Genesis: The Book of God’s Kingdom – 11 (“The Ordinance of Labour – 02”)
1. SCRIPTURE READING:
Gen.2:26-28 (ESV) ~ “26Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
We learned last week that the creation of the universe and man, resulted in the gift of work, but this gift came with the gift of responsibility and creativity when God told Adam in the ordinance of labour ~ “…to work the earth and keep it” (Gen.2:15).
Adam was provided with the responsibility of work by God Himself. God put human beings into the garden (Gen.2:8) in order to work it and take care of it (Gen.2:15). This is the initiative and gift of God. “To work the garden” is the phrase commonly used in a religious sense of serving God (Deut.4:19) and in tabernacle duties (Num.3:7-8). To cultivate the soil is to serve God. To take care of the garden has the sense of guarding it from harm. It has the sense or meaning of taking care of and observing God’s commands or guarding the tabernacle from desecration (Afrikaans: “ontheiliging”).
Human beings are given the opportunity for responsible working, which is intrinsic to human life. We are therefore given the gift of work, to cooperate with God’s purposes.
3. THE EFFECT OF SIN ON WORK:
The majority of Christians would say that this is in theory very true, but the problem is that we live in a fallen world, a world very much estranged from its Creator. Not surprisingly, sin has profoundly affected our work. This fact has a direct and incredible impact on our lives – on our emotions, our spiritual lives, our work and even our relationship with God.
I once again want to stress the fact that work is not the result of the fall – of the curse of sin. If we believe that work is the result of sin and the curse of sin, it destroys almost all our motivation for work – if work is a curse, it is impossible for us to thank God for it. We have already seen last week, that work is in actual fact a gift from God which must be cherished by believers. To summarise therefore…
- The nature of work is good, not evil.
- Work was given before the Fall, not after it.
- The nature of the curse itself shows that work is not a result of the curse.
- God’ perspective on work remains positive after the Fall, not negative.
If we say that sin has an impact on work, what then is the result of sin for work? Let me mention three:
- Sin made work harder: Because the Fall made work much harder, the work environment became much less cooperative. The sweat, the toil, and the burdensome aspect of work are products of the Fall.
- Sin rendered life and its work “futile”: We cannot escape the effects of the curse in this life. This is the message of the book of Ecclesiastes ~ “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” (Eccl.1:3). Paul repeats this theme in Rom.8:20a when he says ~ “For the creation was subjected to futility.” This world and therefore also work, will remain under that curse until God remakes it someday. But, in the meantime, we as Christians, in spite of the fact that we as God’s children are also experiencing the gripping futility of life, we are to live in obedience to the Lord.
- Sin affects our co-workers and the system: One final effect of the Fall on work is that each of us must work alongside sinful humans and participate indirectly in sinful systems and societies. This is inescapable. We pay taxes to, in many cases, an evil and corrupt government and some of our tax money fund activities to which we object (e.g. abortion clinics) and to which I think God objects. We buy goods and services and participate in our economy, knowing that some of our providers have little or no regard for righteousness, justice, or ethical integrity. Our total culture is heading further and further away from God and that is what it means to live and work in a fallen world.
We must also not forget that our own sinful lives, tempts us to work against God and pursue wrong ends with wrong motives. We sometimes work with very secular attitudes and leave God out of it. We may even turn work into an idol. The question is whether we go to work in the mornings with the right attitude or not? Are we going to work in the mornings with the attitude and motivation and goal to serve God in and through our work? Are we going to work with an attitude of servanthood – not only to serve God, but also our fellow workers, clients, or students?
It is of the utmost importance that we must carefully examine ourselves and the attitudes with which we approach our work. You may need to confess sin in this area. You may need emotional healing. But be certain that none of us escapes the tragic effects of sin on our work, because when we try to escape this world and withdraw into a self-made cocoon, we experience another problem and the problem with this attitude or action, is that the moment we establish our own cocoon or community, we become so aware of our own sin and the sin of other Christians that withdraw with us (e.g. in a “Christian community”). We cannot escape this world or change this world. When we look at the parable of the Kingdom in Matt.13:24-30, we realise that only Christ can and will eventually, change this world.
For us to escape from this world, or even fight the system, is of no use, because neither “flight nor fight” is adequate. Work is not our enemy. Sin is our enemy. And only Christ is adequate to deal with sin. His strategy for dealing with sin, however, is never to remove us from the “jungle”, but instead to equip us adequately to live in the “jungle”. The strategy for dealing with sin, however, is never to be removed from the jungle. In Joh.17:14-15, Jesus prays to His Father regarding us ~ “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.”
Christ wants us in the world. Not of it, but in it. He has made us for the “jungle”. Without question, the “jungle” is hostile to Christlikeness. Yet God uses the very tension to teach us how to walk with Him. He uses the workplace, dominated as it is by sinful people and their sinful systems, to test and build our faith and character.
4. MODUS OPERANDI:
Realising this, the question remains, what can we; what can you do to confront the evil you find in the workplace, but also in yourself?
- Expect evil: First, you need to expect evil when you enter the marketplace, or a new job. You will definitely experience conflict. Jesus warned us about this in Joh.15:18-19 ~ “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” This means that on this side of heaven we will always have to live with tension we don’t like. In other words, we cannot have the ideal situation. We may eliminate some evils, as it happened with slavery. But others will soon take their place, such as racism and discrimination. And many evils will probably never be eliminated. So, we must accept living in a very imperfect world. This includes learning to live with casualties, because in such a world, people all around us are going to go down. Some will lie in “beds of their own making”. Others will find themselves victims of someone else’s sin. This calls for both sober-mindedness and compassion for these victims and victims-to-be.
- God is sovereign: In order to confront evil you find in the workplace, you must realise and believe that God is sovereign. Sometimes we have no control over a situation. Sometimes our hands are tied and we must stand by and watch people destroy themselves and others. However, we must also keep in mind that although a situation maybe out of control, it is never out of God’s control. We must keep in mind two aspects of God’s character. First, He is all loving, so He cares that people suffer from evil in the world. In fact, His love demands that He deal appropriately with evil. Second, He is all powerful, so He is able to deal with it. Indeed, the Scriptures indicate that someday He will finally do away with it. In the meantime, when we often feel helpless and it seems we can do nothing, there’s always one thing we can do: we can pray. We have the authority as believers to approach the One who has what it takes to conquer evil. For this reason, Jesus has encouraged us to pray at all times and not lose heart (Luke 18:1-8).
- God expects us to act: Third, God expects us to act. It is true that we cannot always do something about our situation, but He does not want us to throw our hands up in despair. Instead, He expects us to take what action we can to appropriately deal with evil. Paul gives us the solution for this problem in Rom.12:9-21. On the negative side, we must “abhor what is evil” and positively, we must “cleave to what is good” (Rom.12:9). In other words, when we see evil we should hate it, and in response we should do whatever we can to promote good. Paul lists quite a number of positive steps we might take in different circumstances. But the climax of the passage is with a restatement of the principal in vs.21 ~ “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” This does not mean that we must point out all of the sins and faults of people. In the first place, unbelievers have not experienced the transforming work in their hearts that only Christ can do. Furthermore, the emphasis in the New Testament seems to focus on holiness in the believer and the Church. If we faithfully concentrate on that, we might find ourselves having more of an impact on a non-Christian world – we must “overcome evil with good.”
- God uses evil: We must also remember that God uses the evil of the workplace to build our character. As James puts it ~ “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4). When we experience evil in the workplace, we must unfortunately address and/or handle the situation – we can either just accept it, or we must “solve” the problem. So, one way or the other, we must learn to deal with evil on a larger scale.
It is important to make two distinctions when confronting such evil in the workplace:
- Legitimate vs. questionable work: The first is the distinction between legitimate as opposed to questionable work. When referring to questionable work, we must not always think of work that is criminal or illegitimate – seemingly acceptable or legitimate practices in the workplace can also be unacceptable to us as believers – think of an abortion clinic, or a liquor shop, or the tobacco industry, etc. But we must not be too hard and fast in either advocating or condemning various careers. There are complex issues involved that each individual must evaluate and decide according to his or her own conscience. We must avoid legalistic, uninformed pronouncements. Instead, each of us should ask, “Is my current work enabling me to make my best contribution as a co-worker with God?”
- Direct vs. indirect participation in evil: There is also an important distinction between direct and indirect participation in evil. If, for example, you own a grocery shop you may sell goods to people who might sell it in an unlicensed shop somewhere next to a farm road. Or bank robbers may come and buy food from you with the stolen money. If you find out about this, you are not expected to close your business. A direct way of participating in evil is e.g. to be a worker in an illegal drug manufacturing factory, or a clerk in a liquor store and this, I am convinced of, is unacceptable in the eyes of the Lord.
- Our response towards evil: Whatever the case may be, you as a Christian employee, who lives out your Christian convictions, may find yourself in a situation where there is some sort of evil present in the workplace – what must your response be?
- Act when called to participate: You as believer should avoid direct participation in evil. In Dan.3, we find an excellent illustration of this. Daniel had three friends who shared his faith and went with him into captivity. These three men were confronted with a direct order to bow down to an idle, something expressly prohibited in the Old Testament law (Ex.20:3-5). They simply refused to obey the order, because to do so would have violated God’s unequivocal commandment (Afrikaans: “duidelike en ondubbelsinnige opdrag”).
The same principle applies to us as Christians today. To lie to a customer, to cheat the government, to steal from our employer, or to ignore the laws that govern our Industry is to directly oppose the express teaching of Scripture ~ “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom.12:1-2, Eph.4:28, Cl.3:9, 1 Pet.2:13-15).
- Act when your conscience is violated: Most of us can easily discern that falsifying tax records is wrong. But so many issues of integrity in the workplace are grey areas, in which the line between right and wrong is blurred. We as believers must act when our conscience is violated. We must listen to our Biblically formed conscience, one that has been trained to discern good and evil in situations where they are hard to distinguish (we must listen to the Holy Spirit). Many situations in the workplace should trigger a conscience. Once aroused, we should look for clear Scriptural grounds for our uneasiness, and then take appropriate steps to avoid evil and promote good.
- Act when it is in your power to end or avoid evil: Many people say that they cannot do anything about societal evil. And yet God has given each of us a limited sphere of control. That sphere may extend no further than our desk or work station. But as long as we have responsibility for what goes on there, we can claim that territory for God, even if it seems like an island in a sea of evil. Like Daniel, we should use our authority to… ~ “…overcome evil with good” (Rom.12:21). As Prov.3:27 puts it ~ “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” Or, as Paul says in Gal.6:10 ~ “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Whatever power we currently have or have been entrusted with, we have a responsibility to God. Like Daniel, we should use it to promote good – good for all people, not just Christians. And if God chooses to increase our influence, we should use that as a great opportunity for good.
- Act when innocent people will be affected: When we see that innocent people may be affected negatively by evil, we should not just stand idly by while they are in danger of being affected by the evil. We must not ignore it. And to the extent that we can, we should circumvent (find a way around it, or avoid it) it by doing good today, before evil even arrives tomorrow. And when innocent people are affected by evil, we as believers must reach out to them and comfort, help and support them as far as possible.
- Our action in a hostile environment: I have spoken in great detail of how we must act when things are wrong, but how must we as Christians act in a hostile and evil environment?
- Go to the source if possible: When you have identified the source of the evil, you could arrange a conversation with him or her, you might be able to clarify facts and, if necessary, challenge him or her to reconsider the decision in a calm and loving way. It is possible that there is a reasonable explanation, or that not all the facts have been brought to the surface. It is also possible that he or she needs someone to challenge them to do what is right. Just note, that if the source of the injustice or evil is an unbeliever, you won’t get far by quoting Scripture to them. A better approach, I believe, is to appeal to them along the lines of broad categories of morality and justice. While few non-Christian’s accept the authority of the Bible, most do hold to a general sense of what is human and decent.
- Count the cost: While we act against evil, we must expect positive results, but we also need to expect some negative consequences. And those consequences can be severe. Whistle-blowers, for example, are usually treated very poorly in our culture and usually find it very hard to function normally afterwards. They may not be able to find employment. They may suffer terrible psychological wounds. And the stress of their plight may take its toll on their families and marriages. Likewise, people who stand up for right can find them self, staring down “the barrel of a political shot gun” held by someone who doesn’t want to be reminded of what is right. Being fired is not the only possible fate. One could conceivably find oneself both fired and blacklisted, unable to continue in the industry. The person could remain in their job, but find a sudden loss of power, or a loss of friendships. All of these are potential costs. And you would be wise to weigh them and determine whether you can afford them. What you must weigh is the issue involved against the risk involved. Sometimes it is wiser to keep your mouth shut, love your enemy, pray for your enemy and allow the experience to build your character. However, there are cases when the issues involved, so far outweigh any risk or consequence that you should be prepared to pay any price to do what is right. Think again of Daniel and his friends. They refused to bow down to the idol, and so the king threw them into a furnace.
- If necessary, leave: Some circumstances may become so impossible to deal with that our only real choice is to quit, but that must always be the last resort. We must always remember that we live (and work) in a fallen world and therefore, the ideal situation or environment does not exist. Secondly, we must keep in mind that the Lord sent us initially into a situation where He knew beforehand that evil exists and He wants you there in order for you to be a shining light for the Kingdom of God.
- Prayer: The beginning and end of handling evil situations in our work environment is a strategy of prayer ~ “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim.2:1-2).
- Start with yourself: Personal holiness is the foundation from which all of our efforts must spring. Don’t ever give your seniors the opportunities to find flaws in your work, character, or any possible wrongdoing on which they can act against you in a retaliation. Dan.6:4 ~ “Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him.”
6. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:
Beloved, God uses everything in the workplace to train our character. He uses the evils we face, the people we can’t stand, the circumstances of tension and pressure, long working hours, the solicitations (Afrikaans: “skimpe”) or even instructions to compromise, the irritations of angry customers, the interruptions, the financial reversals, the deals that fall through, even the traffic on the way home – He uses all of it to make us like Jesus.
Obedience to God is learned through a process and that process is not fun at times. Hebr.12:11 says ~ “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”