The 8-to-5 grind is no fun! It’s all Adam’s fault. If only he had not sinned, we could all be enjoying picnics in the park rather than pain in the workplace. Is that so? Is being gainfully and, at times, painfully employed, all Adam’s fault? Was he just strolling through Eden, communing with nature day by day?
Work actually began before the fall. Adam was assigned a work place – the Garden; he was given a work description – “to dress it and to keep it” (Gen 2:15, KJV); and he had a supervisor to Whom he was accountable – the Lord.There were work policies – “Of every tree of the Garden thou mayest freely eat, but of the tree of knowledge … “(2:16-17, KJV); and there was a day off a week – the Sabbath.
What was introduced at the fall was not the concept of working each day, but the increase in difficulty linked with that work. When Adam fell, God told him the ground which He had now cursed would yield “thorns and thistles” (3:18), intensifying and making his labor more difficult. God intended human beings to work from the very dawn of creation. In his work in the Garden, Adam would find scope for his own creativity, satisfaction, and appreciation. The Garden which the Lord planted was only a small space “eastward in Eden” (2:8). Very possibly, faithful stewardship would have led to those conditions moving beyond that small garden to the entire earth over which God intended Adam to have dominion (1:28). The Garden, very likely, was a training ground, a stepping stone to greater exercise of stewardship. Thus, work is not an interruption in the course of life. It has purposes beyond paying bills and providing the means to acquire material things. In a number of ways (likely hard for most of us to believe), work is a blessing from the hand of God. Consider just a few of the following.
Being in Touch
There are very few people who have worked for more than 20 years who have not begun thinking and dreaming about retirement. The anticipation of more free time, the ability to pursue other interests, the relief from the grinding pressure and stress of the workplace – all these are so attractive and appealing. Make no mistake; they are real assets of retirement.
However, many who have retired have found that it brings with it one huge demerit: the loss of contact with others in the work environment, and the loss of contact with the “real world.” For some, this may not sound like such a bad thing if fellow-employees are marked by profanity and disregard for the Name of God in their conversation. In our various relationships, we grow and reach our full potential. The scene of the retiree loitering around the old workplace to “just say hello” to those he worked with is an all too familiar scene. Through interaction with others, we develop graces, hone sensitivities, and find some of our significance.
Additionally, with retirement, contacts are not easily made for inviting to meetings or for sharing the gospel. Those who have been saved by the witness of a fellow employee are legion in number.
Those in responsibility in assembly leadership are also now placed at a huge disadvantage. The majority of individuals in the assembly are still facing the stress of the 8-to-5 grind, the pressure of the workplace, the ridicule of fellow employees because of their testimony, and the difficulty of hard-to-please supervisors. But you are safely removed from all those issues. No one persecutes you sitting in your study in front of your computer. There is little pressure on you as you go out to lunch with your wife or fly away on a spur-of-the-moment holiday. You are no longer in touch with the problems which the majority of saints are facing. In reality, you are no longer “in touch.” Unless you make a serious effort to keep in touch with reality, you may become irrelevant to the needs of the assembly, and your shepherding will suffer as a result.
It is relatively easy to be a Christian on Lord’s Day with the believers, or at a conference. No one is using profanity; there are no off-color jokes or suggestive remarks made. You are surrounded by those you know, esteem, and love. Support is on every hand. You know what to say and how to act to be a “good Christian,” but this is really not your testimony; this is your reputation among the believers. Your testimony is what you are when away from the believers – what you are at home and in the shop. We should, if consistent, be the same at home as in the Hall. We should, if genuine, be the same among the saints as at the shop, but we all know and must confess that the images do not always superimpose. There may, at times, be a divergence which is painful to confess.
For those who work, the office, factory, or workplace is where our testimony is put to the test. I have the deepest respect for our sisters. They have the most difficult time at work. The difference in their appearance, dress, language, and deportment is so obvious and divergent from the rest that they are immediately descended upon with questions. Why the long hair? Why the modest appearance? Why don’t they flirt and try to gain the favor of some of the men? Why the lack of layers of makeup and tons of jewelry? We men have it relatively easy. Our sisters bear the majority of the reproach by their very appearance. It would be easy to succumb to pressure, to bend a little and blend a little with the others. “Dress down Friday” would be a convenient time to let things go a little and compromise. But testimony is at stake.
Sisters are not different just to be different. They do not dress modestly just to make a statement, but it does make a statement to others. The teaching of 1 Timothy 2 certainly permits a woman to dress well. She can dress attractively, but she does not dress to attract!
You will not be long in the work environment before you will be asked something along this line: “What did you do for fun this weekend?” Your answer will tell them your priorities and interest. If “fun” is your goal in life, then telling them you went to a Bible conference or something similar will be hard to get past your teeth. If you are faithful, they will soon realize you are living for another world and with different goals. Employment and employees will test you and put your testimony on trial.
God’s Training Ground
Your employment can also be a place of testing and a place of training. As mentioned earlier, the Garden in Eden was a training ground for Adam. Could he handle responsibility? Was his leadership up to the task? Would he be faithful with the stewardship committed to him? We all know how the story ended for Adam.
There are others in Scripture who illustrate the lesson far more successfully. Joseph was faithful in his employment. First, he kept the sheep (Gen 27:2). Then he administered well in Potiphar’s house (Gen 39:3). The malice of an evil woman placed him in the prison, but once again, he did his job well (39:21-23). Each sphere of employment prepared Joseph for the next, and ultimately, for the place of administration in Pharaoh’s kingdom.
Moses knew 40 years of keeping sheep in a desert scene. He would learn the topography of the wilderness, the care of the sheep, and the loneliness of the desert. The day would come when this knowledge, wedded to the wisdom learned in Pharaoh’s court in youth, would make him a mighty leader for God. The man who herded sheep would now shepherd a nation. The man who knew loneliness in the wilderness, would experience the loneliness of leadership as he marshaled a murmuring and unappreciative people through 40 long and lonely years.
David the shepherd boy was trained in his first occupation for the future. The lion and the bear were faced alone before he faced Goliath. His training was in private. It appears that few, if any, knew of his slaying of the lion and bear, but God had been training him while at work for a greater work.
Jacob keeping sheep, Mordecai sitting in the gate, Aaron enduring the lash of the taskmaster (yes, some employees had it harder than you), Matthew laboring for an imperial kingdom, and others, all reinforce the lesson that your employment may be a stepping stone to greater usefulness.
Not every leader at work becomes a leader in God’s assembly. The Lord may, however, use the one responsibility to develop the other for the blessing of the believers.
A Place of Testing
Underlying much of what has been written above is the reality that your employment may also be a place of testing. Faithfulness in the workplace often comes with a very high cost attached to it. Do you lie for your boss? Do you cheat or perform other dishonest things because your employer requests it of you? Your job may be at stake. What’s wrong with little white lies? You have to pay bills and feed the family. “Little white lie” are lies, and a dulled conscience becomes susceptible to even greater unrighteousness.
Work was quite a test for Daniel. Despite his government position with its opportunity for graft and personal gain, “they could find none occasion or fault; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him” (Dan 6:4, KJV). It was quite a testimony for a man to maintain, despite rigorous investigation by the unethical ethics committee. Daniel was tested in chapter 1 as to his diet; in chapter 2 as to his confidence in God; and in chapter 6, as to His devotion and prayer life. He passed every test with high marks.
Boaz was tested in his work. Famine came and others fled. Boaz stayed by the field and emerged a mighty man of wealth (virtue). You may argue he was self-employed, and so he was. Yet, self-employed believers face many tests in the competitiveness and dishonesty of the work environment. Faithfulness to divine principles of work (Eph 6:9; Col 4:1) may have an influence on the “bottom line.” Many and nefarious are the schemes which the self-employed or business owners utilize to maximize profits and minimize taxes. But a righteous believer will eschew all these for conscience sake.
Joseph, mentioned previously, was tested by moral temptation while at work (Gen 39). How he responded would determine his future usefulness for God. Had he taken the easy path, he would hardly even be a footnote in history. There were kings whose power and prestige in the position led to pride and a sad end. There were counselors, such as Hushai, who proved himself faithful to David in a difficult day. Joseph of Arimathea was a good man (Luke 23:50), and an “honorable counselor” (Mark 15:43), a man who did his job well. He was “promoted” to an even more important task at the burial of the Lord.
Philemon faced the greatest test of his life as an employer dealing with Onesimus. It also gave him the greatest privilege of his life – to display the forgiving grace of God. The difficult supervisor at work, the contentious fellow employee, and hard-to-please customers are opportunities to display the character of God in the work place.
Do not view your employment as an unwelcome intrusion into your life. It is God’s field for your service and testimony, His furnace for your molding, and His focus for your development.