (or wife), as a parent, and as a member of the assembly, because he is now too busy at work. He finds it easier to devote himself to his prestigious duties at work than to man up to his spiritual obligations. Here is John Bunyan’s advice on the matter: "Take heed of driving so hard after this world, as to hinder thyself and family from those duties towards God, which thou art by grace obliged to; as private prayer, reading the scriptures, and Christian conference. It is a base thing for men so to spend themselves and families after this world, as that they disengage their heart to God’s worship".

A Perspective on Leisure

"So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor 10.31).

God demonstrated the goodness of rest by resting Himself on the seventh day, and this principle of Sabbath rest continues throughout Scripture (Gen 2.2-3). He made our bodies to require daily rest, and permits us to take some time off when we have worked ourselves to the utmost (Mk 6.30-31). He limited Israel’s work by commanding His people to rest one day per week, and then added other rest days throughout the year, including two week-long festivals (Ex 20.8-11; Lev 23.1-44). Although festivals like the Day of Atonement were solemn affairs (Lev 16.31), the Lord generally expected His people to enjoy themselves during these special times, celebrating, for example, the natural joys of planting and harvesting.

We should notice that during Israel’s rest days, spiritual activity did not decrease, but increased. So we must realise that breaks from work are not breaks from Christianity. Vacations are not from God, but for God. He has given us all things to enjoy, but He remains our chief joy every day of the year (Ps 43.4; 1 Tim 6.17). Having a good time is not a sin — unless God is left out of it (Col 3.17; Titus 1 15). Since leisure time (like everything else) is for God’s glory (1 Cor 10.31), we need to maintain spiritual priorities during vacations. Our goal is not to please ourselves, but to please the Lord (Col 1.9-14). Recreation and diversion fit into a balanced life, but we must continue to "redeem the time" during days off by devoting more time, not less, to building our relationships with God, family, and friends. Spending vacation time doing gospel work, such as Seedsower distribution, allows us to take a break from regular work, build spiritual friendships, and advance the kingdom of God all at once.

For most of history, people did not have to wrestle with how they should spend their leisure time, since they had none (and the same is true in many areas of the world today). The debate exists only in countries where affluence has given the masses a great deal of free time. Historians estimate that people worked an average of sixty-six hours a week in nineteenth century America — "workaholics" by today’s standards. Many people assume that the modern increase in leisure time is a good thing, because for them, life is about pleasure. They contend that we were really made to play, and that work is a necessary evil that we must endure to get the resources for finding personal fulfilment in fun activities.

These people are not entirely wrong. Life is for pleasure — the pleasure of glorifying God through work. Once we accept the Bible’s view of work, we will stop viewing leisure time as more enjoyable than work. It will dawn upon us that sitting on a beach, relaxing by the pool, and watching six hours of television a day (the American average) are really dead ends that rob us of the sheer joy of working. When we value work as God does, elevate it to the level of worship, and experience its satisfactions, we will realise that work is more fun than fun.

Work Means Doing Hard Things

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth" (2 Tim 2.15).

In 1962 President John F Kennedy said, "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard". To many people 50 years ago hardship was a badge of honour because it impelled great accomplishment and refined character. Today, unfortunately, we are more likely to follow our feelings, seek easy and convenient things, and remain content with basement-level aspirations.

Christianity is soldiering — living a disciplined life of service and sacrifice (2 Tim 2.3-4). It is a heroic venture demanding full quotas of energy and enthusiasm. Since remaining diligent for the Lord is not easy but hard, He values it all the more. When a co-worker comes home after a hard day, he relaxes in front of the TV. For him, even the most brutal work week is still followed by the weekend — two whole days for relaxation. As Christians, we work as hard or harder. In addition, we have a full programme of Bible readings, prayer meetings, and special meetings. On weekends, we prepare for and attend the Lord’s Supper, Sunday school, and gospel meetings, and take on other work as well.

It is popular today to caricature this kind of commitment as legalism. We are told that we need more down time, and that to achieve a balanced life we need to take breaks from Christian commitments. The Apostle Paul, however, exhorted Timothy to set the right example by devoting himself wholly to the truth and work of God (1 Tim 4.12-16), and Paul himself, by God’s grace, was prepared to work harder than everyone else (1 Cor 9.15).

Sloth is more than avoiding physical work. According to the Bible, the sluggard is a person who ignores his spiritual responsibilities. He is careless with holy things. He values his own ease more than God’s will. He is preoccupied with amusing himself, and robs God by negligence in prayer, reading, worship, and support of the Lord’s work (Mal 3.8-9). And he robs men by ignoring their needs (Mt 25.34-46).

Christian life is a serious business. However, it is also the only sure route to authentic happiness. True joy in life comes not from entertainment, but from fulfilling responsibilities. It comes not from seeking fun, but from prayerfully doing the will of God. Leisure time turns out to be mostly bad, especially in an age drowning in entertainment (1 Tim 5.13). In this context, Marshall McLuhan said, "Affluence breeds poverty". Banal entertainment leaves us intellectually and morally high and dry. It is also addictive — witness lives frittered away by endless social networking, web surfing, video watching, and text-messaging. In Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman observed, "Who is prepared to take arms against a sea of amusements? To whom do we complain, and when, and in what tone of voice, when serious discourse dissolves into giggles? What is the antidote to a culture’s being drained by laughter?"

We should work hard in spiritual things, especially in prayer and the study of God’s Word. Such diligence is especially difficult in a frivolous and superficial age hungry only for amusement. Have we allowed television and other visual media to condition us only to respond to entertainment? Are we tied up in trivial pursuits? Have we permitted modern media to flood our minds with extraneous and meaningless factoids, and to deceive us into thinking that we are truly informed? Have we succumbed to the new image-based way of "knowing" that makes linear reasoning seem anachronistic, boring, narrow, and unnecessary? How can we grapple with an invisible God and abstract truths like sin, love, grace, and justice in the middle of all these electronic distractions?

While technology has its uses, nothing that matters for eternity requires batteries, joysticks, or screens. Spiritual discipline was easier to come by 1,000 years ago than it is today, because life was not nearly as frenetic, and distractions were few. Therefore we must work doubly hard to acquire the ethic that enables us to say No to self, and to come alone into the presence of the invisible God through the mediation of the unseen Christ; to come to the bare text of Scripture, and ponder the cold abstraction of the written Word, guided only by the inaudible voice of the invisible Holy Spirit and our own mental resources. If we allow ourselves to be distracted from time alone with God and His Word, and succumb to the need to be amused, then we are spiritual sluggards.

May we all develop a holy dissatisfaction with our spiritual attainments, return to the Bible’s robust work ethic, and live productive lives that glorify God. Let us lay out a plan for prayer and worship and study and service, and go for it with all our might. quot;Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil 3.13-14).

To be continued.

1 In this series of articles, unless otherwise indicated, all direct quotations from Scripture are taken from the English Standard Version.


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