Sacred 4-Letter Words: WORK

Pastor Craig Carter

In our current sermon series, we’re looking at some English words consisting of four-letters that help us live as God intends us to live. Today we’re going to explore a concept that many people consider a four-letter word to be avoided at all costs – WORK.

Some of you probably agree with Ronald Reagan’s take on the subject … “It’s true hard work never killed anybody, but I figure, why take the chance?”

The truth is: like it or not, most of us cannot avoid work and how we approach it has a tremendous impact on our lives. In our current series, we’ve observed that if we are going to live by the ultimate four-letter word, which is to be HOLY as God is holy, we must be careful with what we do with our MIND, our WILL and our BODY. That means where and how we spend our time (another four-letter word) is critical.

I recently came across an article that describes how a typical American spends his/her life. Based on a life expectancy of 79 years, we spend about 33 years in bed – 26 years asleep and 7 years trying to fall asleep.

During our waking hours, we spend a little more than 8 years watching TV and about 3 years on our phone/computer (that figure is probably increasing rapidly). About 4.5 years is spent eating meals, just over a year exercising and about the same amount socializing. Interestingly, we spend a little less than a year total going to school (grades K-12) but we spend about 7 months standing in line over our lifetime.

I’ve left out the largest chunk of our waking hours – the time we spend at work. In total, it sums more than 13 years for the average American. During the 50 years we are typically employed, we are on the job 24% of the time.   

Anything that gets that much of our time, energy and attention merits our consideration. Maybe that’s why the Bible mentions work, in some form or fashion, on 555 occasions. It provides very little in the way of specific instruction for workers, however.

The most detailed work-related guidance in scripture is found in Colossians 3 where the Apostle Paul tells slaves how they are to view and accomplish their work:

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything you do. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. Serve them sincerely because of your reverent fear of the Lord. Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.” (Colossians 3:22-24 NLT)

This passage contains several truths that pertain to the modern-day working environment. Specifically, it tells us how to WORK right in three particular ways:

1) Work in the right job.

Many persons believe Paul’s words in Colossians 3 directly apply to their situation because they feel like “slaves” in their work. Some folks even justify their sentiments with scriptural support. In particular, they suggest God inflicted human labor on human beings as punishment for sin and disobedience quoting from Genesis 3:17 and 19:

“Because of what you have done, the ground will be under a curse … You will have to work hard and sweat to make the soil produce anything.” (GNT)

As a result, many people see work as a necessary evil. It is a sentence to served, a penance to be paid, a curse to be endured.

This perspective forgets that God introduced the concept of human labor before the Fall. While Adam and Eve were still innocent of sin, the Lord gave them jobs to do – tending the Garden, naming the animals, preparing food. God never intended work to be a curse but rather a blessing.

He knew that meaningful work would help human beings fulfill their destiny. The Lord made us in His image and He works – to create, to provide, to heal.

Just as God is fulfilled by the labor of His hands (i.e. when he looked at all he had worked to created and called it “very good”), we can find true satisfaction in our work.

It’s worth noting that our work doesn’t end when our days on earth are over. You and I will still have something to do in heaven as we will continue to “serve” God (see Revelation 22:3). So clearly God intends for us, as His people, to work.

The key is working in the right job. By that I don’t mean one on Easy Street or Money Avenue. We labor in the right job when we do work that is consistent with who we are.

Our tendencies are apparent at the earliest of ages as evidenced by our interests and aptitudes. For example, some kids like playing with construction toys, some enjoy social activities, and others love solving puzzles.

Work becomes a sacred 4-letter word for us when we are able to use our giftedness in the marketplace (cf. builder, salesperson, scientist). Unfortunately, many persons struggle in the wrong jobs and feel out of place, insignificant, and either bored or defeated.

A recent Harris survey found 45% of American workers feel satisfied in their jobs. That’s an all-time low since a similar poll was conducted in 1987 when 61% were happy in their positions. Maybe that’s because only 51% of employees find their work interesting (down from 70% in 1987) and only 20% are passionate about the work they’re doing.

What a shame to spend 80,000+ hours doing something you don’t enjoy!

While circumstances may force us to settle for less than perfect jobs (when you need money, any job is better than no job), to the extent we can, we need to find the right job.

Sometimes the right job is the job we’re currently in so we don’t need to hastily give up a sure thing for an unknown. But, whenever possible, we need to find a job that suits us.

Start by answering these questions:

What do you love doing? What are you good at doing? Also, what don’t you like to do? What do you do poorly?

Sometimes the dream job is not one where you do the thing you love, but one that gives you the freedom to do the thing you love.

Keep in mind that how, when, and where you work may be just as important as what type of work you do, and don’t forget to consider if there’s a market for your chosen profession. You may be a terrific typewriter repairman, but who’s going to hire you in 2021?

Work becomes a four-letter word we embrace it and don’t try to avoid it when we find the right job – one tailored just for the way God made us.

As the saying goes, “Find a job you love and you’ll never have to work another day in your life!”

2) Work for the right reason.

Why do you work?  Is it to earn lots of money, to impress people, to get out of the house?

Those are all reasons to work, but according to Paul, they’re not the right reason. He contends Christians should labor for one reason and one reason alone:

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people … the Master you are serving is Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24 NLT)

God want us to work for the right reason – to please and glorify Him. That’s why this message applies, not just to folks in the labor force, but everyone – God has a job for everyone to do (on earth and in heaven). There is no such thing as being retired in the Kingdom of God!

But for those of us who are still employed, how do we honor God in the workplace? It is by what we do, by who we are, and by what we say.

We please and glorify God when we are credible, hard-working employees. God wants His people to strive for excellence and have reputations of being diligent, thorough and reliable.

Why? Because we’re not just laying bricks, we’re building walls for Jesus. We’re not just teaching kids, we’re educating young people for God’s glory.

It’s worth noting this message also applies to stay-at-home parents … you are NOT “just a mom” or “just a dad.” You have an incredibly important job to do – for your family and for Christ.

Notice that our work for the Heavenly Boss causes us to obey our earthly bosses and “try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching.” (Colossians 3:22b NLT)

We can learn a lesson about how not to behave from George Costanza in the hit sitcom, Seinfeld. In “The Hot Tub” (Season 7, Episode 5) lovable loser George explains to his friends Jerry and Elaine how he gets out of work assignments by pretending to be annoyed and over-worked. But when it comes to our jobs, we aren’t just to look and act busy, we are to be busy … not because we fear our bosses but out of our reverent fear of the Lord. God isn’t pleased when we are careless, tardy, lazy or irresponsible.  

We also honor the Lord by who we are in the marketplace. The highest level of integrity should be the norm, not the exception, for believers. In our work for Him, God doesn’t want us to cut corners, play with the numbers or skim a little off the top … even when “everyone else” is doing it. In fact, God’s people should avoid even the appearance of evil in the workplace. It’s why Paul refers to being “above reproach” in his letter to Titus (1:6 ESV).

Once we earn credibility by how we work and by who we are, we can then make an eternal impact by what we say. We ultimately glorify God by seeing ourselves as marketplace missionaries. Then we have opportunities such as praying for co-workers, sharing our faith in ways consistent with our witnessing style, showing mercy to fellow employees and encouraging our bosses.

Put it this way. If you are employed, then you are the best shot God has in winning over the lost. Most church-goers spend an hour in a church setting each week, but you’re with your co-workers 40+ hours in an average week!

If I have regrets about how I conducted myself in the labor force prior to becoming a pastor, it involves this area. I was a good employee, I worked hard (or as hard as anyone works in the Air Force!), and I didn’t steal from my employer… but I did very little to share my faith with my co-workers.

Work becomes a sacred undertaking when we work for the right reason … to honor our real Master through what we do, who we are, and what we say.

3) Work for the right reward.

What are you working for? Why do you do what you do? What reward are you after?

Is it being the employee of the month, getting a fat paycheck, a big expense account, or a corner office with a view, earning a 20-year pin, or being able to retire early?

Those are all temporary rewards at best. But when we work for the right reason (to glorify God), we receive lasting rewards.

“Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward…”      (Colossians 3:24a NLT)

What are some of the rewards the Lord gives workers?                       

One of the rewards is confidence. When we accept challenges in our jobs that stretch our abilities and then accomplish the task at hand, we gain confidence and self-assurance.

Have you ever felt completely lost on the first day in a new job? We’ve all been overwhelmed at the start of new job, but then what happens over time as we learn new skills? Our confidence soars and our self-esteem grows. As a result, we become prepared for the next step in life’s journey.

I knew my first few jobs were not the right place for me to be forever. I was a dishwasher in a restaurant, next a bag boy at a grocery store, and then a member of the U.S. Air Force. But I left each one feeling good about myself and they all prepared me for ministry.

Another reward found in the workplace is improved character. God oftentimes uses our job experiences to grow us into Christlikeness. Tackling difficult, frustrating assignments shows us how to persevere. Overcoming temptations to profit personally make us more honest. Squashing rumors about the boss teaches us about loyalty.

I know of no better place than on the job to learn about the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control. Those attributes are the rewards of sacred, God-honoring work.

A final reward of God-pleasing work is a sense of accomplishment. When God completed His creative labors, He paused, looked at what He had done, and declared, “It is good … very good!” You can almost hear Him saying, “I had a good idea, I started to work, I finished the job, and I did it well!”

The world has little to offer that compares to the feeling that results from completing a task and doing it right. This is true across all types of work:

A salesman who closes a profitable deal.

A janitor who puts away the mop bucket and sees a gleaming floor.

A farmer who harvests the last row of his crops.

A carpenter who drives the last nail in a newly constructed house.

A bookkeeper who balances the books down to the penny.

A mother who pats her baby to sleep and turns out the light.

A preacher who hits the print icon on a God-inspired sermon.

Those slices of incredible delight are reserved who work in the right job, for the right reason, and for the right reward.

And the greatest reward comes when we hear our Boss, the Master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

Let me mention to those of you who are bosses, one of the best gifts you can give your employees is an “Attaboy!” and “Attagirl!” You are God’s representative when it comes to encouragement.

A large part of our waking hours are devoted to some kind of work and so we need to do it right and make WORK a sacred four-letter word.

Is your job a blessing to you?  If it is, give God thanks for it. If it’s not or if you’re looking for employment, pray for guidance and ask the Lord to lead you to the right job.

Are you honoring God by what you do, who you are, and what you say at work? If not, confess your faults and ask God to help you work for the right reason.

Are you enjoying the rewards of your labor? If not, step out in faith and accept some challenges that will stretch you and tap into your God-given potential.

What is said about a Navy career is true of all work: “It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure” … and a sacred one at that!