We're going to look at Eph 2 today, so please grab a bible and open it to our first reading on p825.Our current morning series here at church is about Renewal for a Broken Culture. So in looking at today's topic of "The workplace: job well done" I wonder if you thought there was some kind of a mistake. What does your workplace have to do with fixing our culture? You drag yourself out of bed on a Monday to do whatever you do and is that somehow meant to help fix our society? I suspect most of us don't see how the two fit together. Well, I hope to convince you today that God has big plans for your workplace, that he values your work and workplace highly and it is a key to what he wants to do with the world. Billy Graham, for one, sees it that way. He said
"I believe one of the next great moves of God is going to be through believers in the workplace".
Read with me Ephesians 2:10
10For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Notice how we Christians have been created to do good works. That's both important and amazing - that God has a plan and purpose for our lives and right at the heart of that plan is good works that he's prepared in advance for us to do. That's a great thing to meditate on, but it's not what I want to focus on first. What I want to focus on first is what's not said in that verse. What it doesn't say is where those good works should, or shouldn't take place – in the church, or in the home, or where you work – it doesn't say. It doesn't say under what conditions those good works must take place or what time of day they're done or what group of people they're done to. It just says that all Christians have been created to do good works.
And by that we're meant to presume that our entire lives are, in some way, about doing good works. Regardless of where we find ourselves or who we find ourselves with, our purpose is to do good works. Our work that occupies us during the week is a subset of the good works God has planned for us to do. That means that of all the good works God has planned to for us to do, many of them are going to be during Monday-Friday. Maybe that's obvious, but it's important we see that. God has good works for us to do, and those must run through all areas of our lives. No place, or time or circumstance is excluded. Indeed, for Christians, all the work we do sits under the banner of the good works God has prepared for us to do.
And that's important for 2 reasons. The first is because while the title I've been given is "The Workplace: Job well done", v10 tells us that this is not just a talk for people who do paid work. The bible doesn't really make that distinction. If you're a fulltime mother your work is in your home, or at a toddler group or at WF and so on. If you're retired you work at home, caring for your wider family or here at church in some volunteer capacity. If you're unemployed your work is in the job centre, or out pounding the footpath or at a training course, and at home looking after your family. Your labours are work, just as much as anyone else's, and so this talk is highly relevant to you. Your work comes under the banner of good works too.
The second reason that it's important is because it teaches us to avoid creating some artificial divide between work and Christian things. Ned Flanders from the Simpsons famously has his phone numbers categorised into Christian and non-Christian contacts. Some people call it a sacred/secular divide. Some area of your life is about God and devoted to him, and then there's work. But I think Eph 2:10 is saying that your work, paid or otherwise, is part of the wider category of good works that God has created you for. And regardless of your plans for your work time He has his own.
I'm going to stick my neck out and suggest that you're probably not thinking about your work in the same way God does. That is, you may not be thinking about it through the lens of Eph 2:10. And I'm going to go further and suggest that more often than not the people with the least solid grasp on this are the people who get paid to work; people like me. Do you, for example, pray for your workmates to come to know God or arrange to mix them socially with church friends so they can come to know other Christians? If you pray for them rarely or never, and never break down the work/home/church divide, then can I suggest that you've got some wrong thinking that you need to sort out?
It's too easy to treat work, and especially paid work, as if we can check the Holy Spirit in at the door. Of course we wouldn't say it like that but in practice we often do it nonetheless. We arrive at work as Christians, we do our work, and we go home as Christians, but somehow our real life doesn't always interact with our workmates. And that may be because our gospel vision doesn't really include them.
So what is that God wants from our work? What is God's desire for our workplace? Can our workplace really help mend a broken culture?
To help us think about this area a little more I want to cover just one point with two parts. That point is Why God loves Mondays.
Why God loves Mondays
God loves Mondays for two reasons. The first is because of something you may not have heard very often. That is, that God is interested in your work and he's interest in your workplace. He's interested partly because you spend probably 40 hours there each week, some of you much more, some less. You spend no more than a few hours a week at church, so you probably spend at least 20 times as long in your workplace as in this building. That time matters to God. He's concerned with how you live your life during those hours, just as much as the hours you spend at church or on the sofa. He loves the opportunity you have to be industrious and create. Now you may have never thought about it in that way, and almost certainly not when you drag yourself out of bed, but it's true. God is interested in you as you work.
After all, God himself is a worker. We see that in Genesis 1, where he goes about His work of creating; We see Him delighting in his labour. And within that period we see him creating mankind in his image, and immediately putting them to work, to manage and care for God's creation - as a farmer, a fisherman, a natural resource manager, even a scientist.
So when you go to work, wherever that is, you are doing as God does. Whether that be teaching students, editing a spreadsheet, cooking a meal, solving a complex problem, helping a patient, whatever our work we're living in the image of God.
Now it's important to note that sin spoiled work and so it's not always enjoyable – indeed God promises us that it will be toil – work is hard work. But that doesn't stop it from being good and it's important we remember that. Hard doesn't equal bad. And it doesn't mean that God isn't interested. God delights in the work you do, and we must always remember that.
But there's something that God loves more than work alone, and that's work that's done to please him above all others. Turn over with me to chapter 6:5 where Paul is talking to slaves, but it applies equally to any worker under authority
5Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men,
Paul is saying here that we shouldn't just work to please someone who's looking over our shoulders, but to please God who sees all we do. Another translation puts v6 like this.
[obey your masters] 6not by the way of eye-service, aspeople-pleasers, but as servants of Christ (ESV)
You go to work as a servant of Christ, not to be a people pleaser.
Now, to be a servant of Christ is to be a worshipper of Christ, so he's effectively saying that work done well for God is part of your worship. Striving to please God at work is just as important as good singing here on a Sunday, because both are part of our worship of God. One of our inspirations in working for God has to be a mysterious guy call Nimrod – have you read about him? – his entire life is reduced to 2 verses in Genesis 10 where it says:
8 Cush was the father of Nimrod, who grew to be a mighty warrior on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; that is why it is said, "Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the LORD."
That's all we're told about Nimrod, but we get point, don't we. Nimrod strived for excellence as a hunter and he did that because he was doing it for, and before, the LORD. He wasn't doing it as eye-service for an earthly master. He wasn't a people pleaser. No, he was Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the LORD. And so shouldn't Nimrod be our example? – shouldn't we strive for excellence in what we do in order to please God – strive to be a mightily caring nurse before the LORD, a mightily generous volunteer before the LORD. Strive for excellence before the LORD because that is part of your worship of God.
God loves it when you wholeheartedly work for him, that's the first reason why God loves Mondays.
The second reason why God loves Mondays is because he loves people. Ultimately, good works are about loving other people. He loves the opportunity you have to interact with people, many of whom don't know God - if you're in paid employment these are your co-workers or the man yelling at you on the phone, the messed up patient, the lonely pensioner, or if you're not in paid employment these are your fellow mums, your children, neighbours, the woman or man at the job centre. God loves it that your work brings you alongside them because that contact offers an opportunity to change the world we live in.
In 1943 a group of people under direction of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York met to discuss the evangelism of England. The report that was written had no small vision, as it was entitled "Towards the Conversion of England". Actually, the full title was
Towards the Conversion of England: The Report of a Commission on Evangelism appointed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, pursuant to a Resolution of the Church Assembly passed at the Summer session, 1943, London
But that's not quite as punchy. Anyhow, in that report published in 1945 they wrote
"We are convinced that England will never be converted until the laity use the opportunities daily afforded by their various professions, crafts and occupations."
Notice how they saw that God loves Mondays as well. I wonder if you have that same vision? God loves the chance you have to show love to the person in the office that is least loved. The office reject. God loves the chance you have to care for the person who's going through a relationship breakdown. God loves the fact that you need to rely on him for boldness to step outside workplace norms in order to be that sort of Christian. He loves it that you're driven to your knees to pray that he would open the door for the gospel, and he loves it when he gives you that opportunity. You see, it's a mistake to write off work.
At this point I'd like to recommend to you a very helpful book on considering your workplace as a place for Christian service. It's called "Thank God it's Monday" by Mark Greene and is published by SU. I can wholeheartedly recommend it for an easy read which is full of inspiration, challenge and practical advice. Grab a copy.
In that book Mark Greene comments on our all-too-common failure to have a gospel mindset about our workplaces. Thinking about the evangelism we do as a church, he says
"We fish in pools and puddles when in our workplace we are sitting by an ocean,".
Of course, there are reasons why we don't think more about our workplace in this way. Certainly it's easier not to, but that is like pretending that God only expects us to do easy things. There's also the objection that I'm not paid to evangelise, I'm paid to work. That is true. But you're also commissioned to be at work in the first place by your real boss God. All of life must march to the beat of his drum. Certainly it's not against any employment laws to love and care for your workmates in a radically Christian way. A note to someone feeling down. Saying thank you. Finding out the name of the office cleaner and speaker to her. All of us have the ability to ask our work colleagues to our homes for a meal. Or start a book club or sports team. Invite them to a church event.
God loves Mondays because he loves people. You may need to ask him to make you more loving of your workmates. I'm confident you'll need to ask him for boldness to change the way you operate, to allow you to be radical in your love for others. What I'd like you to imagine is what it would be like if, as Billy Graham said, that the next big work of God took place at your workplace because you asked him to. Why don't we start to pray that big prayer for each other and for our workplaces?
So what does your workplace have to do with renewal for a broken culture? First your work matters to God – , whatever your work is he delights in you as you work to please him. Christians working like that help mend a culture that increasingly has the wrong idea about work, and no idea about God. Second, God loves your workplace because people work there; people who do not know him and yet desperately need to know him. The only way for our culture to be truly mended is for people like them to be made new in Christ. Your workplace is part of God's plan, and so are you.