last updated September 6, 2021
At times my sermons have focused less on the lectionary and more on Scripture series, like preaching through the gospel of John or working through the Ten Commandments. I love that kind of sustained attention to a single book or portion of Scripture, and the way it lends itself to greater continuity and depth in preaching.
Yet I still love the lectionary for its attention to the church year, especially the seasonal emphases on Advent-Christmas-Epiphany and Lent-Easter-Pentecost. I love the way the lectionary draws people and churches together—for church meetings in Kansas one year, I was billeted with a couple from different church backgrounds, so on the Sunday morning we went first to his Catholic Church and then to her Mennonite Church. In both, we read the same lectionary texts, which my church in Abbotsford was also reading that same morning.
So when I received an invitation to write for The Christian Century lectionary column, I happily accepted. Here’s my first column on the New Testament lesson, Ephesians 4:25-5:2
When I was in high school, my physics teacher asked if I would be interested in a part-time, after-school job getting science equipment ready for an evening class. I was excited to tell my parents about what I thought was a great opportunity—a chance to put my classroom learning to good use, get some solid work experience, and earn some money of my own. There seemed to be no downside. How could I turn down such a good offer?
To my surprise, my mom and dad were decidedly not in favor of my taking on a job. In their view, my own schoolwork outranked any part-time job. They reasoned that I’d have plenty of time to work after I graduated. “Besides,” said my dad, “You don’t need to work. You already have all the clothes and everything else you need.” My dad was not much of a consumer. “You should let someone else have that job who might need it more than you do,” he said.
I’m as old now as my physics teacher was then, and I’m still thinking about questions related to work. Why work? Is it mainly about meeting our own financial needs and buying the consumer goods we desire? Is work meant to start after graduation and last only until retirement, when it’s replaced by golf or travel? Should I be looking to let someone else have my job, someone who might need it more than I do?
Ephesians outlines a number of rules for living the new life in Christ: put away falsehood, speak the truth, be kind, forgive one another. Work comes up in 4:28, which, though addressed to former thieves, is relevant to others as well: “Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.”
So, we are to work honestly. Thieves must give up stealing; likewise, unfair employers must pay their workers fairly, workers who come in late and leave early must instead give an honest day’s work, and politicians who have been padding their expense accounts must stop. The reason for working is at least partly financial: we work so that we don’t need to steal.
Work Because We Are Made in the Image of God
We are to work with our hands. In our information age, we might add that we are to work with our minds, our creativity, our skill, our education, our passion. God created us to be creative—to care for the earth like a garden, to name the animals, to create community with one another. Work is meant to engage one’s whole self, and we are meant to engage our work. We work because we are made in the image of God.
Work to Have Something to Share
We work so that we can share with those in need. The text takes the consumerism of our society and stands it on its head. We don’t work primarily to keep up with our neighbors or to upgrade our house. We don’t work so that we can buy ourselves the latest toys. We work so that we have something to share with other people.
Click here to read the rest of this article and find out what happened with my job offer and how this connects with the lectionary text.
Writing/Reflection Prompt: Why work? Is it mainly about meeting our own financial needs and buying the consumer goods we desire? Is work meant to start after graduation and last only until retirement, when it’s replaced by golf or travel?
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2 thoughts on “Why Work?”
So what do I do at the other end of the age scale when I could draw my pension but am fit to work? Whatever it has to be done to the Lord.
Whether our work is paid or not, it can still be creative, purposeful, useful activity that serves God and others. A recently retired friend thinks of his retirement as re-tire-ment, that is, getting “new tires” for a new stage of life. He is still engaged in meaningful activity in his family, church, and community, but at a different pace now that he is not employed full-time. As you rightly point out, “whatever you do, you should do it all for God’s glory” (1Cor 10:31).