Working in the Spirit: Work is More Than a Curse (Sermon Notes)

Sermon Notes / Produced by The High Calling
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This message contributes to the continued exploring of the rich biblical truths of vocation and calling. It is my hope that each one of us might better connect our faith with our work, to better bridge the Sunday to Monday gap.

There is a very important distinction between our primary calling and secondary callings. Our primary calling is what the Bible speaks primarily about—that is our call to embrace Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and become his yoked apprentice. The bible also speaks of our secondary callings, which includes not only our stations of life such as singleness or marriage, but also our particular work. “The doctrine of vocation is not just a teaching about the value of work. It comprises a theology of the Christian life” (Gene Edward Veith, Jr.).

So then, why do we work? We are made in God’s image and we are created to contribute. Our work, whether we are paid for it or not, is our human contribution to God’s ongoing creation, an essential aspect of God’s Great Commandment to love our neighbor as our self.

Whether it as at home, in a classroom, on a factory floor, or in the office, work can be a big pain!

  • Facing an urgent deadline and having a computer crash is a big pain!
  • Dealing with difficult customers or serving under a demanding boss is a big pain!
  • Having to let an employee go or downsize a labor force is a big pain!
  • Facing a family’s mountain of dirty laundry is a big pain!

Recently I was out tending to my lawn. And I’ve always liked lawn work. That is until recently— when something took the wind out of my sails. Frankly, it happened so very quickly, I couldn’t stop it! The momentum of my revved up lawnmower devoured the extended sprinkler head hidden in the tall grass. Black pieces of my sprinkler flew all over my back yard. At that agonizing moment, words suddenly snuck out of my mouth that—well—I don’t think I will repeat for you this morning, I’ll leave that to your imagination. Not because I want to protect any false illusion of my personal piety, but more transparently because I would like to preserve my job! Needless to say, I was not a very happy camper when my sprinkler head disintegrated before my eyes and my tongue revealed to anyone within hearing distance that I the “right” reverend was neither right nor very reverent at the moment.

Work, it makes us want to curse! But why? Why is work so often such a pain?

If you have a Bible, turn with me to the book of Genesis! In Genesis 1 and 2 we see that God didn’t design human work to be a frustrating pain; He designed it to be an exhilarating pleasure. But in Genesis 3, because of humankind’s act of great folly, we see sin’s devastating effect on work! Work itself was profoundly impacted by the curse. If we grasp what the biblical writers tell us then we realize that my work, your work, whatever it may be, is not at all what it ought to be. In this fallen and broken world, God’s original design for our work has been badly corrupted.

So what happened? Let’s take a look at Genesis 3, verses 17-19.

And to the man he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”(Genesis 3:17-19)

You will notice the far-reaching and long-lasting changes described regarding work in verses 17, 18, and 19. The very nature and context of human work has fundamentally changed. As you read these verses, you can almost hear the intensity of hurricane force winds transforming the entire landscape of human existence, the groaning of creation, and feel the weariness as work is placed under a heavy weight—a weight humans were not originally designed to bear. Work is now toilsome and difficult. There will be thorns and thistles and the sweat of the brow! This vivid biblical imagery of the curse paints the dire picture of the far-reaching and devastating consequences of rebellion against a good, just, and holy God. There is alienation from God, alienation from other human beings, and, yes, alienation from work.

Theologian Miroslav Volf says, “God’s curse after the Fall expresses the fact that alienation is inherent to the human experience of work” (Work in the Spirit, pg. 167). Work is not what it ought to be! Our work has become difficult, distorted, and disillusioning.

A. Work is often painfully difficult! Sin entering the world and corrupting God’s design has made work harder. The systems, technologies, economics and structure reflect a fallen, broken world. Illustration: Dirty Jobs TV show from the Discovery Channel The curse of the Fall means work is often painfully difficult!

B. Work is often badly distorted! Humankind’s fall into sin not only affected our relationships, but also our understanding of work itself.

Work can be distorted in three basic ways:

  1. Work can be seen as no big deal….This is the destructive danger of slothfulness!
  2. Work can be seen as too big of a deal…This is the destructive danger of workaholism.
  3. Some work can be seen as more important than other work….This is the destructive danger of a work dualism.

As apprentices of Jesus, we have all been called into full-time Christian work. Your mission field is right where God has called you to work or study or where you volunteer! “The priesthood of all believers, (Namely that all true Christians have equal access to God and value before God) did not make everyone into church workers; rather it turned every kind of work into a sacred calling” (Gene Edward Veith, God at Work, pg. 19).

Work is often very disillusioning! The writer of Ecclesiastes transparently addresses the disillusionment that is part of this fallen world and our daily experience in it. The author’s mad pursuit of power, pleasure and material comforts leads him to the disillusioning conclusion that it’s all for naught. Satisfaction and fulfillment elude him in his pursuits, particularly his work. It is as if he had before him the lyrics of the Rolling Stones classic, I can’t get no satisfaction, but I try and I try and I try… (Ecclesiastes 2:17-18, Ecclesiastes 2:22-23, Ecclesiastes 3:12-13)

The writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us that work in this broken and fallen world is a mixed bag. It is both a curse and a gift. It brings us frustration and exhilaration. Yet work calls us not to an “Eeyore” kind of pessimism, but to a “Tigger” kind of hopeful realism. Miroslav Volf points out: “Together, Genesis 2:15 and Genesis 3:17ff affirm that the inescapable reality of human sin makes work unavoidably an ambiguous reality: it is both a noble expression of human creation in the image of God and a painful testimony to human estrangement from God” (Work in the Spirit, pg. 168).

Cultivating a Hopeful Realism About Work:

1) Remain hopeful in the midst of work’s inevitable difficulties! Our work can be difficult, it can be a pain at times, but we do not have to live in an “Eeyore” fog of melancholy and discouragement. If we grasp the truth of God’s word about our work, we can remain hopefully buoyant, even in difficult job circumstances.

“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at your from all sides."(James 1:2-3, The Message)

Does that sound like your workplace or what? You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and welldeveloped, not deficient in any way.”

2) See your work as an opportunity for personal growth and influence! As I look back at my life and my vocational work…I realize that some of the times of my greatest personal and leadership growth have been in the most difficult days. When my work has been the most demanding, when my inadequacy has been most inescapable, as I have had to trust God for wisdom and strength, my growth as a human being has been the most significant!

In Romans 5:3-5 the Apostle Paul articulates the transformational truth of the Gospel of Jesus, that we find new creation life by faith alone in Christ alone, he lays out God’s path for our transformation. It is not a path of ease, but it is one of enduring hope. We must fix deeply in our hearts and minds that our work, though often difficult, is one of God’s main means for our spiritual growth and transformation!

Work is where perseverance, proven character and hope are often deeply forged.

3) Build a healthy life rhythm of both hard work and Sabbath rest! We live in a time where human work has dramatically changed. In a high tech, 24/7 nanosecond global world, each one of us needs to establish healthy boundaries and a regular life rhythm of engagement (work) and withdrawal (rest). This will require us to build margin in our lives, our schedules, and our finances.

Our work world needs to be wisely shaped or it will wrongly shape us. Building a healthy rhythm of both hard work and regular rest raises the importance of close-knit spiritual community with others who help us as well as our own personal vibrant prayer life.

Trying to do our vocation without prayer virtually shuts God out of our work. Many of us approach our work what we do the majority of the week, as practical atheists.

God’s Word clearly reminds us that in this very broken world with broken people, work will never be all it was intended to be. Though sin entered the world, the good news is so did the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ who came to this sin-stained earth and died on a cruel Roman cross—the redeemer of not only human souls, but also a fallen world.

Have you embraced Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? Do you know Christ? Someone has rightly said, “If you miss Christ, you miss it all.” Without knowing Christ, not only is life unfulfilling, work is also unfulfilling.

In his beautiful poem, When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted, Rudyard Kipling penned these words: (quoted in “The Call”)

“When earth’s last picture is painted,
And the tubes are twisted and dried,
When the oldest colors have faded,
And the youngest critic has died,
We shall rest, and faith, we shall need it,
Lie down for an aeon or two,
Till the Master of all good workmen
Shall put us to work anew…
…And no one will work for the money,
No one will work for the fame.
But each for the joy of the working,
And each, in his separate star,
Will draw the thing as he sees it.
For the God of things as they are!

Our work is not what it ought to be, but one day it will be! Let’s pray!

Tom Nelson graduated with a Masters of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary and received his doctorate from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He and his wife, Liz, arrived in Kansas City in 1989 to begin Christ Community Church. Tom has served as senior pastor there since that time. Tom received his ordination with the EFCA in 1992. He has served on the Midwest District Board as well as the National Ministerial Association Board. Currently he serves on the Board of Regents for Trinity International University. Tom is the author of Five Smooth Stones: Discovering the Path to Wholeness of Soul, Ekklesia: Rediscovering God’s Design for the Church, and Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship With Monday Work. He is also a conference speaker who calls the evangelical community to walk deeply and authentically with God. Tom and Liz reside in Leawood, Kansas. They have two adult children, Schaeffer and Sarah.