Worthy Worker (Part One)

Please read 2 Timothy 2:14-26 in your Bible.

Construction Minister_v03Image by James Best, (C) 2020,

https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

      First there was the refusal to shake hands.  Then there was the tearing of papers.  It was a rough morning in Mrs. Marple’s kindergarten class!  Say, what did you think I was talking about?!

Today we’re talking about being a “worthy worker;” a follower of Jesus who lives out the faith God has given.  Speaking of work: picture two factory workers talking. The woman says, “I can make the boss give me the day off.”

The man replies, “How would you do that?” The woman says, “Just wait and see.” She then hangs upside down from the ceiling.

The boss comes in and says, “What are you doing?” The woman replies, “I’m a light bulb.”

The boss then says, “You’ve been working so much that you’ve gone crazy. I think you need to take the day off.”

The man starts to follow her out and the boss says, “Where are you going?” The man says, “I’m going home, too. I can’t work in the dark.”

We’ve gotten pretty well acquainted with the church in Ephesus.  A young man named Timothy was the sole employee of that church and the Apostle Paul loved him so much he wrote Timothy a couple training manuals.  We’ll see this morning what the second manual says about the kind of workers of whom God approves. This ought to be a big concern to us, because one day we’ll stand before God for our biggest job performance review ever, and we REALLY want that promotion!

Our aim is to be worthy workers.

  1. V. 15 sets forth the goal for our daily life: being approved workers.

DO YOUR BEST proves some effort is required on our part.  The word means to “make haste, make every effort, be zealous or eager” to receive God’s approval.  God graciously supplies us with all we need to live holy and fruitful lives and He forgives us when we sin.  Our part is to exercise our will, to put for the effort, to make the right choices; to do our BEST.

Seek God’s approval by avoiding evil and pursuing good.  This requires CORRECTLY HANDLING THE WORD OF TRUTH.

Given the repeated emphasis on sins of the tongue, (QUARRELING, CHATTER, ARGUMENTS), Paul was evidently concerned about the church’s attention being diverted from approved doctrine to false teaching.

CORRECTLY HANDLING meant to plow a straight furrow, lay a direct road, or quarry a symmetrical stone.  It is handling God’s word in a straightforward way, letting it speak for itself, not trying to bend the word to fit one’s preferred meaning.  Indeed, the best use of the Bible is to use it at as close to the literal words on the page as possible.

Skeptics accuse the Bible of being unreliable as interpreters have bent it to support a variety of teachings.  We have to be careful to not give them evidence that is true.

A benefit of being approved is not having to be ASHAMED in this life and especially not on Judgment Day when all worker’s projects are tested (see 1 Corinthians 3:10-15).  It’s embarrassing to claim to understand God’s will and then be proven wrong.  It’s much, much worse to be judged as wrong by God on Judgment Day, when it’s too late to do anything about it.

  1. Worthy workers in God’s kingdom avoid evil and do good.

Paul supplied five examples of evils to be avoided. The first is QUARRELING mentioned in verses 14, 23, 24.  QUARRELING was condemned as being of NO VALUE.  It is like “empty calories” or “junk food,” it does nothing to sustain or improve life. It is worthless and wasteful.

Worse, it ONLY RUINS THOSE WHO LISTEN (often the innocent bystanders, not those arguing).  Disputes over words cause divisions which unsettle people, turning them away from God and turning them on one another.

There are two kinds of people who are prone to quarrel.  One kind is the Know-it-alls.  Because they refuse to concede there’s something they don’t know better than you, they will argue. The other kind is the Drama Queens who like to quarrel because it’s one way of creating some drama.  We see a great deal of QUARRELING on social media and in relation to Washington politics.

GODLESS CHATTER (16) is the second example of evil to be avoided.  Chatter can feel as if it is the least evil of all the sins of the tongue.  Sure it’s superficial and wastes time, but where’s the harm?

The Apostle Paul would allow none of that; he use the word GODLESS to characterize CHATTER properly: as evil.  To me, cable news networks and talk radio are two modern examples of chatter.  The Worthy Worker has no time to waste on typically sinful verbal fluff.

Third, Paul called on Timothy, a young man, to FLEE THE EVIL DESIRES OF YOUTH (22).  We might think of sensuality, impatience, arrogance, and self-centeredness as usual YOUTH sins.  I prefer to see this as Paul’s condemnation of immaturity.  Immaturity is understandable when you’re young, untrained, and inexperienced.  However, when you’re old enough and taught better and don’t do it, that’s a sin.  However you define the sins of youth, we are to FLEE from them.

The fourth example is strongly worded: DON’T HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH FOOLISH AND STUPID ARGUMENTS (24).  These inevitably lead to having the QUARRELS mentioned in verse fourteen. This reference to arguments makes me think of trying to prove whose football team is better, or comments left on websites that make letters to the editor look tame by comparison.

The fifth example to sins to NOT be RESENTFUL (24).  In our Adult Bible Study we’re finding out about the toxic nature of grudges and all forms of unresolved anger.  Resentment is a self-inflicted wound.  The person at whom we are needlessly angry is very likely to be unaware of their offense or care about it.  Why should we?

To complete the moral picture, God gave Paul five examples of good to be pursued.  The first is a set of four virtues found in verse twenty-two: PURSUE RIGHTEOUSNESS, FAITH, LOVE AND PEACE.  The word PURSUE means we’re not waiting for these virtues to fall out of the sky and hit us on the head like a cartoon anvil.  We must take an active role in cultivating them.

What challenged me this week was the commentator who pointed out that these virtues are exercised in relationships.  You can’t know that you have these virtues or develop them on your own.  We need the church and our families to do it.

The second example of pursuit-worthy virtue is to CALL ON THE LORD OUT OF A PURE HEART (22).  To CALL ON THE LORD is a reference to prayer.  As the Bible teaches, God hears the prayers of those who are PURE of HEART.  This is a moral state, but also refers to sincerity; single-mindedness.

The third virtue is kindness: BE KIND TO EVERYONE (24).  In recent national events we’ve seen that tolerance, patience, and gentleness can be in short supply. Isn’t this a place where the Church could show leadership in our culture?

Whatever one’s position in the church, home, or society, kindness is a virtue that is supposed to distinguish us from unbelievers.  I know how tempting it is to want to win arguments and votes, but the urge to win can never replace kindness.

The fourth virtue is to be ABLE TO TEACH (24). Some believers have a Spiritual Gift of teaching, but all believers are teachers.  All parents are teachers; that’s God’s plan.

Being ABLE TO TEACH requires first that we are learners.  We never want to be the “old dog” who refuses to learn “new tricks.”

Then we must develop our skill in teaching as we gain experience passing along what we know in all the virtuous ways we’ve discussed.  It’s no accident that teaching is listed between kindness and gentleness.

Fifth, GENTLY INSTRUCT those who OPPOSE you (25-26).  Gentleness is always appropriate, but is especially needed when instruction is given, and most of all, when instructing opponents.

Note the chain of reasoning. The HOPE motivating our offering instruction is that GOD WILL GRANT THEM REPENTANCE.  Then their REPENTANCE will lead them to a KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH.  The TRUTH will cause them to COME TO THEIR SENSES. (Literally, “return to soberness.”)  Becoming sensible, the opponents of faith will ESCAPE THE TRAP OF THE DEVIL, WHO HAS TAKEN THEM CAPTIVE TO DO HIS WILL.  It’s impossible to escape a trap when you refuse to recognize you’re in one.

Our aim is to be worthy workers.

      Today is “Church Vocations Sunday,” where we’re supposed to encourage people to consider careers in full-time Christian ministry.  As I am currently working on a letter of recommendation for a young lady who aspires to be a chaplain, we’ll call this a successful Church Vocations Sunday and expand the topic to do what Paul did; use work as a figurative way of explaining what it means to be a Christian.

So here we go: a Christian’s job description.

#1 – Show up for work.  The believer’s workplace is wherever there is someone who can be helped with an act of service or witness.  How many times do we fail to act on opportunities to talk about and demonstrate our faith?

#2 – Follow the boss’s instructions.  Our boss is God, the founder of the company.  He’s put instructions in our hearts and in the Bible, so no excuses.

#3 – Cooperate with your coworkers.  Whether they’re in management or on the floor, your fellow Christians deserve your very best love and treatment.

#4 – Wait patiently for pay day.  The best rewards for a job well done come after “retirement” from this company.  You can trust the Boss to keep track of your hours, but because He is generous, your envelope will contain something extra.

Show yourself to be a worthy worker!

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Alan G. Nute

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, #11, Ralph Earle

Labor Disputes

denarius

Please read Matthew 20:1-16 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

The first to cry “foul” are people who feel they have suffered loss.  You rarely hear people complain because they benefited unfairly.

For example, in one of last Sunday’s football games, a player for the LA Rams committed a foul against a player for the NO Saints.  But the referees did not call a foul.  Saints players and fans are outraged at the “no call” play and believe it cost their team the victory and a chance to play in the Super Bowl.

Imagine for a moment if the offending player called a time out, gathered the officials around him, and asked them to call a foul.  What if he pointed to the giant screen in the stadium and confessed?  What if he said, “See, there I am cheating.  I wish you’d go ahead and call a foul on me.  It’s not fair I should get away with such an obvious foul”?

How do you think his teammates would have reacted?  The other team’s players and fans?  Some would no doubt object to such a generous, selfless act because winning would me more important to them.

God’s grace is not going to fit your idea of “fair.”

  1. Setting the stage: context.

Much of chapter nineteen is about who goes to heaven.  The rich young man was concerned about what he had to do to get ETERNAL LIFE (v. 16).  Jesus’ response was tailored to this individual.  He told him to go and sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor.  The man was prepared to do anything BUT that: HE WENT AWAY SAD (v. 22). Jesus reflected on how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven (v. 23-24).

The disciples were stunned (v. 25); they assumed the rich were blessed by God & that’s why they were rich.  Peter wasn’t really listening.  He was thinking that if the rich young man could get into heaven by donating his wealth, he could too (v. 27).  After all, that’s just what he had done!

There are two keys to what Jesus taught.  One is in 19:26 where Jesus said, “WITH MAN THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE, BUT WITH GOD ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE.”  The other is in 19:30 and 20:16 as “book ends.”  These verses identify the one main point of the parable: “THE LAST WILL BE FIRST, AND THE FIRST WILL BE LAST.”  This is Jesus’ teaching: no one earns eternal life; God gives it.  This point will be applied when James and John’s mother’s requests Jesus make her boys His left and right hand men (20:20-28).

  1. Reading the program notes: The one main point.

The emphasis in all of scripture is always on what God has done for us.  He chose us.  He sent His Son Jesus to die for us.  He forgives our sins.

The point of this parable is that salvation is God’s gift.  It is never about our deservedness.  We can never qualify ourselves.

  1. Watching the play: plot points.

It is essential that we identify God with the LANDOWNER.  He goes out and calls people to have ETERNAL LIFE.  Notice the workers do not seek Him out, nor do they apply for a job or show him a resume; all of this event is at the LANDOWNER’s initiative and depends on His resources.

In v. 2 we see the LANDOWNER and the WORKERS agreed to a specific wage: one DENARIUS.  This was the usual rate of pay for a day’s work.  This is a very typical scene in Jesus’ time; land owners kept costs down by hiring day laborers.  Jesus’ parables often start with an everyday circumstance, then got to something surprising and that is certainly how this parable unfolds.

Every three hours the LANDOWNER went to the marketplace to hire more workers (vs. 3-5). The later workers agree to work for WHATEVER IS RIGHT, not for a specific amount.  This will be an important detail later when the workers are paid.

Verses 6-7 give us the first clue about the generosity of the LANDOWNER.  He went out a fifth time that day to hire more laborers.  It is near the end of the day.  A more practical employer would not have bothered, as he would not get any more than a couple hours’ work out of t latecomers.  Moreover, day laborers were usually down and out people.  When the LANDOWNER asks why they’ve been standing around all day, their reply is only half of the truth; “NO ONE HAS HIRED US.”  Inquiring minds want to know why no one made them an offer!  They did not have a regular job for a reason.  The ones still hanging around the marketplace at that time of day were likely to be “the worst of the worst.”  The youngest and healthiest workers of the bunch would’ve been hired earlier in the day: the workers still hanging about the ELEVENTH HOUR were the “leftovers.”  Knowing all this about him makes the LANDOWNER seem even more generous.

The tale becomes more curious in verse eight, when the LANDOWNER pays off the workers beginning with those who were hired last.  This would make no sense if this had been an actual event.  Instead, it is a plot device that serves what Jesus taught in 19:30 and 20:16.  It makes sense only in that light.

The tension builds in verses nine and ten as the workers are paid.  Naturally, the men hired first thing in the morning are expecting extra payment as they see the LANDOWNER’s generosity toward those who were hired later in the day; the latecomers were paid a full day’s wage even though they didn’t work a full day.  That is undeniably generous.

Vs. 10-12 = The all-day laborers are naturally upset when they get exactly the same pay as the latecomers.  “YOU HAVE MADE THEM EQUAL TO US,” they complained.    “Foul!  Not fair!” they protest.

In verses 13-15 the LANDOWNER’s answer does not justify his actions to the bellyachers.  He simply affirms his right to do as he pleases.  He calls them FRIEND & reminds them they were hired to work all day for a denarius.  What’s fair is that all the workers agreed to work for a wage that was RIGHT. Legally, none of them have a right to bellyache.

The LANDOWNER rightly exposed the real motive of the complainers.  They were not trying to right a wrong or insist on what was fair, they were simply ENVIOUS.  The LANDOWNER was GENEROUS, not unfair.

God’s grace is not going to fit your idea of “fair.”

          Some people interpret this parable as a comparison of people who accept Jesus early in life and those who are saved late in life.  That’s a mistake because the center of the parable is the actions of the LANDOWNER, not the workers.  The main point is about the generosity of the employer.

God is the hero of this parable or it is just a strange little story that’s hard to figure out.  It’s really simple and rather obvious when we put our attention where it belongs; on the LANDOWNER.  Then we see that he was more interested in being generous than in meeting someone’s self-centered notions of what is fair.

This parable contradicts Peter’s very natural but wrong assumption that we can earn our way into heaven.  We like to think that we are somehow very deserving of the eternal life God offers.  We’d like to believe that all these good deeds, the hours of service, have somehow made us worthy.

That’s a worldly and self-serving point of view and something we must unlearn.  We are saved by grace, nothing else.  Grace is God giving us what we don’t deserve (eternal life) and not giving us what we do deserve (eternal death). So whatever notions we have about fairness are likely to be self-serving, not real.

The application of the teaching gets at the motive that powers our work in church or in the community.  Any motive based on earning us something is not a God-centered motive.  We need to do what we do because we love God and His people.  Motives that begin with a love of self should always be suspect.  God has promised heavenly rewards for our good works, but it is still up to Him to decide what those works are and who truly deserves them.

In commenting on this passage, William Barclay wrote, “In the Christian church seniority does not necessarily mean honor.”  We’ve all heard church people – who ought to know better – recite their achievements and investments in the church as reasons for expecting to be heard and heeded.

The Bible does not support that kind of pride.  Either we do things out of love or, like Peter, we do them expecting to rewarded with power and influence.  It’s wrong to think experience or education qualifies us to lord over one another, earning us some kind of status in the church or in heaven.

In those moments we are very far from Jesus, who said His mission was service, not self-service.  In the very next chapter (Matthew 20:28) Jesus said, “THE SON OF MAN DID NOT COME TO BE SERVED, BUT TO SERVE, AND TO GIVE HIS LIFE AS A RANSOM FOR MANY.”  When we go on about our “rights,” and what we “deserve,” we’re grieving the Holy Spirit and are guilty of hypocrisy.  It is better by far to copy the attitude of Jesus; His humility and self-sacrifice.  It is better by far to rely on His AMAZING GRACE than our puny works.

 

RESOURCES:

Message #32

“Our Unfair God,” Ministry magazine (pp. 14-16), Gary Moyer

The Story of God Bible Commentary: Matthew, Rodney Reeves

Lent is for You

repentance

Please read Luke 3:7-14 in your Bible.  I’ve used the NIV 1984 to prepare these remarks.

          USA Today called it “Date confusion;” as this year Ash Wednesday falls on St. Valentine’s Day and worse, Easter on April Fools’ Day.  Writer Ann Zaniewski of the Detroit Free Press sagely predicted, “Christian couples might celebrate their love next month with smudges of ash on their foreheads.  And a prank or two could infiltrate Easter Egg hunts.”

This quirky calendar coincidence hasn’t happened since 1945 and will not occur again until 2024.  Ned McGrath, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Detroit commented, “For the record, the last time there was a confluence of these dates — 1945 — the Detroit Tigers won a World Series. No joke. I’m just saying.”

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/01/06/ash-wednesday-valentines-day-easter-april-fools-day/1004317001/

Leaders in Chicago’s Roman Catholic Church are offered this guidance: “Solemnly mark the start of Lent, a day the faithful are asked to abstain from meat and to fast, on Wednesday. Celebrate love over a steak dinner and candles another day.”

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-met-ash-wednesday-valentines-day-20180207-story.html

It seems to me that we’re missing the point here.  We have an opportunity to observe, just once every eighty years – give or take – that LOVE was expressed on the cross of Jesus Christ.  LOVE motivates us to repent and do better.  Rather than just the cheapened version of love, we’ve been given a rather obvious opportunity to LOVE.

At Easter I’ll show how God made a fool of the devil with the empty tomb!!

“Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand,” was the heart (pun intended) of Jesus’ message (LKE 5:31-32; 19:10) and the message He commanded His disciples carry to the world (LKE 24:43-47).  Ash Wednesday is the day in the traditional year devoted to repentance.  Today we’ll look at JTB’s take:

Repentance is a single act and a way of life.

  1. Context: John’s ministry was to preach a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (3:1-6)
  2. John preached that repentance requires bearing FRUIT in KEEPING with a changed life. (3:7-14)

His sermon included a stern warning (3:7-9).

Verse seven has some tough talk: VIPERS and WRATH.  These people are coming out to him; treating potential converts this was counter-intuitive, to say the least.

Matthew’s version clarifies John’s sternness – these remarks were probably directed at the PHARISEES and SADUCEES – religious leaders who’d probably come out to spy on and maybe oppose John.

Because of the Gospels, the name PHARISEE has become a byword for hypocrite.  That is certainly one reason they were always at odds with Jesus.  Worse, they turned their inflated legalism on others, creating burdens impossible to bear (see Luke 11:46).  The SADDUCEES were a larger party of Jewish religious leaders who collaborated with the Romans, often to line their pockets.  Whenever the Gospels say these two parties were working together, we should know that was a rare occasion and happened only when they saw a worse threat.

What was threatening about John?  First, in Jewish practice, baptism was reserved for people not born Jews who converted to Judaism or Jews undergoing an extreme rededication of faith.  John was using baptism in a new way; baptism for repentance for all people.  John’s baptism created a doctrinal stir and that’s probably what caught the interest of the Pharisees.

Second, John was preaching about the Christ, the promised Messiah, as foretold in Scripture.  This kind of talk got people wound up.  The CROWDS gathering were an occasion for a riot.  That would’ve made the Sadducees feel defensive.

The word VIPERS refers to poisonous snakes, which most of us would consider a physical and emotional threat.  When there is a fire in the desert, snakes will come out their holes in the ground to flee the flames, which leads to the other provocative word, WRATH.  This is a warning of God’s just punishment of all non-believers which will occur on the Day of the Lord (see Isaiah 13:9; 30:23; Ezekiel 7:19; Zephaniah 1:18; Malachi 3:2; Romans 1:18; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; Hebrews 10:27).

Real repentance requires righteous FRUIT.  Repentance itself is not a work; it’s a change of direction based on sorrow over sin and a decision to discontinue it.  However, a genuine change of mind leads to good fruit; actions that are godly in character.

In verse eight we find another warning: don’t rely on being Abraham’s kids.  John tells them their ancestry dating back to Abraham is worthless toward salvation: “OUT OF THESE STONES GOD CAN RAISE UP CHILDREN TO ABRAHAM.”

John warned them that God is so powerful He can come by CHILDREN TO ABRAHAM pretty cheaply.  It’s nothing special and will NOT save them from God’s wrath.

At His Triumphal Entry Jesus was told to quiet His disciples.  Jesus’ reply was that if the people kept quiet, the stones beneath their feet would “cry out.” (see Luke 19:40).  In addition to Abraham’s physical descendants, all who believe are spiritual descendants (see Romans 4:11-16; 9:8; Galatians 3:7+29).

And in verse nine, John warned them God’s wrath is on fruitlessness and it was imminent: “THE AX IS ALREADY A/T ROOT OF THE TREES” = irreversible judgment.  Individuals are like trees in that they produce either GOOD FRUIT by godly living or bad fruit by godless living, sin.  The call to repentance is to turning away from evil and toward God.  Our new orientation will bear FRUIT.

In verses ten through fourteen John refined what he meant by FRUIT IN KEEPING WITH REPENTANCE.  The word repentance literally means “turning.”  It is a change of mind, direction.

What’s exciting about this passage is that each of these three groups of people had the insight to ask John “What must I do?”  They got John’s warnings and more deeply understood repentance is manifest in actions.

John did not use or set up a legalism.  Instead, he personalized what repentance would be for each of the groups.

To the general population (the CROWD), he used the example of TWO TUNICS and FOOD.  A TUNIC was a shirt-like garment, the main clothing worn by a person of the time.  A robe was worn over this.  At that time, most people had only ONE TUNIC and everyone wore only one at a time.

John’s principle was to share your surplus.  His example of FRUIT IN KEEPING WITH REPENTANCE was to suggest that whatever you have in surplus – beyond what it takes to satisfy your immediate needs – you should provide for those who have none.  We Americans typically have closets full of clothes, pantries and freezers full of food, more than we need.  We can demonstrate we are God’s people is by turning our surplus into support.

Addressing the tax collectors (12-13), John’s example was to meet your need, not your greed.  Tax collectors were locals who contracted with the Romans to charge taxes.  They realized a profit by charging more than what was required and pocketed the difference.

John’s repentance principle was “Save, don’t shave the sheep.” There’s a difference between making a living and making a killing.

To the soldiers (14) John gave three commands, but one example: don’t be abusive of your authority. These were likely King Herod’s soldiers and/or temple guards who accompanied the Pharisees and Sadducees.  It took guts for them to admit to considering John’s baptism right in front of their bosses.

Command number one: “DON’T EXTORT MONEY.”  It was common for soldiers to intimidate people and take bribes.  The word EXTORT means “to shake violently,” hence our slang term, “shake down.”

Command number two: “DON’T ACCUSE PEOPLE FALSELY.” The word of a soldier was always taken over a citizen’s, which is an obvious occasion for abuse.

Command number three: “BE CONTENT WITH YOUR PAY” is asking a lot.  Soldiers were underpaid, relying on bribes to make more money.

This is also John’s repentance principle: be content.  John is not just teaching a moral principle; he is also giving sound financial advice.  Repentant people are content with what they have; they don’t cheat or get themselves into debt simply to have better things.

  1. Context: John made it clear he was not the Christ, only His precursor. (3:15-20)

Repentance is a single act and a way of life.

Regardless of our individuality and circumstances, repentance is something we all must practice and it brings forth a character that is generous and refuses to abuse authority.  This Wednesday night we enter into the traditional season of Lent.  Lent is a period of preparation for Easter.  A particular focus of Lent is repentance.  We need to give additional time, thought, and prayer to turning away from sin AND turning to God.

Starting Wednesday night, here’s your homework.  Keep a pad of paper and pen next to your bed.  Before you lay your head down at night, list three sins you committed that day – either by omission or commission.  Ask God to forgive you those sins.  Cross them off to indicate they are forgiven. Next to each, write the opposite kind of action.  This would be something godly you can do instead.  Then, in the morning, circle those three things and go out and do them the next day.  Imagine what great things can be accomplished if we would commit to this kind of discipline over the 40 days of Lent!