Join us on Sunday afternoons for a high altitude plane ride over the Old Testament. What are the most important events in the OT? What are the themes that find there way into the New Testament? What is the big idea of the Bible? How does the big story of the Bible unfold and what light does it shed on Jesus? You’ll be amazed at the coherence of the Bible’s story line, even over a period of more than 1500 years and 39 different authors. There is one big story and it all points to Jesus.
Proverbs 24:6 says “for waging war you need guidance, and for victory many advisers.” The wisdom behind this proverb is that war is the fiercest contest known to man. If you have any hope of winning you had better get the smartest, most experienced soldiers you can to advise you to do it right.
In terms of spiritual warfare, there is no activity more on the front line than evangelism. Yet we often expect people to engage in evangelism alone. We pat them on the back, give them some encouraging words and say, ‘hop to it’. We send them out like an SAS soldier, alone behind enemy lines, without support. We then wonder why people find evangelism hard and give up. What might it look like, though, if we shined the battle-hardened wisdom of Proverbs onto the situation?
First we’d see that we all need help with evangelism. We need guidance and good training from those with experience. There are some great courses out there, but my favourite is a little known one from Focus Military Ministry called ‘Gospel Talk‘. It’s a great course because it teaches you how to ask questions and listen well. It has a very simple gospel outline and spends a lot of time learning actual skills rather than discussing ideas.
Everyone knows that training is not enough. No one goes to war alone. They do it as part of a team. So why do we give people the impression that evangelism is a solo activity? We all have different gifts, even when it comes to evangelism. Some are great at getting straight to talking about Jesus. Some people are great at building friendships and bringing people together. Whatever your gifts are, one worthwhile thing we can do with our unbelieving friends is introduce them to other Christians. They will discover that Christians aren’t crazy-eyed freaks whose heads spin and spew out green vomit (I hope), but are normal people just like them. They will see how Christians treat each other (something they may have never seen before) and they will get to know some other people from church (so that when you invite them it won’t seem so foreign). They may even get to hear how Jesus has impacted the lives of others. All too often our Christian community is locked inside the 4 walls of a church or Bible study room. We can export that community by mixing together our circles of friends – church, work, sport etc. Why not try to make your unbelieving friends the church’s unbelieving friends?
Not only can we work together, but we can disciple one another in evangelism. Discipleship is a powerful activity. Why would we leave evangelism out of that discussion? Mike Hanlon, from Focus Military Ministry, taught me this. When we disciple people, along with asking them how they are growing in Christ, praying and reading the Bible with them, we can ask them how their evangelism is going. Have you had any good conversations lately? Let’s workshop how you could have responded differently. Where are you up to with your unbelieving friends? Where could you take them next? How can I help? It’s amazing how an outside perspective can bring fresh eyes to what feels like a stale situation.
Evangelism is hard work, but it’s what we’re called to do. When we follow Christ we join him on his mission to seek and save the lost. The more help we can give each other in evangelism the better. Ultimately though, Proverbs reminds us that we may battle hard, but it’s God who saves: “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the LORD.” (Proverbs 21:31)
God teaches us in the Bible that the relationship between a husband and a wife involves two complementary roles. The husband is to lead his wife by daily laying down his life in service to his wife and his wife is to submit to the leadership of her husband.
“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:22-25)
Does this imply superiority or inferiority of the marriage partners, though? Does a wife become inferior to her husband because she submits to his leadership? We see ordered relationships in our society all the time, and yet hold the equality of all Australians very seriously. We have ordered relationships in parliament (Prime Minister, Cabinet, back-benchers). We have ordered relationships in hospitals (Doctors, nurses, orderly staff). We even have ordered relationships in schools (Principal, teachers, students). Yet even within those ordered relationships we consider everyone equal.
A classic case in point was the imprisonment of Supreme Court Justice Marcus Einfeld, who was convicted of perjury over a $77 speeding fine and jailed for 3 years. Even though he was a supreme court judge, before the law he was treated exactly the same as the cabby who takes us to the airport, even though their status in society is a million miles apart. Equal, but different.
We see the same idea when we get to the airport. The captain and co-pilot who sit in the front of our airliners are equal but different. They are both equally pilots. They are both well trained. But one is the captain and is responsible for the safety of everyone on board the aircraft. The captain has complete authority on board the aircraft and the co-pilot cooperates with the captain in everything. The co-pilot is no less a pilot than the captain (you’ll be happy to know if the captain has a heart attack), but submits to the captain’s leadership. Equal but different.
We see it all the time around us, and have no problem with it. Likewise in marriage God has given us a pattern for husbands and wives to relate, where both spouses are equal in the marriage, but their roles are different.
First, what is sin? Sin is wanting to be our own god and living life our own way. Sin is in everyone, and it shows itself in our thoughts, words, actions or what we fail to do. In Colossians 3:5-11 Paul encourages the Colossians to put off their ‘old self’ since they died with Christ and have a ‘new self’ being renewed in the knowledge of Christ. By our ‘olds self’ Paul is referring to our sinful nature.
Sin is often ridiculed today and even Christians think about it incorrectly. Here’s some common myths about sin:
- If I feel at peace about it, it’s not a sin. Feelings are a very poor guide to sin. The best way to recognise sin is to look intently into the Bible, which is like a mirror showing us what we are really like. (James 1:22-24)
- It’s just a private sin. Sin has a way of becoming public. Sin affects everyone. It first of all has a dehumanising effect on us. The way it dehumanises us then affects the way we treat others. Jesus said a day is coming when everything will be known, so while a sin may seem private, all sin will be made public on that day. (Luke 8:17)
- This will be the last time. It’s the permission we give ourselves to do again what we intend to stop. The trouble is, it’s always the last time… until the next time. This is a lie of the devil. Don’t believe it.
- There is a hierarchy of sin. Sin is not inherently an action but an attitude. It stems from our nature. Therefore there is no hierarchy of sin. Rather all our actions are symptoms of the sin in our life. The smallest white lie is as bad as the most heinous crime, since both point to the sin in our heart.
- I can always repent later. This is a myth on two counts. First, failing to repent hardens out hearts. Who can say that our continual refusal to repent will not so harden our hearts that we actually lose the inclination to repent all together. Second, Jesus is returning any day now. We don’t know when, there will be no warning signs, and when he does return the opportunity for repentance will be finished. Is delaying your repentance a risk you’re willing to take?
The great news about Jesus, though, is that if we repent (turn back to God) and have faith (trust) in him then we will be saved, not just from the punishment of sin, but also from its power. It’s on the basis of this that Paul calls the Corinthians to ‘put to death’ the sin in their lives. How about you? Do you know God’s salvation? Are you putting sin to death in your life?
Launch Team meetings have begun for Flooding Creek and everyone’s welcome. We are now meeting in Guthridge Primary School at 3:00pm on Sunday afternoons. We begin by sharing afternoon tea together and then kick off our meeting at 3:30pm. We finish by sharing dinner together in the hall. It’s a great time of singing, praying and hearing from God’s Word. There is no dress code, we are all very casual. Kids are welcome and will be looked after, but we have no formal programs for kids at this stage.
Parking is available on Dawson Street and the grounds can be entered by a large side gate near the oval. The hall is at the western end of the school grounds. If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
So far in this blog series on work we’ve looked at some wrong motivations for work, work as a part of creation and work as part of society. In this final installment we’ll look at doing the work of God.
Jesus tells us in John’s Gospel that there is a third kind of work – the work of God. “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (Jn 6:29). Not only is believing a work, but bringing others into faith is also the work of God. All of Jesus’ “works” point to the salvation he will bring. e.g. of the man born blind: “this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (Jn 9:3) and the “greater” works that Jesus’ followers will do after him (Jn 14:12). Paul also speaks of the ‘work of the Lord’, which is to see people saved. (e.g. 1 Cor 15:58).
Often people mistakenly connect the work of God too tightly with the work of a ‘gospel worker’, but this is far too simplistic a picture. The pastor, teacher, gospel-worker is given by Christ to the church to equip the saints for works of service. (Eph 4:11-12). The work of God is done by all Christians. All Christians believe in Christ (cf. Jn 6:29) and all Christians seek to see others believe in Christ.
How do we bring together all three kinds of work, then?
I take it that everyone does all three kinds of work. Everyone is involved in the work of creation (ordering and reordering), everyone is involved in the work of society (creating communities that care) and every Christian is involved in the work of the Lord (believing and seeing others come to faith). The mixes may be different between jobs, but everyone is involved in all three. Even the full-time minister does all three kinds – creation (cleaning up the office), society (running church committees) and the work of the Lord (preaching, evangelising, etc.).
How do I decide whether to go into full-time ministry, then?
What makes full-time ministry particularly worthy of consideration is the opportunity to ‘equip the saints’ and so multiply the work of the Lord. It is not that you do more of the work of the Lord, but that you help others do more. Of course, this equipping the saints is also part of the work of the Lord. A lack of pastors / teachers / gospel-workers constrains the growth of the church. Full-time ministry is not inherently more valuable than ‘secular’ ministry, but it is a key-enabler for multiplying the work of the Lord. As Christians we are completely free to choose to enter full-time ministry or not and both choices are good. Only those who qualify should be encouraged to enter Christian leadership, however (1 Tim 3:1-7).
All work towards the ends of creation, society or the work of the Lord is worthwhile. It is all at heart service in relationship. We must not segment off areas of our lives where the word of God no longer speaks. Those who work in the ‘secular’ workforce still need to consider what the word of God says concerning the work they are doing. How does it speak to the work of creation that they are doing? How does it speak to the work of society that they are doing? How does it speak to the work of the Lord that they are doing? We need to help one another think hard about how we work. Bringing the gospel to bear on our work will bring about the best work, since the Lord of the gospel is the same Lord who created us and created work.
The Bible also talks about the importance of our work on society. That can be our immediately family:
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. 1 Tim 5:8
Or it can be wider society:
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. Eph 4:28
By our work we produce something that society can share. Society is a web of relationships where people can share things together, and care for one another. Sharing does not imply giving something away for free. Money is a way of ordering our sharing. This gives us another way to think about our work. Our work allows us to share God’s good gifts with others so that we promote communities where people care for one another. This also gives us a good way to judge our work. How much does it promote sharing within a society that cares for others? Some jobs may not directly lead to sharing, but set the framework for which others can care for each other. Garbage removal is a great example.
It also gives us criteria where work might be declared bad. If work is pointless, then that would be bad work. If work harms or destroys caring communities, that would be bad work. So as we evaluate our work we can see how it fits into promoting sharing in caring communities. This is something important for Christians to do, so that they can bring their Christian worldview with all its insights to bear on their work. Christian thinking has much to offer our workplaces. It is also an important task for managers to help their employees see how their work contributes to sharing in caring communities. There’s a truck load of thinking to be done in our churches as we consider how we work and where it fits in.
But this has not exhausted the Bibles categories of work. There is still one other, which we’ll look at in part 4…
Having looked at some of the common motivations for work in part 1, let’s begin to look at what the Bible says about work. We see right from the start that we are created to work. That’s our place in this world.
In Gen 1:28, after God makes humanity, he tells us to ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’ From this we can see that part of our work is subduing the world. This is to rule over created things. Here we take the things of this will and bend them to our purposes. It’s part of what it means to be made in God’s image (1:26). We dig metal from the ground, melt it and bend it to good purposes. We beat the air into submission as we fly from place to place, we marshal resources together as we build cities and infrastructure. There is no sense in Gen 1 however that these purposes would be for anything other than the good of humanity and the environment. There is no licence here for ravaging the earth in service of our own greed.
This leads us to a complementary point about work. In the parallel creation account in Genesis 2, we see that in the Garden of Eden humanity is to ‘work it and take care of it’ (2:15). We also see the work of naming the animals in 2:19-20. This is the ordering and re-ordering of the world. Far from ravaging the earth we are to bring order to the land. God does not picture paradise as a wild, untouched ecosystem, but a garden that is worked and taken care of by people. This is the ordering of the earth so as to bring fruit from the ground. The work of ordering is to make the world productive for the support of life – all the kinds of life. This is farming (cropping and pastoral), environmental planning and management, irrigation, water supply, fishing, warehousing, transport, distribution and much more. Now the effects of sin have again had dramatic effect on our ability to order, often with our ignorance or greed leading to widespread environmental damage. But that doesn’t lessen our responsibility to do the work of ordering and re-ordering.
All this work happens before Genesis 3 and is therefore good. Sin affects our work, but not so that it takes away from its inherent goodness. But there are more dimensions to work than just what we do as we interact with the environment in which we live. There is also a social dimension.
Stand by for part 3…
Why do we work? What is the point? What can we hope for from work?
One of the extraordinary things we see in the ancient biblical book of Ecclesiastes is reflections of our contemporary attitudes from millennia ago. This is true in the area of work. In Ecclesiastes, the teacher takes it upon himself to turn his considerable wisdom to the topic of work. As is his way, he throws himself deeply into the experience of work:
I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. (Eccl 2:4-7)
What did he discover from his foray into construction, horticulture, landscaping, trade and animal husbandry? He found personal fulfillment: ‘ My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor.’ (2:10). He increased his reputation: ‘I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me.’ (2:9). He found power to consume: ‘I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well– the delights of the heart of man. ‘ (2:8).
Don’t these themes sound familiar today? Much of the motivation in the workplace could fall under the categories of seeking personal fulfillment, improving your reputation and gaining the power to consume (earning money to spend).
How did it work out for the teacher in the end? Emptiness:
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. (2:11)
As intoxicating as his achievements were, they didn’t last. As happens to all of us, time got the better of him. As the cliche, goes, very few people wish they had worked harder on their deathbed. Retirement and ultimately death rob us of the satisfaction of a career.
This all sounds fairly bleak. Is there any good to be found in work? What about from a Christian perspective? Are there right motivations for Christians to work?
Stand by for part 2…