A Biblical Theology of Work – Part 2

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40, ESV)

A Ten Commandments monument which includes the...
A Ten Commandments monument which includes the command to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus confirms that of all the commandments in God’s Law the two greatest are the ones which summarize all the others.  The commands like having no other gods besides God, no graven images, not testing Him and obeying Him can all be subsumed under “love God with all your being.”  And all the commands like not stealing or killing or lying can be subsumed under “love your neighbor as yourself.”

We have already discussed how the Cultural Mandate given us in Genesis 1:27,28 describes the nature of our work as stewards of God’s world for the sake of God’s glory and mankind’s benefit.  The Great Commandments highlight even more clearly what our motivation should be for working in this way.  We should work out of love for God and out of love for our fellow humans.  This means at least three things regarding our work:

  • In our work we love the people God loves

When I work, am I doing what I do because I love people? Do I work for someone the way I would want them to work for me?  Am I providing goods or services that meet important needs of the community I live in or the greater community of my world?  And in the place I work am I loving my co-workers, seeking to help them succeed and not just myself?  Am I a positive force at work or a destructive one?

  • In our work we love the world God loves

As I work, am I caring for the world God has put under my dominion, or am I exploiting it simply for my own good or the good of my community?  This becomes a hard question to answer at times when the survival of my community seems to necessitate such exploitation.  Asking the question should lead us to consider long-term survival in relationship to the survival of our environment.  Does God love the animals He created?  Of course.  Did He give them to us for food and other sustaining properties?  Of course.  But we must have long-term plans for caring for their survival as well as our own.  Humans are the most important creatures on God’s planet, but our lives and those of the other creatures are closely tied together.

  • In our work we love the God who loves

All the work I do I ultimately do as an homage to the God who made me and gave me the capacity to work.  I do the kind of work He loves (righteous work) and I acknowledge it is accomplished by His help.  When I work I am ultimately working for Him and out of love for Him, regardless of my most immediate human supervisor.  This gives my work dignity and moves me to work with excellence and even joy.  I am contributing in a way that honors Him.

Why I work is as important as how I work.  It many times is the difference between finding meaning in my work or not.  Many a mother or father has labored in difficult situations with joy knowing it was for their children’s sake, for their community’s sake, and for God’s sake.  Obeying the Great Commandments gives us our motivation for work.

For further reading:

Due Diligence or DO Diligence?

Sweating Outcomes (and other blog entries about work)

Lessons From the Old Testament: The Reason For the Tabernacle

The Erection of the Tabernacle and the Sacred ...
Image via Wikipedia

The LORD said to Moses,”Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from each man whose heart prompts him to give. Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.” (Exodus 25:1,2,8,9)

Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.  In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels. (Exodus 40:24-38)

Moses and Aaron and his sons were to camp to the east of the tabernacle, toward the sunrise, in front of the Tent of Meeting. They were responsible for the care of the sanctuary on behalf of the Israelites. Anyone else who approached the sanctuary was to be put to death. (Numbers 3:38)

“Far be it from us to rebel against the LORD and turn away from him today by building an altar for burnt offerings, grain offerings and sacrifices, other than the altar of the LORD our God that stands before his tabernacle.” (Joshua 22:29)

For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the LORD. (Psalm 27:5,6)

The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.  Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” (Hebrews 8:1-5)

The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. 8-12)This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.   When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation.  He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:8-12)

Immediately after Moses receives the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20) and their application to particular cases (Exodus 21-23), God directs Moses to prepare for and put together a tent in which He will “dwell.”   God is not satisfied with merely having a people to command and represent Him among the nations.  He desires to live with His people.  Even as He commands them to love Him with all their hearts (Deuteronomy 6:5), He loves them and desires fellowship with them.

This is God’s main stated purpose for the Tabernacle.  However, there are other aspects to the Tabernacle that teach us something about the character of God.  First of all, the Tabernacle is patterned after a heavenly sanctuary.  This means that the earthly sanctuary is a copy of the real sanctuary in which Jesus eventually presented himself as an eternal offering for our sins.  The blood sacrifices brought to the earthly Tabernacle did not really take away sin, but were temporary pictures of what was to come.

Secondly, the Tabernacle was a visible evidence of the power of God among His people.  The glory of God filled the Tabernacle and would go up from it when it was time for the people to move on and rest on it when it was time to stop.  God was encouraging His people with a manifestation of His presence that would bolster their faith.

Thirdly, only the priests were allowed to enter the Tabernacle.  There were strict regulations about handling it and approaching it.  Even though God wanted to dwell among His people, there were requirements about how to approach a holy God.  This taught His people that His love for them did not remove His need to apply justice and judgment for sin.

Finally, the Tabernacle became a symbol of spiritual sanctuary for any of the faithful who looked to God for help.  Though one may not be able to personally enter the Tabernacle physically, one could enter it spiritually and emotionally,  depending on God’s hospitality and protection as if he or she was a guest in God’s home (Psalm 23:5,6).

We can still experience the closeness of God dwelling with us individually and as a community of the faithful.  1 Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19,20 teach that the church corporately is indwelled by God’s Spirit just as the Tabernacle was, and that individually we are indwelled by the Spirit of God, our bodies becoming His Tabernacle through which He shows Himself ready to have relationship with any and all who long for Him.

The Ten Commandments — You Shall Not Covet

There is something distinctively different about the tenth commandment which sets it apart from all the rest.  And this distinction gives a key to the interpretation of all the rest.  Whereas the other commands focus on visible behavior (do not steal, murder, work on the Sabbath, etc.) this one focuses on the invisible behavior of the heart.

Coveting (craving something that belongs to another) is not something you can see until it erupts into visible sin like stealing or adultery.  By dealing with an attitude in this commandment, God is indicating that attitude is an important factor in every one of the commandments.  That’s why, for example, Jesus interprets the commandments in his sermon on the mount from their attitudinal perspectives (Matthew 5).  There is murderous anger and adultery of the heart.

Though someone might claim to have kept all the other commandments (someone, that is, who hasn’t spent any time thinking about the commands or his own life), no one can claim he has not violated number ten.  In fact, when Paul describes his attempt to live under the Law of Moses, he specifically points out the command not to covet as his undoing (Romans 7:7,8).  This is the undoing for every “Pharisee” because it sets a standard that no one can keep perfectly and it reveals the utter depravity of the human heart.

Coveting is the wrongful desire to have something which does not belong to you.  It is the expression of a basic dissatisfaction in life with what God has given you.  Coveting tends toward obsession.  What we crave becomes so much a part of our thoughts that we can think of nothing else but ways to bring our lusts to fruition.  Coveting brings home the sobering reality that we cannot change ourselves.  We are slaves to our desires unless God comes in and does surgery on our hearts.

Once God’s life has been implanted in our lives we can begin the process of subjecting our cravings to His authority.  Instrumental in this process is the renewing of our minds by the Word of God.  You do not stop thinking about something by concentrating on overcoming it.  You must concentrate on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely or admirable (Philippians 4:8).  God has given us words for meditation that counteract every one of our improper desires.  As we study God’s Word, relying on Him in prayer for empowerment, we find new self-control in the thought realm.  Many times confessing our thoughts to a trusted brother or sister in Christ steals its power.  We learn to stop the trails our minds want to wander down, and put ourselves on healthier paths that God has laid out for us.

The Ten Commandments — You Shall Not Lie

Actually, the stated setting of the ninth commandment is the legal trial.  It says, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16).  Some applications of this law are found in Exodus 23:1,7 where warning is given against agreeing with the wicked to give false testimony in a case, or being partial to the poor in their disputes, all for the purpose of unlawful gain (stealing, bribery).  In Deuteronomy 19:16-21 the principle is laid down that a false witness will receive the penalty the innocent party would have received if pronounced guilty because of the liar’s false testimony.

But the application of this law goes beyond the courtroom.  The need for honesty in all our dealings is a natural implication of the ninth commandment.  It is the basis for the Old Testament laws regarding oaths and vows (Numbers 30, for example).  Vows are made to one another, but they are made to the Lord, also, and must not be broken. 

For relationships in the Body of Christ, honesty is essential.  “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body,” (Ephesians 4:25).  “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator,” (Colossians 3:9,10).

There do seem to be situations in which people are not obligated to tell the truth.  When Rahab protected Israelite spies by lying about their having left her place, it was deemed a commendable thing (Joshua 2).  When David pretended to be insane to escape the threat of a foreign enemy a psalm was written about it (1 Samuel 21:10-15; Psalm 34).  If someone broke into your house and asked you where your children were, would you be obligated to tell him the truth?

Lying is as old as the devil.  He lied to our parents and Jesus calls him the “father of lies” (John 8:44). Lying is a tool to manipulate our or another’s situation.  It is a denial of truth’s ability to make its way in life.  But truth is God’s tool for successful and happy living.  Failure to tell the truth destroys trust, a key ingredient for any relationship.  Telling the truth to another demonstrates respect.  Even withholding truth from another suggests that that person cannot be trusted with it.  Such disrespect and deceit is not consistent with the fact that we have laid aside the old self, nor is it worthy of brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Ten Commandments — You Shall Not Steal

God does not endorse the abolition of private property or ownership.  If there were no private ownership, there could be no stealing, but “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15) stands as an endorsement of private ownership.  God speaks of things belonging to Him.  All that we have is, in one sense, on loan from Him for He owns it all.  But by extension, it becomes “ours” and we are responsible for caring for it.

There are many ways to steal.  Laban “stole” Jacob’s wages by not “paying” him what he said he would (Genesis 29:15-20).  Jacob had already stolen Isaac’s blessing from Esau (Genesis 27:1-46).  Potiphar’s wife “stole” Joseph’s reputation by lying about his actions (Genesis 39:7-20).  Saul stole Samuel’s priestly prerogative by offering a sacrifice in Samuel’s absence (1 Samuel 13:8-14).  Ahab stole Naboth’s vineyard by arranging his death and then seizing his property (1 Kings 21).  The Pharisees robbed their parents by declaring their possessions “Corban” (devoted to God) so they would not have to provide support for their parents (Mark 7:11-13).

We rob and steal in many of these same ways.  We don’t declare taxable income on our tax forms, use company items for personal purposes, copy copyrighted material, spend money for personal pleasures when we owe creditors.  1 Corinthians 6:10 declares that thieves shall not inherit the kingdom of God.  The thief has denied God’s way of acquiring necessities – honest work.  Either he will not trust God to provide his needs or he is selfishly lazy and finds it easier to take what others have worked for.  Such a person does not know the love, grace and ownership of God.

What is the positive aspect to this negative command, “You shall not steal”?  Ephesians 4:28 gives it to us and gives us what our motive should be as we seek to counteract the temptations to theft:

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.

Generosity made possible by honest labor is the motive opposite to stealing.  The thief does not stop being a thief when he stops stealing.  He stops being a thief when he starts giving to others from the fruit of his honest work.  As we find ourselves tempted to take what belongs to another we should seek to respond in just the opposite way.  We should become overly scrupulous about what is not our own, seeking to avoid all appearance of evil.  If we have stolen we must make restitution and become generous givers instead of takers.

The Ten Commandments — You Shall Not Commit Adultery

It is stark in its bold simplicity.  It gives no room for special circumstances or exceptions.  It doesn’t explain why, but then it doesn’t really need to.  The seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14), is self-explanatory.  Or so it would seem.  Though such disloyalty to one’s partner in marriage would seem to be held in contempt by any society, the fact that God included it in the list indicates that it is a problem of large proportion for the human race.  And it indicates that God sees it as a behavior that brings great destruction to any individual and society.  If our understanding of Malachi 2:10-16 is right, violation of one’s marriage covenant leads to failure to raise children in the right way.

Our culture is looking for ways to represent adultery as an acceptable alternative to a dead-end marriage or even a healthy thing for a so-so marriage.  But God, in his wisdom and concern for the welfare of his children, has clearly spelled out the dangers of adultery.  Most of Solomon’s advice to his son in Proverbs 5-9 centers around the dangers of sexual sin.  He acknowledges that adultery is seductive and enticing (“the lips of an adulteress drip honey,” 5:3) but that the result is deadly (“her steps lead straight to the grave,” 5:5).

But in Solomon’s exposition of the seventh commandment he also gives the positive aspect of the command:  “Rejoice in the wife of your youth!” (v.18) and “Be captivated by her love!” (v.19).  You have not kept this commandment when you merely abstain from illicit sexual relations outside your marriage, but the husband or wife is further obligated to faithfully pursue a love relationship with his or her spouse.  Too many marriages have failed for lack of this pursuit.

Jesus, of course, also emphasized the depth of this commandment.  In Matthew 5:27,28 he rebukes the teachers of the day for assuming that obedience to this command was achieved without consideration of the heart’s attitude.  He affirmed that God’s original intent for this law was to include a lustful heart as an aspect of adultery, as a secret adultery of the mind.  Not only is there adultery, there is adultery in one’s heart.  And though the latter is not as bad as actual adultery, it is what leads to adultery if unchecked.  It is a failure to pursue a love relationship with one’s spouse.

Though adultery is forgivable, the seriousness of this sin cannot be played down.  It is serious enough to be a legitimate ground for divorce (Matthew 19:9).  It is one sin that God explicitly says He will avenge (1 Thessalonians 4:6).  Paul says, “Flee from sexual immorality!” because such a sin is a sin against one’s own body and our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:18,19).

The Ten Commandments — You Shall Not Murder

The sixth commandment is not properly translated, “You shall not kill.”  Killing is not prohibited in every form by God, but only certain forms of killing are prohibited.  For example, God commanded Israel in this same Law of Moses to kill the Canaanites in battle and take possession of their land (Deuteronomy 7:17-24). 

Capital punishment is also commanded in the Mosaic Law for specific crimes.  In Exodus 21 specific applications of the Ten Commandments are made and in verses 12-14 the death penalty is required for anyone who kills someone with premeditation.  In verses 15-17 striking one’s parent and kidnapping are said to be capital offenses.  These and other instances of invoking capital punishment are in accord with God’s decree to Noah in Genesis 9:5,6 and are obviously not considered “murder,” which is prohibited in this sixth command.

Murder refers primarily to premeditated and even unpremeditated slaying other than in war (the Hebrew word is used of both, Numbers 35:16-31 and Deuteronomy 4:42).  The slaying of another, intentionally or unintentionally, other than for capital crimes or war, is prohibited by this commandment.  Life is God’s gift and man is made in God’s image, a very precious gift indeed (Genesis 9:5,6).  To steal that gift from another is a violation of God’s moral will.  Every society on earth views it as such.

But this commandment should be viewed from a positive, more inclusive perspective.  To state this command positively would be to say something like, “Preserve life.”  It has application not only to personally refraining from violence but also to being one who doesn’t just stand by when life is in danger, but who gets involved to preserve the lives of others.

How might we be more that bystanders when an alcoholic neighbor gets in the car and drives away intoxicated?  How do we help the pregnant girl who sees abortion as her only option?  What application does this commandment have to preventing a depressed individual from committing suicide?  How about when we know a parent is abusing children?  Or when in war there are obvious atrocities, what do we do?  All these situations and others are opportunities for us to live out the depth of this commandment and not remain bystanders.

There are difficult ethical questions bound up in this command.  Is self-defense that results in the death of another considered murder?  Is pulling the plug on a terminal patient wrong?  Is careless driving that results in death worthy of severe punishment?  Is there a justifiable war these days?  Different parts of the body of Christ have given different answers to all these questions.  Each must seek to honor this law of God.