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Section 1:

Lesson 61 of 67
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The Purpose of Work

Work and God’s Purposes

Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill

I don’t know if you read the newspapers this past week about the coalminer strike in England. It’s been going on for months. Do you know why the coalminers are striking in England? They’re striking because Thatcher is saying, “When a pit no longer makes money, when it is no longer profitable, we should close it.” Coalmines are nationalized in England and so it’s the government that gets the profit or it’s the government that suffers the loss. And of course it’s the taxpayers therefore that get the profit or the taxpayers that suffer the loss.

Obviously if it’s losing money, that loss has to be passed on to the taxpayers and everybody ends up paying for the losing coalmine. So Margaret Thatcher is saying, “Whenever a pit is losing money, we should close it down.” The coalminers are saying “No! Even if all the coalmines are losing money you have to keep them going because it keeps people in jobs.” Of course it’s madness, because the people who are in the jobs are then paying most of their taxes to make up for the losses that their own coalmines are producing and it’s an endless, vicious circle.

So Thatcher is saying, “No, we need to close the pits that are losing money.” It’s the way anybody would close a losing business or they fix it. The coalminer’s union have a stranglehold on the coalminers and they are saying, “We’re going to strike until you agree with us.” It has gotten very ugly and very violent.

Last week, one of the things that happened that was tragic for England (where usually there is less violence than in America), was one of the coalminers was going to cross the picket line and go to work. (Many of them have begun to do that now because they are so tired and worn out with the thing and think it’s so foolish, but are under the pressure of the unions, nevertheless, to keep the strike going). One of the miners got into a taxi to go to the coal pit and while the taxi driver was driving along the road some of the other strikers threw a three foot concrete post through the windshield. He crashed into a wall and was killed.

It brings home to you the sheer frustration that gets hold of us human beings when we begin to try to use work for what we can get out of it, whether we are coalmine owners or whether we’re coalmine workers. It is incredible, the chaos and the frustration and the hatred that can be spread in our society when work begins to go bad like that.

Of course, that is what is happening increasingly in Western Europe. We have a little experience of it here in the States but in Western Europe that kind of blackmail of business owners by workers and workers by business owners has a stranglehold on the industry there and is increasingly destroying it. What is the answer that is proclaimed? The answer that is proclaimed is communism. That’s what all of us in Western Europe, as well as South America hear. We hear it on our university campuses and that’s what our brothers and sisters meet, when they go to speak on university campuses.

There’s the continual ferment that the only answer to this kind of industrial unrest is communism — where all of us own all the means of production. Of course from time to time, the students will look up from their books and will have a look at the empty shelves in the Polish shops and will say, “Now wait a minute, it isn’t working too well there.” Or from time to time they’ll think, now maybe this isn’t the answer. From time to time they’ll read about what’s happening in Siberia and they’ll sense, “There isn’t liberty with this.” And yet they have this frustration in themselves and of

their fathers and their mothers of an industrial situation that is dominated by selfishness.

Now, from time to time they’ll look at us, (the land of capitalism and private enterprise) and they’ll say, “That’s where everything works perfectly.” Except, that those of you who read The Economist will know that many British look at us and see many things going right in our capitalist society while at the same time seeing a meanness developing within us.

In other words, private enterprise can so often be preoccupied with its own profits and that develops a meanness. Even in our society there can be a great harshness. It’s a harshness that says, “If they wanted to work, there’s plenty of work.” There’s a tendency to look at Kentucky and the other spots and the slums and say, “Oh if they wanted to work, they could work.” With many that’s true, but you must agree that there are many little ones in our society that are the weaker among us and they aren’t able to produce the way some of us are able to produce and there is a place for love and charity and kindliness and generosity.

So part of what President Reagan faces in these days is to some extent justified. There can go along with a militant private enterprise system an indifferent sort of tendency to be harsh to the little ones that can’t ride along on the triumphant wave of that capitalism. So, many people will look at America and will say, “Well, much is right in your society but we can see selfishness there also.” And so loved ones, our world is caught in regard to work between those two extremes: between a private enterprise, capitalist system that has selfishness in it and a communist system that has selfishness and harshness in it also. It’s very difficult to find a middle way.

The truth is, that work only works if there are unselfish people. If the owner is selfish without any unselfishness in him, eventually he just sits there and he merges his company with other companies and he eventually goes out of business. The only thing that keeps new businesses going is that unselfishness that is willing work to create. The only kind of work that operates and that works for everybody is where there is restraint. Workers have a certain amount of restraint and a certain amount of unselfishness, and owners have a certain amount of restraint and a certain amount of unselfishness. Indeed it’s probably true in your own place of work that if there weren’t some unselfishness, it would probably collapse completely.

But in fact, work only continues while there is a certain amount of unselfishness in it. Yet, the work situation throughout our world is increasingly falling apart because there is so little unselfishness. Now loved ones, what is the answer? Well, the answer is for work to be practiced the way God meant it to be. I’d like to show you the principles of work in the Bible.

Genesis 1:28, “And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” That’s why God initiated work. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” So often a militant kind of Christianity has interpreted that as: “Be fruitful– let’s have as many children as we can and fill the earth — spread America or the British Empire all over the earth to fill the earth. Multiply and subdue the earth — use Africa to pull in its products to us, use our colonies to pull in all we can for our own wealth. Subdue the earth — beat it down, wear the forests off the mountains, destroy the land, pillage the oil resources wherever you can.”

So often a militant kind of Christianity has come over to the world as doing that. It’s exactly opposite to what God brings. He says, “Be fruitful. I want you to go into this earth and I want you

to be fruitful in it. I want you to add to what I have created. I have put coal in certain places, I’ve put steel, I’ve put Bauxite, I’ve put oil in certain places, I’ve put forests, I’ve put crops and fruit. I want you to be fruitful. I want you to multiply and be fruitful and produce the fruitfulness that I have planted in this earth.”

It’s really like the Father saying, “Old ‘Bucky’ was right!” Buckminster Fuller was right. The resources are here because I planted them. I’ve hidden them in mines, I’ve hidden them in waters, I’ve hidden them in forests, and they’re all here. I want you to be fruitful in the sense of creating fruitfulness on this earth and release the resources of this earth so that everyone will see that I have provided enough in this world for them.

Did you see the little Ethiopian child? I mean it almost brings tears to your eyes, doesn’t it? His little arm was that thin! His little leg was as thin as my finger and the Father says, “That’s not what I planned! I have planned enough crops, enough food in this world so that if you will be fruitful and release the fruitfulness of my world, everybody will have enough and they’ll glorify Me because they see they have enough. Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, don’t empty it! There is more than enough in this world. I have even planned that there is atomic energy so that you can get power off almost nothingness. There is more power in this world than you need. I want you to release it and fill the earth with it so that the Ethiopians have resources from their own land not just charity that is shipped over by us for a while. Fill the earth, don’t empty it. Don’t empty the coffers into America or into Britain or into any empire. Fill it with all that I have given you and subdue it, bring it into order. Wherever there are disaster areas, teach the people how to build houses that will be able to resist those. Teach them how to tame the rivers and tame the hydroelectric powers. Teach them how to tame the winds that occur. Subdue the earth and bring it into order. Go into the places where there are wildernesses and make them like deserts. Bring it into order.”

That’s what our work is for. That’s what your work is for. It doesn’t matter what you are. Your work isn’t just to make another dime for you. Your work isn’t just to manage to get you through to retirement so that you’ll have enough to keep yourself alive until you die. Your work isn’t for that. Your work isn’t just to get what you want, loved ones it isn’t. We human beings are too glorious for that. We’re not here to get a little box in Bloomington and be satisfied with that box.

Those of you that have moved from your box, don’t you wonder about those little fiddly things you treasured? They’re nothing! Have you ever cleared up somebody’s room after they died? Have you ever cleared up your grandmother’s room or your grandfather’s room and you come across their little things? They’re silly, and they’re nothing. They weren’t worth all the suffering and struggling for. They’re nothing. They could be put in a cardboard box and thrown away and that’s what often happens.

Do you know that’s what will happen to all your great and beautiful things? Somebody will throw them into the garbage can and say, “What on earth did they ever want that thing for?” Our work is not to gather around us little frippery things that will be thrown away by somebody casually. Our work is a glorious thing.

God has given you certain talents and abilities to help bring his world into order. It doesn’t matter whether you are a secretary and you bring words into order or you bring papers into order. It doesn’t matter if you’re a janitor and you clean and you bring cleanliness into places and you bring order into the physical environment. It doesn’t matter if you’re an engineer and you create things

that can be used by other people. It doesn’t matter what you are. The purpose of your work is to bring God’s world into order under His will. That’s the first purpose of your work. It’s a glorious thing.

What do you get for it in money? You’re not paid for it rightly anyway. You don’t get the right money. Often you get money for something that didn’t cause you any trouble at all. You’ve been in jobs that have tried you to the utmost and you’ve gotten little money for them. You’ve been in another job and the money has just flowed in and caused you no effort at all. The money is incidental. God will give you the money. He will supply every need of yours from his riches and glory in Christ Jesus. Sometimes He’ll give it to you through your employer. Sometimes He’ll bring it some other way. But He will take care of that.

But the purpose of your work is a glorious one. It’s not just to make a buck. It’s not just to keep yourself alive until you die which is pretty stupid anyway. It’s not that. It’s to join God the Creator in completing His creation. He has planted and hidden all over the place what is needed, and you can help release that and you can be part of that, that’s the first purpose of work.

The second purpose of work loved ones, is in Exodus 20:9, (it’s the commandment really) Exodus 20:9, “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work.” Work is not a punishment for sin. It’s the sweat of your brow that is a punishment. It’s anxious toil, where you’re working to get money to keep yourself alive because you don’t trust your Father. When you work for the wrong reason, you work by the sweat of your brow. That’s the punishment for sin. But work itself is an original commission that God gave us before we ever fell out of His fellowship.

“Six days you shall labor and do all your work.” Why? In verse 11, “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.” Why will you work six days? Because in six days, the Lord made heaven and earth.

Jesus says in another verse, “I work and my Father works also.” Why do you work? Because you express the image of God when you work. You express the image of God. God Himself works. Work is giving out to other people for their benefit. God works, and when you work with that kind of spirit you express the image of God and others see it. Loved ones, those are the two purposes of work and that’s why God has called you to work.

Now let me tell you why this Irishman spends so much time at business through the week. Because that’s the way people will see God in this world. People will see God in this world when they see people like you and me working the way God has laid down that we should work. It’s not for our own selfish benefits, but to bring order into his world. It’s to help others to bring order to their countries and to do it in such a way that His image comes through to them. They begin to see the joy, the love and the generosity with which we work. They begin to see the character of God Himself.

That’s why I work so much at our businesses. I don’t work at the businesses because we want the money. The businesses often lose money. But I work at the businesses because the only way this world is going to sit up and take notice of what Jesus has given us is if they see some of us working in their countries the way God intended that they should work. That’s what touches them. That’s what touches people.

We have a restaurant in downtown London. It was a greasy spoon. It was a greasy spoon of greasy

spoons. I remember sitting 8 years ago with Myron trying to find out what the Greek owner actually made in money because it was hard to tell. He kept several sets of books. One set was for the government, one for himself and one for the people who would buy his restaurant. I went for lunch in that restaurant and the customers pinched the waitresses all down the aisles. The waitresses turned around and swore at the customers and yelled at them. That was the atmosphere in that restaurant.

That restaurant is in the middle of downtown London and is very much a business restaurant. That restaurant has transformed. A waitress who will be clearing up at the end of the day, (this is an actual instance), and a woman will come in after the restaurant has virtually closed, and will say, “Peggy I just wanted you to know, I won’t be here for the next two weeks, I am going on my holiday.”

And Peggy would be surprised and think, why should she tell her? The lady will tell her where she is going and suddenly Peggy begins to realize that in large cities, people are getting lonelier and lonelier. This lady regards Peggy as one of her close friends. She eats there everyday in life and she’s seen the kindliness and a gentleness and a loving friendship in Peggy’s dealing with her. So she’ll tell her about her holiday and then Peggy will say, “Oh, how is your life going?” And the lady bursts into tears, and begins to share her whole life.

Now that’s the transformation that can take place. In London, in a business situation when you get people like ourselves who are prepared to work not for what we’re making out of it, (though we have to make in order to live), but in order to bring God’s world into order and in order to express His character to other people.

May I tell you how I spent my year and a half in London before we came to America? I was a Methodist minister. I wore a dog collar, (a clerical collar), and I usually wore a black suit, (which pleased my wife immensely), and I was a marked man. I wore that when I washed the car. I wore that when I did the yard work. I wore that all the time and I was a marked man. As a minister, everybody got very uncomfortable when you sat beside them in the bus or in the tube. If you say to me, “Oh yes, but you probably were contacting thousands of people.” Yes, on a Sunday morning, I had 150 people in the congregation. The church was big. It was a built for a thousand people by a “Lord Somebody” who would give a thousand pounds if they built a church that would hold a thousand people. But there were about 150 people on Sunday morning. There were 25 in the evening.

Now you may say to me, “Oh yes, but the rest of the week, you were meeting hoards of people.” I didn’t meet a soul. In other words, when you go outside America, people don’t swamp to church. People don’t go to church. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Germany or Australia or Africa, people don’t come to church. The only place they see other people constantly is the restaurant that they go to each day or the fruit and vegetable store that they go to each day.

Greg Leitschuh is in London. Greg Leitschuh has done a lot of different things. He did construction for a while, then he came into the body and turned out a brilliant Greek scholar. For a long time he was manager of this building. He went to London and now buys for three or four of our small fruit and vegetable stores. Every morning at 4:30 A.M. he goes to Covent Garden Market to buy the produce and then brings it to the stores. But before he did that, he was in a little fruit and vegetable store about the size of this altar.

Remember how many people I saw as a minister? Do you know how many people he would see? A thousand came into that store everyday — a thousand people! If you say to me, “But you don’t have deep contact with them.” The majority of them are regulars. They come in everyday and Greg gets to know

them — both students and workers. You begin to get close to them and they begin to ask, “Why are you doing this?” Then you start to share with them Jesus and you begin to share with them your faith.

But even if you never said a thing, in London just because you’re gentle and kindly and you’re loving and you show some interest in them, they sense something’s different. They sense this religion is not just something that Americans talk about and have big churches where they celebrate. This is something real that touches the way we live with each other. And so, people begin to sense that there is some kindliness in even a harsh city like London.

Loved ones, that’s what Christian Corps is about. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in Christian Corps. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in these businesses or not. You can do that in your own place at business. But what I am encouraging you to think seriously about is the possibility, (if it’s the right time in your life), to consider living abroad to work like that. For some of us it won’t be appropriate because we need to be part of this central headquarters that are sending people out. We’re needed here. But if it’s the right time in your life, will you seriously consider living abroad to work like that? Will you seriously consider it? Will you see above everything else loved ones that the only way people are going to see God is not because they’ll all come and hear some man like me on a Sunday preaching?

The only way they’re going to see God is in a work situation through your life. How many hours are you at work? I mean it’s unbelievable isn’t it? I mean all of us are there, eight hours at least, and many of us more. Eight hours a day, forty hours a week, we are at work. That is not meant to be slavery. That is not meant to be something you put up with to make a dollar. That is meant to be your main ministry and the only way that can take place is if you increasingly allow Jesus to become real in you. The more real He becomes in you, the more unselfish you are at work. Those of you who are in jobs, you know what kills work. People are selfish. They’re trying to get off with doing as little as possible. They won’t help you with your work at all. They get their own done and that’s it.

Maybe they even try to steal from the employer or they steal from you. Maybe they’re easygoing or self-indulgent. They’re late all the time or they’re first off at the end of the day. What transforms any work situation is if you get somebody who is unselfish and really wants to give themselves wholly to the job and do it well and wants to be there on time or before time and wants to leave there last and wants to be faithful and honest and has a real sense of personal initiative. It transforms the work situation. It transforms it for everybody in it. That’s what you and I are meant to be.

Oh loved ones, work is good. I know it so well because I’ve been on both sides of the fence. I was never as unhappy as when I was just a minister. It’s terrible; you’re cut off from everybody else. That’s why we ministers used to get together and talk about how we could understand the lay people, as if we were some kind of Martian that had never been there.

No, don’t let’s get into that. And don’t you get into it. Be real, let Jesus become real in you and your work and in your business and let Him come through you. Do that Monday through Friday loved ones. Ask yourself, “Lord am I looking at my work the way you intended me to? It’s to bring this world into order and to express your image to the people I work with.” Loved ones begin to look at it that way and the money — Jesus made the promise, “all other things will be added unto you” — the money will take care of itself if we begin to take our work as the ministry that God means it to


So I ask you to pray for the whole vision of Christian Corps which is to get 10,000 of us abroad working in situations where ordinary people can meet the Spirit of Jesus. That is the only answer to Cherneko. It’s the only answer to the Polish situation. It’s the only answer to the dictatorships in South America. Instead of selfish capitalism on the one side or selfish communism on the other side, there is a Christian work that is what God intended it to be.

Loved ones, what we want when Jesus returns, are little groups of His children all over the world who are living the way God meant them to. And as the thing draws to a close here in this world, others will be able to look at those things and say, “Oh that’s the way it was meant to be, I see where we were wrong.” And God will be able to convict them in their hearts because increasingly in the last days, the difficulty will be the ability to see anything, as it should be. That’ll be the problem.

It’ll be so difficult to see right anywhere. As things get worse and worse, it’ll be more and more difficult to see right as it really should be. That’s what God has called us to. So I pray that in your own job tomorrow that you’ll begin to do that. I would certainly pray that you’d begin to think seriously about the possibility of doing it abroad. I am sure that’s the key to the present situation in Ethiopia. The famine is not because of the lack of American charity, but that no group of people have gone to find out how to develop the resources of Ethiopia so that that country could be fed.

Do we think our God is faithless? Do we think He hasn’t put the same resources there that He put in the desert that has begun to blossom as a rose there in Israel? Of course we don’t. We believe our God has put those resources there. But what He needs is for some of us to go and help the people develop those. That’s our calling and that’s real. It touches people where they live and people can see that. That is not heavenly-minded Christianity to them. It is very practical relevant love and that’s what God has given to us and what we owe to them. Let us pray.

Dear Father, we do ask forgiveness for any wrong attitude to our own jobs. Lord we’ve been almost brought up to feel that the purpose of the job is to get us plenty of money so that we can do what we want. Father, we see that it’s not only sick but it’s destructive. We see most of all that it isn’t the reason you instituted work. We see Father that our jobs are glorious. There are glorious opportunities to bring Your world into order under Your will and to develop it so that the riches of what You’ve planted there can be seen and enjoyed by all men.

Then Lord, we thank You too that it is an opportunity for us to express Your image to others, to show them the love and tenderness and kindness of Jesus in ways of service that they will understand and that are relevant to their own needs. So Father we commit ourselves anew to our jobs and to our work. And Lord, wherever any of us feel that our work is not serving those purposes, we would ask You for guidance Father and we would ask You to show us if we should be involved in Christian Corps, either here in training or abroad. Lord, we would ask You to use our lives — these 40 hours a week that we spend working — use them for Your purposes and fulfill Your will for our lives. We ask this in Jesus’ name.

And now, the grace of our Lord Jesus and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us now and evermore. Amen.