“Work” – Ecclesiastes 2:17-23

October 20th, 2013

Ecclesiastes 2:17-23


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Bible Memory Verse for the Week: Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.  (1 Cor 15:58) 


Background Information:

  • (v. 17) In Scripture only the laments of Job (ch. 3), Jeremiah (20:14-18), and Lamentations reach the depths of despair expressed in verse 17.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 87)
  • (v. 20) Labor here must stand for the results of the work, not just the doing of it.  Hence it must embrace all the projects outlined in the quest for pleasure described in 2:1-11; parks, buildings, singers, concubines, together with all the trappings of government.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 90)
  • (vss 22-23) It is almost a warning of the life that is overburdened by the anxieties of laying up treasure on earth (vv. 22-23).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, 1159)
  • (v. 22) Toil varies in meaning within Ecclesiastes; sometimes it refers to one’s whole struggle with the problem of life (1:13), sometimes (as here) to one’s daily responsibilities.  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 71)
  • Alas!  Solomon, the wisest of all men, made the worst use of his wisdom; had 700 wives, and 300 concubines; left but one son behind him, to possess his estates and his throne; and that one was the silliest of fools!  (Adam Clarke, Holy Bible Commentary and Critical Notes, Vol II, 484)
  • After Rehoboam was given the right to rule by Solomon, he chose to heed foolish counsel that plunged Israel into civil war within the first year of his rule.  This internal strife made Israel more vulnerable to foreign aggression, especially from Egypt.  In order to avoid an invasion, Rehoboam plundered the temple Solomon had built and used the gold he took to pay off the Egyptian army (1 Kgs 12:1-24; 14:21-41).  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 20)
  • Rehoboam was such a fool that he lost ten-twelfths of his father’s kingdom (see 1 Kgs 12).  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 69)


The question to be answered is . . . What is Koheleth trying to tell us about work?


Answer:  Work without reference to God is both meaningless and cruel.  It not only makes sacrificial demands on your life but in the end your work is all for someone else who will benefit from your toil.  Unless we can find a way to discover profit or meaning from some other Source, work will forever be a curse.


Many people still expect work to give them a sense of purpose in life.  This explains why one of the first things people ask when they meet someone new is, “What kind of work do you do?” or “What do you do for a living?”  We are defined by our jobs.  But according to Ecclesiastes, work is the wrong place to look for meaning in life.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 68)


The number of people who hated life in the Bible is astounding when you begin to take inventory:



• Job (Job 3:20; 7:7, 16; 9:21; 10:1)

• People of Israel in the wilderness wandering (Nm 14:2)

• Samson (Jgs 16:29-30)

• Saul (1 Sm 31:4-5; 1 Chr 10:4-5)

• Ahithophel (2 Sm 17:23)

• Zimri (1 Kgs 16:18)

• Elijah (1 Kgs 19:4)

• Judas (Mt 27:5; Acts 1:18)

• Philippian Jailer (Acts 16:27)

• At the last Judgment (Rv 9:6)

• Solomon (Eccl 2:17)


The Word for the Day is . . . Toil (long, hard tiring labor)


I.  Why does Koheleth hate life?  Because everything without God ends up being meaningless. (Eccl 2:17, 22-23; see also the entire book of Eccl).


I hated life” is incredibly strong language for a wise teacher whose basic vocation was to find and teach the key to success in life.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 87)


The men of leisure and affluence, who are freed from the necessity of work, enterprise, and business, who fare sumptuously every day, and run the round of fashionable life and sensuous enjoyment, have always shown the greatest susceptibility to this disgust with life.  Over-indulgence in worldly pleasures seldom fails to produce a moral nausea.  There is what the French call the ennui that comes out of it, “that awful yawn,” says Byron, “that sleep cannot abate.”  As a proof of this, in the countries where luxuries most abound, suicides are the most numerous.  (Joseph S. Exell, The Biblical Illustrator, Vol. V, Ecclesiastes, 69)


He hated all his labor, because he did not meet with that satisfaction in it which he expected.  After he had had his fine houses, and gardens, and water-works, awhile, he began to nauseate them, and look upon them with contempt, as children, who are eager for a toy and fond of it at first, but, when they have played with it awhile, are weary of it, and throw it away and must have another.  (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. III, 992)


Sleepless nights are a physical side-effect, for the restlessness of the ‘under the sun’ world-view reveals itself even in the night.  A different perspective appears in 5:12; in the NT we find a Messiah who could sleep in a storm (Mk 4:38) and enable his disciples to do likewise (Acts 12:6).  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 72)


King Solomon’s words “I hated life” bring to mind Christ’s statement, “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (Jn 12:25).  Solomon describes himself as a weary, embittered worldling.  Christ speaks of the man of faith who overcomes this dying, sinful world by clinging to that which is eternal.  Yet the two are not so far apart as they might at first appear.  The person whose heart is filled with despair and hatred of his earthly life is often ripe for the good news of Christ and his victorious love.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 30)


The reality of death overshadows Qohelet’s life, to the extent that he now confesses his hatred for live (v. 17).  It is bad enough that there is no real personal “gain” in life from all the effort that is expended–an effort that is relentlessly emphasized throughout verses 17-23 through the repetition of the Hebrew noun ‘amal, “toil,” in verses 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22, along with related verbal and adjectival forms of ‘ml in each of those verses.  (Iain Provan, The NIV Application Commentary: Ecclesiastes, 76)


Only kings and the elite few who surrounded them in the ancient world (and indeed for most of human history) could hope to fashion their environments to some extent after their own whim and liking.  Most people faced a harsh reality every day, which allowed no self-deception about human nature and destiny.  Modern life in the West, however, is full to the brim with illusion and delusion, as we are constantly told that there are “gains” to be made that will radically alter life itself.  There is yet another way to increase our income, yet another way to improve our health and stave off illness and death, yet another way to increase our sexual pleasure.  (Iain Provan, The NIV Application Commentary: Ecclesiastes, 82)


No man is really unhappy who realizes that he has work to do and sets himself in earnest to do it.  The utmost of pain and sorrow can be borne if only one has an object in life.  Men who throw up all for lost are those who have abandoned, if they ever had it, their object in life.  (Joseph S. Exell, The Biblical Illustrator, Vol. V, Ecclesiastes, 68)


II.  Why does Koheleth say our toil without God is meaningless?  Because all you do is anxiously strive for the sake of another.  (Eccl 2:18-21; see also: Gn 3:17-19; Ex 1:13-14; 5:9-18; Eccl 4:4Isa 55:2)


If your work is all about you, if you work to fill a hole in your life there will always be a hole because work cannot permanently fill the hole in your life.   Only God can fill a God shaped vacuum in you life (Pascal).  But, if you go to work to experience God’s pleasure (doing what God created you to do to accomplish what God desires for you to accomplish), if you go to work to fulfill God’s purpose for your life, if you go to work to glorify God; then your work can provide the permanent, meaningful profit or satisfaction that you ultimately desire.  — Pastor Keith


Success fails on its own terms.   We expect work to bring us satisfaction, to give recognition and to make a contribution.  And success at work fails at all three accounts.  (Tim Keller sermon, “Search for Achievement”)


Work brings pain.  The sheer hurt of pounding your strength down.  And that is when everything is going well.   Someone did a major survey and 85% said that if they had an extra hour for each day what would you do with it?  Sleep!  Work brings grief if it is not going well.  And at night you can’t sleep because you are consumed with concern about work.


This book being about work is by its very nature therefore about violence.  Violence to the spirit as well as to the body.  It’s about ulcers as well as accidents.  It is about nervous breakdowns as well as kicking the dog around.  It is about daily humiliations.  To survive the day is trying enough for the willing, walking wounded among the great many of us.”.  (Studs Terkel, Working People Talk About What They Do)


Labor is the very touchstone of man’s self-realization.  Man labors to transform his world to put his own mark upon it to make it his.  —Karl Marx


The more you build your life on work in order to make a meaningful life, the more the meaninglessness of this life will break through into your life through your work. . . .The more you try to make this life meaningful through your work , the more you build your life on success and career; the more the meaninglessness of life will break through onto you through your work.  You’ll feel it.  After a while you will say, “I hate life.”  (Tim Keller sermon, “Search for Achievement”)


What is it that makes people keep going in spite of the horrible brutalization of work?  What .  . . . The lack of identity (Eccl 4:4)   All labor and all striving comes from envy of your neighbor.  What makes people go?  What motivates the economy?  Envy!”  (Tim Keller sermon, “Search for Achievement”)


There is something wrong in our heart. . . .Fundamentally, the reason you are working is because there is something wrong with the heart.  The thing you are actually manufacturing is not a product.  You are manufacturing a self.  You don’t know who you are.  You are trying to prove yourself.  And your work is never about others and it is about you.  In your work you are always trying to prove that I am somebody special, somebody real. . . . as C.S. Lewis says, “In your work you are saying I am as good as you.”  (Tim Keller sermon, “Search for Achievement”)


For society as a whole, nothing comes as a “right” to which we are “entitled.”  Even bare subsistence has to be produced—and produced at a cost of heavy toil for much of human history.  The only way anyone can have a right to something that has to be produced is to force someone else to produce it for him.  The more things are provided as rights, the less the recipients have to work and the more others have to carry their load.  (Thomas Sowell, Forbes)


I don’t think that a man can ever leave his business.  He ought to think of it by day and dream of it by night.  Thinking men know that work is the salvation of the race; physically, morally and socially.  Work does not just make us a living, it gets us a life.  —Henry Ford


Epitaph of a famous English writer — “I only ploughed water.”


Sometimes when I am on a walk and happen upon wild rabbits or a deer I feel as Walt Whitman did, and I say to God, “I think I want to live with them.  ‘They do not sweat and whine about their condition.  They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins.  Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things.’” (Tony Campolo;  Carpe Diem—Seize the Day, 82)


Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in thee, O Lord. — St. Augustine


There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any other created thing, but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus.  — Blaise Pascal


Two of the deadliest of our sins–sloth and pride–loathe serving.  They paint glazes on our eyes and put chains on our hands and feet so that we don’t serve as we know we should or even as we want to.  If we don’t discipline ourselves to serve for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom (and for the purpose of Godliness), we’ll “serve” only occasionally or when it’s convenient or self-serving.  The result will be a quantity and quality of service we’ll regret when the Day of Accountability for our service comes.  (Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 111)


Every time we get sick and tired of doing the same thing over and over, every time we are inconvenienced by someone else’s laziness or incompetence, every time our families suffer from the demands of our employer, every time we are pressured to practice business unethically, we are struggling with the vanity of work.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 68)


“When a man tells you he got rich through hard work, ask him, “Whose?” —Don Marquis


Hard work and self-discipline will make us great again. —Adolf Hitler


Never before have so many had it so good; no longer do we tremble in fear of sickness or hunger, of hidden evils in the dark, of the spell of witches.  The burden of killing toil has been lifted from us, and machines, not the labor of our hands, will soon provide us with nearly all we need, and much that we don’t really need.  We have inherited freedoms man has striven after for centuries.  Because of all this and much more we should be living in a dawn of great promise.  But now that we are freer to enjoy life, we are deeply frustrated in our disappointment that the freedom and comfort, sought with such deep desire, do not give meaning and purpose to our lives.  —Bruno Bettelheim  (Philip Yancey; The Bible Jesus Read, 156)


God originally intended labor to be an integral part of human existence.  Man, on God’s behalf, was to master the rest of creation.  Labor was something positive, since man was serving God by cooperating in His creative activity (Gn 2:15).  Rain sent by God brought forth plants from the ground that man worked (2:5).

When man fell (Gn 3:6), he exchanged a life of pleasant tasks for one of grinding toil.  Labor took on a new and ominous meaning: pain for women in childbearing (3:16), pain for men in breadwinning (v. 17).

The tilled ground would produce not only good food but also “thorns and thistles” (Gn 3:18).  Man would not be forced to depend largely on his own efforts, working by the sweat of his brow (v. 19), while God cooperated in only a minimal way.  Toil became man’s curse until the day of death.  (Geoffrey W. Bromiley, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol 3, 54)


In the end someone else will profit from all our hard work.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 68)


One man does the work, but another man gets the wealth.  It just doesn’t seem fair!  Rather than working for your own profit, you actually end up working for someone else–the slacker who gets your stuff when you die.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 69)


We are born with a longing for permanence, a deep desire to do something that will endure or to make something that will last.  Yet the under-the-sun reality is that we will spend our whole lives working to gain something we cannot keep.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 69-70)


Prospect of advantage is the spring of action and the spur of industry; therefore men labor, because they hope to get by it; if the hope fail, the labor flags; and therefore Solomon quarreled with all the works, the great works, he had made, because they would not be of lasting advantage to himself.  (1) He must leave them.  He could not at death, take them away with him, nor any share of them, nor should he return any more to them (Job 7:10), nor would the remembrance of them do him any good, Lk 16:25.  (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. III, 993)


He will no longer live by the myth that hard work and well-earned wealth validate one’s life.  Otherwise, obsession with fulfillment through work and accomplishments ultimately leads to the crisis point at which one’s whole life is seen to have been lived for nothing.  (Duane A. Garrett, The New American Commentary, Vol. 14, 295)


Not only the man’s possessions but even the skill and intelligence by which he acquired them are nullified by death.  Hence the fact that he was a great businessman means very little.  (Duane A. Garrett, The New American Commentary, Vol. 14, 295)


We also need to be redeemed and liberated from what the Bible would call false masters.

If , and we all do, if you feel the need to prove yourself, because we have this sense (as Kaufka said of being a sinner) we turn to our job, we turn to academia, some of us were good students, some of us were going to try and be professors, we’re going to be scholars, some of us are going to go into career and we’re going to make money, or have professional success.  Some of us go into relationships, and if this person loves me and I have a family.  But, if we are looking to those things as our significance and security; they are not just a job, not just a school, they are not just a family; then they become a master.

Here is what a slave master is.  A slave master is someone who has no boundaries and someone who beats you up if you fail.  You see we often say, “O my boss who is here in New York City is a slave master.  Well, you don’t know what a slave master is.  A slave master has no boundaries and they can do anything they want to and they do.  And when you fail a little bit, they beat you.

And how do you know whether your family, how do you know whether your career, how do you know whether your school, is a slave master or just a family, a career or a school?  The answer is . . . You can’t say no to them.  They are slave masters.  You work too hard.  You can’t stop them.  If you are enslaved in a relationship that means you can’t say no.  You can’t walk away.  You’ve got to have them.  They are your significance, your self, your security.  Same thing with making money.  Same thing with your career.

This isn’t just a job, not just money, this isn’t just school, this isn’t just a relationship; they are slave masters.  And if you don’t live up . . . They beat you. (Tim Keller sermon, “By the Blood of Jesus”)


All his great works of wisdom and labor, which had ministered to him a temporary satisfaction, after a while became to him objects of disgust.  They must be left, and to whom he could not tell.  David had no such anxieties.  His heart had not been set upon his treasures, and therefore it was no sacrifice to him to part with them.  Besides, he well knew the consecrated use to which his wise son would apply them (1 Chr 28:11-21; 29:1-22).  But Solomon probably had his forebodings of the man who should come after him.  And the history of the son fully justified the anxious question–Who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool?  (Ps 49:10; Comp. 29:6).  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 42-43)


And yet this great evil may have been overruled for Solomon’s good.  His heart had clung to the world, and it required sharp discipline to break it away.  Often had he bored and sunk into the earth for some rich mine of satisfaction.  But repeated failures caused his heart to despair.  And might not this restlessness of earthly rest have been his Father’s restoring discipline?  This is the canker on the supreme pursuit of this world’s portion.  We may possess the creature; but never shall we enjoy it, till God is on the throne above it (Ps 73:25).  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 43)


Treasure cannot buy security, nor power lay siege to permanence.  (Rami Shapiro, The Way of Solomon, 28)


Ayn Rand said it this way in her book Atlas Shrugged:  “All work is creative work if done by a thinking mind, and no work is creative if done by a blank who repeats in uncritical stupor a routine he has learned from others.”  (Joel Arthur Barker; Future Edge, 134)


Criminals do not want to work.  …jobs of some sort are available but criminals find them too menial and beneath them. (Stanton E. Samenow Ph.D, Inside the Criminal Mind,  14)


For many criminals, work means to sell your soul, to be a slave. (Stanton E. Samenow Ph.D,  Inside the Criminal Mind,  87)


The great challenge here is faithfulness, which must be lived in the choices of every moment.  When your eating, drinking, working, playing, speaking, or writing is no longer for the glory of God, you should stop it immediately, because you no longer live for the glory of God, you begin living for your own glory.  Then you separate yourself from God and do yourself harm. —Henri Nouwen (Luder G. Whitlock Jr.; The Inner Voice  -The Spiritual Quest, 130)


On the other hand there are those for whom work has become the alpha and omega of their existence.  Only in their work do they find meaning.  Only in the things that their work provides do they discover personal significance.  For them work is not an act of worship unto the Lord.  Rather, work is what they worship, and the products of that work are the idols before which they bow.  They are not working out of any sense of being created in the divine image or of producing something that will glorify God and benefit the community.  They’re working because work is their only reason for being, and the money their work provides gives them the things that they crave—the symbols of prestige, the status, the preferential treatment, the shortcuts to where they want to go, the shields against life’s unpleasantness.  The “best” of everything.  It is purely self-oriented, and it often leads them to neglect spouse and family and leisure and worship and voluntary service. (Stuart Briscoe; –Choices for a Lifetime, 138)


Doesn’t it sometimes seem like we work like chipmunks in a wheel and are rewarded by an acceleration of the wheel?  —James W. Moore


III.  How does Jesus redeem work?   By showing us that our work can be for a transcendent, divine good that will ultimately be for our eternal profit (credit).  (Gn 2:2-3, 15; Dt 15:10; 24:19; 30:9; Prv 12:11, 24; 14:23; 16:4, 26; 18:9; 21:25; 22:29; 28:19; Eccl 3:13, 22; Mt 11:28; Jn 4:34; 6:27-29; Acts 20:35; 1 Cor 3:8-9; Eph 4:28; 6:7-8; Col 3:17-24; 1 Tm 4:4-5)


When the Christians assembled in the catacombs we discover none of those traces of pessimism that are so characteristic of the poems of Horace.  Their interest was centered in their lord and Master, and His royal will.  We can understand, then, how a truly Christian man, following in the experiences of the Apostle Paul, would apprehend Christ to be the true object of existence.  “To live is Christ,” to learn about Christ, to live for Christ, to gain Christ, and to realize the life and character of Christ within oneself, so that the very principle of the within, is Christ.  Such realization gives life its value.  (Joseph S. Exell, The Biblical Illustrator, Vol. V, Ecclesiastes, 68)


We must learn to live in the expectation of death.  We must learn that we are finite.  We must fulfill our vocation.  Death reminds us that there is a cut-off point.  Without this sense of termination, we’d become lazy and aimless.  Death provides urgency.  (Michael Bauman, Roundtable: conversations with European Theologians, 147)


“If you seek to be great—you will never achieve it.  Greatness comes as a by-product of serving something or someone greater than you regard yourself.  (paraphrase of Rush Limbaugh 4/19/99 EIB network)


Although divinely ordained work is intended for mankind’s benefit, its main purpose–like that of every other good gift–is to glorify the Giver.  The Israelites therefore were to bring the first fruits of their labor as an offering to the Lord (Ex 22:29f.; 23:19; Lv 27:26; Dt 26:1-11); a tenth of everything produced was also to be given to God (Lv 27:30-33; Dt 14:22-29; 26:12-15), since that tithe belonged to Him (Mal 3:8-10).  (Geoffrey W. Bromiley, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol 3, 55)


God blessed the work of those who obeyed Him (Lv 26:3-13; Dt 28:1-14; Isa 32:15-20; Am 9:13f.; Hag 2:15-19) and cursed the labor of those who disobeyed Him (Gn 4:11f.; Lv 26:14-45; Dt 28:15-68; Isa 5:5-7; 7:23-25; Mic 6:15).  (Geoffrey W. Bromiley, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol 3, 55)


Like the OT, the NT shows that work is difficult and wearying (2 Cor 6:5; 11:23, 27; cf. 1 Cor 4:12); idleness is deplorable and to be avoided (2 Thes 3:10-12); the worker deserves his wages (Mt 10:10 par. Lk 10:7; 1 Tm 5:17f.); a man must provide for his family and relatives (1 Thes 4:11f.; 1 Tm 5:8).  But the NT raises labor to new heights of dignity and significance.  God may call people to leave their everyday work to follow Him (Mk 1:16-20; 2:14; Lk 5:8-11).  Overemphasis on mundane tasks and their monetary benefits can stifle one’s receptivity toward God’s word and kingdom (Mt 19:6-30 par. Mk 4:19; Lk 17:28-30; 21:34).  Moreover, worry over labor and the necessities of life is contrary to God’s will for His people; He has promised to provide for their legitimate needs if they seek first His kingdom and righteousness (Mt 6:25-34).  When overweening desire for money becomes the force behind working for a living, it leads to ruin.  In the NT work is commendable only if the worker does not love money, trusts in God, and shows generosity (1 Tm 6:6-10; Acts 20:33-35; Eph 4:28).  (Geoffrey W. Bromiley, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol 3, 55)


The great king has summoned each of us into his throne room.  This time, however, he is not entrusting jewels to us; rather, he is distributing property.  “Take this portion of my kingdom,” he says.  “I am making you my steward over your office, your workbench, your kitchen stove.  Put your heart into mastering this part of my world.  Get it in order; unearth its treasures; do all you can with it.  Then everyone will see what a glorious King I am.”

That’s why we get up every morning and go to work.  We don’t labor simply to survive–insects do that.  Our work is an honor, a privileged commission from our great King.  (Richard L. Pratt, Jr.; Designed for Dignity, 32-33)


“I shall work as if everything depended on me and I’ll pray as if everything depended on God.”  —Saint Augustine


Retired people should never get the idea that God created them to work till their late fifties or early sixties and then quit.  That was never the divine intention. …Let me differentiate here between work and employment.  I believe that when there is no employment—that is, work for remuneration—available to us, that does not mean that we cannot work. …This means that they can channel their creativity and the wisdom they’ve accumulated over the years into new ventures, new personal goals, and new areas of ministry. …Remember that Paradise wasn’t a vacation—it was a vocation. (Stuart Briscoe; Choices for a Lifetime, 141-42)


Only the dictionary puts success before work.


The foundational truth is that work is good.  If God does it, it must be all right.  Work has dignity: there can be nothing degrading about work if God works.  Work has purpose: here can be nothing futile about work if God works.  (Eugene H. Peterson,  A Long Obedience in the Same Direction Discipleship in an Instant Society, 105)


All human things are trivial if they exist for nothing beyond themselves.”  The real value of anything depends on its aim.   If we eat simply for the sake of eating, we become gluttons, and it is likely to do us far more harm than good; if we eat to sustain life, to do our work better, to maintain the fitness of our body at its highest peak, food has a real significance.  If a man spends a great deal of time on sport simply for the sake of sport, he is at least to some extent wasting his time.  But if he spends that time in order to keep his body fit and thereby to do his work for God and men better, sport ceases to be trivial and becomes important.  The things of the flesh all gain their value from the spirit in which they are done.”   (William Barkley ; Commentary on John Vol. 1; 227)


Anxiety:  It is not work that kills men; it is worry.  Work is healthy; you can hardly put more upon a man than he can bear.  Worry is rust upon the blade.  It is not the revolution that destroys the machinery, but the friction.  Fear secretes acids; but love and trust are sweet juices.  —Henry Ward Beecher


Even a mosquito doesn’t get a slap on the back until it starts to work.


Work is the natural exercise and function of man–the creature who is made in the image of his Creator.  When we work, therefore, we feel his pleasure.  —Dorothy L. Sayers (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 73)



1. “I obey-therefore I’m accepted.”

2. Motivation is based on fear and insecurity.

3. I obey God in order to get things from God

4. When circumstances in my life go wrong, I am angry at God or my self, since I believe, like Job’s friends that anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life.

5. When I am criticized I am furious or devastated because it is critical that I think of myself as a ‘good person’. Threats to that self-image must be destroyed at all costs.

6. My prayer life consists largely of petition and it only heats up when I am in a time of need. My main purpose in prayer is control of the environment.

7. My self-view swings between two poles. If and when I am living up to my standards, I feel confident, but then I am prone to be proud and unsympathetic to failing people. If and when I am not living up to standards, I feel humble, but not confident-I feel like a failure.

8. My identity and self-worth are based mainly on how hard I work. Or how moral I am, and so I must look down on those I perceive as lazy or immoral. I disdain and feel superior to ‘the other.’

9. Since I look to my own pedigree or performance for my spiritual acceptability, my heart manufactures idols. It may be my talents, my moral record, my personal discipline, my social status, etc.  I absolutely have to have them so they serve as my main hope, meaning, happiness, security, and significance, whatever I may say I believe about God.



1. “I’m accepted-therefore I obey.”

2. Motivation is based on grateful joy.

3. I obey God to get to God—to delight and resemble Him.

4. When circumstances in my life go wrong, I struggle but I know all my punishment fell on Jesus and that while he may allow this for my training, he will exercise his Fatherly love within my trial.

5. When I am criticized I struggle, but it is not critical for me to think of myself as a ‘good person.’ My identity is not built on my record or my performance but on God’s love for me in Christ. I can take criticism. That’s how I became a Christian.

6. My prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and adoration. My main purpose is fellowship with Him.

7. My self-view is not based on a view of my self as a moral achiever. In Christ I am simul iustus et peccator—simultaneously sinful and lost yet accepted in Christ. I am so bad he had to die for me and I am so loved he was glad to die for me. This leads me to deeper and deeper humility and confidence at the same time. Neither swaggering nor sniveling.

8. My identity and self-worth are centered on the one who died for His enemies, who was excluded from the city for me. I am saved by sheer grace. So I can’t look down on those who believe or practice something different from me. Only by grace I am what I am. I’ve no inner need to win arguments.

9. I have many good things in my life—family, work, spiritual disciplines, etc. But none of these good things are ultimate things to me. None of them are things I absolutely have to have, so there is a limit to how much anxiety, bitterness, and despondency they can try to inflict on me when they are threatened and lost.  (Adapted from Tim Keller)


Here’s the problem: we put men to work in the church duplicating tapes, and they think they are duplicating tapes.  They are not!   They are creating lifeboats that can rescue drowning souls!  They are forging swords that can pierce the darkness that binds the captives.  Every usher and parking lot attendant, every teacher and team leader must see himself as a link in a chain going back to Christ Himself, a foot soldier in the army that is transforming the world.   That’s the power of vision, and without it men perish!  ( David Murrow; Why Men Hate Church, 159)


Dorothy Sayers once wrote, “Work is not primarily a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do.” (John Eldredge;  The Journey of Desire, 155)


The man who does not do more work than he’s paid for isn’t worth what he gets.  —Abraham Lincoln


Walter Sawatsky, in Soviet Evangelicals Since World War II, tells this story: he overheard two Soviet factory managers in a Moscow restaurant. One told the other that the party officials were pressuring him to fire evangelicals in his plant, but he could not because the evangelicals were his best workers.  (R. Kent Hughes, 1001 Great Stories and Quotes, 429)


God works through people who work.


Let us realize that the privilege to work is a gift, the power to work is a blessing, the love of work is success.  —David O. McKay


The people of God do not serve Him in order to be forgiven but because we are forgiven.  When believers serve only because they feel guilty if they don’t, it’s as though they serve with a ball and chain dragging from their ankles.  There’s no love in that kind of service, only labor.  There’s no joy, only obligation and drudgery.  But Christians aren’t prisoners who should serve in God’s Kingdom grudgingly because of guilt.  We can serve willingly because Christ’s death freed us from guilt.  (Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 115)


Paul describes his service to God with these words in Col 1:29: “To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.”  The word labor means to work to the point of exhaustion, while from the Greek word translated “struggling” comes our word agonize.  So for Paul to serve God was “to agonize to the point of exhaustion.”  That doesn’t mean it was miserable toil; in fact, the reason Paul worked so hard was because the only thing he loved more than serving God was God Himself.  God supplies us with the power to serve Him.  We struggle in service “with all his energy, which so powerfully works” in us.  True ministry is never forced out by the flesh.  But the result of His power working mightily in us is “labor.”  (Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 119-20)


While human effort (labor) then, as always in the Bible, could never be a substitute for divine atonement in man’s salvation; it did, nevertheless, like Paul’s concept of the purpose of the law, direct and aid fallen man toward God’s saving mercy (cf. Gal 3:24, 25).  Thus the “curse” or “judgment” pronounced by God upon man (Gn 3:16-24), because of his alienating sin, turned out to be God’s most merciful blessing designed to bring out of man under the duress of hard labor, directed toward worthy objectives, the best and highest of his innate potential, and consequently to prevent him from yielding in slothfulness to the gravity of his fallen nature and degenerating to the lowest possible human denominator.  Perhaps nothing short of the saving mercy of God in Christ is of greater benefit to man than honest, productive labor.  If property is the extension of personality, then honest labor that produces or procures property contributes eminently to the realization of personal worth.  Thus labor imposed upon man as a discipline because of sin (3:17-19) turned out to be one of his greatest corrective blessings.  (Merrill C. Tenney, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 3, 848)


The second service that one should perform for another in a Christian community is that of active helpfulness.  This means, initially, simple assistance in trifling, external matters.  There is a multitude of these things wherever people live together.  Nobody is too good for the meanest service.  One who worries about the loss of time that such petty, outward acts of helpfulness entail is usually taking the importance of his own career too solemnly.  (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 99)


Hard work spotlights the character of people: some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don’t turn up at all.  —Sam Ewing


Come work for the Lord.  The work is hard, the hours are long and the pay is low, but the retirement benefits are out of this world.


Helen Keller said, “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.”


The study most often quoted is that of airplane workers who were divided into two groups.  Members of one group simply did what they were told to do, while the other group’s members were taken to the engineering lab and shown how their particular pieces were part of a magnificent jet that would fly higher and faster than any jet had ever flown before.  Without any additional incentive, the second group’s productivity soared.  They knew how important their contribution was to a larger plan. (Lauire Beth Jones; Jesus CEO, Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership, 178)


(Ants and Bees) live tragically brief lives (unless they sting or bite you, and then they have lived far too long!), but during their short sojourn they appear to have clearly defined tasks for which they are ideally suited.  Sometimes just for a day!  Next day they’ve changed, they have different abilities, they’re given an entirely different task, they know what they’re doing, they know what they’re capable of, they know what they’re gifted for, they have an understanding of purpose and objective, and they work hard.  All these truths can be learned from ants!  The Bible says we should study them and learn from their approach to work. (Stuart Briscoe; Choices for a Lifetime, 129)


You don’t have to work to please God.  He is already pleased by Christ.  So be IN CHRIST!  — Steve Brown


God’s Work – exactly what Jesus would do if He were in my situation


The fact that God works shows that there is something intrinsically right and good about work.  (Stuart Briscoe; Choices for a Lifetime, 129)


We were created to do something—not to lie on a beach.  (Stuart Briscoe; Choices for a Lifetime, 130)


All work is, is doing what you enjoy and what you’re good at, and enjoying the results of a day of concentrated work.  (Stuart Briscoe; Choices for a Lifetime, 130)


When Jesus came into the world, he made it clear that he had not come to be served, but to serve.  That meant that he had a keen appreciation of human need and that he was absolutely committed to applying himself to meeting that need.  (Stuart Briscoe; Choices for a Lifetime, 132)


To work is to worship; to worship is to work.   …We must always remember that work and worship are inextricably bound up in each other. (Stuart Briscoe; Choices for a Lifetime, 135)


Work ethic in S. America is due to their view of work in the late 1700’s and 1800’s.  They looked at work as an evil that only low class people did because they saw that the rich did not work and so they longed for the day they did not have to work and could be like the rich.

Work ethic in USA is due to the puritan view that work is honoring God.


When God puts work into your life, He expects you to put life into your work.


Work harder at being what you should be than at hiding what you are.


Worship point:  Acknowledge that God deems your life as a significant component of His providence.  Everything you do is for Him.  To recognize this is to worship God in His providence, sovereignty, omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, love, compassion, forgiveness and mercy.  To not recognize this is to have all your toil and labor be empty, meaningless and without ultimate profit.


Spiritual Challenge:  See God’s love for us and His desire for us to enjoy life that is truly life by comprehending our place in His world.  A place where our work and toil is eternally significant and our significance is not found in our sinful, puny, temporal and selfish efforts, but in His.







Love’s labor is never lost.




redeeming work



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