This post is dedicated to my friend who taught me the value of work and the ethics of doing it right.
Here is a list of my responsibilities (not to boast, but to show that what I am about to write concerns me as well): I’m a husband (this is time consuming, and no, I am not complaining), a full time graduate student, a part-time worker at a book store, a writer for a non-profit organization, a co-leader for a small group of married couples, a blogger, seeking ordination by completing requirements (such as an eighty page statement of belief), and maintaining relationships such as, son, brother, friend, etc. With that said, this post is as much for my readers as it is for me, a helpful reminder that what we do with our time is vital. We must live intentionally.
To motivate you to thought, I want to introduce you to something called “antithetical paraphrase” and this particular one concerns Psalm 23.
“The TV is my shepherd,
My spiritual growth shall want.
It maketh me to sit down and do nothing for His name’s sake,
Because it requireth all my spare time.
It keepeth me from doing my duty as a Christian,
Because it presenteth so many good shows that I must see.
It restoreth my knowledge of the things of the world
And keepeth me from the study of God’s Word.
It leadeth me in the paths of apathy
And doing nothing in the Kingdom of God.
Yea, though I live to be a hundred,
I shall keep on viewing my TV,
For it is my closest companion.
Its sound and picture, they comfort me.
It presenteth entertainment before me,
And keepeth me from doing important things with my family.
It filleth my head with ideas,
Which differ from those set forth in the Word of God.
Surely, no good thing will come of my life,
Because my TV leaveth so little time to do the will of God.
Thus I will dwell in the house of idleness…
And sloth forever.”
Now go read Psalm 23 and you will see why this is called an antithetical paraphrase! I received this poem in class a couple years ago; I do not know the author, but it is to the unknown author I give credit. Based on my list of responsibilities above, there is not much time to watch television, though I sneak it in somehow, even when I know I have important things to accomplish. On a straight level of the Christian life, this sort of abuse has many things tied to it, and I will discuss the abuse of sloth, procrastination, laziness or whatever you want to call it, in detail in the ensuing paragraphs. The first thing that jumped in my mind is that this lifestyle is unloving. In all of my responsibilities, I am tied to another person, another image-bearer, another creation whom God loves, and I set that aside for the selfish idleness of one way communication with a heartless box. Shame on me. It is a direct disregard to a new commandment given by our Lord Jesus Christ, John 13.34-35.
A note before we carry on with this task. I am not saying watching television is inherently sinful, or that taking time off of work is something a Christian ought not do, but these things have the potential to be abused, and frequently are. I am also not trying to limit this to merely television or vacation. Think of the husband of three children, a stay at home wife, a mortgage, two car loans, and substantial amount of student loans due, and he departs from his family every week to go hunting during the appropriate season, neglecting his relationships, his responsibilities, and the real important things we are called to spend our time on. Is hunting inherently a sin? No. Is the abuse of time and relationships sin? Yes. This dialogue can be stretched to anything we are addicted to, think of video games if you would like, or whatever drains your time.
The first command given to humans in the Garden of Eden was to tend to the garden, that is, creation. Read Genesis 2.15. God gave Adam and Eve a mandate to labor and enjoy the things God created. People tell us today that we need to find a job we love to do, and in some respects, this is correct. For example, my wife works around 45 hours a week in an accounting position. She comes home and works in personal Excel spreadsheets with our budget and planning and forecasting our income and debt payments, and so forth. She lives in numbers, because she enjoys such things. Take the scope wider, she lives in, and labors in numbers as a mandate to enjoy what God has created. Yes, God created numbers. The physical universe functions on a set of laws and these laws are governed by numbers, so in a way, my wife is working with things that existed before humans, pretty cool. In her job, she must be diligent, hard working, and steadfast, because many jobs depend on her properly doing her work. She has been gifted, by God, with a brain that sees beauty in formula, that can create it and dance with it to improve the accounting department, the factory floor, outlying companies, her employing company, international companies, and so on. This is called redemptive work: using the gifts of God, enjoying the mandate of labor, to make the relationships around her prosper in more than merely financial aspects. If you have not noticed, culture is moving forward, but because of sin, it is limping. What my wife does is sort of like a slight corrective splint to the limp of culture. A selfless labor to improve the lives of those around her, giving glory to God for the gifts and abilities He has given her. But her work is not in relation to man alone, but to God first.
23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. Colossians 3.23-24
Stewardship and labor is such an important aspect of the Christian life that Paul gives us a negative example to show how to handle someone who claims to be a Christian, but is not working in some capacity, if they are able. He writes,
6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. 9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.
10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
13 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. 14 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. 15Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. 2 Thessalonians 3.6-15
Indeed, it is important that we fight the desire to do nothing.
It is important to see that God did not design our lives to merely work (though I am against the cultural expectation of retirement, in the sit-in-front-of the-tv sense). God instituted a day in which we must rest. If we are called Christians, because we are imitators of the one who saved our souls, and Christ is part of the Trinity, the second person of the Godhead, then that means he was there when the universe was created and he partook of the rest on the seventh day of creation. The institution of the Sabbath has been held in some circles and disregarded in others. It is sometimes disregarded because it is seen as part of the Law, and it is assumed Christians do not need to follow the Law because we now live under grace. But let me tell you a story.
There was a people, thousands of years ago, enslaved by a tyrannical nation. The slaves were under oppression, made to build monumental structures in honor of people claimed to be gods, all the while these enslaved people believed in the one true God. The enslaved people watched their family members die of exhaustion, or being beaten to death; they witnessed their infants tossed into the Nile river and their children murdered. These people, of course, were the Jews enslaved by Egypt. Now think of this, God came and rescued them. These people were in slavery, in bondage, and God came down and functioned through a mediator named Moses.
Moses, guided by God, led the people to the Red Sea where God parted the waters and allowed the people to pass through on dry ground. If you did not know, water in the Old Testament and in the New, is a symbol of God’s wrath. Think of Jonah, he was thrown overboard into the sea when God’s wrath came against the ship and its crew; Jonah was thrown into the water, and the storm relented. Think of Jesus calming the storm when his disciples feared for their lives. Who better to remove the wrath of God from those who trust in the Savior than the God-man?
8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. Romans 5.8-9
Jesus is the mediator who satisfied God’s wrath. Think of this in relation to baptism and being dunked under water, then rising out of it in new life. Powerful images, right? But back to our story. After they escape from the Egyptians, from their slavery and bondage, God does something spectacular. He gives them the Law, the Ten Commandments (and for the academic type, the Decalogue). Now, if this Old Testament story is a foreshadow of what the perfect mediator will do for God’s people, we can learn a few things, but let me show you how this is a foreshadow. Jews=God’s people. Egyptian slavery=life bound to sin. Parting of the sea=a form of baptism. Moses a human mediator points to Christ the God-man mediator. Ok?
Let’s use me as an example. I am a sinner saved by grace. God came down and took me out of bondage, led me to baptism, and now tells me I live under grace. True, but do you notice that the entire event is an act of grace on God’s part? Now, if the Exodus is a type–that is, a story pointing to another story–of Gospel, then we can assume that after you are saved from bondage you (we) receive the Law. That is why many Christians today see the Ten Commandments as a manual for the Christian life, and this is also why I believe that the Sabbath ought to be observed. I believe that being saved by grace enables one to live the Law with Joy, because it is God’s manual as to how the creation ought to function, and it just so happens that God says, “rest.” Exodus 20.1-17.
Now a word about the Sabbath. We are given six days to work, one to rest. This means that we organize and prioritize our lives in such a way that when we get to the Sabbath, our work is done. This means do not wait until the Sabbath to do laundry, unless you find joy in doing laundry and it is not work to you! This means, watch that tv show on the Sabbath, not when you have homework to do, family to take care of, yard work to do, papers to write, a checkbook to balance, a book to read, dishes to do, clothes to sew, jobs to apply for, etc.
If you live life as though everything were a gift, you may enjoy things much more. If you see everything as a gift, you might be enlightened to believe that what you have is God-given, therefore, it is on purpose. If you see things in your life as God’s purpose, you may learn to trust Him more, and yourself less. If you trust God more, and see your life as His, you may just live a productive life, and what’s more, you might enjoy it. Live intentionally, because God is keeping you alive intentionally. Work hard and rest.
15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5.15-16