February 8, 2016

Redeeming Work

In the gospel God is redeeming both time and work for the purpose of transforming creation into the kingdom of God.

Scripture:  Ecclesiastes 2:18-26

Sermon Notes:

  1. Ecclesiastes 2 looks at the humanistic vision of life from various angles, evaluating pleasure, wisdom and work.
  2. In wisdom Solomon considers that for those who refuse to reckon with the Lord, all that remains is hating life; but despair is not the lot of the sons and daughters of the covenant.
  3. The teacher is not depressed; he is realistic. He concludes that all the activities in which man engages as an end in themselves bring no lasting satisfaction, nor do they deliver man from his sense of futility.
  4. Is it right to hate evil and to long for the redemption of a sin-ravaged world (cf. Ps. 97:10; Rom. 8:18-22).
  5. There is the sorrow and frustration in work.
  6. After all you work for, after all the time and effort you invest, those who come after you and inherit the fruits of your labor may squander it and take it for granted.
  7. Men face the fact that they cannot take the fruit of the labor with them when they die and their accomplishments may come to collapse and ruin.
  8. Work is a burden. Work presents problems, challenges, anxieties, physical and mental strain, pain, and weariness (cf. John 16:33).
  9. All people share the curse of Genesis 3:17-19 in common. But this curse was not the intent of work; it is the result of the Fall.
  10. We were not cursed with work. Work was a joy prior to the curse; it was a reflection of God’s creative work. We were made to thrive in work and to rest in our accomplishments.
  11. Sweat and toil were added to man’s work after the Fall. Now his exercise of dominion is resisted by creation.
  12. Sin will pervert man’s attempt at dominion, causing him to seek to build a utopia in which to escape the vexation of labour.
  13. Foolish responses to the vexations of work include:
    1. The idle person takes refuge in idleness, avoiding work. Since humans were created to work, idleness is actually destructive and disintegrating to the human person bringing destruction, depression and despair.
    2. The workaholic seeks to overcome powerlessness and alienation with an addiction to work. He seeks to defeat the burden of toil by embracing toil as an end in itself. But toil remains frustrating. Ignoring God’s Sabbath and rest proves as equally destructive and disintegrating as idleness.
    3. The collective planner thinks that laborious work can be overcome by man’s collective planning, throwing off oppressors, and seizing the fruits of one’s labour and of others’ labour. Communists think that if they reduce the world to disorder a utopia will emerge. But Communism in effect destroys all it attempts to save. All man’s attempts to fashion the world for himself are bound to end in futility and frustration.
  14. Solomon concludes there is nothing better than for a person to eat and drink and enjoy his toil.
  15. Expecting total satisfaction or salvation from labor is futile and will always lead to disappointment.
  16. God is gracious to grant us some enjoyment of our work and His provision. Apart from God, man has nothing and is nothing.
  17. True enjoyment comes from knowing that we are God’s creatures and receiving the good gifts from His hand.
  18. The sinner is presented as the one who will work in vain, in contrast to the righteous.
  19. God blesses the righteous who seek to please Him, and places judgment on the rebel who works without any regard for God. The end of the sinner’s work is storing up for the righteous. The covenant-breaker is striving after the wind because he doesn’t reckon with God.
  20. In the gospel God is redeeming both time and the work of the righteous. In the Lord Jesus, our calling is true dominion which is neither vain nor futile because it is done in line with God’s purpose. Our work in Christ is given eternal significance which brings great reward (cf. Matt. 25:14-30).
  21. We are not saved by our works. But by our works we turn creation into the kingdom of God.
  22. We are saved by Christ’s work, and we are then called that we might work to His purpose in those works prepared for us by God (Eph. 2:8-10).
  23. In Christ our work is being redeemed. Let us not grow weary in doing good (Gal. 6:9; Col. 3:23-24).

Application Questions:

  1. Why does work considered as an end in itself lead only to pain and vanity?
  2. What is the created place of work and what changed after the Fall?
  3. Identify foolish responses to the burden of work. How must we avoid them?
  4. What is the end of the sinner's toil?
  5. How is our work given ultimate purpose in Christ?
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