In this chapter …
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English language defines being productive as being “involved in the creation of goods and services to produce wealth or value”. As Christians we are often tempted to look at producing wealth as something that belongs to and in the world and not in church. We believe that wealthy or materially successful people do not go to heaven and that true Christianity is being a lowly servant – always being humble and turning the other cheek.
Whilst these are indeed admirable characteristics – when seen and lived out in the
right context – the primary characteristic of a Christian is one who walks in victory over death and all evil in the world. As Christians we can state, ask and answer: “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that
Jesus is the Son of God.” (1 John 5:4-5 – ESV/NIV)
Paul picks up the same theme when he writes to the church in Corinth: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:55-58 – ESV)
As Christians, we are indeed a people that can already walk in victory. However, it is one thing to state and declare that we can walk in victory; it is a completely different matter to actually walk the talk. One of the ways in which the victory we have in Christ is displayed, is in the way we worship God in our daily lives. For most of us, our lives are mainly taken up by spending time at work. Work is a very important area of our lives – this is true if you are a high flying executive, a housewife, or an employee stuck somewhere near the bottom of the corporate ladder.
I want to venture that the most obvious way in which we can honour and worship God, and display the victory we have in Christ, is by working hard and being productive in whatever we do. Yet, we struggle to get to grips with the idea that productivity can be a spiritual activity whereby we can and must glorify God.
In his writings Paul continuously stressed the importance of hard work, and it is evident that he himself never shied away from giving his absolute best for the cause to which he was called.
In this session we will study some of the passages in Paul’s writings that deal with hard work and then see what we can learn from it. I grouped them into the “four A’s and a B” – Attitude, Appointment, Application, Adversity and Balance.
Whatever we do – Attitude
Paul writes to the Colossians that “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him … Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians
For me, this is a profound statement: it means that it does not matter what my position is in an organisation, what my job function is, or how important my work is – Jesus views the work that I do as exactly the same. It does not matter whether I am the managing director of a multi-national company or whether I am a labourer in a small entity, it does not matter whether my work is strategic planning or opening the mail. If we do the work for Jesus, we do our best – period.
Fulfilling our calling – Appointment
Paul writes to Timothy about “the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do.” (2 Timothy 1:10-12 – ESV) Paul was appointed by Jesus Christ Himself as apostle and teacher.
Paul did not wake up one day and thought by himself, “OK, let change jobs today –
let me see, this Pharisee business is a bit boring. I will try Christianity and then see how it goes …” From the day of his appointment, Paul started preaching the gospel. This was not because he thought it was a good idea. The appointment of Jesus Christ is what spurred him to action. We read in Acts 9 that after Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus and Ananias spoke to him, he was baptised, has some food, spent some time with the disciples in Damascus and then, in verse 20, “At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.” (NIV) Paul acted on the confidence and assurance that he was appointed by God to do what he was doing.
Hard work – Application
Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica: “For you remember, brothers, our labour and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” (1 Thessalonians 2:9 – ESV) This is repeated in his second letter: “nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labour we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:8)
Reading of Paul’s work and life, I do not believe that he did anything half-heartedly. He seems to have been the kind of person who approached each task with a burning passion, and then followed it through with action. Paul is one who lead by example, and he tells the Corinthians that they may follow his lead, as he follows the lead of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Suffering – Adversity
When you live your life and work your work wholeheartedly, you are bound to come up
against resistance. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes about his sufferings: “Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one–I am talking like a madman–with far greater labours, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death.
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27)
This is not the picture we like of someone who is living a successful, Godly life. Yet, Scripture gives us this as an example for our own lives. Standing up for your beliefs, standing out from the crowd, and moving ahead along the way God set out for you is bound to evoke a wave of criticism and opposition. Like Paul, we have to be in a position where we are so confident in doing what God wants us to do, that we will be able to stand against anything the world throws at us – despite the price. Angus Buchan recently said, “I will do the right thing – come what may!”
As noted above, it is very easy to get carried away with our work. If we go through the items listed above, one can easily fall into the trap of believing that everything in our lives revolve around work. Some of the most famous men and women in history failed dismally as husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. If we get all of the above one hundred percent right, but fail to maintain our relationships – with God, spouse and children, we have failed. David Livingstone was one of these: “While Livingstone had a great impact on British Imperialism, he did so at a tremendous cost to his family. In his absences, his children grew up fatherless, and his wife Mary eventually became an alcoholic and died of
malaria trying to follow him in Africa. He had six children. His one regret in later life was that he did not spend enough time with his children.” (Wikipedia)
Paul writes to the Colossians: “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will be discouraged. Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favour, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” (Colossians 3:18-22) There is a definite order in which God wants us to prioritise 0ur lives, and not to do that is to disobey God.
Most people see the actual work one does as the only visible component of a successful business. However, through studying Scripture, we saw that implementation of what God wants us to do is only a small part of the bigger picture. Yet, it is still tremendously important and the Bible is not silent on work ethic.
We have seen that being productive in our daily lives calls for:
- An attitude of working for God;
- A Godly appointment for what we do;
- Applying all our talents and giftings to that which God gave us to do;
- An expectation of adversity; and
- Balance in our lives, especially in our family context.
- You have a client (or boss) who annoys you day in and day out. Payment of your
account (or salary increases) is always a matter of protracted negotiations with him always trying to get a little bit more out of you. This has been frustrating you for some time. In your next shipment of product, you realise that an error was made on the packing slip in your favour. The error is quite small and you know that the chance of it being picked up by your client is virtually zero. Because of your frustrated relationship with the client, you are tempted to let it go as is. Do you?
- You have a business that is doing reasonably well (or employed at a reasonable
salary). You know that you are where you are supposed to be in terms of the calling on your life. You are now offered an opportunity that will double your income, but it will also double the amount of time you spend at work and will
involve a lot of travelling. What factors will you consider in making your
- You made an appointment with one of your best customers. The meeting is very
important to him, as the results thereof will determine the way forward for him
on several fronts. The meeting requires a lot of preparation, and your time is
limited. Three days before your appointment, another customer contacts you and
invites you to a game of golf. He also mentions that there is a possibility of
a large deal emanating from this, as the other two players in the four-ball are
interested in doing business with you. The golf game is on the same day as your
meeting for which you still need to prepare. What factors do you consider in
making your decision?