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Worship Message - "The Importance of Work"

The Importance of Work
Labor Day 2015

Tomorrow is Labor Day. A holiday established for the first Monday of September 128 years ago during the presidency of Grover Cleveland.

The purpose the Labor Day is to celebrate the American labor movement. It is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of U.S. workers. It is an annual national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of this country, or, as it is celebrated in other nations, as well, the contributions of workers worldwide.
Labor Day is set aside to honor workers in the work force. It was first proposed by some of this nation’s labor unions. But you know? It was and is not just unions that give importance to work. So does God, as expressed quite a few places in the Bible, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.  

Since this is Labor Day weekend - as we should be thankful for laborers throughout our history who have produced for us a wonderful standard of living - let’s spend today’s message time thinking about a few of the Bible passages that speak of the importance of all kinds of work.

We will begin very early in the Bible, specifically chapter 2 of the Old Testament Book of Genesis. Early on, shortly after God created the first man, He proved the importance of work.

Genesis 1 tells us of the six days of creation. To refresh our memories, here is how that progressed. On day 1, God created light and separated it from the darkness. On day 2, God created the sky. On day 3, God created bodies of water, which allowed dry land to appear. That day He also created vegetation - plants and trees. On day 4, God created stars, the moon, and the sun. On day 5, God created birds and sea creatures. On day 6, God created all kinds of animals on the earth. He did that before He created the first man, who was named Adam, and the first woman, who was named Eve.

Everything in the universe was created in six days. Then, in chapter 2 of Genesis, is something important specifically for today’s Labor Day message. After Adam was created and before Eve was created, God - this is in verse 15 of Genesis 2 - “put the man into the Garden of Eden.”

The Garden of Eden was a wonderful, beautiful place. It had trees. It had abundant water. It had precious jewels and gems just laying around being gorgeous. It was a wonderful place God put Adam.

But listen. Adam was put there, not to do nothing but sit back and relax and enjoy the scenery. God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden “to till it and keep it.”

To till means to prepare and cultivate the soil. To cultivate includes breaking up the soil. Doing that in the Garden of Eden would have helped the abundant water to get to the roots of the trees and the other vegetation.
Tilling extends to preparing and cultivating soil for the purpose of planting seeds for crops. Since Adam and Eve had to eat to survive, I assume maybe Adam planted, tended, and harvested some sort of crops.
Tending. That can refer to guarding, as in making sure nothing harmed the trees and the plants and the crops in the Garden.
At that time there were no weeds to fight. As mentioned, there was adequate water. So what needed to be guarded against, I do not know. But tilling and keeping the Garden, while no doubt pleasant work, was work. God gave Adam something to do, which gave him a purpose.

Of course, there were times when Adam was to rest and relax. In chapter 3 we learn that such times occurred each evening when he and Eve had communion with God. But isn’t it interesting God gave Adam work to do? Could it be that Adam would not have been happy if he had had nothing to do? God kept Adam busy. God gave Adam a purpose.

Do you suppose God wants us today to be busy? Not so busy we cannot or will not take time to rest, including the rest that comes from having communion with God. But as it was with Adam, when we have work to do, we can be happy and feel useful.

Is that how you look at work? At least on most days? Do you see work as a gift from God? And yes, that should apply to all ages.

For the younger set, you have school work to do. Do you realize that is a gift from God? A way for you to grow in knowledge and study habits. Work that will help you later when you have a job and continue to study about the Lord all through your life.

For those working occupations, do we realize what we do is a gift from God? A gift that many of those who are unemployed would love to have. Let’s be thankful for whatever God has given us to do.
For those who are retired, has God given you something to do? Maybe something around the house or something that will help someone else. Maybe it is the work of more Bible reading or praying. All those things are also gifts from God.

For parents, including those who are stay-at-home moms or dads, what important work you have to do. That is definitely God-given work.

Whatever you have to do is given to you by God. He gives us things to do, knowing it is important to stay busy.

And again, rest is important. Stepping away for a vacation is OK. A few days off can be so refreshing. But let’s be thankful for work. May each of us know work is a wonderful gift from God, which is taught way back in Genesis 2. So, in addition to whatever grilling or game playing there might be tomorrow on Labor Day, let’s give God thanks for the work He has given and will give us to do.

Let’s move ahead in the Bible to the Old Testament Book of Nehemiah.

Nehemiah was a man of God who was an exile, captured and taken from Jerusalem to the capital of the Persian Empire. There he served as the cup bearer of King Artaxerxes.

In the Persian capital, Nehemiah heard about the destruction of Jerusalem. The wall around the city was rubble. The gates were destroyed. That made the city susceptible to continued looting. It made the city a laughingstock for the enemies of God’s people.

The condition of Jerusalem greatly grieved Nehemiah, which became evident in his demeanor.

King Artaxerxes asked why his cup bearer was so sad. Nehemiah’s response was the question how he could be happy when his city back home was in shambles? That led the king to give Nehemiah permission to return home for a while to take care of the wall of Jerusalem.

Nehemiah left. He went to Jerusalem. There he surveyed the damage to the wall and the gates. He decided what needed to be done. Then, in a great act of persuasion, he talked the people still in and around the city to get to work at rebuilding the gates and the wall around the city.

This next comment is not specifically in the Bible, but I imagine, based on Genesis 2, the call to work must have been a very good thing. I mean, the city had been destroyed. The people who were still there - the ones not taken away as captives - had little food, little water, little hope. I imagine many of their days were filled with idleness.

But here came Nehemiah, who gave them something to do. Something that was important to do. Something that, when they looked at it, they could be proud of.

This is probably a very weak comparison, but when I used to mow my lawn, it always felt good, when I was done, to see the results. So much of what I do I can only hope has some effect. I cannot always see the results of what I do. But when I mowed the lawn, I could see the results. Results that left things looking neat and tidy and trimmed.

When Nehemiah put people to work - when he said, “Let us rise up and build,” and the people responded - as the various gates and towers were built - when the sections of wall between the gates and towers were built - stone by stone, grate by grate, progress could be seen. Can you imagine the joy? The joy that work produced.

Interestingly, the enemies all around ridiculed the workers. “What are those feeble Jews doing? Do they really think they can restore their city and what they did before their defeat? What they are building cannot be strong.”

The workers were ridiculed, and for a while they had to take precautions to protect themselves from attack from the enemies all around. But they continued their work. They continued until the wall was eventually complete. What I want to mention specifically is part of verse 6 of chapter 6 of Nehemiah. The work was successful because - listen to the wording - “the people had a mind to work.”

Great work was done because the people had a mind to work. They were dedicated to their task. Tomorrow, in the midst of grilling and playing and whatever else is done on Labor Day, as we are thankful for God’s gift of work, let’s pray that we will have a mind to work. Great things will be accomplished as that happens.

As I considered verses and passages to include in this message, one that was found and chosen is a verse in chapter 6 of I Timothy, that book of the Bible being one of the letters the apostle Paul wrote to the young minister Timothy. Specifically we will consider verse 10, in which there is a warning about money.

That warning is preceded by some related verses.

Verse 6. “There is great gain in godliness with contentment.” That seems to teach that we are to be satisfied with whatever we earn with the work God has given us to do. As verse 7 adds, “For we brought nothing into the world and we cannot take anything out of the world.” As taught in verse 8, “If we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content.”

The warning begins to warm up in verse 9. “But those who desire to be rich…” Listen. Getting raises is fine. Changing jobs for better pay is fine. What is warned against in both verses 9 and 10 is making being rich the main goal of whatever we do.

“Those who desire to be rich [those who put that above all else] fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.”

Verse 10. “For the love of money [not money itself, but the love of money - again, making that the main purpose of all you do, and related to that is wanting to keep the money or spend it only on yourself rather than helping others or the cause of Christ] is the root of all evils. In fact, it is through such craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs.”

What does that have to do with a message on labor? Well, how about this? As we do whatever work God has given us to do, may our main concern not be how much we earn doing that work. Does your work provide you the necessities of life - food and clothing, and I think we can add housing as well? If so, then tomorrow on Labor Day, be thankful.

And if God sees fit to give you work that pays you more than enough, pray about how to use the extra. Will all of it be used for yourself, or will some be used to help those in need? Will the extra be a seed that will cause thirst for more, or will it be a source of praise? Will it be a source of praise, or will it be a cause for anxiety?

That last one can be described in something I read. It is a fable about a peasant who one day did something for his king, who rewarded the peasant with a large sum of money.

For a time the peasant was thrilled. But eventually he begged the king to take back his gift. Why? It was because into the peasant’s life had come worry. Worry that he might lose what he had. He did not want worry in his life. Money, for the peasant, became a burden.

Which reminds me of one of my favorite proverbs. It is in chapter 30 of the Book of Proverbs. Verses 8 and 9.

Actually, starting with verse 7, there were two things for which the author asked. First, that falsehood and lying be far removed from him. Second, that God would give him neither poverty nor riches. That he would be given just enough, lest he have so much he would deny God, thinking he did not need the LORD, or that he be so poor he would have to steal, which would profane the name of God.

Tomorrow, on Labor Day, be thankful that God has work for you to do. Let’s be thankful we can, with God’s help, have a mind to work. Let’s be thankful if the work we do provides enough money for the needs of life to be met. Let’s pray that any extra we have will be used in ways that are pleasing to the Lord.

And then a passage from the New Testament Book of Colossians. Chapter 3, verses 23 and 24, which is toward the end of several things about how to handle various relationships.

Generally, we are, according to earlier in Colossians 3, to “put to death what is earthly” in us. Things like fornication and other forms of evil desire. We are to “put away what is bad.” Things like anger, wrath, malice, and slander. We are to “put on what is good.” Things like compassion, kindness, and patience. We are to “forgive” and “show love.” All of that possible by letting “the word of Christ dwell in” us.

Then verses 18 through 22. “Wives, be subject to your husbands,” which means to respect them. “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” “Fathers, do not provoke your children.” “Children, obey your parents.” “Slaves, obey your masters.”

Then this, which, as I read it, applies to all those relationships. But for today, on this Labor Day weekend, it might be particularly relevant to the work relationship. Verses 23 and 24 of Colossians 3. “Whatever your task [whatever work God has given you to do, which applies to the work of family life, too] work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”

What a concept. The idea that when you work, it is not just your boss you are serving. If your work is school, it is not just the teacher or the principal you are serving. You are serving the Lord

Which means that even if the boss or the teacher or the principal - relating that to your family relationships, even if your husband or your wife or your children or your parents are not watching - the Lord sees everything. He is the one you and I are to please.

And to complete that thought, let’s add verse 1 of Colossians 4. “Masters [can that be applied to bosses and parents and teachers and principals?], treat your slaves [your workers, your children, your students] justly and fairly.” Why? Because “you also have a Master in Heaven.” A Master to serve and please. A Master who will reward you when you treat others well.

Tomorrow is Labor Day. Tomorrow, let’s be thankful for whatever work God gives us to do. Let’s pray that God will continue to give us a mind to work. Let’s be thankful if the work we do provides enough money for the needs of life to be met. Let’s pray that any extra we have will be used in ways that are pleasing to the Lord. And let’s think about the fact that whatever our tasks, we are serving not only our human masters, but the greatest Master of all, that being the Lord. May that keep working well in everything we do.

The closing song is the chorus Seek Ye First. That song came to mind because we need to seek God’s will on how we view work and how we view money. That we will have those things balanced. We need to seek God’s will about having a mind to work and about how to do work in ways that will, first and foremost, please Him.

May we seek all of that. May we seek Him first. Then today’s teachings and all other ways of serving the Lord will fall into place.

Seek ye first the Kingdom of God
And His righteousness,
And all these things shall be added unto you.
Allelu, alleluia.

Man shall not live by bread alone,
But by ev’ry word
That proceeds from the mouth of God.
Allelu, alleluia.

Ask, and it shall be given unto you.
Seek, and ye shall find.
Knock, and the door shall be opened unto you.
Allelu, alleluia.

Seek ye first the Kingdom of God
And His righteousness,
And all these things shall be added unto you.
Allelu, alleluia.

Lord, thank You for work to do. Thank You for the benefits work gives us emotionally, physically, and of course economically. Give us - keep in us - a mind to work. May all that we do be pleasing to You. Thank You. Amen.

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