Saturday, December 3, 2016

WORKING FOR THE KINGDOM

The ways that we work in this world are pretty well defined. The goals that we have as individuals in deciding what our work is to be are also usually quite well established – we all seek to find a job that we like, one that we are good at, and one with which we can make a decent living. Some people may include the words fulfilling and satisfying in this description of finding good work, as in having a fulfilling career.

I purposely did not use these descriptions, because they are more subjective in nature. The work that is fulfilling today, may become frustrating tomorrow. That which began as being satisfying and challenging, ends up being boring and disappointing. This should not surprise us about our work experiences, because that is the extent of any reward that the world can give us. Everything in the world fleeting. It is all just temporary.

The poet Robert Frost wrote about this as illustrated to us in nature itself: 

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay. 

King Solomon also came to the conclusion in life that “nothing gold can stay.” He tried every means to find a lasting satisfaction in his work, but found that every sense of fulfillment was fleeting. Here is what he said: 

I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees… I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces…And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.

Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:4-11 ESV) 

A pessimistic attitude, no? Not really...(to continue reading, press the READ MORE button below)

The writings in the book of Ecclesiastes are often denigrated by Bible readers and even some Bible teachers as being “too worldy” or “too depressing,” I will not disagree that it is worldly, because in the book, Solomon tells how he used his unsurpassed riches and power to acquire every sort of self-pleasing indulgence.

However, the lessons of Ecclesiastes are lessons for all of us. In our thinking in this life, we sometimes fall into the trap if we would just have a little more money we would be completely satisfied. Perhaps another thousand dollars a month, or maybe two thousand.

“If I could only win the lottery…”

But the lesson of Ecclesiastes shows us that even with unlimited resources and by gaining everything imaginable and trying to satisfy every desire, fulfillment that is centered in this life is only a fleeting dream. It is “striving after the wind.” Anything that may bring a measure of satisfaction today simply becomes common tomorrow. 

Seeking the Gold that Will Stay

If we accept this assessment, then we would agree that if we seek true fulfillment in living, we must set our goals higher than temporal possessions or any sort of social standing. We must seek goals that will endure into eternity.

A very simplified example of this is what Jesus said to a large group of people who had followed him because he had before given them bread to eat. The people had eaten and were satisfied, but of course, in due time they became hungry again.

Jesus said to those people seeking bread, “You seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate bread and were filled. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life” (John 6:26, 27).

In this example it is bread, but you can substitute for it any other form of worldly yearning, be it a legitimate yearning, such as having food to eat, or an illegitimate one, such as having great riches beyond what one could use. Bread and riches, even in abundance, can only satisfy for a limited length of time. 

Eternal Food and Eternal Water

The frequency of times that Jesus referred to his work as being of an eternal nature is really quite remarkable. Even as young as twelve years old, during a pilgrimage of his family to Jerusalem, Jesus went to the temple so he could listen to the teachers and ask them questions. When his parents frantically searched for him and finally found him, Jesus answered his worried mother, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49 ESV)

When Jesus became an adult and during his ministry, he would often refer to this priority in his life.

“Rabbi, eat,” his disciples once urged Jesus after a long and wearying journey.
Jesus responded, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”

The disciples had gone into a town to buy some food and had just returned to where Jesus had been waiting for them, at a well outside of the city. They had brought some food back for Jesus. When he told them he had food that they did not know about, they thought that someone must have brought him some food when they were away.

He did have food, but it was not the kind of food that they envisioned. During their absence, Jesus had been involved in conversation with a woman, explaining to her how she could obtain the “water of life.” No one had brought him food. When he told his disciples that had food to eat that they did not know about, he was not referring to literal, physical food.

He told the disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” (John 4: 34-38 ESV) 

The Labor of Many

This reference to entering into another’s labor is an important concept in the work of the Kingdom of God. When Jesus said this about entering into another’s labors, he was referring to the fact that many people had been working for literally thousands of years before them, all of these without seeing the final outcome of their work. Many had served their entire lives without seeing any fruit at all.

During all of those years, the Father was preparing the world for the coming of the Savior. It was not until the day of the disciples, after Jesus had come, when the true results of the work of the ages began to become evident. A few of these workers who had labored up to this time, during those thousands of years, had a limited glimpse of what God was doing, but most did not. They simply were busy about the work that God had given to them without really understanding the full plan.

Breaking Fallow Ground and Working Until Harvest

Using the analogy that Jesus gave of workers in the field, these early workers only knew to prepare the ground. They put the plow to the stubborn sod. They picked rocks. They tilled the soil and pulled out the weeds. Then the planting of the seed came. As they planted, they did not know which of the seeds would bear fruit and which would not. There was more weeding and even the need to protect the field from beasts who would come in to destroy the crop.

Finally, one day, the harvest. This is what Jesus was referring to when he spoke to the disciples. With his arrival, the Savior had come and the harvest was beginning to come in. Harvest is always the joyful time because we see the great rewards of labor, but those who see harvest in the Kingdom of God should not think of this time as a result of their own efforts only. Many had labored long and hard to bring this work of the Father to fruition. In all of it, the labor is not that of many individuals only, it is the work of the Father. The goals of the workers are not exclusive and personal goals only, but even more than that they are all the work of the Father.

The Apostle Paul also uses this example of workers in the field when he is speaking of his ministry, comparing it to the work of another evangelist of the day, a man by the name of Apollos.

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth,” Paul said. “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-8 ESV). 

Under Construction

Using different imagery, Paul then elaborates on this theme. Instead of planting a crop, he likens his labors to working on a great building. “According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it,” he writes.

Think of any large building that requires several contractors.

“Each man must be careful how he builds on it.” Paul continues. “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

Critical to any building is the quality of the materials that are used. If the building materials are durable, then the building will be strong. If they are unsound, then whatever work we have put into it will fail. We speak of a literal building, but of course the true subject is our work for the Kingdom of God.

Again, the words of Paul: “Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:10-15 NAS). 

The Testing and the Purification

To return now to our verse in Revelation; when Jesus spoke of bringing his rewards with him when he returns, some of these rewards must include the satisfaction of knowing that the work that you have done while in this life has endured into eternity. We all want what we do to last, even in this life. Paul is speaking here of efforts lasting even into eternity. The fire he is talking about in testing our works is not a reference to hell, but rather it is the judgment of Christ upon those deed that we have done in our lives.

As you can see, there are basically two types of materials that Paul mentions in building. The second of these, the wood and the hay and the straw – these are the materials that burn and will not endure. These will be totally consumed with nothing remaining.

It is the first category of materials, the gold and the silver and precious stones that will persevere. And not only will they endure the test of fire, but they will be purified by the flame.

Paul elsewhere writes this, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8 NIV).

The man of ancient times, Job, said this of God: “He knows the way I take; When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10)

Whatever efforts that we have done for the Kingdom of God in this life will not only endure into eternity, but they shall be purified. Nothing shall remain about them that is corruptible. 

The Job Description is Centered on Your Spiritual Gifts

What then is this work that we are supposed to do for the Kingdom of God? What could be our job description? If we are to work at efforts that will last into eternity, what should these efforts be?

This is sometimes difficult for us to see, because as I have mentioned various times, the economy of the Kingdom of God is not the economy of the world. When we look at our efforts in the world, job descriptions become more understandable. That is because we are living here and can see the goals to which we should work.

The Kingdom of God is not yet visible to us, so it is more difficult to understand. Nevertheless, we can get a sense of it from the writings and the experiences of those we read about in the Bible. In the same writing of Paul that I quoted above, the one regarding God not being mocked, he follows by saying this: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:9-10 NIV).

“Doing good” is one of the works that we can do now to last into eternity. What does it mean to do good? If we look at the life of Jesus and of the early disciples, doing good for them was helping people whenever the situation to do so arose. As you read through the gospels, it seems like Jesus was always feeding someone or healing them. The same was true for the disciples.

Jesus said this, “Whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward” (Matthew 10:40-42 ESV).

Besides this however, there is something more. Something even greater. As in any job, even the jobs that we have on earth, the worker must listen to what his boss tells him or her to do. We are not to work to please our fellow workers, necessarily. If we are to be good workers, we must listen to the instructions given to us by the one in authority as we are about to begin the task.

For the worker who is beginning his or her work for the Lord, here is the last bit of instruction that has been given to us from Jesus, just before he ascended into heaven”

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 20:18-20 NIV).

We all have different tasks. We have a different role to play in bringing in the harvest. There are a variety of jobs. What I do will not look like what you do. But we have the same motivation in our lives and our work. We are to please the one who has allowed each one of us to be involved with the work of the Kingdom.

 

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