You're Working Too Hard - Ephesians 2:1-10
How many of us know someone who is a workaholic? Maybe we are the workaholic? Just how many hours in the office, or on the job, does it take to qualify someone as a workaholic? Is it 70 a week, 60 a week, 50 a week, 40 a week, more than that, less than that? Do they work without taking a holiday, vacation day, or sick day (even though they might be running a 110 degree fever and bleeding profusely from a missing limb)? Just what constitutes a person being a workaholic? How much work is working too hard? I surveyed several of my friends, and not counting the folks that are retired or working part-time, and definitely not counting the housewives who work 168 hours a week, the average fulltime employee is putting in around 49 ½ hours a week. That’s almost ten hours more than what is considered to be a 40 hour work week (that in many places now is down to 37 ½ to 38 hours for fulltime employment). How does that compare with history and the world? Well, 49 ½ is pretty close to the 48 hour work week in some countries around the world and the standard of the first two decades of the 1900’s. It is far less than a few nations, and the 1800’s standard of working 10 to 14 hour days five to six days a week. However, before we start suggesting that we are not working anywhere near hard enough, let us consider that in many nations, we already work far more than they do—the average work week in Spain, Denmark and Ireland is 31 hours, France and Belgium—30 hours, and in the Netherlands and Norway, workers only average 27 hours a week. Another thing to consider is that while we have an average of 10 days paid vacation in the US, many nations offer 20 to 30 days paid vacation and additional 9 to 13 days of paid holidays, compared with the US’s 0 to 12 paid holidays. (However, if we want to talk about national holidays, we might want to travel back to the 4th century Roman Empire where 175 holidays were observed.)[i] So where is the line between not working hard enough and working too hard?
I cannot completely answer that with regards to the secular world—economists, business owners, and others all have differing opinions on whether longer or shorter working weeks and hours would be beneficial. In that regard, the comment from God’s Word is that both work and rest are important…from warnings against idleness to commands to observe that Sabbath and rest. However, it is not that type of work that is our focus this morning.
As Moses was leading God’s people through the wilderness after their flight from Egypt, God presented, through Moses, the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law. The people received God’s Law, and it was understood that they were to obey the Law in order to live holy lives and be pleasing to God. In all, there are 613 commandments within the first five books of the Old Testament. People would work hard to try and fulfill all these laws, because they knew that if they did, they would please God and He would pour out his blessings on them…if they failed to live according to the Law, they would displease God and would find themselves punished. The problem was, my friends, that no matter how hard the people worked, they could never completely fulfill the Law, in some way, shape, or form, they would sin, and then they would have to work more by bringing sacrifices to atone for their sins. Then, on top of those 613 Laws, as time went on the religious leaders began interpreting God’s Law and the words of the judges and prophets and began adding rules of their own that God’s people were expected to live by—so the people would have to try harder and work harder in order to try and please God…yet they could never work hard enough.
Have you ever had one of those times when you have been slaving over a task for hours and hours, sweat pouring from you, and never seeming to get anywhere, only to have someone come in, and within a matter of moments, without breaking a sweat, they have it completed? While not citing a specific example, that would entail just about any work that I ever attempted to accomplish on a car, and have my dad (or just about anyone else) walk up, and it was done.
The people had been working hard, never truly making any progress…and the religious leaders let them know it. However, then Jesus came in. Too often we are quick to say Jesus came in and all that Old Testament Law stuff does not mean anything anymore. Jesus, though, points out the opposite, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass form the law until all is accomplished.”[ii] Jesus says, the law holds, the work is still there, I have not come to get rid of it. I have come to fulfill it. I am here to show you how it should be completed…I am here to help you; and He did. Jesus showed the people what it was like to live a life completely given over to God…a life that sought to please God rather than gratify our own desires. Jesus even went as far as criticizing those religious leaders who had added on to God’s Law by saying that they had done nothing to help the people: “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.’”[iii]
Jesus had already promised that things are different with Him. He called the people to him, promising them relief: “’Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”[iv] Jesus says to the people, “y’all have been working too hard, bring it to me, and I will give you rest.”
How did Jesus give rest? By finishing the work that God’s people were unable to complete. “So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him…After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished he said…’I am thirsty.’…When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” [v]
Jesus completed the work…and this is where Paul picks up in our reading today. Paul recognizes that we were all dead because of our trespasses and sin…and all we could do was look out for ourselves…and last week we talked about how Christ freed us from that sin. Paul now tells us because Christ finished the work that “God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead…made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works….”
The work of our salvation…the making God pleased with us…has been done and has been completed. The work of keeping God’s heat off our backs, or actually Hell’s furnace off our feat is done…and we did not have anything to do with it. Christ did all the work…and “it is finished.”
Knowing this is the case…knowing that nothing we can do can bring us God’s favor…because the truth of the matter is that there is nothing that we can do to make God love us more (just as there is nothing that we can do to make Him love us less), why is it that we are still working so hard? Why are we still working so hard at trying to make God love us, trying to make God happy with us?
It happens all the time. We don’t want God to hate us…we want Him to love us, we think if we just do enough good and good things, God won’t send us to Hell, He’ll let us enter Heaven. We make sure that we are signed up for anything and everything. If there is a work day at the church, we are there! If there is a Bible Study, we are there! If someone calls us to serve on a committee, we would never refuse; we’ll even chair the committee if asked. Are there mission projects to be part of, sign us up. Does the pastor need his car washed? We’ve got bucket and soap. Well, actually I haven’t seen that one, except when Davey was trying to earn some money, not God’s favor. The list goes on. We know the sins we have committed, and we figure that there must be some way we can make up for them, so we strive and work hard to make up for what we have done, or left undone. We don’t want God upset…we want Him to love us, so we work hard at trying to do the right thing…and we get so tired…and we will get tired, because we will never be able to do enough. And part of that is because when we are doing good simply to try and save our own souls, it compounds our sin…because 1) we are acting in our own self-interest, not in God’s interest, and 2) we are failing to trust in Christ for our salvation and are trying to save ourselves.
We have to remember, Christ finished the work…He brought us salvation. He completed the work and nothing we can do can exceed that work or replace it. It’s done…It’s finished.
And now I feel like I am treading on dangerous ground (I would have said thin ice, but it is way too hot to think we would even have thin ice). This cannot come across as a blanket invitation to just do nothing but sit there or lie there. It doesn’t mean that when a Bible Study comes up, we choose not to sign up because Christ has done it all. It can’t cause us to refuse to sign up for a mission trip or project, citing Christ has having completed the work. We can’t use Christ finishing the work as a reason to decline any request to serve in the Church.
Paul made that clear to the Ephesians and to us…works do not save us…however, because we are saved, we work. “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Jesus completed the work required for our salvation so that we might be able to freely serve God. God designed us to grow, to love, to serve…and when we do things without the pressure of having to earn God’s favor—when we sign up for all the Bible Studies we can because our hearts desire to learn more about God and His love for us…when we make an effort to take part in as many mission trips as possible because we want to share God’s love with others…when we say yes to requests to serve in the church because we want to be part of building God’s kingdom and letting others know of the salvation that Christ has completed for us…when it is done out of the heart…it is no longer labor…it becomes a natural part of who we are…it becomes our way of life.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[ii] Matthew 5:17-18
[iii] Matthew 23:1-4
[iv] Matthew 11:28
[v] John 19:16b-18, 28-30