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Truth Project #11: “Labour – Created to Create”

June 3, 2012 Gen.2:4-9,15-17; 3:17-19


An apple with a little bite out of it makes such a difference.
    In the Garden of Eden, the Lord warned Adam in Genesis 2:17, “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” But that forbidden fruit looked mighty tasty; Satan whispered that it would make one as smart as God! Yet when Adam and Eve boldly ate the fruit, they knew one major thing: their nakedness and shame, their need to hide. God had put them in charge of all creation, but they showed they couldn’t handle responsibility; they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) obey simple instructions. Ego won out over Eden, the place where they’d enjoyed intimacy with the Lord God Almighty.
    Consequently, just a chapter later, we find God cursing the ground, the object or workplace from which he was destined to obtain his livelihood. Gen 3:17, “To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.It will produce thorns and thistles for you...By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food...” Man’s work was forever made more difficult, frustrated, by his refusal to co-operate with God.
    Today - thousands of years later - there is a new fruit on the scene: the company Apple. It’s a huge corporation with global clout dealing not in fruit but in computers, laptops, iPads, and little handheld attractions called iPods and “smart”phones. (We still want to be ‘smart’!) What is this giant of a company learning about work?
    Recently Apple’s new CEO Tim Cook was interviewed at a digital technology event called “D10". His questioners got him addressing some issues around social responsibility, such as overtime pay for workers in China, do they deal fairly with suppliers and patent-holders, when will there be Apple factories in North America. Tim Cook disclosed he had pictures of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King hanging in his office. At one point in the interview he’s quoted as saying, “The Kennedys said, ‘to whom much is given, much is expected,’ and I believe that.”
    Hmmm – didn’t someone else say that besides the Kennedys? In fact Jesus taught in Luke 12:48, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Can it be we are finally listening to God’s wisdom? Has Apple learned what Adam didn’t?
    This whole area of work and labour and companies is very important in everyday life. You or I may not be the CEO of Apple, but what is our attitude toward OUR work, our company? How do we see our employment contributing to society? Are we conscious of being stewards who’ll be held accountable for what God’s entrusted to us?


Ask most people and you’ll find their attitude toward ‘work’ is less than enthusiastic. [SLIDE 10] They might say work is a ‘four letter word’ - which it is, but not necessarily a swear word! Some might state work is “the pits” or they only work because they “need the money”, or “It’s what I have to do to get to Friday.” You hear a lot of complaining about Mondays: back-to-work day. Is that the attitude God means us to have toward work?
    If you go right back to the very beginning, God was the Original Worker. [SLIDE 19] Genesis 2:2, “By the seventh day God had finished the WORK he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his WORK.” Psalm 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” [SLIDE 8] In the Ten Commandments, God’s rhythm of working and resting become the pattern for us: six days to work and then a day of rest. So the goodness of work stems back to the very nature of God.
    Consider the beauty and awesomeness of God’s handiwork reflected in this video ...[“God of Wonders”]
    The work of our majestic Creator is truly amazing! And very, very GOOD. The Lord God works; the psalmist sings, “the heavens are the work of your hands.” (Ps 102:25) Jesus insisted His Father was at work to that very day, and the Son was merely joining the Father in what He was doing (Jn 5:17); in John 9:4 He said to His disciples, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me.” So God not only worked in Creation, He put man in charge on earth, made him responsible to care for creation. [SLIDE 20] Genesis 2:15, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” We have that divine attribute, that ‘work-ability’, stamped upon us.
    If it’s a matter of having been put in charge or delegated to work and take care of creation, that makes it a matter of stewardship, opportunity, and accountability. We will some day give answer for what we’ve done with our energy. In Matthew 25(14-30) Jesus presents the ‘parable of the talents’; there are basically two types of servants - the ‘wicked, lazy’ servant who buries the master’s treasure and does nothing to multiply it; or, the “good and faithful servant” who puts the master’s treasure to work, perhaps doubling the quantity given. The faithful servant is commended upon the master’s return, and is told, “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness.” (Mt 25:21,23) The key issue is, are we being faithful as stewards with the goods and abilities God has entrusted to us? What will we have to show when we are called to give account?
    [SLIDE 27] So the Bible presents this summary of what Dr Del Tackett calls the “General Economic Model”: God is head overall, Creator and sovereign; underneath are Material Things; in-between is US as “Steward”, in charge of ‘things’ but subject and answerable to God.
    [SLIDE 13] Some have called Johannes Gutenberg the “Man of the Millennium”. Life magazine listed his invention, the printing press, as the most significant event of the millennium! Gutenberg worked, and his work changed the world...[SLIDE 14] Within 10 years, the total number of books shot up from 50,000 to over 10 million! What was the first book off the Gutenberg press? The Bible! Before, copies had taken a year to be produced, by hand. What was Johannes Gutenberg’s attitude toward work? Did he consider it ‘a drag’ - or did he see it as having a certain dignity, linked to God’s purposes in the world? [SLIDE 15] He said, “...religious truth is imprisoned in a small number of manuscripts, which confine instead of spread this public treasure.Let us break the seal which binds these holy things; let us give wings to Truth in order that she may win every soul that comes into the world by her word, no longer written at vast expense, but multiplied everlastingly by a machine which never wearies.[SLIDE 16] Yes, it is a press, certainly, but a press from which shall now in inexhaustible streams of the most abundant and most marvelous liquor that has ever flowed to relieve the thirst of men.Through it, God will spread His word: a spring of pure truth shall flow from it: like a new star it shall scatter the darness of ignorance, and cause a light hithertofore unknown to shine among men.” Aren’t you glad Gutenberg persisted in his work, kept tackling the technical glitches, and understood the long-term significance of his efforts?


Dr Tackett in “The Truth Project” presents 7 economic principles based on Scripture. [SLIDE 29] First: All things belong to God. In Psalm 50(10ff) God declares, “for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine.If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it.” Catch the drift? Likewise in Leviticus 25:23 God reminds the Israelites, “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants.”
    [SLIDE 32] Second, God appointed man to be a creative steward of His goods with ‘ownership’ rights. [SLIDE 33] Gen 1:28, “God blessed them [the first couple] and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."” We’re put in charge – to use, not abuse! David acknowledged all we have is a trust from God in his prayer in 1Chronicles 29(11-12,14): “Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours.Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things ...Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.” As the old offertory put it, “Al that we have is Thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from Thee.”
    [SLIDE 34] What is a steward? Think ‘manager’ ; “A person (or group of persons) placed in a position of management authority over someone else’s property.” So, in the Biblical view, what is economics? [SLIDE 35] “Management of the property that ultimately belongs to God over which He has placed a steward and over which that steward will be held accountable.” A diagram of the “labour sphere”, then, might look like this [SLIDE 37]: (Dr Tackett calls it the ‘engine room’ of culture) The ‘owner’ is in charge overall, with the ‘worker’ subject to his or her orders; the worker is responsible for actions affecting the ‘material things’. You can see ‘community’ is also an important relationship.
    The Bible does give some guidance to workers and owners. [SLIDE 39] Paul told workers in Ephesians 6(7f), “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.” While in the next verse he addressed the ‘owner’ [SLIDE 40]: “And masters, treat your slaves in the same way.Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.” You can see that both owner and worker are accountable to God, lest owners be heavy-handed or workers tempted to take shortcuts.
    This sphere of labour came home to me in the coffee aisle at the grocery store this past week. We like to buy “Fairt Trade” coffee because the intent is to return a fairer share of the proceeds to the third-world producer. However 2 pounds of Maxwell House was on sale for $5 off at 7.99, while 1 pound of ‘fair trade’ coffee cost $2 more for half the amount! Against my Scottish-bred inclinations, I did eventually buy the ‘fair trade’ package - but only after much sighing and prevarication! The consumer does play a role in helping low-income workers and farmers get a ‘fair shake’. Hopefully the coffee will taste that much sweeter as I drink it!
    Third economic principle - [SLIDE 41] Theft of another’s goods is wrong. This is clear right in the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20(15): “You shall not steal” - whether that includes taking another’s property, destroying goods, oppressive taxation, or forced ‘redistribution’ of wealth. The Bible does acknowledge one’s right to own private property (on loan from God, really) - contrary to what you might hear from some in the “Occupy” movement or communists. Also part of this principle - [SLIDE 43] Coveting another’s goods is wrong. Exodus 20(17) again: you shall not covet your neighbour’s house, wife, manservant or maidservant, ox, donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour. Instead, as the New Testament puts it positively, “Be content with what you have” (Heb 13:5); “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1Tim 6:6) Don’t covet but be content. Don’t get sucked in by all that advertising!
    Fourth - [SLIDE 45] Skills and abilities to work come from God. For example, those involved in building the Tabernacle, Exodus 35(35): “He [God] has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as craftsmen, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers— all of them master craftsmen and designers.” Paul tells the Colossians (3:23f), “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” As a parent with adult children, it is wonderful to see how God has equipped each of them with different artistic and musical and technical and relational skills: each one is different, with different abilities!
    Fifth, [SLIDE 48] Work is profitable, good, and to be pursued; laziness is not. Sorry, you couch potatoes! Time to get busy. [SLIDE 49] Proverbs 14:23, “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” 10:4, “Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth.” [SLIDE 51] 2Thess 3:10, “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’” How much more blunt can you get? No excuse for wilful resistance to putting into use the effort and ability God has entrusted to you personally.
    Sixth, [SLIDE 52] Love God and not your goods! That would be idolatry, to esteem too highly your material ‘stuff’. Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, [SLIDE 52] “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal...[SLIDE 54] For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also...No one can serve two masters.Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Mt 6:19-21,24) The Lord is very exclusive in His deserving of our devotion – no matter how shiny your new gizmo or wheels, or how lovely the view from your cottage. Worship God first of all.
    Seventh and last principle: [SLIDE 55] Be compassionate and generous with your goods to those in need.  In the Old Testament, this took the form of not harvesting one’s crops overly efficiently: Leviticus 19:10, [SLIDE 56] “Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen.Leave them for the poor and the alien.I am the LORD your God.” And Paul writes, “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.” (Eph 4:28) So you’re not just storing up wealth for yourself: be compassionate and share generously. John asks rhetorically in his first letter (3:17), [SLIDE 57] “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” God has special promises for the compassionate: [SLIDE 59] “He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.” (Pr 28:27) And what’s a righteous person care about? “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” (Pr 29:7)
    To summarize this whole subject of the economy, then: [SLIDE 60] “God, having stamped His creative image upon man, graciously grants His stewards the privilege to be creative and manage some of His property, which they may lose (often because of sin) or multiply (often because of hard labour) and out of which they are responsible to be generous to the poor.”


Putting this overflow from our productivity into practice so poor people can earn a living will take creativity and imagination. Del Tackett tells about a woodworker who opened his shop up to poor people at the end of each day, so they could sweep up the sawdust, bag it, and take it to sell at a pulp mill. Tackett contends it should be primarily the sphere of labour, NOT the sphere of the state, to provide opportunities so the poor can earn what they need.
    God’s goal for us is to be generous and compassionate with the product of our work, not greedy. Do you remember the charming story of how David’s great-grandfather Boaz met his to-be-great-grandmother Ruth, the widow from Moab? Ruth had had a very hard life; her husband died, and she accompanied her mother-in-law from Ruth’s native Moab back to Naomi’s native Israel. They’d suffered long in a famine and were basically destitute. In the second chapter of the book of Ruth, she heads out at harvest-time into the fields around Bethlehem to ‘glean’ - salvage the dropped heads of grain left behind by the harvesters.
    She happens to find herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, a wealthy but older and single local landowner. He comes out from town to see how work is progressing; note the dynamic in 2:4, “Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, "The LORD be with you!" "The LORD bless you!" they called back.” Sounds like a good relationship between owner and workers; acknowledgment of God is front and centre.
    Now, remember, this is the very first day Ruth has started gleaning. Boaz finds out from his foreman she’s Naomi’s widowed daughter-in-law. Notice the kindness he shows: he tells her to stay with his harvesters and get a drink from the water-jars when she’s thirsty (v9); he shares some bread and roasted grain with her at lunchtime (v14). Then when work resumed Boaz gave some special orders to his men, v16: “...pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.” He’s telling them to deliberately pull out handfuls of grain for ruth to glean! He knows he’s not going to miss a bit – and that it’s going to make a huge difference for starving Naomi and Ruth.
    We’re told when she arrived home that night, she had gathered about 22 litres of barley. Now, I was trying to visualize what this might mean to a penniless person. When we make bread in the bread machine, a loaf takes about 3/4 of a litre of flour. Say a loaf does 2 people for a day (if that’s all you had to eat). 22 litres of grain would be enough for about a month! So if Ruth continued at that rate, in just 12 days she’d have enough to ensure they wouldn’t starve for a whole year.
    And this was even before any romantic sparks started to fly between Boaz and Ruth! He was just being kind to a hungry poor foreign woman. But what a difference it made to the two widows. I imagine Boaz sort of smiling to himself as he walked back to town from the fields - feeling GOOD about leaving that extra for Ruth. And the Lord, who is full of compassion for the poor, smiling on Boaz. Let’s pray.