We all know that our work lives are an important aspect of our day-to-day, but what happens when our work morphs into our identity? Or, what happens when work becomes more of a burden than a blessing? At times, work can become such a cornerstone of our identity that it can move us into destructive habits and behaviors. This week we look at The 7 Deadly Sins of Work. We will examine our lives to see where work may be getting a grip on our hearts and then ask God to help us find forgiveness and freedom.
I will be an “and then some” kind of person in my work.
I will not treat someone differently based on their job.
I will ask the question, “How does my behavior, choices, words, financial life, and treatment of other people reflect the Jesus I follow and the God I serve?”
I will keep my priorities straight — God, family, then work.
I will do my current job with greater love.
I will be accountable for my work, and not make excuses.
I will create a daily finish line for work and I will honor the sabbath each week.
So Monday this week, I got up early, got out of bed with a lot of anticipation, got a cup of my favorite coffee, surrendered my day to God — “God, I’m ready for whatever you have for me today.” I sat down in my office, and I said, “Thank God it’s Monday. What a great thing that I get to start a week of work.” Then I turned on my computer, and I had a small, easily manageable number of emails, each of which was either a message of great encouragement or a piece of critically important information I had to have that was carefully crafted to honor my time. I also got an offer that was both financially wise and deeply life enhancing. And thanks to that email, I was able to help a Nigerian prince get released from jail to retrieve his family fortune. And I’ll be getting a generous part of that, which I’ll tithe to our church. Then two staff members were having a conflict, and I was able to resolve it instantly. And they immediately offered to work for free this week out of sheer gratitude for my help. Then it was time to write a sermon, so I opened up a document, put my hands on the keyboard, and my fingers began to effortlessly produce the most helpful, biblically informed, inspirational, even eloquent sermon I have ever written in my life. It wasn’t this sermon, but it was a really good one. Then my wife called, and she said, “Matt, you’ve been too helpful around the house lately, and it’s making me take things too much for granted. It’s bad for my character. Would you please spend more time working or golfing or doing something you love this week, and I’ll be a better person for it?” Have you ever had a day like that? No! No one ever has a day like that. Work is good, but it’s marred by sin. It’s been damaged by the fall. We have to deal with alienation and thorns and thistles and sweat of our brow stuff. Last week we looked at The 10 Commandments of Work, how God wants us to lead our work lives. This week is The 7 Deadly Sins of Work. And just by naming these seven deadly sins, my hope is that we will be aware of them, we will be able to recognize them, and we’ll notice when they start to get a grip on our hearts. And then we can ask God to set us free. My prayer is that we would all do that this week. As we work through the seven deadly sins of work, I’m going to ask you to kind of rate yourself on a scale from one to ten — where do you think you are on each one? And then I’m going to ask you to pick one or two areas and ask God to help you work on them this week. Alright, let’s dig in. The first deadly sin of work is: 1. Laziness This is the sin no one wants to admit to in our day. In job interviews, people will be asked about weaknesses or areas that need improvement. Applicants will say things like, “I just work too hard. I’m too much of a perfectionist. I don’t have good boundaries.” No one says, “I’m just so lazy.” No one says that, but it’s true. The writer of Proverbs, a book of very practical wisdom in the Old Testament, said this: Sluggards do not plow in season; so at harvest time they look but find nothing. Proverbs 20:4 This is a huge problem in our world. There was an article about the Gallup organization in The Wall Street Journal, and they found that the majority of workers in the United States don’t like their jobs, have disengaged, and have become what Gallup calls ROAD Warriors. It’s a military term — “Retired On Active Duty” — “I’m still getting paid for it, but I’ve checked out.” A Gallup researcher said they worked with 10,000 employees from the Internal Revenue Service. Now, think of the challenge of working for the IRS. We need them, but who among us gets thrilled when we’re contacted by the IRS? He said a very common complaint from people working for the IRS is, “I hate my job, but I only have 20 years left.” They’re not saying, “Thank God it’s Monday.” They’re saying, “Thank God I only have 20 years left.” Now, contrast that with a story in the Bible, in Genesis, about a guy named Abraham. He sends his servant out to look for a wife for his son, Isaac. That’s the way they did it back in those days. The servant comes to a well in his travels with his caravan. He has a caravan of 10 camels. He comes to a well. He’s quite thirsty. Of course, there were no restaurants back then. He prayed to God about this. He sees a woman standing at the well. Her name is Rebecca. He asks her, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar.” He’s very polite. Politeness was a big deal in ancient Middle Eastern cultures. He asks only for himself, “Can I have a little drink from your jar?” Rebecca says, “Drink, and I’ll water your camels too.” Now, we tend to skip over this without considering the cost of this statement. But this is a big deal. Rebecca is saying, “I’ll do what is asked of me. I’ll get you water… and then some.” And that’s the phrase I want us to remember — “And then some.” Do you know how much water a camel can drink? A single camel can drink up to 30 gallons of water. There were ten camels. That’s 300 gallons of water. This is a woman with serious biceps. Because of her response, Rebecca’s whole life will change. * She’ll have the adventure of her lifetime. * She’ll meet the man who will become her husband. * She’ll become what is called a matriarch, one of the mothers of Israel. To this day, thousands of years later, people are blessed by the name Rebecca. But she didn’t know any of that was on the line when she made this offer. See, sometimes, if I know I’m in line for a promotion or I know my boss is watching or I know I’m going to get credit for the idea or I know it’s getting captured on video, then I’ll serve. But in the kingdom of God, people are “and then some” kind of people… because God is an “and then some” kind of God. So the first deadly sin is, “I just go into retired-on-active-duty status. I’m just getting by.” That’s no way to live. Alright, deadly sin number two is: 2. Pride This is huge in the Bay Area. We saw last week because Israel, uniquely in the ancient world, had a God who loved work, Israel loved work, and everyone was to work. Every boy would be taught a trade. Every girl would work. And they didn’t have the separation between home and work that we do. Because of this love, the Bible, among other things, is a book about work. One scholar notes that there are over 200 occupations talked about in the Bible. Let me ask you this — which job is the most important in the Bible? It’s so interesting. In Deuteronomy, Moses is talking to Israel about, “Some day, you’re going to have a king.” Moses said, “The king must take the Scriptures, the Torah, the Law of God and live in submission to it like everyone else.” Here’s what Moses said: He is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Deuteronomy 17:19-20 In other words, no job makes any person any more important than any other person. One of the most common themes in the Bible (it’s written in Proverbs and quoted again in the New Testament by James and then by Peter) is God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble. Man, do we need to hear that in the Bay Area. God is unalterably opposed to the human system that grants greater worth, status, dignity, identity to people based on their job title. God hates that because it wounds people. Here’s a little test on this sin. When you meet someone and ask, “What is it you do for work?” it’s not a bad question, but if they say a job that sounds real important or has a high salary attached to it or a high status, do you lean in a little more? Are you a little more interested? Do you think, “Hey, this is someone worth getting to know. They could be strategic to me”? Or if it sounds like it’s a low status job, do you disengage quickly? Are you a little less interested in them? You see, God is never impressed by someone’s job. God is never unimpressed by someone’s job. It’s just not what he considers. I have to say a word at this point in this series, particularly to parents, most often moms who may be home caring for children. In our society, with its job craziness, you may feel devalued or forgotten or under-appreciated. Tony Campolo was at a party for rather sophisticated people on the East Coast. A woman asked his wife, “What do you do for a living?” His wife stayed at home with their kids, and this other woman knew this. So Tony’s wife said, “I’m socializing two Homo sapiens in the dominant values of the Judeo Christian tradition so they might become agents for the transformation of the social order into the kind of eschatological utopia God Almighty had in mind from the beginning of creation. What do you do for a living?” I want to say this. If you’re at home caring for the lives of little children, unpaid, untitled, uncompensated, unnoticed, unrecognized, you are doing work that is as hard and challenging and noble and glorious and valued by God and eternally significant as anything on the planet. You are heroes, and until God himself says to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” which one day he will do, all we as a church can say is, “Thank God you are who you are, and thank God you do what you do.” What you do matters immensely. You are heroes. One other word. Again, our culture is so messed up on this whole pride thing. A friend of mine is a therapist, and he was talking to a CEO who, for a couple of years, got involved with Alcoholics Anonymous. My friend, the therapist, asked the CEO, “It must be kind of weird for you. I mean what’s it like to go from every day in the C-suite, corner office, important people, to going to a dingy room in a church building to hang out with a bunch of drunks?” The CEO said, “You don’t get it. That’s not us at all. We’re not our jobs. We’re just a bunch of drunks helping each other go one more day without getting drunk.” We’re not our jobs, not in the church, not in God’s community. I don’t care how high your job sounds, or how hard your job is, or if you have no job at all. I’m so glad you’re part of Blue Oaks. This is a different kind of community. We’re all just a bunch of sinners helping a bunch of other sinners go another day clinging to God. So no pride, okay? Alright, deadly sin number three is: 3. Unethical Action Paul writes to the church at Ephesus, “Anyone who has been stealing…” He expects there will be people in the church community who have been thieves, who have been stealing. He’s not shocked by this, but he has some thoughts on it. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. Ephesians 4:28 We’re all made to share. When we bring our tithes and offerings to give to Blue Oaks from the work we do throughout the week — it’s a gift that we get to do that. We were made to do that. I want to ask you to think about your life at work. Is there any place where you’re not honoring a high standard ethically? * It could be cheating on an expense account. It’s so easy to pad that a little bit. * It could be lying to people at work about how you spend your time if you’re not working as much as you should. * It could be that you claim credit for an idea that wasn’t yours, make yourself sound better than you are. * It could be that you take home office supplies without anyone knowing it when they’re not yours. * It could be that you make inappropriate sexual comments to someone else. * It could be that you’re demeaning to another person, maybe someone a little lower than you on the org chart. * It could be that you hold a grudge against someone. * It could be that you gossip about someone and know you’re damaging them. You see, we need to have our standards set real high. The apostle Paul, at one point, writes to a group of followers of Jesus and says: Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. Philippians 2:14-16 Max De Pree, who was a leader in the field of faith and work, worked for many years as CEO of a company called Herman Miller. One of the decisions he made was that he would cap his salary. He limited his salary so it would be no more than 20 times more than the lowest paid employee at Herman Miller. The average CEO nowadays makes around 350 times the average employee. He capped it at 20 times the lowest paid employee. Now, there’s not a verse in the Bible about that. There’s not a formula about that. He was just struggling with, “How do I express my faith financially? How do I declare that value?” A guy named Dan Price, a young CEO of Gravity Payments, in 2015 raised his company’s minimum salary to $70,000 a year. They’re in Seattle. In 2019 he did the same for their Boise office. He took a huge pay cut himself to help make that happen. What a lot of people don’t know is he’s a graduate of Seattle Pacific University, a Christian school, trying to live out his faith in Jesus. I understand. I get it. There are big debates about compensation and a lot of disagreements and nuances. I’m not an economist, and people way smarter than me will talk about the economics of it, but I do want to say a follower of Jesus ought to ask questions like, “How does my behavior, how do my choices, how do my words, how does my financial life, how does my treatment of other people reflect the Jesus I follow and the God I serve?” Alright, deadly sin number three is unethical action. How are you doing on that one? We’ll talk about the next deadly sin of work in just a moment. Announcements Alright, we’re talking about the seven deadly sins of work, and number four is: 4. Work Idolatry I’ll warn you up front — this one is going to be painful. If the idols in the Old Testament had names like Baal and Molech, idols in our day would be called success or achievement. There are people who get so driven, so addicted, so enslaved to the need to be successful that it has really become their god, and on the altar before that God they sacrifice their family. They don’t admit it to anyone, not even themselves, but they feel it. Ironically, when guys do this, we’ll say, “I’m doing it for them. They’re getting the money. They’re getting supported.” They’re not, and they know it. I want to hit this one really hard because I’m just concerned for our church. I’m concerned for our families. I’m concerned for you. If you love God, if you follow Jesus, there are some priorities in your life. At the top is God. God comes first. Love God with all your heart and soul. No other gods before that one. The next priority would be my marriage. If I’m married, I’ve promised my spouse. Then my kids. If I have kids and I’m their dad. Then work. Work is a good thing. It’s real important. Work is not God though. So work shouldn’t get top priority. I’ll tell you a little secret about work. Work wants to be your God. Work really wants to get up to the top of your priority list. And here’s the deal about work — if work isn’t number four, it will be number one. If I’m putting my work ahead of my kids, well then I’m disobeying God, who told parents, “Love your children.” I just want to challenge you with this. Again, I know this can be painful. It can be scary. But ask your spouse this week, “Is our relationship suffering? Is our family suffering because of my attachment to my work and my success? Please be honest with me.” If you will have that conversation with a genuinely open heart and spirit, you will be spared on your deathbed having the biggest regret of your life, looking back on all kinds of holy moments you missed and little hearts you crushed, little lives that never grew into what they could have been. We just live in a place that will entice us, partly because it’s so subtle. It’s not like stealing money or committing adultery, where you can point to one moment or one act. That’s part of why it’s so damaging. I have to tell you I see this a lot, and I want to say if any parent is courageous enough to say no to worshipping climbing that ladder in order to say yes to your children, and you wonder, “Have I not succeeded enough? Have I not achieved enough?” you are not a failure. You’re a hero. Alright, deadly sin number five: 5. Avoiding Accountability Jesus told an awful lot of parables from the field of work, and one of them is about three employees. They’re all entrusted with resources, opportunity, and time by their employer. The hinge moment in the story comes when they’re called to be accountable. After a long time, the master of these servants returned and settled accounts with them. Two of them had been faithful in their work, and they were rewarded, but one of them had not. Instead of just owning up to it, he was filled with excuses. He actually said, “The reason I wasn’t faithful is because you’re a hard guy to work for. It’s really your fault, not my fault.” It’s amazing how easy it is to spend hours, days, weeks, months, years not giving God my best when I am at work and then blaming someone else. A classic example of this is in the Bible. In the book of Exodus, Moses has to go meet with God. Now, Moses has a job to do, like we all do. Like a good leader, he delegates watching over, caring for the people to Aaron, keeping the people on track corporately, spiritually. That’s Aaron’s job. Moses goes to be with God. He comes back, and the people are worshipping an idol, a golden calf. That was not Aaron’s job, so Moses is not happy about this. It’s time to hold Aaron to account. Moses said to Aaron, “What did you do to these people that you provoked them to do such a great sin?” Aaron’s response is classic. “Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil. They said to me, ’Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’ So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!” Exodus 32:22-24 It’s so weird isn’t it? Who would have expected that? You see, avoiding responsibility becomes a habit that becomes unconscious and eventually causes my destruction. It kills people in the workplace. There’s an old story about a guy who becomes CEO of a company. He talks to the outgoing CEO who says to him, “I hope you have no problems at all. I hope there are no problems, but if you happen to come across a problem, I’ve prepared three envelopes for you. You can just open up one of them, and it will tell you what to do.” For a while, everything is fine. But then one day the first big problem comes. The new CEO remembers and opens envelope number one. There is a card in it that just says, “Blame me. So he does. He says, “It’s all the old CEO’s fault.” Everyone is satisfied with that, and everything is okay. Things go on for a while. Then there’s problem number two. He opens up envelope number two, and this one has a card that just says, “Blame the board.” He says, “It’s the board of directors’ fault. They’re the ones who have been dysfunctional.” Everyone is fine with that. Things go on okay for a while. Then a third problem comes up. He opens the third envelope, and this card just says, “Prepare three envelopes.” In other words, eventually, the envelopes run out. It’s so easy to say, “I would be a better worker if I had a better boss, if I had a better job, if I worked on a better team, if I worked for a better company, if I had a bigger paycheck.” You know, the most important thing you bring home from work is not your paycheck. The most important thing you bring home from your work is you — your spirit, your integrity, and your heart. If I’m just working for the paycheck, that’s always destructive. And that actually leads to the next deadly sin. 6. Bad Attitude Having a bad attitude at work is actually a sin. It’s so interesting. In the Old Testament (I never realized this before), only one time is it said of someone in the Old Testament, “He was filled with the Spirit of God.” Only once. It wasn’t Moses or Daniel or Esther or David or someone famous like you might think. Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. Exodus 31:1-5 In other words, God considers craftsmanship, design, helping other people do that so important that he sends his Spirit. He will give you, whatever your craft is, wisdom, knowledge, skill, if you just ask him. Why? The only conclusion you can draw from this passage is God loves craftsmanship. * God loves excellent work. * God cares about your job when you do it for him. * God loves beautiful designs skillfully executed. * God loves well-written emails. Do you ever think about that? God hates poorly-written emails. Have you ever gotten a poorly-written email? Next time you get one, just write back, “God hates this stuff.” * God loves well-run meetings. Have you ever been to a bad one? God does not like bad meetings. There will be NO bad meetings in heaven, none. Hell will just be a bad meeting that goes on and on and on. * God loves well-led teams. I’m serious about this. * God loves well-baked bread. * God loves well-cleaned sinks. * God loves well-driven buses * well-designed apps * well-taught classes. * God loves a high-functioning emergency room where everyone is at their best. * God loves a genuinely friendly reception desk where people feel welcomed and at home. * God loves a beautiful garden where people can just take in it’s beauty. If God loves great work, if my great work blesses God, I want to give God the gift of my best work. Here’s the deal. I don’t need a greater job. I just need to do my current job with greater love. There’s a woman named Linda Wilson who drives a bus in San Francisco. She gets up at 2:30 in the morning to ask God to give her a good attitude and lead her through the day. She was on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle. Why? * Because she drives a bus the way Jesus would drive a bus. * She learns the names of the people who ride her bus. * She waits for them when they’re late. * She’ll ask a stranger to her house for Thanksgiving. * She’ll get out of her seat and help a senior struggling with groceries get on the bus. * She’ll tell people at the end of her line, “Love you. Take care of yourself.” * She said, “You know, when you ask him, God will show you who needs kindness. God will show me who might not have their fare. God will just kind of whisper to me, ‘Let them pay what they can.’ God will just show me how to love people on my bus all day long.” You don’t need a greater job. You need to bring greater love into your current job. Alright, the seventh deadly sin is: 7. 24/7-ism This one is huge. We start to worship work so much, we think to be busy is to be important and to not be busy is to be unimportant. We think even God will judge us based on our career success and level of activity. There was a bumper sticker that read, “Jesus is coming. Look busy.” Really? Is that what he’s looking for? God created a plan for disconnecting from work. It’s called Sabbath. It’s just brilliant. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. Genesis 2:3 Later on, the writer of Scripture says, “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.” I have to say a word here. Holy is a great word, but it’s often misunderstood. People think it means, “holier than thou.” The Hebrew word for holy initially meant to separate. To make something holy meant to separate it, pull it apart. It’s a Genesis one word — God separates light from dark, sky from earth, land from sea. In the ancient world, chaos was always the enemy of human flourishing, so to make something holy is to redeem it from chaos so it can be useful and beautiful. God joined stuff together that we’re not to separate. God separates stuff we’re not to join together. The last thing God separates is labor from leisure. Nowadays we can work 24/7 — we just always feel like, “I have another appointment, another phone call I can make, another task I can do.” It never ends. People check their business email in bed. People read work texts at breakfast. There’s no such thing as down time. Here’s what’s interesting. People are also increasingly interrupting their work moments with personal stuff. Guess when Facebook and Twitter are both most active. It’s during office hours. One writer put it like this: We live in a cult of connectivity so we’re both always working and never really fully working. That’s not God’s plan. For God, there’s this daily rhythm. At the end of every day, he would review his work, and celebrate — “It is good.” Then he’s done, and it’s dark. And then there’s a weekly finish line. That’s the Sabbath. We need to create a daily finish line — set a time when you’re not going to write more emails or check more texts or make more phone calls… and trust God. Then have a weekly Sabbath finish line. * Be with your family. * Be with your friends. * Be with God. * Do what you love. * Listen to great music. * Eat great food. * Play golf or hike or take a nap or go to the ocean. Just don’t work. For a day, don’t do work, don’t plan work, don’t look at work, don’t think about work, don’t dream about work, don’t read about work, don’t say the word work. You could even turn your phone off for a whole day. Then I learn again, “I’m not my job. My worth is not my work. My life is not my resume.” Jesus said: Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:28 Alright, those are the seven deadly sins of work. So where is God saying, “My son or my daughter, you need to change this area of your work-life.” Where do you need to confess? Where do you need to go to another person and set things right? Then remember, if you have a pile of regrets around one of them, the most important work in the universe is the work of forgiving sins, and Jesus already did that. If you’re loaded down with guilt or regret or pain, Jesus already died on the cross and said, “That work is finished.” Alright, let me pray for you. Blue Oaks Church Pleasanton, CA