Today the emphasis is on witnessing. The search is on for exotic ways by which the Christian can reveal his Christianity. The normal methods for doing this are completely overlooked so that the danger is run that the testimony of the regular life stands in conflict with the special things a person sets out to do. It is well to stress that rather than demanding of us extraordinary efforts and methods of witnessing, the Bible lays upon us the demand to be faithful witnesses of God as we do the things we are given to do. It is in the area of our daily labors that the child of God has the opportunity to reveal the power of God’s grace in his life. In our work we come into contact with the greatest number of people, usually people with worldly outlook and practices. No matter what the occupation, farmer, businessman, factory or office worker, there you meet the world and there you meet church members of greatly differing persuasions. In these contacts the matter of practical Christianity comes to a head. Why do you work? How do you perform your labors? What is your attitude towards your employer, your wages, your work and leisure time? More and more industries are moving toward a four-day workweek. Fringe benefits such as retirement and vacation are uppermost in the workers’ minds. And you, what occupies your mind as you go about your work . . . hour after long hour? To what do you look forward? Surely not retirement!
WORK A GOOD THING
We have been put on this earth to work, and work is a good thing. That might strike us as strange. To the young person hoeing in the garden swimming is a good thing. To the father sweating in the factory, sitting in the backyard with the sports page is far better. The farmer would rather go to a sale than clean out the barn. And the minister often times would rather read a book than go about the difficult work of searching out the Scriptures. Laziness belongs to our natures. Easily we delude ourselves with the thought that having nothing to do is better than sweating honestly. The remark of the proud soldier’s mother comes back, “He doesn’t have to do anything. He just sits at his desk all day and drinks coffee.” She thought that was good for her son. This strange way of looking at toil and labor derives from the fall of man in Paradise. Briefly we ought to remember that Adam was busy in the garden; he was placed there to dress the garden and to keep it, and he had dominion over all the earthly creation. The fall, however, altered this matter of labor in two ways. First, due to the cursing of the ground for man’s sake, the matter of making a living became a difficult thing (see Gen. 3:17-19). Secondly, man came under the curse in such a way that he lost the image of God and received a depraved nature. The point is that with a darkened mind, an obdurate will, and with impure affections man views labor as a distasteful thing to be avoided. So lazy is he that he must be sent to the ant to consider her ways.
Redemption in Christ makes the child of God a willing servant and causes him to take a sanctified view of work and activity. In fact, since redemption touches not only the elect, but creation, time, and every other creature, we may say that the whole area of activity and calling has been set free of the curse. Therefore labor is a redeemed creature, a good thing. Perhaps we are not properly aware that the fourth commandment teaches this very thing. It is true, the emphasis of the fourth commandment is that we remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. But when God says, “Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work,” He is also commanding us to work. The implication is even present that if we are to observe and fully enjoy the Sabbath, we must work six days. The man who enters into the enjoyment of the rest prepared for him by Christ, on Sunday is the man who has been faithful all the weeklong.
That to be busily engaged is good for man may also be shown from the fact that in heaven we are going to be busy. And since there is no night there, we are going to work non-stop forever. Let us not entertain the thought that in heaven we shall lie about under shade trees, strumming on golden harps; or sit around banquet tables, eating delicacies. According to our place and position in the host of the redeemed, according to our capacities, according to the new names we shall receive, we will spend eternity working. It will not be toil in the sweat of our brows, it will not be work in the sense of our present labors. For then all activity will be perfectly directed toward God, His praise and adoration. The labor that the Christian accomplishes on earth must somehow anticipate that heavenly activity. Surely there are certain features of earthly labor that will pass away: the Bible teaches that we must work if we are to eat, we must be gainfully employed so that we can support the ministry of the gospel, mission work, the seminary, Christian education. Besides, one reason for working even if we don’t need the income is that we may have to give to him that needeth. But these particular reasons will pass away with the present heaven and earth.
Nevertheless, there is a similarity and likeness between what we now do and what we shall perfectly do in heaven, a similarity that lies in the direction of the labor and the basic reason for performing it. “Whether ye eat, or whether ye drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” That first of all. When we work, get our pay, buy groceries and eat them with our children, we are to do so with the acknowledgement that God is our Father, that He is faithful and good! And then we are to use the newfound strength in performing the labors He has given us in such a way that our very workshows the power of His grace in our lives. It is in this way, secondly, that we show that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” As the workmanship of God we are to walk in good works. But where ought we to be walking in those good works more than in our jobs and occupations? No matter what we do each day, we labor here and now as citizens of the kingdom of heaven so that how we work, our attitude while we work, what we do with our gain . . . all belong to our calling. And to get back to the idea of witnessing. When a child of God so labors, he will be observed by those round about him, and God will use this testimony to bring others to Christ! (Lord’s Day XXXII)
There are dangers that present themselves here which, if not successfully resisted, will completely vitiate the Christian’s witness. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus places great emphasis upon the necessity to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and to seek it first. Take no thought for such questions as what shall we eat or what shall we drink or wherewithal shall we be clothed? Those things belong to pagan concern, but not to the Christian’s. If a child of God gets entangled with that sort of thing, he forgets about his heavenly destination, he loses his sense of direction, and he fails to give a pilgrim witness. “The world is too much with us . . . getting and spending,” said the poet Wordsworth. How True! We do not live by bread alone. No man does, but we ought to know better. The implications of Jesus’ words, spoken when He was tempted by the Devil to change stones into bread, are that if we are to live we must obey all the Father’s words. There is no life in the way of disobedience. His way must be followed if we are to experience the blessedness of life.
In close connection with this general danger of losing sight of our heavenly destination by getting involved with the pursuit of the things of this world are several other pitfalls. There is the pressing problem of unionism. Much has been written on these pages concerning labor unions; it will be sufficient here simply to point out the following. Membership in the labor union movement is out of bounds for the child of God because it is thoroughly materialistic and avowedly earthly minded; it is membership which demands of its members the assuming of a yoke which for the Christian is an unequal yoke. And membership involves each member in terrible violations of the fifth commandment in that it flagrantly flouts God-ordained authority. The second thing to be observed here is the whole matter of leisure and free time. The work week is not six days as it should be, but it is generally five and is going towards four. Vacations which used to be only for the idle rich are now considered to be the right of every man, every year. And people either retire willingly, or are forced to retire, long before they cease to be productive, able workers. The result is idle time, and if we know ourselves a little bit that ought to scare us! It has been said that the Devil’s workshop is idleness. When you are busy, one devil tempts you; when you are idle, a hundred. Idleness is sin not only because being idle you are not doing some positive good, but also because you can never be truly idle. Paul tells Timothy, for example, “the idle wander from house to house, being tattlers and busybodies, speaking those things which they ought not.” But there is more. When people indulge in various forms of inactivity, not only do they harm themselves, but they rob the church of their resources and earning power. We know how we can spend all kinds of money on ourselves, on vacations and recreational items, but how we pinch the penny when it comes to worthwhile causes; then we can make all kinds of excuses why this or why that does not measure up to our standard of giving. And finally, when we allow visions of retirement to dance in our heads, we deny to one and all that we are on a journey to another and better country. How our talk can betray us! So many years and I will retire. And I will retire on so much per month and I will do this and this. Can this sort of talk be distinguished from the babbling of the rich fool, “Soul, thou hast much good laid up in store for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” This premature endpoint called retirement may not be the object of our lives.
A FEW SUGGESTIONS POSITIVELY
Be content! How the Scriptures celebrate the spiritual grace of contentment! Natural man supposes that gain is godliness. He imagines that he is well-off and God-pleasing when he continues to gain and increase. But such a man is a covetous man and thus an idolater, for he serves not God but himself. His discontent is found in the fact that riches do not please but are deceitful. His bread is the bread of sorrows and he never finds satisfaction. But godliness with contentment is great gain. Does that sound strange? Having food and raiment, let us therewith be content. Be content with your job, with your wages, with your life circumstances; such a contentment consistently displayed will result in a powerful witness! If you suffer patiently at the hands of an unjust employer, if you avoid petty bickering, if you show you have interests other than wealth and pleasure and retirement, you will have an impact on those around you and they will ask you questions concerning the hope that is in you.
Secondly, the laboring Christian always prays. As a youth already he makes a matter of prayer what he shall do in this life. God knows, of course, what each one shall do. He has planned our lives with infinite care. It remains for us to discover that perfect will, and the discovery comes about through prayer and the study of the Word. Covenant youth, pray about these things, consider your abilities, consider the needs of the church for laborers, discuss with your parents what is worthwhile labor and what is not. And be sure that the Lord will show you the way! Then, too, pray as you labor. Pray for your daily bread, for contentment with your portion, for wise stewardship in respect to the use of the things God has given, for deliverance from the love of money which is the root of all evil.
Finally, and this ought to be encouraging, labor in the knowledge that the hour is late and the return of Jesus Christ for His Church is imminent. Do you do well and suffer for it? Are you mistreated and do you suffer wrongfully? With Christ, commit yourself to Him which judgeth all things righteously. The time approaches when all things hidden shall be revealed and all things done in secret shall be made public. Then labor and toil, hardship and trouble, pain and injustice will all cease. God shall wipe all tears from our eyes. Our weary pilgrimage shall have come to an end, and we shall have rest! And even as we have joy and peace because we are righteous in Christ, we shall be busy in God’s house, serving Him and loving Him with all our being. Is that your hope? Let it be revealed in your present labor.