God is the God of Fortune 500 companies and he is the God of cleaning the dryer lint. Joy in work isn’t calibrated towards the size of the work, but the size of the Lord who has called you to the task.
The text for the sermon today is Ecclesiastes chapters 9 & 10. Our reading will begin in 9:17. These are the words of God:
17 The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. 18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.
Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a stench;
so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.
2 A wise man’s heart inclines him to the right,
but a fool’s heart to the left.
3 Even when the fool walks on the road, he lacks sense,
and he says to everyone that he is a fool.
King Solomon’s reign marked the high point of ancient Israelite culture. It also marked the turn of the tide into decline and eventual exile. The wisest man who ever lived acted like a fool and the nation suffered. We’ve said that Ecclesiastes was written in Solomon’s old age as a repentant statement on his youthful apostasy. And we’ve broken the book into three sections:
First, if you pursue joy without pursuing God, then despair is what awaits you. (ch. 1-2) Second, God is sovereign over all things and wrestling with that reality is the key to joy. (ch. 3-8) Today, we enter the final section of Solomon’s book in which he peppers us with various practical exhortations. (ch. 9-12)
This life is filled with frustration: family, financial, governmental, health. And God’s people are not immune to those frustrations. If you feel frustrated, you are normal. Yet, at the same time, we know that everything we have is a gift from God. Therefore, we can enjoy all of it as divine blessing. We can’t know all the ways of God, but we can know the God who directs all our ways, and that is enough.
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Chapter 9 begins by recapping Solomon’s overall teaching: death comes to everyone; rich and poor, wise and simple, strong and weak. Nevertheless, it’s better to be a living dog than a dead lion. (9:1-6) So, pursue joy in everything you do. Eat meals and drink wine with a merry heart. Enjoy your spouse and stop to smell the roses. This can only happen if you exert effort. So, do these things will all your might. (9:7-10) Chapter 9 concludes with a transition: wisdom is better than foolishness and chapter 10 is begins a litany of practical wise sayings. (9:11-10:7)
Fools dig holes and fall into them. Morons tear down old walls without testing for asbestos. There’s a way to do your work that results in productivity and a way to do work that results in more work. Wise workers sharpen the iron before they swing the ax. (10:8-11) Fools love talking about the work. Wise workers work. Laziness is a destroyer. But how? It destroys time that could be spent working. (10:12-15) Foolish nations are led by juveniles. They enjoy the products of their labor before the labor has been done. Wise nations are led by those who have learned and worked. They feast after exerting hard labor. (10:16-17) The nation crumbles because people are lazy. The roof didn’t sink in because of the rain. It sank because no one was minding the structural integrity of the rafters. (10:18) To those who labor, God gives the good gifts of bread, wine, and money. (10:19) When you look around and see sloth, entitlement, and laziness, don’t lose your head. Outrage, by itself, is only another timewaster when you could have been working. (10:20)
A SHORT PRIMER ON WORK
When God formed the man out of the dust of the earth and breathed life into him, he gave him a job. Adam was to maintain and improve what God had made in creation. He was to name and care for the other living creatures God made. This means that work was part of paradise, not a punishment for sin. As Sayers once said:
work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties … the medium in which he offers himself to God.
The ancient people didn’t refer to jobs, but to vocations, from the Latin: vocare – or “calling”. God calls into the home, the garage, the field, or to the desk to take his creation and glorify it.
While our culture despises the wife who oversees the home, or the man who herds cattle we know that in Genesis 1 God was a gardener and Christ was a carpenter. This means no calling is too small or insignificant to be dignified.
Choosing a vocation ought to include at least three tests:
FIRST: Will this work bring glory to God? Smuggling cocaine doesn’t meet this test. SECOND: What duties has God placed upon me? A single guy can live off ramen noodles and tap water. A family of 5 requires you earn more. If your parents are aging, you may need to take a job closer to them so you can obey the 5th commandment. THIRD: What natural gifts and passions has God given me? We’ve taught a generation that this is the only criteria for choosing a career. If you love it, you should be able to do it as a career. But in the real world some jobs are less than marketable, and there’s no shame in digging ditches to pay bills.
HOW THEN OUGHT WE WORK?
Assuming we’ve found a calling that passes the three tests, how then ought we to work?
First, open your eyes and see the opportunity. We live in the wealthiest nation on the planet. We live in the land of greatest opportunity. So, any who can’t find something to do simply doesn’t want to. As Cotton Mather once said:
Faithfulness begat prosperity, and then the daughter devoured the mother.
Second, Christians ought to be the hardest workers in the world. Note that I didn’t say we should work the most hours. Work is not God. But when we’re on the clock, we ought to be serving the work. And, the way you know you aren’t worshipping work is by keeping the Sabbath. You rest one day a week from your labors.
Third, take responsibility for the quality of the work. Lazy people are good talkers because they have to be ready with an excuse. If you are going to miss a deadline, say so. Set fair prices. Set fair expectations for employees and hold them accountable. Laziness is visible.
Fourth, recognize that authority and responsibility flows toward those who are diligent. God has designed this world to reward good work. So, if God advances you, receive it with joy and humility. Our town, our schools, our nation is in critical need of Christians who work hard occupying places of power.
FINDING JOY IN WORK
Work isn’t everything. And it isn’t nothing. God is everything, and he has given us work. None of us have honored him sufficiently in our work, and for that God has given us the grace of Christ.
As we hold all those pieces together, we realize something: the finitude of our work keeps us humble and knowing that our smallest labors come from God keep us from devaluing even the slightest task. God is the God of Fortune 500 companies and he is the God of cleaning the dryer lint. Joy in work isn’t calibrated towards the size of the work, but the size of the Lord who has called you to the task.