Friday, May 06, 2011

The Privilege of Work (and the Stupidity of Proof-Texting)

Have you ever heard of "proof-texting"? (No, it doesn't have anything to do with your cell phone.)

Proof-texting is what happens when people choose a passage of Scripture to prove a point they want to make without taking the rest of the Bible into account.* Proof-texting is destructive and un-Christian.

A central principle taught by Martin Luther for understanding the Bible is to "let Scripture interpret Scripture." In other words: pray, read, think, and reflect on what the whole Bible reveals of God's will on a given subject. This will give you a clearer picture of God's character and of God's will for your life.

One isolated piece of Scripture people misuse to uphold a strange belief they hold is Genesis 3:17-19. There, after Adam had decided to rebel against the will of God, God tells Adam:
"...cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
The proof-texters look at this and claim that it means that human work is a curse for sin. One of my factory co-workers was fond of repeating a mantra during our breaks and lunch times. "Live in hope; die in despair," he would say sagely between drags on cigarettes. That "little ray of sunshine" was based in part on his viewing Genesis 3:17-19 in isolation. He believed that God had decided to punish the human race, including punishing us with work to do, long before he was born.

But work is not a curse.**

In Genesis 3:15, after God had created the first human being, we're told:
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.
In other words, from the beginning, before the fall into sin, human beings were meant to work. Work is not a curse; it's a privilege.

But something happened to our work after the fall into sin. As surely as death became part of the human life on earth after the fall, so did the burdens of futility and self-service in our work. Sin--not work itself--is what can often make our work hard or futile.

Sin lay behind all the watercooler gossip that can make work hard.

Sin lay behind the "It-can't-be-done" jeers directed at workers who have dreamed, innovated, researched, or striven through the centuries.

Sin lay behind the laziness that ruins productivity--ours and others.

Sin lay behind bosses who shortchange employees and consumers.

Sin is what causes employees to miss deadlines, cut corners, skip out early, and even swipe money or supplies from employers.

It isn't work itself that's a bad thing, it's the inborn condition of sin we bring to work as descendants of the first parents and all the sins we commit because of that condition that can make work hard or futile.

Today's installment of Our Daily Bread is based on Proverbs 6:6-11 in the Old Testament. Through Solomon, God reveals a call for the lazy to be diligent in work, as an expression of what it means to be part of His creation:
Go to the ant, you lazybones;
consider its ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief
or officer or ruler,
it prepares its food in summer,
and gathers its sustenance in harvest.
How long will you lie there, O lazybones?
When will you rise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want, like an armed warrior. 
No work we do will earn us a place in God's kingdom, of course. (Also see here.) The gift of eternity with God belongs to those who repent for sin and take Christ's outstretched hand of forgiveness and grace

But that's no license for the faithful to sit on their blessed assurance! 

Christians should hate the thought of anyone having legitimate reasons for saying of us that, as the phrase goes, we're so heavenly minded we're no earthly good. 

Work is a privilege. Do it for as long as you can in life and do it to the glory of the One Who made you and Who sent a Savior to set you free, eternally, from sin, death, and futility. Ephesians 6:7 in the New Testament says, "Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women..." 

Work because it's part of what makes us human...something that will keep being part of what it means to be human for those who live eternally with Jesus Christ.

*It also happens when people flat out misread a passage of Scripture. One of the most widely misread passages of the New Testament is the one in which people tells us to take up our crosses

Many look at that and figure that Jesus is referring to adversities that come our way as a cross. Jesus is portrayed as pushing an attitude that combines stoicism and self-pity. 

People don't consider what the cross was for Jesus. Through it, He bore our sins. Our crosses are our sins. To take up our crosses means to honestly acknowledge our sin and our need of Christ. It means being honest before God and the world, that we, by our inborn nature, fail to love God and fail to love others; that we deserve the punishment for sin that the sinless Jesus took for us. It means submitting our old sinful selves to daily crucifixion so that God can remake us into the people we were made to be. 

It's only in honestly taking up our crosses that the freedom from sin and death Jesus won for repentant believers in Him can come to us. 

Adversities that come to you--from small to tragically shattering--are not your cross. Sin, the only thing that has the capacity to destroy you for eternity, is your cross, and we must submit to its destruction through honest daily repentance and renewal from God. 

Jesus says take responsibility for your sin and come to Him. He will make you new.

**A superficial consideration of all the great things we have in the world because somebody worked--from the light bulb to the computer chip, from the food on your table to the music you enjoy on your iPod--will demonstrate that work itself is no curse. 

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