Well, no pun intended, but we have a lot of work to do this morning working God’s text in His Word. I’ve titled this morning’s message “Wisdom While You Work.” We’ve been in a study of the book of Proverbs, and we’ve called it “Divine Guidance for Our Everyday Life.” And there’s nothing we do more during our everyday life than go to work. Most of us, at least. In fact, I did a little calculation this week and discovered that if you work 40 years, say from age 25 to age 65, and you worked a 40-hour work week, you’d spend 9 ½ years, yeah, 9 ½ years at the office or your place of work. Does God have anything to say to followers of Jesus Christ, to people of faith with regard to our work and how we do our work? Does it even matter? Does God even think about how we do our work? Well, certainly He does. Before we dive into the book of Proverbs and other places, this topic actually takes me back to the 17th century. It takes me back to the early 1600s when a book a people who were fleeing religious persecution on the other side of the Atlantic made their way to this great land, this land that eventually became the United States of America. Some of you historians out there, you’re already ahead of me. You know who I’m talking about. They were known as the Puritans. And when the Puritans arrive… we could talk a lot about the Puritans and what they brought to this land, but one of the things they brought is something that’s commonly referred to as the Puritan work ethic. You ever heard of that? Maybe you’ve heard of it more commonly referred to as just a great old American work ethic. And, yes, the American worker, he or she is the greatest worker on earth. There is no greater worker on earth than the American worker. But we have to go all the way back to the early 17th century to understand why and what the Puritans brought with them. They brought with them a work ethic that was influenced by their faith and by the pages of scripture. That old Puritan work ethic that morphed into what we call the good old fashioned American work ethic finds its roots in the faith of the people who came here many years and many decades even before the United States of America became a reality.
One of the things that is true about the Puritan work ethic is they didn’t see a distinction between the sacred and the secular. They didn’t divide life into two categories like that. They saw everything as sacred. In fact, the Puritan was commonly known to say things like this. “The farmer who plows his fields is just as called to plowing his fields as the preacher who preaches his sermons.” And that’s pretty good theology. That’s understanding that the work that God gives to us, whatever work that is, that all legitimate work that God gives is a sacred trust where you pour in your time and your talents and, yes, perhaps even your treasure to make that work happen. Work for the Puritan was a sacred trust. And they worked as unto the Lord. And there were a couple of verses of scripture that influenced that Puritan work ethic. One is found in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 where the apostle Paul 2000 years ago said, “If anyone is unwilling to work, let him not eat.” In other words, if an able-bodied man or woman is unwilling to work, shouldn’t get any food stamps. Should even eat. Because we work for those kinds of things, right? And any government program today…and I’m all for the safety nets and welfare and all that. But if it doesn’t lead to work, if we don’t go from welfare to work, it’s a bad government policy and it’s unbiblical. It’s unbiblical. “If anyone is unwilling work…” Not unable. I understand that. But unwilling. Able-bodied but unwilling to work. If the program disincentives someone from working and they just continue drawing off the program, that’s a bad program. “If anyone is unwilling to work, let him not eat.”
The other influence in the Puritan work ethic probably came from Colossians 3:24-25. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord, not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” The apostle Paul wrote this to slaves in 1st century. He says, I get the whole thing that your masters may be overbearing. But one of the things that may change your attitude…even as a slave, one of the things that may change your attitude in the work place if you work for a really overbearing boss, let’s just say, is to see the Lord as your employer. Work as unto the Lord, whatever you do. Whether you’re sweeping floors or teaching at a university, driving a truck or some other form of work, whatever you do work heartily. Give your whole heart to it. And the Puritans brought this kind of work ethic to this land. And I want to suggest to you, friends, that when the good old fashioned Puritan, let’s say American, work ethic met the free enterprise system, the greatest nation on earth was built from the ground up. It really was. The influence by people of faith who understood their work to be a sacred trust that God had given to them, they built this great nation from the ground up.
Now, I believe one of the greatest threats to America today—and there are many—the one that I’ll highlight this morning is socialism. And here’s why. Among other things, socialism…by the way, don’t confuse it with social justice or being socially conscious or taking care of social needs. All of that is good in its proper place. It has nothing to do with socialism. Socialism, among other things, sounds something like this, when a socialist comes up to a worker and says, “You didn’t build that.” And if the socialist can convince the worker he didn’t build it, it’s not long before that same socialist comes back and says, “By the way, you don’t own it either.” Because under a socialistic government system, the government owns the means of production. They get there incrementally or progressively in a society. They take a little bit here, a little bit there, convince you you didn’t build that. Come back later. Now, you don’t own it. Oh, under socialism you can own your own house, but there are no small business owners under socialism. The government owns the means of production so then they can redistribute wealth. And what happens is those people who have got that good old fashioned American work ethic and they’re rolling up their sleeves, they’re going hard to work, they’re seeing more and more of their money taken away and more and more people who are just kind of standing there with their hand out looking for a freebie. For somebody to redistribute wealth and put it in their hands, wealth that they never earned, that they never worked for. And in time those hard working people look around and say, “Well, why don’t I just join that crowd. I don’t need to work my tail off over here.” When you reach a point in society, a tipping point, where you have more people with their hand out looking for a freebie than you have working hands, that’s when a nation ceases to be great. Nobody is building that nation from the ground up generation after generation. And what I see happening in our society today really concerns me. Because you have the erosion of the Christian values and the demonization of Christianity in our culture today, and with that the erosion of the good old fashioned American work ethic that was rooted in the pages of scripture itself back in the early 17th century. Are you with me so far?
So with that in mind, and before we get to Proverbs, I want to give you a little brief theology of work, a biblical theology of work. Just some high points here, starting in the book of Genesis. Number one, God is a worker. He is a worker. And we find this in the creation story. There’s not a lazy bone in the Almighty’s body. Because when He appears on the pages of scripture, when He explodes onto the scene in the creation story, God is at work creating the heavens and the earth. And the Bible says He worked for six days and then rested on the seventh. In fact, Genesis 2:2 summarizes the creation story and says, “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.” God is a worker from eternity past and certainly, as we begin in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He jumps into the pages of scripture working. And He didn’t rest on the seventh day because He was tired. He rested for two primary reasons. To give us, who were created in His image, a rhythm of life- work for six days and then rest, work for six days and then rest. And haven’t you noticed how we’ve even eroded from there? Now we work five days, rest two. In some countries, socialist countries, they advocate a four-day, even a three-day work week. A far cry from the biblical standard of six days of work, one day of rest. But God also rested on the seventh day to foreshadow a spiritual principle that we run into in the Gospels and in the New Testament, and that’s that Jesus is our Sabbath rest. He was the Lord of the Sabbath, we’ll find out. And He is our Sabbath rest.
But what I want us to see from Genesis is God is a worker. And His work continues today. In fact, Psalm 111 says, “The works of his hand are truth are justice.” You come into the Gospels and to the teachings of Jesus. John 4:34, Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” Jesus came here to do the work of the Father. And then in John 5:18 right after Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath…that was a bad thing to do, right? Made all the Pharisees mad. “You’re not supposed to lift a finger. You’re supposed to…” You know, they didn’t understand Jesus was the Lord of the Sabbath. And it was a foreshadowing of Him being our Sabbath rest. I don’t have time to go into all that theology right now, but Jesus responded to those Pharisees in John 5:18 to say, “My father is always at work to this very day, and I am working too.” So the God of the Bible is a working God. Jesus came to work the works of His heavenly Father and to fulfill the eternal purposes and works that God had ordained from the beginning of time. All of that to say this. Work has intrinsic value. It has intrinsic value because God Himself is a worker.
Secondly, God created us to work. We’re just laying a brief theology of work here. God created us to work. Again, go back to Genesis 2 and the creation story. God created man in His own image. And then it says in chapter 2 and verse 15, “The Lord God took the man,” that is, Adam, “and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” I always say from Genesis 2 that God gave a man three things. He gave him work, He gave him His Word, and He gave him a wife, all right. And you’ve got to work all three of those. You’ve got to engage in all three of those. Here He gave him work to do. He says, “Adam, I want you to take care of the garden.” Adam’s first job was a gardener, okay. Physical work. And then He told Adam, “I want you to name all the animals.” There is intellectual work. So there is both physical and intellectual work, and one was not elevated above the other. But from the beginning, God created us to work and even to join Him in His work.
Now, by Genesis 3 we have the fall of man. Satan, in the form of a serpent, slithers his way into the Garden of Eden and tempts Eve. And Adam joins in on that. And they sin, and, well the rest is our history too because all of that was passed down to us. And we live today in a fallen, sinful world, having inherited a sin nature from Adam. All of the evils and all the difficulties and all the struggles we have in our world today are because this is a broken world. It’s a fallen world. That’s the biblical view of it. And in a fallen world, Genesis 3, work became more difficult. Some people say God cursed the work at that time. No, He didn’t curse the work. Read the story carefully. He cursed the ground. Work still has intrinsic value. But He cursed the ground, and He said to Adam, “Now it’s gonna become more difficult for you to till the land and to keep the garden. Thistles and all kinds of other stuff are gonna grow up from there, and it’s just gonna be hard.” So I always say this notion of the daily grind that we talk about started in Genesis 3. And human beings like you and me have been grinding out our work, you know, ever since then.
So God is a worker. God created us to work. Thirdly, God redeemed us to be His coworkers. This is where it gets really fun. 1 Corinthians 3:9, “For we are God’s fellow workers.” Imagine teaming up with God. Imagine partnering with Him in His eternal and redemptive purposes as He carries out His work in the world today. He sees us, as followers of Jesus Christ, as His coworkers. Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” And so all of that to say your work and my work, it matters to God. It has intrinsic value.
Now, having said all of that, I want us now to turn our attentions to the book of Proverbs. And there is a character, there is a person mentioned in the book of Proverbs that’s kind of one of my favorites because his name is so humorous. He’s called the sluggard. The sluggard. Just say that. Say that. The sluggard. You can’t “sluggard” without a little bit of a smile on your face, right? You ever meet a sluggard? I’m not talking about a slugger. A slugger in baseball is a good thing. A sluggard is a bad thing. It’s somebody who is lazy and slothful. Does God have a lot to say in the Bible about our work and how we do it? Oh yes, He does. And He has downloaded a lot of wisdom, divine guidance for our everyday life in terms of how we work. And He takes aim at the sluggard in the pages of the book of Proverbs. And Solomon is wise enough as a father to have this conversation about his sons, who are growing up and are one day gonna go into the work world. And he’s giving them some advice about how to be diligent and how to be prosperous and how to be a good worker. And he warns about the sluggard. My favorite passage in Proverbs, one of them, is Proverbs 6:6-11. This is one of the most poetic passages in the book of Proverbs. And Solomon comes at this subject with a little bit of poetry and a little bit of humor to try to disarm his sons and get the truth into their hearts that way.
Look at with me beginning in verse 6. “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” That’s good stuff. That’s good literature. That’s poetic literature. And if you’re kind of the sluggard type or you know a sluggard or if you’re Solomon talking to your kids, you want to use whatever tool you can to kind of awaken the sleepiness and sluggard-ness in the sluggard. Here he uses poetic words to get his attention. “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber.” That’s good stuff, isn’t it?
There are four or five characteristics of a sluggard that I want to share with you this morning. If you’re an employer, you’re gonna learn never hire a sluggard. Never hire a sluggard. They’ll never produce for you what you need produced in your business or in your office or in your department. And if you’re the sluggard, hopefully this will awaken you out of your sleepiness to be more productive and more diligent in the work that God has given to you. You might be married to a sluggard, or you might be thinking about getting married to a sluggard. Beware! Beware! The sluggard will frustrate you for a number of reasons. First of all, because he or she requires constant supervision. Did you see that in verses 6 and following? “Go to the ant, O sluggard”? Solomon begins with an illustration from the natural world, this little creature called an ant. It’s an amazing little creature. He goes on to say, “Consider her ways, and be wise.” Now, what this. “Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, [the ant] she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.” The ant doesn’t need any supervision. There is not a pecking order where there is a supervisor and a manager, and a manager of a manager and all that, and, you know, they motivate from the top down or the bottom up or whatever it is. No, the ant is a “make it happen” kind of creature, okay. The ant is not sleepy. It’s not (0:19:00.1) sluggard-ish. The ant is self-motivated, self-disciplined, and can go make it happen on its own. The sluggard can’t do that. The sluggard lacks self-motivation. The sluggard lacks self-discipline. Even the kind of discipline to get up, get out of bed in the morning, and get after it. It takes a “make it happen” kind of person to work that way.
I remember years ago before I went into the ministry I was in sales and marketing in the corporate world for seven years out of college. And I remember one of the companies I went to work for during that time, the guy was interviewing me. And I asked him at the end. I said, “What kind of person are you looking for? Who are you looking to hire?” And I’ll never forget what he said. He says, “I’m looking for a ‘make it happen’ kind of person.” Because this job was based in Houston where I was living; my direct report, my manager lived in North Carolina; and we worked for a company in California. And this position was responsible for an eight-state region. (0:20:00.1) I was in my mid to late 20s. He needed a “make it happen” person. Because I would see my boss maybe once or twice a year. Oh, we’d talk on the phone periodically. But those sales reports would come back once a month, and the numbers would tell whether or not I had the discipline to get up, get out of bed, and get on a plane, and fly from this city to this city to meet with this customer or that customer or that customer. They’d know in 30 days, 60 days whether I was a “make it happen” person or a sluggard. A sluggard wouldn’t take a job like that. A sluggard, you know, is somebody how needs constant supervision. My dad used to say…and he built a residential real estate company when we were growing up. And he’s hired and fired a lot of people. And he used to say, “Some people are like wet noodles. You ever try to push a wet noodle up a hill?” I mean, that’s an image for you, isn’t it? You just can’t get them going. They’re not self-motivated. They’re not “make it happen” folks. They’re never gonna get themselves out of bed. They’ve still got mommy coming to wake themselves up in the morning. “Come on, son, come on. Let’s get going. Let’s get out the door, and let’s work a little bit.” Never hire a person like that. Interview deeply to find out where the level of self-motivation is, because a sluggard will never produce for you what you want produced in the office. And they’ll always frustrate you. They’ll always frustrate you. I’d rather hire an ant than a sluggard, let’s just say it that way. Because the ant will always exceed expectations. You know, when you come down to that review at the end of the year, did they meet expectations? Did they exceed expectations? Did they fall below expectations? The sluggard is down here. The ant is always gonna meet and exceed expectations. Why? Because “without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in the harvest.” She goes and makes it happen, okay.
Secondly, the sluggard, he or she procrastinates. This is another characteristic of the sluggard. Look at Proverbs 12:27, “Whoever is slothful will not roast his gain, but the diligent man will get precious wealth.” This is the picture of the sluggard who goes out, and he’s a hunter. And he shoots his game, but then is too lazy and too slothful and too sluggard-ish to then prepare it for the roast. Just puts it off for another day. “I mean, why do today what I can put off until tomorrow?” is the favorite saying of the lazy, sluggard-ish person. Proverbs 26:15 says it in a humorous way. “The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth.” Now, that’s a little bit of Hebrew humor. Can you picture that? The sluggard that is so sluggish, such a lazy oaf that he buries his hand into his dish but he’s too lazy to bring the spoon or the fork back up to his mouth. How about Proverbs 20:4. “The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing.” Because he’s always putting something off for another day. Then it comes harvest time and he wonders why he doesn't have anything. Because, well, he’s president of the ‘round-to-it club. You’re heard of that? “One of these days I’ll get around to it.” All kinds of people love to congregate together. They’re members of the ‘round-to-it club. Maybe you’re married to a ‘round-to-it kind of person. “One of these days I’ll get around to cleaning the house. One of these days I’ll fix that fence in the back of the yard. One of these days I’ll get a real job.” Or how about this one? “One of these days I’ll get serious about my relationship with God and start reading my Bible every day.” It’s possible to be a spiritual sluggard. And if you're a spiritual sluggard, there are at least two things that ought to awaken you from your sleep. One is the fact that there is no guarantee for tomorrow. “Why do today what I can put off ‘til tomorrow?” You’re not guaranteed of tomorrow. None of us is. And the other is the second coming of Jesus Christ. That ought to stir a sense of urgency in every one of us to wake up from our spiritual sluggard-ness and get after it for God. Get after it winning people to Christ and telling people about the amazing grace that He has showered up on our lives.
So the sluggard requires constant supervision. He procrastinates. Thirdly, he makes excuses. Proverbs 22:13, “The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion outside. I shall be killed in the streets.’” Are you kidding me? I mean, this is the kind of excuse he comes up with as to why he can’t go to work. “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! It’s dangerous out there! I can’t get up and get out of bed and get out of house. It’s dangerous out here.” You’ve got to be kidding me. Don’t hire a person like that, okay. Hire the person that’s gonna wipe out the lion, you know.
I read an article this week about…this is a CBS Money Watch online article. The worst excuses for skipping work. And it said that employers reported hearing these real-life excuses over the last year. You’re gonna smile at some of these. Like the lady who called in and said, “I can’t come to work today because I just put a casserole in the oven.” Really? Or the person who said, “I can’t come in to work today because my plastic surgery needs some tweaking to get it just right.” Okay. All right. “I can’t come to work today because I was gambling at the casino all weekend and still have money left. I need to stay to win it back.” Well, I hope they’re not in the finance department of the company. “I can’t come in to work today because I’m stuck in the blood pressure machine at the grocery store.” Now, that’s a picture, isn’t it? “I put my uniform in the microwave to dry, and it caught fire.” I love this one. “I can’t come to work today because I accidentally got on a plane to the Caribbean.” Now, that’s not a bad excuse. I might use that one from time to time, all right. Or I appreciate this person’s honesty. “I can’t come to work today because I woke up in a good mood and I don’t want to ruin it.” Hey, if you’re an employer, you need to listen carefully to what your employees are saying. The sluggard comes up with all kinds of excuses as to why they can’t get it done. I had a football coach in high school that said excuses are like armpits. Everybody has two of them, and they both stink. Just remember that the next time you feel a little sluggard-ish, all right.
Fourth characteristic of the sluggard is he looks for the easy way, the easy way. Proverbs 18:9, “Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys.” Proverbs 12:11, “Whoever works his land will have plenty, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.” Worthless pursuits. The “get rich quick” scheme. The easy money scheme. Listen, if it’s that easy, it isn’t gonna work. Somebody is just pulling your chain a little bit. But the sluggard who is just as lazy as…is always looking for the easy way out of things. This is the student who majors in basket weaving in college, you know, who doesn’t apply himself in the classroom. Or you're majoring in something, you know, much more worthy than basket weaving and you’re an A student, but you’re satisfied with a B. Or you're a B student, but you're satisfied with a C. You got some laziness issues. And why do grades matter, young people? Because your first employer has only your grades to look at and maybe some community service to find out whether or not you’ve got the “make it happen” in you. Because if you can’t produce here, why do I think you can produce over here? All right. So I’m gonna look at that kinds of things. He’s looking for the easy way out. And that’s not the kind of person you want to hire. You don’t want to hire the person who requires constant supervision. Yeah, some level of supervision. We understand supervisors and managers and so forth. But not the person who is the wet noodle trying to push up a hill. You can never get him going. They never come back with something that exceeds your expectation. You don’t want the procrastinator who is always putting off until tomorrow what needs to be done today, now, okay. How many times have you as an employer looked at an employee and, in a very subtle kind of way, said “We’ve got to get this done.” And you want to just scream from the top of your lungs, “Get it done now.” But you just can’t push that person very hard. Makes excuses, always looking for the easy way of getting things done.
You know, I’ve always said that Christians in the workplace ought to be the best workers. I think that was true of people early on in our nation that were influenced by their faith. Certainly the Puritans brought that work ethic. It should never be said of…an employer should never say, “I’ll never hire a Christian again, because they’re dishonest and lazy.” The opposite should be said. We should understand the sacred trust that God has given to us in this thing called work that has intrinsic value. Your work matters to God. One day every one of us will stand before the Lord and give an account of our time and our talents and, yes, even our treasure. How did you do with it? What did you do with it? “Well, I don’t know. I just, you know, I thought maybe You’d come tomorrow.” And tomorrow doesn’t come, because He came today. Don’t be the sluggard. Don’t let it be said of a Christian in your workplace. You see, you ruin our testimony that way. And we have a way of kind of elevating one sin above the other and say, “Well, the person who is immoral and an adulterer, that’s a really bad person and destroys…” Well, the lazy person does too. Laziness is just a cancer that can infect any organization. As a Christian, we ought to be the most diligent, industrious…we ought to be the people who arrive early and leave late when the going really gets to where it needs that. And be the people who go the extra mile. Remember when Jesus said that in His Sermon on the Mount? How many times have you gone the extra mile in your work? You say, “Well, I’ve got one of those bosses.” I don’t care. Your boss is the Lord God. Do you remember Colossians 3:24-25? “Whatever you do,” whatever your employment is, “work heartily,” put your whole heart into it, “as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” You know, if we bring that kind of work ethic as the body of Christ to the workplace, to our nation where that sort of work ethic is eroding, that’s one small way we turn this nation back to God. Don’t try to share your faith with somebody if the day before you were lazy on the job. You’ve discredited your testimony with your slothfulness and your laziness. Work hard. Work as unto the Lord. Yeah, work for that advancement. You may need to move onto another job if you and your employer are not getting along. That’s fine. But while you're there, work heartily. Give it your whole heart as though you are reporting to the Lord God Himself, because one day you will. One day I will. He’ll ask us about the time, those gifts and talents that He’s given to us, even the money that He’s entrusted to us. And He’s gonna ask us how we did. And what I want to hear, and what I know you want to hear, is, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”
I’m kind of curious about what Paul meant here about receiving the inheritance as your reward. Because, you see, we are not only God’s coworkers, we are coheirs in Christ. And something about how we work and how we steward that sacred trust, something about that has to do with our future rewards in heaven and the inheritance that we receive in Christ. I don’t know all the details of that. I just know that Paul refers to that. That should give new motivation to the way we work. You may despise your job and want to take your job and do something with it. But when you’re working for the Lord and until He moves you to another place, well, your motivation ought to be, “I’m gonna do this as unto the Lord so that when I stand before Him one day, He says to me, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’” Amen? Let’s pray together.
Father, thank You for Your Word. Thank You for these challenging thoughts from this precious, precious book You call Your Bible and Your Word. We receive it as truth this morning. Help us to put it into practice. Help us to put it into practice even in the spiritual realm. Father, if there is some sluggishness in our spirit, maybe a spiritual decision that you’ve been urging us to make but we lack the urgency ourselves to make it, I pray that right here right now in this place and in this holy moment that we would have the courage and the faith to make those spiritual decisions. And I pray this in Jesus’s name and for His sake, amen.