Observations from the Book of Hebrews (Chapters 1-4)

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I am currently reading the book of Hebrews.  I thought it might be helpful to record some observations.  This is not meant to be a verse-by-verse commentary, nor an in-depth grammatical, historical, theological analysis, just my own thoughts about what jumps out at me as the Holy Spirit instructs my renewed mind.  What I appreciate most about this book is that it is Christ-centered, it quotes the OT frequently, and it helps me understand how Jesus fulfills not only OT prophecy but fulfills the entire message of the OT.

I invite you to prayerfully and carefully read what I have written below, then go back and read the chapters for yourself.  See if what I have said makes sense to you.  What new things did you learn?  What things did I miss?  How are you going to apply what you have read in your life?

Chapter 1

  • (v. 1) The first thing I notice is that “God spoke”; in the past, He spoke to our forefathers through the prophets, in many times and in various ways
  • (v. 2) Now (when this was originally written), God has spoken to us by His Son
  • (v. 3) Jesus, the Son, is described as “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being”; note that Jesus the Son is equal in essence, but distinct in person from God the Father
  • Note several references to Jesus’ involvement in creation (verses 2 and 10) and at the end of the ages (verses 2, 8, and 11-13); Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega
  • Note references to Jesus’ rule, authority, and superiority over all (verses 2, 4, 8-9, 11-13)

Chapter 2

  • (v. 1) Because of what we have just read about God speaking to us and Jesus’ divine nature (that He has ruled since before Creation and will rule to the end of time), we (I) need to pay more attention to what we (I) have heard so that we (I) do not drift away
  • (vv. 2-4) The message of salvation that we have heard, which was brought to us by God the Father through angels, prophets, and Jesus, was delivered by John the Baptist and by Jesus, who announced boldly :“the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (4:17 and 4:17); God confirmed it by the apostles, signs, wonders, miracles and spiritual gifts
  • (vv. 6-8) The writer quotes Psalm 8:4-6, where David marvels at God’s care of man that He created in His own image; man (and the son of man, which is a veiled reference to Jesus)was made “a little lower than the angels” and put in charge of all creation as co-regents with the Creator (see the creation or cultural mandate, found in Gen.1:26-38)
  • (v. 9) Jesus is described as one who was “made a little lower than the angels”, a clear tie in with what we had just read in verses 6-8 where the writer quotes Ps. 8; this was done to make it clear that Jesus is not only fully divine (as stated in Heb. 1), but fully human
  • (v. 14-18) The humanity of Jesus is emphasized; Jesus shared in our flesh and blood so that he could die in order to destroy Satan’s power over death and set us free from slavery to fear of death (verses 14-15); Jesus was made like us in every way to be qualified to be a merciful and faithful high priest to make atonement for our sins (verses 17-18) (more on that subject in chapter 8)

Chapter 3

  • (v. 1) This chapter starts out just like chapter 2, verse 1, reminding us to pay attention so that we do not drift away; because of what we have just read about Jesus, who was made like one of us (i.e., human) and calls us brothers (sisters is inferred) since we are children of God (see Heb. 2:11-14), we need to fix our thoughts on Him
  • (v. 1) I cannot overlook the use of the word “holy” here; the writer mentions that we share in a “heavenly calling”; back in Heb. 2:11 we see that Jesus “makes men holy” and that we are “those who are made holy”; in order to become men and women who are becoming more holy (i.e., sanctified) in Christ, we need to pay more attention to Him
  • (vv. 2-6) We see the word “faithful” repeated four times; twice it refers to Jesus (verses 2 and 6) and twice it refers to Moses (verses 2 and 5); we are not only considered family, but are considered part of God’s house, if we remain faithful to the owner of the house
  • (vv. 7-19) Although the majority of the readers of this book were faithful followers of Jesus Christ, as evidenced by them being referred to as “those who will inherit salvation” (1:14), “sons” (2:10), “those who are made holy” (Heb. 2:11), and “brothers” (2:11-12, 17; 3:1, 12), the writer of Hebrews will occasionally give stern warnings to not fall away (i.e., 2:1, and other passages down the road); he quotes incidents in the OT where Abraham’s descendants (referred to earlier in 2:16) hardened their hearts and rebelled against Yahweh; they are warned not to do the same

Chapter 4

  • (vv. 1-2) We see another “therefore”, reminding us to bear in mind all that has just been discussed in chapter 3 about not hardening our hearts; unlike most of Abraham’s unfaithful descendants, New Covenant believers can experience the promise of entering God’s rest; the key is our belief in the gospel, followed by faithful obedience to it
  • (v. 3) There is a reference to Matt. 11:28-30 in the margin of my Bible next to the phrase “we who have believed enter that rest”; as we are yoked to Jesus, we find rest in our labors; it is His finished work on the cross that matters, not our own works (v. 10)
  • (vv. 14-16) Following a long section of stern warnings to believers about missing God’s rest due to disobedience (vv. 6-11) and after explaining the power of God’s word to penetrate and judge our innermost thoughts and attitudes of or hearts (vv. 12-13), we are given some much needed encouragement regarding Jesus’ role as our high priest; as a result of His atonement, we are urged to “approach the throne of grace with confidence” (v. 16) so that we can “receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (i.e., when we disobey)

Spiritual Implications of Hamlet

P1000966I shared some of this story about my son in chapter 11 of my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession.  In the discussion of what Proverbs teaches us about how wise and righteous men and women who walk with God should work, I made this statement:

In contrast, Proverbs 22:29 instructs us that a man who is skilled in his work will eventually go far in life. This is one of the biblical principles I intentionally highlighted to my youngest son after his face was plastered on a billboard on the main drag of his college town after he had been cast as the lead in Hamlet. My son’s hard work and passion for his craft motivated him to learn technical aspects of his field, improve his skills, stretch his wings, and audition for big roles. I pointed out to him that if he faithfully used his God-given talents as they developed slowly over time and polished them to perfection, his work would catch the eye of people who could make a difference in his life. Then they would find it easy to trust him to take on more and more responsibility.

Since it has been eight years to the day that this major achievement took place, I thought it would be worth sharing my original thoughts that I posted on my personal blog in early November 2011.  My intention is to help my readers see ordinary work through a biblical and theological lens and to know that God is present in it.  I also want to show other parents of adult children one way for them to encourage their own kids to see the many blessings God provides for them in His mercy and grace.

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So, my youngest son sends me a text between 3:30-4:00 this afternoon.  Not so unusual.   That’s how my kids communicate with me, when appropriate.  I was excited to hear from him.

What was it?  He’s in college.  Did he need money?  (Probably not.  He’s got a good handle on his money this semester, living off-campus for the first time.)  Was it something about this weekend’s long awaited family get-together at Cape Girardeau to see him play the lead in the best-known drama in the history of theater?  It was!

He sent me a photo of his ridiculously good-looking face in the Southeast Missouri State University Theatre Department’s Hamlet publicity poster you see here — on a huge billboard on the main drag through town.  Holy cow!  How cool is that!

I must say that at that moment, I was a pretty proud papa.  I showed the picture to several co-workers.  I posted it on Facebook.  (I did send him a reply, too.)

However, as I headed out to the parking lot about an hour later, I got to thinking about what I wanted to say to him face to face.  There appeared to be several spiritual life-lessons, applicable to all ages, that immediately came to my mind for such a time as this.  I believe they are worth sharing with anyone who is willing to listen.

1) God’s amazing grace.  When something this big happens to you, you have to understand that it is a clear demonstration of the grace of God.  Grace is getting more than you deserve, and it’s a gift; it’s not earned.  Although my son definitely worked extremely hard to land the role of a lifetime over several older, more experienced actors, an opportunity like this doesn’t come along every day.  It is not unlike graduating from college or graduate school, getting married, celebrating your 30th wedding anniversary, or getting your first real job; all wonderful things that have happened to people I know really well over the past couple of years.  You just have to stop, acknowledge, and marvel at God’s abundant goodness to you, because events like these are beautiful gifts that many people never get to see.  My entire family is extremely blessed, and I don’t think any of us take it for granted.  It says in Ephesians 3:20 that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”

2) God exalts the humble.  One of the reasons my son was selected for this role was that he had developed a reputation as a quiet hard worker.  He made the best of the small roles he had his first two years in college.  He was not boastful, arrogant, or a prima donna, which can be typical of some young talented actors.  The funny thing about humility, though, is that just when you think you have it down, and become just a little bit proud of your success at being completely humble, you have to go back to square one.  James 4:10 says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”  (Perhaps He may even lift your face up on to a billboard.)

3) Hard work, skill, and reputation will open up doors for you.  This relates to what I said above.  However, no one gets picked by the director to tackle a role like this just for being a man of humble character.  You have to have the potential to bring the fictional character to life and carry the play squarely on your strong shoulders.  (No pressure, there!)  Whatever your God-given talents are, as they are developed slowly over time and polished to perfection, people who can make a difference in your life can’t help but take notice.  They find it easy to trust you to take on more and more responsibility.  My son’s passion for his craft motivated him to learn technical aspects of his field, improve his skills, stretch his wings, and try hard to reach for better results.  I’ve seen this rare combination of passion and hard work in his sister and brother in their respective young careers also, as well as in my wife’s dedicated work with preschoolers.  Proverbs 22:29 states this, “Do you see a man skilled in his work?  He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.”  Your work matters to God!

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4) God always has a purpose and a plan for the places that He puts you.  Who knows where this will eventually lead to.  Future employment after graduation?  I certainly hope so.  But more than that.  Opportunities open up for a reason.  We are blessed to be a blessing to others.  And, it’s all for His glory.  Ephesians 3:21 explains the purpose for His power that is at work in us, “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

5) This is a really big show; but life is mostly made up of little things.  So, enjoy them all.  You can see evidence of God’s amazing grace every single day, if you just look for it.  James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

(Note: readers who enjoyed this article may want to check out an article I wrote on the value of the arts from a biblical worldview.)

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor.  Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

How Can I Possibly Rest from my Labor?

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(Note: This article is an excerpt from my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession, which was published by WestBow Press in February 2018.  I invite you to check it out.)

This seems like a good place for my thoughts on rest.  The Sabbath is critical to our understanding of a theology of work because God put a lot of emphasis on it for His people.

I had a great scoutmaster when I was in Boy Scouts back in high school. He had a favorite saying, which he told us was from his army days.  He would often say, “Hurry every chance you get.”  Although there is certainly a time to have a sense of urgency, this approach may lead to a heart attack or stroke if one would apply it to every task every single time.

The first thing we see in Scripture is that God rested from His work of creation (Gen. 2:2–3). God does not get tired, so why did He rest?  Perhaps it was because it was good, which He said at the end of almost every day during the creation process.  There was nothing more to add to it.  It is likely that Yahweh was setting an example for His people.  If He could rest, we could learn to do the same.

Remember also that Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament, including Genesis.  The Law was established in these books, which included numerous Sabbath regulations in Exodus, and it was repeated to the new generation of Israelites in Deuteronomy.  The fact that God rested gives keeping the Sabbath a proper theological foundation.

Keeping the Sabbath was explicitly required by God in the Ten Commandments (Exo. 20:8–11; Deut. 5:12–15.)  It was reinforced often. (See Exo. 23:12; 31:12–17; 35:2; Lev. 19:3; Jer. 17:19–27.)  This was one of many commandments that set the Israelites apart from their pagan neighbors, which were designed to bring glory to God.  In addition to the weekly Sabbath, the Israelites were instructed to do no work on certain holy days.  (See Lev. 16:29; 23:3–36.)

Throughout the NT, we find that Jesus fulfills the OT ceremonial and dietary laws.  Thus, in the Gospels, we find several occasions where Jesus healed on the Sabbath, much to the consternation of His adversaries the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Jesus states boldly that “the Son of Man was Lord of the Sabbath” and that it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1–12; Mark 2:23–28).  However, most would say that the biblical principle of working six days and resting on the seventh still applies to Christians today, although we do not need to be legalistic about keeping it.  Its purpose is to find rest, reflection, renewal, and relationships.

Jesus had something else to say about rest.  In Matt. 11:28–30, we hear an encouraging word that I personally appreciate.  Jesus beckons, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  A yoke was an instrument of farming work.  Jesus invites those who labor to find His rest by becoming coworkers with Him as two oxen who have been yoked together.  Again, this verse connects human work with divine presence, exemplifying the idea of Immanuel labor.

The writer of Hebrews also emphasizes this concept of rest, which in this context is more than merely keeping a commandment to not work from the Law.  We read, “There remains, then, a Sabbath rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his” (Heb. 4:9-10).  The writer had explained earlier that only those who believed the gospel message of life found in Jesus Christ could enter God’s rest (Heb. 4:3).  We can rest from working when we rest in Jesus’ finished work on the cross.

The Theology of Work Biblical Commentary reminds us that “God made the Sabbath for us—for our benefit (Mark 2:27) … When, like God, we stop our work on whatever is our seventh day, we acknowledge that our life is not defined only by work or productivity … Part of making Sabbath a regular part of our work life acknowledges that God is ultimately at the center of life.”

Wittmer adds, “Sabbath rest is essential for enjoying life, and only Christians are wholly able to keep it holy.”  He acknowledges that “we are free in Christ to consider ‘one day more sacred that another’ or to consider ‘every day alike’ (Romans 14:5).  However, every Christian who neglects the Sabbath should at least stop and ask why that is.  Is it because we are free in Christ?  Fine.  Is it because we don’t think we can afford a break?  Not fine.”  Well said!

Cosden offers this insight:

Central as it is, work is not all there is to this life … Work, both for God and for us, has its limits. Although work is essential and is in one form or another the context for so much that takes place in our lives, the final word both for God and for us is the Sabbath. An existence without rest and space to reflect on our lives—what we have done, what we are doing, who we are and who we are becoming—is no existence at all.

Ironically, I know I need to work a little harder at resting.  (See Heb. 4:11.)  I need to take the Sabbath more seriously.  As important as work is, like Cosden and others indicated, it has its limits.  Taking a Sabbath day is good for us in every way—physically, mentally, spiritually, and socially.

Take it. Enjoy it.

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor.  Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Cherish the Gift

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Some may think of today as Halloween.  It is, of course.  For me, there is a much more important event to celebrate.  It is my wife’s birthday!  I have been blessed to be able to celebrate every birthday since she turned 18.  Today, she achieved a major milestone.  She is sixty years young.

Last week I decided I would write a reflection from a biblical perspective on the various seasons of life over the 42 years I have known her.  I am grateful that I got to watch her grow in faith and maturity from a single young college student to a faithful girlfriend and fiancée, beautiful young wife, dedicated mother of three, loving preschool teacher, and a wise godly Nana to our four grandchildren.  As I write this article, I want to give glory to God for His precious gift, properly celebrate my wife’s birthday, and encourage others to cherish the gift of their own spouses.

I invite you to join this journey of reflection and celebration with me.

Single young college student

Let me start with 1 Thes. 3:9: “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?”  Paul is expressing gratitude and joy for the members of the church in Thessalonica.  I, too thank God daily for my dear wife!  When I recall our providential first meeting on the Colorado State University Marching Band practice field, I know that God arranged it.  She caught my eye on that September afternoon in 1977 and she still catches it now.  There was joy in my life because of God’s presence (Ps. 16:11), and that joy was multiplied because she was there sharing it with me.  I truly enjoyed being just friends.

Faithful girlfriend and fiancée

Next, read in James 1:17: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”  When we meet someone that God puts in our path to change our lives forever, this is clearly a “good and perfect gift”.  Receiving a precious gift from the hand of our heavenly Father should cause us to praise Him first and then second, to cherish that gift.  That is what I have been doing ever since I came to realize how much a gift that this lady has been to me from day one of our friendship.  I was glad to see our friendship grow in love and commitment.  Every year, I appreciate her even more.

Beautiful young wife

Another verse that shaped my marriage is Prov. 5:18, “May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.”  I have much to rejoice about.  During the three years that we dated before our wedding, I knew that she was the one I would spend the rest of my life with.  We had formed a close friendship, a deep love, and a strong commitment.  It was easy to take it to the next level to become ONE for life.  Over the nearly 39 years we have been married, I have tried to make time with my wife a priority.  She is always in my thoughts.  I look forward to every moment we can be together.  This is one way to cherish God’s gift to me and to the world.

Dedicated mother of three

As I think about the longest chapter of my wife’s life where she focused on our immediate family, Prov. 31:25-29 seems to apply: “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.  She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.  Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.’”  This describes my wife well, especially during the 24 years she was a full-time mother raising our three children.  On top of that, she was an Army wife.  I don’t know how she managed it all with my long hours, months of absences (including two one-year tours while I was in Korea), and moving every three years (including overseas) over a 20-year career, but she did, and she did it so splendidly.  She was an amazing mother, who kissed away scraped knees, snuggled our little ones, read to them, looked for teachable moments in the car, fed and clothed everyone well, and was always there for us when we needed her.

Loving preschool teacher

This next Scripture seems to characterize another big phase of her life. In Mark 10:13-16, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”  For 18 years, which ended about six months ago, my wife was a loving teacher of preschoolers.  She was physically designed to blend in with this environment, with her big eyes, warm smile, and short stature.  She was mentally, emotionally, and spiritually gifted, equipped, and called by God into this profession as well.  Her ability to love kids in practical ways through songs, humor, art, instruction, and play time came supernaturally to her.  She directly changed hundreds of children’s’ lives and ministered to their parents and siblings.

Wise godly Nana

Regarding the righteous man or woman, Ps. 92:13-15 states boldly, “Planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still yield fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap and very green, to declare that the Lord is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.”  This passage was shared with us by some dear elderly sisters in the Lord that we knew in the church we got married in.  Now we are them.  My wife has aged gracefully, and puts her years of experience in loving on children to good use with our four grandchildren.  We were there on day one for each of them.  She has taken advantage of her freedom on several occasions to travel for a short visit, i.e., to help take care of three precious grandkids when our daughter moved last summer and when our son’s  son was sick last month.

The days ahead

As she eases into her 60s and beyond, I see her continuing to be a blessing to so many of us.  She is eager to mentor young military wives and mother, sharing her wisdom with them.  She is preparing for the next stage of life, whatever it brings, with her faith and hope well-grounded in her Lord and Savior.  I am eager to continue this journey with her until death parts us.  Happy birthday, my love!

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor.  Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Inspiring Words for High School Students

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By the grace of God, I got to do something today that I had envisioned doing for several years.  I was given the opportunity to speak with a small group of high school students for an hour on some basic biblical principles on work and how they could integrate their Christian faith into their careers.

Here is how I got their attention, to show them why this topic is so important:

  • You are in a transition phase, moving from obeying your parents (as children) to honoring them (as adults); choosing your career paths wisely will honor your parents well
  • The Bible has a lot to say about work; it starts with God working as the creator of the heavens and the earth; it ends with God re-creating heaven on earth
  • God created Adam and Eve to be His coworkers; He gave Adam and Eve a job to do (Gen. 1:26-28), to care for and expand His creation; God calls each of us to do the same
  • God has always provided for and led His people where they needed to go; He promised His presence as they entered into the tasks He called and equipped them to do

I told them of my background, and how God led me through every step of my own personal career journey which involved math, ministry, and the military.  (I invite you to read more about it here.)

I shared a concise summary of my theology of work, which is captured by the term Immanuel labor: “God created people to be His coworkers in expanding His kingdom on earth. He is present in the work of His children in order to meet the needs of humankind and bring glory to Himself.”

I began my overview of the theology of work by discussing the intrinsic value of work:

  • God is a worker; He created everything and continues to sustain His creation (Gen. 1:1, 2:2-3; Ps. 104:10-31)
  • He made men and women in His image and calls us to be His co-workers over creation (Gen. 1:26-28, 2:15)
  • All work is valuable in and of itself, if it does not promote evil but produces shalom (peace, well-being, flourishing) in society
  • Voluntary and other unpaid work (i.e., academic pursuits, work-at-home parents) is of value

Since God is a worker, I asked them to think about the kind of work God does now to sustain His creation.  I then presented the concept of God as our vocational model.  Amy Sherman, in her book Kingdom Calling, shares this great perspective, which she credits author Robert Banks from his book Faith Goes to Work.  He describes the different kinds of work God that does (mostly through human beings) and how our vocations can fit into this model:

  • Redemptive work: God’s saving and reconciling actions
  • Creative work: God’s fashioning of the physical and human world
  • Providential work: God’s provision for and sustaining of humans and the creation
  • Justice work: God’s maintenance of justice
  • Compassionate work: God’s involvement in comforting, healing, guiding, and shepherding
  • Revelatory work: God’s work to enlighten with truth

For example, redemptive work is God’s saving and reconciling actions in jobs such as “evangelists, pastors, counselors, and peacemakers.”  Sherman adds to the list, “So do writers, artists, producers, songwriters, poets, and actors who incorporate redemptive elements in their stories, novels, songs, films, performances and other works.”  Sherman continues, “In all these various ways, God the Father continues his creative, sustaining, and redeeming work through our human labor.  This gives our work great dignity and purpose.”

Next, I continued my presentation by explaining the instrumental value of work:

  • Through our work, God meets the needs of people who are of eternal value to Him (Ps. 104:10-31)
  • Through our work, God meets our needs and our family’s needs (1 Thes. 4:11-12; 1 Tim. 5:8)
  • Through work, God provides extra money to be able to give some of it away to those in need (Eph. 4:28)
  • Through our work, we love God and our neighbors by serving them both (Matt. 22:37-40; Luke 10:27)

To lay a complete foundation of what the Bible teaches about work, I had to acknowledge the effects of the Fall on our work, where God cursed the ground because of Adam’s sin (Gen. 3:16-19, 23, 5:29).  From this point forward, work was going to be:

  • Painful (the process of giving birth is called labor)
  • Frustrating/stressful
  • More difficult and time-consuming than necessary
  • Unpredictable, unproductive, fruitless
  • Sweaty
  • Full of interpersonal conflict (with sinners)
  • Set in a challenging environment

The impacts of Adam’s original sin, our own sins, and others’ sins on our work will continue until Jesus returns.  (See Rom. 8:19-22 and Rev. 22:3.)

The final part of my presentation was the most practical, where I offered some important principles on how God leads us to find the jobs where we can be used to expand His creation.

The most obvious starting point for a soon to be young adult in trying to find their place in the world is to seek first the Kingdom of God.  Here’s a personal insight.  Jesus told His disciples, “Seek first his kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33; Luke 12:31).  In context, Jesus was speaking about how God meets the basic needs (i.e., food and clothing) of His creatures, including us.  How does He normally meet those needs?  Through our jobs, which provide money to purchase food and clothing for us and our families.  I see a very clear connection between seeking God first and finding the right job.

So, how do we seek first the kingdom of God with respect to our careers?  Plantinga, in “Engaging God’s World”, states, “To strive first for the kingdom’ in choosing a career, a Christian will ask himself particular questions:

  • Where in the kingdom does God want me to work?
  • Where are the needs great and the workers few?
  • Where are the temptations manageable?
  • How honest is the work I’m thinking of doing?
  • How necessary and how healthy are the goods and services I would help provide?
  • How smoothly could I combine my proposed career with being a spouse or a parent?
  • Is my proposed career inside a system so corrupt that, even with the best intentions, I would end up absorbing a lot more evil than I conquer?
  • What would my career do for “the least of these”?

These are tough questions, but I think if we were honest, it might help narrow down the endless possibilities we see before us, so that we can make the best, most God-honoring choice.

Witherington, in his book, Work: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor, states “We do not simply choose our vocations.  We are led to them, and this implies that we must be open to hearing from God what he is calling us to do in life.  Even when we have been called and gifted to do something, God does not simply leave us to our own devices.  Rather, he guides us and steers us in our work”

To continue this idea of how God will guide us in our career decisions, here are a few things I had to share with the group that I have found to be true in my experience:

  1. Finding a new job is always a spiritual journey
  2. We must examine God’s design (self-assessment)
    • What has God specifically designed you to do, based on interests, skills, accomplishments, and experiences?
    • What are you most concerned and passionate about?
    • What have others noticed in you regarding your gifts?
  3. Look at all your options and decide; accept the job offer that seems best as a step of faith
  4. Keep listening to what God is saying about your vocation; it will likely change over time

There are two quotes that are relevant here and have been meaningful to me in my own journey.

Hardy, in The Fabric of This World observes, “Career paths are rarely straight.  Typically they are afflicted by detours, unmarked intersections, forced exits, blind alleys, and cul-de-sacs.”  Sherman and Hendricks, in Your Work Matters to God confirm what I have heard for some time.  They state, “The average American will change careers—not just jobs—four times or more in his life! … He has designed you with a set of skills and motivations to do His work in the world today.  But His work may take many different forms in the course of your working years.’”

I closed my session with a video that gives a clear picture of someone who found his purpose and truly understands God’s presence in his work.  This motorcycle mechanic illustrates well one who since childhood has developed the interests, skills, and attitudes necessary to do this kind of work.  He gives credit to God for designing him in this way.  As he does this job that he loves so well, and as he meets people’s needs, he sees flourishing in his own life, which glorifies God.

These basic truths about the theology of work are not only helpful for high school students as they contemplate their future.  They are also helpful to anyone along their career journey.  God is with us every step of the way.

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018.  He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor.  Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. 

A Biblical View of Job Performance (Part 2)

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This is the second part of an article I wrote and posted two days ago.  Last time, I uncovered what the Old Testament wisdom writers taught about how those who walked with God should work.  In this article, I will summarize the extensive New Testament wisdom that first-century Christian workers needed to hear.  I think you will find it very interesting and most helpful to you in this century.  What follows is an excerpt from my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession.

The NT has a lot to teach employees. John the Baptist, as he preached a message of repentance in preparing the way for Jesus, mentioned two occupations, one of which I am quite familiar.  In Luke 3:12–14, he addresses tax collectors and soldiers.  He said to the first group that the proof of true repentance as believers should be their ethical behavior on the job.  To the next group, he said it should be reflected in contentment with their pay.  Jesus illustrated this in conversation with a short tax collector who had climbed up in a sycamore tree in Luke 19:5–9.  When Jesus called Zacchaeus to follow Him, the man demonstrated his true repentance and newfound faith by declaring that he would radically change the way that he went about his tax-collecting work.

In Eph. 6:5–8, Paul exhorts the church that in light of Jesus’s resurrection, we are called to stand firm and give ourselves fully to the work God calls us to, knowing that our labor in the Lord is not in vain.  Recall that we discussed this passage in context in chapter 8.

Insights on Eph. 6:5–8 (and its parallel passage in Col. 3:22–24) given in the Theology of Work Bible Commentary (TOWBC) help us better understand the situation of slaves in first-century Rome and the employees of today.  “The chief similarity is that both ancient slaves and contemporary workers serve under the authority of masters or supervisors.  With regard to the work itself, both groups have a duty to meet the expectations of those in authority over their work.”  These are timeless principles.

Philippians 2:14–16 asks us to consider doing everything without complaining or arguing so that our behavior will stand out as blameless and pure.  This will ensure that our actions match the gospel message we share.  Later, in Phil. 4:11–12, Paul states that he had learned to be content in every situation with little or plenty, knowing that God would meet all of his needs.  Paul’s teaching expands upon what John the Baptist taught concerning soldiers in the gospel of Luke.

Paul continues to instruct the church on how their life-changing, selfless, and sanctified faith in Jesus Christ, which was empowered by the Holy Spirit, should influence the way they approach fulfilling their everyday work responsibilities so that the unredeemed all around them would take notice. In Colossians 3:17, he taught this principle: Whatever you do, do it in Jesus’s name for God’s glory.  Our work should not be for our own glory, the glory of the company who signs our paychecks, or just the benefit of our customers.  We are to do what we do at work with God’s glory in mind.  It is our main goal.  As we rub shoulders with unbelievers at work, we are to be wise in how we treat unbelievers and to make the most of every opportunity.  Our speech should be full of grace and point to something better so that we are prepared to answer those who may express interest in learning more about Jesus (Col. 4:5–6).  (See also 1 Peter 3:15.)

1 Thessalonians 4:11–12 is set in the context of the church neglecting their earthly responsibilities in light of their belief in Jesus’s imminent second coming.  Here, we see Paul’s command to the church to make it their ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind their own business, and to work with their hands so that they might earn the respect of nonbelievers and be responsible and independent.  Later in this same letter, Paul tells them to respect those who work hard among them and to warn those who do not work hard (1 Thes. 5:12–14).  Along with that idea, in 2 Thes. 3:6–12, Paul exhorts the church to keep away from those who are idle by choice.  If a man does not want to work, he should go hungry.  A few scholars have shed some light on this unusual command, which may also help to explain the strong words of exhortation to the sluggard in Proverbs we discussed earlier.

The TOWBC provides some background. “Many believe that some of the Thessalonians had stopped working because the end times were at hand … They might have felt that Jesus was coming at any minute, and thus there was no point to work.”  They call attention to the fact that these passages warning those who are idle are found “in the context of teaching on the end times.”  The commentators exhort, “Responsible Christian living embraces work, even the hard work of a first-century manual laborer … If people can work, they should work.”

The TOWBC also confirms what I had heard regarding what Paul demands here.  “The positive view of hard work that Paul was promoting was countercultural.  The Greco-Roman world had a very negative view of manual labor.”  They continue, “In Paul’s assessment, manual labor is not beneath Christians, and Paul himself had done what he demands that these idle brothers do.  The apostle plainly regards work as one way believers may honor God, show love to their fellow-Christians, and display the transforming power of the gospel to outsiders.”

Nelson indicates,

At first blush, Paul’s rather blunt words seem cold and lacking Christian compassion, but upon further theological reflection, Paul’s words convey to us some needed insight. Paul does not rebuke those who, for various legitimate reasons, cannot work, but he does say that an unwillingness to work is no trivial thing.  For anyone to refuse to work is a fundamental violation of God’s creation design for humankind.

Stevens states, “The sluggard knows nothing of the creation mandate, that work is good, that work is part of our God-imaging dignity … In short, the idler has no theology of work. Realizing neither the intrinsic value nor the extrinsic value of work, the sluggard refuses to see work as a gift, a calling, and a blessing.”  This insight is absolutely right on target.  (See Gen. 1:26-28, which is called the creation or cultural mandate.)

In 1 Tim. 6:6–10, Paul encourages us to adopt what he had learned in order to be content with what we have, even if only our basic needs are met.  He reminds us of what Jesus had taught in Matt. 6:24.  Those who desire to be rich will fall into temptation.  It is the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil.  (See also Heb. 13:5).

In Titus 2:9–10, Paul reminds employees to be submissive to their masters with all integrity, demonstrating their faith with actions.  He reminds his readers in Titus 3:14 to submit to authorities in general (which includes our employers), to be ready to do what is good, slander no one, be considerate, and show true humility to all.  In his final remarks in Titus 3:14, he mentions that the church must learn to devote themselves to doing good to provide for their families.

Lastly, the apostle Peter taught clearly that we must submit ourselves to every authority (even employers).  We are to show respect to all because God has established them and are sent by Him.  We must submit to our employers, even those who are not good (1 Peter 2:18–20).

All of these biblical instructions are for the good of the employee, employer, and the kingdom of God.  We would do well to continue to read, remember, and respond to them.

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor.  Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. 

A Biblical View of Job Performance (Part 1)

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I have written a couple of brief articles in my blog on how we are to work and about our employee-employer relationships.  However, I have not shared what Scripture teaches us on how employees are to perform their duties on the job.  Being that I have recently completed a noncommissioned officer (NCO) evaluation report on my NCO-in-charge, and have also provided input to the mid-point assessment for my own civilian evaluation, it might be a good time to present some biblical teaching on this subject that will be of help any Christian worker.  What follows is an excerpt from my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession.

Proverbs is full of wisdom for the workplace, as its purpose is to give wisdom for life. There are numerous verses that help focus a young person on developing proper attitudes and right actions on the job.  In Proverbs 6:6–8, the ant is held up as a great illustration of a hard worker who wisely shows initiative in preparing for the future.  We should all be like the ants.

The majority of the passages that immediately follow this are directly aimed at laziness.  I struggle with laziness occasionally, putting off those unpleasant tasks I do not care to do right now (more on that later).  In general, though, I am a hard worker.  Most everyone I know works hard as well.  (Some work too hard. I’ll talk more on that topic in the next chapter.)  Most people do want to get a full-time job.  Honestly, though, we have all heard about the young adult who fails to launch, choosing to live in his parents’ basement and play video games all day while Mommy still does his laundry.  Do you know anyone like this?  These verses were written just for them.

Proverbs 6:9–11 describes the lazy individual using the term “sluggard,” meaning that he is reluctant to get out of bed to go to work or to find work.  This label does not apply to someone who is working hard to find a job but happens to be unsuccessful.  This is someone who refuses to work.  As a result, he will be caught unprepared to meet his obligations and will be brought to poverty.  This is not the kind of poverty that comes because of a systemic lack of educational or economic opportunities, but it is one of the natural consequences of laziness.  This is also highlighted in Prov. 10:4, 14:23, 21:25, and 28:19.  As such, it should motivate us to work.

Proverbs 12:27 issues this plain-sense general observation: He who works his land will have plenty of food.  He who chases fantasies lacks judgment.  Proverbs 12:27 instructs that the lazy person is not a good steward of what the Lord provides for him.  (This reminds me of what my mother used to say to me once in a while about me using the brain that God gave me.)

Proverbs 13:11 offers this wisdom: Money gained dishonestly does not last.  He who gathers it little by little honestly will benefit.  Proverbs 16:26 teaches that our appetite is a good thing.  It motivates us to keep on working hard so that we can earn enough to buy food.  Solomon observes in Prov. 18:9 that a man who is slack in his work is a destructive person.  He continues this thought in Prov. 19:15 by stating that being lazy is self-destructive.  It diminishes your motivation and eventually leads to poverty.  As Prov. 20:4 indicates, the lazy person does not work hard when he has a chance.  He will regret it later when he has nothing on which to live.

In contrast, Prov. 22:29 instructs us that a man who is skilled in his work will eventually go far in life.  This is one of the biblical principles I intentionally highlighted to my youngest son after his face was plastered on a billboard on the main drag of his college town after he had been cast as the lead in Hamlet.  My son’s hard work and passion for his craft motivated him to learn technical aspects of his field, improve his skills, stretch his wings, and audition for big roles.  I pointed out to him that if he faithfully used his God-given talents as they developed slowly over time and polished them to perfection, his work would catch the eye of people who could make a difference in his life.  Then they would find it easy to trust him to take on more and more responsibility.

However, success is not everything. Prov. 23:4–5 warns, “Don’t waste your time striving to get rich, as riches will not last.”  The idea here is to maintain a healthy balance in your life.

Proverbs 24:30–34 once again points out to the sluggard that those who refuse to work hard or neglect their responsibilities at home will lose what little they do have.  His foolish behavior is reemphasized in Proverbs 27:18, where we read that this person makes excuses not to work and is also unmotivated to work or take care of himself.  He sees himself as wiser than others, but he only fools himself.  Proverbs 27:18 highlights the universal principle of sowing and reaping. “He who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit, and he who looks after his master will be honored.”  This verse reinforces the development of character qualities such as diligence, faithfulness, and loyalty.

Ecclesiastes, another OT book that falls in the wisdom or writings category, supplies us with several additional thoughts about how we should work.  Ecclesiastes 5:12 says that hard workers sleep well and that riches keep you up at night with worry.  I do not know about the latter, but the former definitely holds true in my experience.  We are reminded in Eccl. 5:15–19 that we cannot take anything that we earn with us when we die, which has implications on our priorities and how we view our compensation.  We are exhorted in Eccl. 9:10 to put our hearts into our work because there will come a day when our work on earth will cease.

I appreciate what is said in Eccl. 10:10, which tells us to keep our tools sharp or else we will work harder than is necessary.  Skill will bring us success too.  This principle not only applies to those who use actual tools for a living, but also for those of us who deal in administration like I do or in a variety of occupations that require skills of all sorts.  In the military, mandatory training classes are dreaded, but I usually learn something every time I come with a humble attitude.  There is much value in continuing our education and training.

I trust that this overview was helpful to get you through the next week, knowing that you are making a difference at work when you work according to biblical patterns in the strength that God’s presence provides.  Next time, we will highlight what the New Testament teaches.

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor.  Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.