On the Job
God Has an App for That – Part 5
Proverbs 14:23

I want you to take just a minute to think back to when you were a child; and I want you to think about what you wanted to be when you grew up.  You probably got asked that question all the time.  (And there may be a young person in this room right now that may be trying to figure out what they want to pursue, what career path it might be, what they want to do when they get older.)

Well, there are some people seated around you right now – on either side of you – who would love to hear what your goal was when you were a kid.  So will you take the next twenty seconds and share with someone right beside you what you wanted to be when you grew up?  (Pause 20 seconds.)  There is no telling what some of you wanted to be when you got older.  Maybe you said a builder or a teacher.  Maybe it was a doctor or a farmer, a president or a stockbroker.

Charlie Maloney, a preacher in California, says that when he was in the fourth grade his youth minister asked the group one evening what each of them wanted to be when they got older.  And he says that he got up and said, “Well, I either want to be a preacher or a warlock.”  (This was back during the days when Bewitched was his favorite TV show, he says, and that’s what sparked his answer.)  And he says that after youth group was over that night, his youth minister pulled him aside and tried to explain to him how those two are kind of diametrically opposed.  And he says, “Eventually good won over evil though!”

But whether your job requires you to wear a suit or a tie or a hard hat or scrubs or a uniform, your career – your work – is a monumental decision.  You know, studies show that you will spend nearly as many hours working as you will sleeping through the course of a week.  And more important than that, you will spend many more hours in the week at work than you spend in non-sleeping hours at home.  Over the past couple of years, the average work week for full time employees was 48 hours.

We’re continuing our series in the Book of Proverbs, and today we want to see what it is that Proverbs has to say about our jobs, about what we do each day.  How many of you have been making a concerted effort to read the corresponding proverb each day of the month? Would you put your hands up?  (Pause)  I’m really encouraged by that.  It’s not too late.  You can always start right back in.  We’ve got another month starting this week.  I like to do it each month because God just teaches me new things about the things that I’ve read time and time again, and there will be a different verse that always stands out.  “Morning by morning new mercies we see.”

So I want you to get your Bible out and turn to Proverbs chapter 14.  And when you think about your job – you think about what you do – there are a lot of thoughts that go through your mind.  Some of you have jobs that are very taxing.  Others of you have jobs that are very invigorating because it is a good match for you.

You may think, also, that God is…well, He’s just interested in my time with family or my time when I’m at church, not my time at work.  But, no, God is very interested in what takes place in the work environment.

Look at Proverbs 14:23: “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.”  

Once you see your job as God sees it, you will have a new respect for the importance of your task and a renewed emphasis on performing it with excellence.

Here is what I want you to understand today: When you are on the clock at work, you are still on the clock with God.  

A.W. Tozer said it like this: “It’s not what a man does that determines whether or not his work is sacred or secular but why he does it.”  It’s not so much the what; it’s the why.  It’s our motives behind our jobs.  It’s our motives behind how we interact with other employees and with the employer.

 

I. TWO FALSE EQUATIONS.

You know, Proverbs talks a great deal about business life all the way through it.  And I want to begin by pointing out two false equations—and make certain you hear the word “false” in here—that many of us have just assumed to be accurate.

Here is the first false one: Money + Position = Successful Career.  

Well, success can’t be measured by numbers.  It is saltwater that never quenches.

Flip a few chapters over to Proverbs 23.  I love this passage.  In Proverbs 23:4 and 5 it says, “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.  Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.”  

And we’ve experienced that.  We’ve all known…at times where you thought you had something, and then, all of a sudden, it seemed like it was gone.

Solomon says your net-worth need not determine your self-worth. 

But we tend to find security in our possessions.  As kids we kind of grow up and we buy into that philosophy that simply says, you know, “Whoever dies with the most toys wins.”  Well, the problem with that is that we carry that philosophy into adulthood, and we continue to buy into that line of thinking.  So we begin to see our jobs purely as a means to make money so that we can have more things, and the career becomes the engine in order to chase after the things which we think will make us feel much more secure.

When our kids were young, we used to make a trip to one of the neighborhood pools several times a week during the summer months.  One day we had parked the car and were heading to the pool entrance.  My son, Joshua, was carrying a beach ball which was bigger than he was, and it was a very windy day, and a gust of wind took the beach ball in the opposite direction we were heading.  Well, I started walking toward it and bent down to pick it up.  Another gust of wind took it off a little bit more.  Well, you know, I started going after it a little bit more quickly, and about that time a huge gust of wind took it and kept it rolling out of my reach all the way across the parking lot.  So now I am running after this beach ball…and you know how fast I can run!  So it actually took about 100 yards for me to catch up with it, which I don’t know if that tells you more about the wind or about how winded I was.  I’m not sure.  But I finally got it and I came back.  I didn’t think a whole lot of it, though I knew I looked stupid to everyone in the pool area who may have seen what was going on.  Fifteen or twenty minutes later I was wading through the pool, and I passed a lady I didn’t even know, and she said, “I saw you chasing that beach ball across the parking lot earlier.”  And I’m…you know, I don’t know how she even recognized me because I’m such a blur, you know, when I run!  But somehow she knew it was me, and she said, “I about laughed my head off.”  She said, “That was the funniest sight I’ve ever seen!”  She said, “I wish I had a video of it.”  I said, “I’m glad you don’t have a video of it,” you know?  I felt even more foolish then.

And we’ve all seen people like that.  We’ve all seen people chasing after something that’s as elusive as the wind, and even when you get to it, it is empty on the inside.  And we run and we run after all these things.  It’s not just our coworkers and it’s not just our neighbors; it’s us.  There is this hunger for position and money.

Now there is nothing wrong with pursuing advancement.  There is nothing wrong with making more money this year than you made last year—as long as those pursuits pale in comparison to the priority of Jesus Christ in your life.

Solomon wrote the Book of Proverbs, but he also penned the Book of Ecclesiastes.  In Ecclesiastes 4:4 he says, “And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbor.  (In other words, “Keeping up with the Joneses.”)  This, too, is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.  …There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.  ‘For whom am I toiling,’ he asked, ‘and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?’  This too is meaningless—a miserable business!” (vv. 4, 8).

For the person who puts success instead of significance on the pedestal, it can start a very dangerous spiral.  And here is the problem with the beach ball mentality: if an uninvited guest, such as a tornado, visits your home address, then your worth and your value are literally blown away along with your possessions.  I mean, if that is where your hope is, if that’s what you’re living for, then all it takes is a natural disaster or calamity to totally change your self-worth.

Dave Ramsey has said, “We are so caught up in making more money and buying bigger things that we have lost most of the thrust to reach the unsaved world.”  One has become a bigger priority than the other.

I was watching a television show the other day that chronicled several of the super tornadoes that have brought such destruction across the country in recent years.  One of the tornadoes they highlighted was the tornado that devastated the town of Joplin, Missouri on a Sunday evening (22nd) in May of 2011.  The next day, an interviewer talked with a man who had taken shelter that day in the cellar of his house along with his family.  And if you’re familiar with the way storm cellars work, you know you just open a door and go down underground in a small cement reinforced room.  Then, once the storm passes, you come back out of the cellar.  And this man and his family came back out of their cellar after the tornado had passed, only to find that there was absolutely nothing left.  The tornado had flattened their house and carried almost everything they owned away.  And when asked how he felt, the man said, “Well, at least all this can be replaced.”  But you know, as I sat in the comfort of my home watching and listening to that interview, I thought to myself, “Is this guy’s heart really in it?  Does he really mean what he says?”  You know what you’re supposed to say, but still, in your heart of hearts…if that’s you…if that’s you in that moment, if that’s me in that setting…I mean, can we say that and really mean it?

The more loosely you hold onto the things of this world, the less control it has on your life.  When generosity flows, it is difficult for selfishness to take root.  Let me ask you something.  Do you know what these people all had in common: William Colgate of Colgate-Palmolive®, William Proctor of Proctor & Gamble®, Wallace Johnson of Holiday Inn®, Robert Welch of Welch’s Grape Juice®, J.D. Rockefeller Sr. of Standard Oil Company®, J.C. Penney®? All these people had one thing in common.  Every one of them shared their testimony at some point and talked about from the time they were a child they tithed every penny that they got back to the Lord’s work.  They gave ten percent of their income back to God.

Years ago, there was a young man in Chicago who failed at a number of attempts to have a successful business.  He finally realized that he had just been ignoring God and he had not been giving God the true firstfruits of his life.  And he prayed to God, and he determined that he wanted to run his cheese business the way God would have him do it, and he promised he would share the profits with God.  The man’s name was J.L. Kraft.  He decided to give twenty-five percent of his income for the rest of his life to the Lord.  Kraft said at the end of his life, “The only investment I ever made which has paid consistently, increasing dividends, is the money I have given to the Lord.”

Understand this.  Maybe the most significance you will gain from work is not the retirement party.  It’s not the accolades or the annual raise that you get.  Maybe it is…what you’re gaining from your work, maybe it is through your paycheck—a takeaway that you can give to someone else.  Maybe that is the greatest gain.  The money that you make, you set aside a portion and say, “I’m going to support a missionary.”  Maybe it is a youth organization. Maybe it is some group that has just kind of been forgotten.  Maybe it is a single mom.  But you begin to say, “My work can make a difference in some ministry, in some other place.”  

Proverbs encourages us to make a fair profit.  In Proverbs 14, as we read earlier, we’re taught how to make a fair profit.  In Proverbs 11, in verses 24 and 25, it says, “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.  A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” (NIV 2011).

Deuteronomy 14:23 in The Living Bible paraphrase says, “The purpose of tithing is to teach you to always put God first in your lives.”  

When you return God’s portion to His work and to His kingdom, you begin to see how tithing is a test.  That’s what it is: it’s just a test of our priorities.  It’s a barometer of who comes first. And you begin to see that that matters more than salary or stock options or a corner office or a parking spot, because Christ is eternal, and all the things of this world will pass away.

Here is a second false equation that I want to remind you of, and that is, Successful Career = Satisfied Life.  

That’s false.  Our society seems to have a measuring rod that seems to be more earthly than heavenly.  Chuck Swindoll said, “The only trouble with success is that the formula for achieving it is the same as a formula for a nervous breakdown.”  He’s right.

In Proverbs Solomon speaks of the ideal.  In Ecclesiastes he shares the personal reality of his own life experiences.  Ecclesiastes 2:11 says: “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve (In other words, all of his work.), everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”

Solomon had chased that beach ball all the way across the parking lot, and when he finally caught up with it, he realized that it wasn’t as great as he thought it was.  

You see, Proverbs gives us a hint of what true success is.  In Proverbs 22:1, it says, “A good name is more desirable than great riches, to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”  

In other words, service, not success, makes you significant.  

Have you done something recently for someone who could never pay you back; could never do anything back for you?

Your job… each and every day when you go to work, your job provides you a platform, a place to do ministry for the Lord.  

And the way you approach your work environment can be a tremendous witness to those investigating Christianity, or it can be a terrible witness.  It can become a barrier.  But remember a sour attitude, a poor work ethic, a divisive spirit, a double lifestyle can keep them from hearing what you have to say on issues of faith.  And there are people who are here right now, who are part of First Church because of a coworker who modeled the way.  But I wonder how many people are not here because they saw duplicity in the life of a coworker…they saw something else.

You see, you and I have the opportunity – the privilege – to model ethics, integrity, teamwork, purity, and joy in the workplace.  That is how we approach our time on the clock. You say, “Oh, David, you’ve never come to my place of work.  You don’t know what my setting is like.”  You’re right.  I don’t.  You say, “My boss is a slave driver.”  Well, Paul has something to say to you in Colossians 3:22 through 24, because he wrote these words at a time when slavery was taking place.  “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (2011).

That is the crux of the matter!  The job that God has blessed you with…if you have been fortunate enough to have a job right now…the God-given job that you have been appointed extends to you the opportunity to begin to see, not an earthly boss but to see a heavenly boss, to see a Master who you are totally sold out to, and you just happen to be at this place of work.  It obliterates the myth that a Successful Career = A Satisfying Life because you are serving for the Audience of One and there are just other people who are onlookers.

Recently the George Gallup Organization conducted a survey.  They interviewed 186,000 people, and they determined something.  They found that only twenty percent of Americans are in a job which utilizes even one of their top five talents.  And therein lies the reason behind why there is such frustration in the workplace.  Eighty percent of the workforce is serving in a capacity in which they are not gifted, in which they are not energized.  No wonder people see work as a four-letter word.  And they experience a high level of frustration because they are a fish out of water, or they are merely punching a time clock.

But what if you were to change your attitude and begin to see that as a mission field? And when you go to work five days a week you say, “Man, this is my place.  This is where God has appointed me.  This is where He has placed me.”

Bob Shanks says it like this.  He says, “Career is what you’re paid for, but a calling is what you’re made for.”  What were you made for?  You were made to glorify God in heaven through your work, through your time with your family, through your interaction with others.  So make certain that that is what takes place when you’re in the workplace.

Sometimes I talk to people, and I hear that they’re ridiculed for their faith…or the pressure that they receive to act in ungodly fashion…and I’ll say, “How do you handle it?”  And they will say, “You know what?  The only way I can handle it is I believe that God has me there for a purpose.”  That is how they view it.  That’s how they embrace it.  And that’s how they endure it.

 

II. THREE PRINCIPLES.

Well, we’ve seen a couple of false equations.  Let me share with you three principles to wrap up.

The first principle is this: Work is a blessing from God, not a curse.  

And we can get confused because after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden the Lord said in Genesis 3:17 through 19: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you and you will eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground.”

Now notice.  The curse was not on work; it was on yardwork, right?!  No, not really…at least I don’t think.

Work is not part of the penalty that God gave mankind after the Fall.  You say, “Well, how can you be sure of that?”  Well, it’s easy, because in the previous chapter, before the first sin, in Genesis 2:15, Adam was given work to do in the Garden before he sinned.

You know the Apostle Paul shares some strong words about work for Christians.  In 2 Thessalonians 3:10 he says, “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat” (NLT).  

First Timothy 5:8 says: “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.”

Here is a second principle: Laziness and dishonesty are despised by the Lord and usually lead to poverty.  

Proverbs 26:14 says, “As a door turns on its hinges so a sluggard turns on his bed.  The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is too lazy to bring it back up to his mouth” (vv. 14-15).

Throughout the Book of Proverbs, it describes a lazy person as a sluggard.  It’s a very visual word-term for us.  They are constantly making excuses.  They pass the blame over to somebody else.  It is never their fault.  It is always someone else’s fault.

Not only does laziness lead to financial problems but so does dishonesty.  Isn’t it frustrating when we see evil seem to flourish?  Or we see the dishonest or underhanded get ahead and it appears that they’re doing well?  Well, just remember something; look at the big picture.  It may be that God will eventually humble them here on earth, or it may be…it may be in eternity.  

Proverbs 13:11 says, “Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers little by little makes it grow.”  

You be honest.  You be hardworking.  You be faithful unto God, and He will take care of your needs.

Well, here is a third principle that I want you to land on and really try to grasp today. That is simply this: Work is pleasing to the Lord and is eventually rewarded.  

That’s a true statement.  It may be rewarded quickly, soon; it may be in the long run.  It may not be until we’re in heaven.  

Proverbs 12:11 says, “He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment.”  

We have plenty of people who squander their hard-earned dollars in search of some fantasy. Maybe they gamble it away at the casino, or they spend it day in and day out on the lottery and they just hope for that to hit big one day.  Maybe it is a “get rich quick scheme,” and they invest in something, and they just hope that they’ll get money back quickly.  And at the root of some of that, at times, is that we don’t want to work to earn it.  We just want that quick gift of it.

And that is what Proverbs is getting at—that’s not the way to go about it.  It is, “Slow and steady wins the race.”  It’s wise and prudent behavior and investment and savings.  But leading the way is generosity.

Take your Bible if you would.  I know I’ve gone fast on some of these proverbs but turn to Proverbs 21 and we’re going to look at three verses together where we’re going to just go one chapter at a time.  

Proverbs 21:5…  This is a good one for us when we think about planning our family budget or planning out our schedule or our calendar app at work: “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.”

Turn to the next chapter to Proverbs 22:29: “Do you see a man skilled in his work?  He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.”

Turn over a few chapters to Proverbs 27.  Proverbs 27:23…  This is a good verse for you to remember when you’re trying to stay on top of your own financial situation: “Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds; for riches do not endure forever…”  (vv. 23-24).

Okay?  Know what is going on in your flock.  Know what is going on in your finances.  Have a plan.

You know the reason we all need this message is because gradually, if we’re not careful, we’ll begin to buy into the lie which says, “The secret to a successful life is a satisfying career.” Can I tell you something?  That lie has done a world of hurt to numerous families.  You work sixty-hour weeks.  Your biggest stress in your life is your boss.  Your biggest thrill in life is a sale as opposed to the picture that your third-grade child brings home from school.  And all of a sudden, we start to kind of get things out of kilter, and we begin to learn, in time, that even a paycheck or a promotion cannot satisfy our deepest needs.

It was Augustine who said to God, “Our hearts are restless until we find rest in You.” But it seems that in today’s culture we’re more into feeling better than finding God.  Our temporary quest for position or possessions has a stronger pull than our desire for filling that God-shaped void.

Eventually the Christian who has been faithful – the Christian who does the work and the will of the Lord – will be rewarded.  You say, “What’s the reward?”  Here is what the reward is: Resurrection!  Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, as a believer, you have the power of the resurrection—the grave will not be able to keep you.  You can experience heaven for all eternity because of the fact that Jesus Christ has paid it all for you.  He has done the work for you, spiritually speaking.

 

David Hall
First Church of Christ
May 30, 2021