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Satisfaction in Your Work is a Good Gift

“Behold, I saw that which is good and which is beautiful — it is to eat and to drink and to see the goodness of all his anxiety for which he works hard under the sun for the number of days of his life which God has given him — for it is his portion.”

(Ecclesiastes 5:17 {5:18 in English Bibles})

In the west, fewer and fewer professions demand genuine tradesmen. Manufacturing is highly automated or is done through repetitive activities on an assembly line. Much of the construction that is done consists of tract housing and even in my former trade of carpet installing, so much of that is basic covering a floor with the carpet being “flat and fuzzy side up” and not a lot of fancy borders or inset designs. Custom craftsmanship requires time and skill but sadly most people either cannot afford or do not wish to pay for skilled craftsmanship.

Currently our church is having its stained glass windows redone — they are 90 years old and the lead is breaking down — here is an instance where all the craftsmanship is done by hand as they must custom remake every piece of lead which mounts the colored glass in place — none of which are regular and none of which can be automated. It is taking a bit longer than we expected going into the project, but at the same time, we can see the pride in craftsmanship taken by those involved in the process. 

There is a sense of satisfaction that comes from a completed job that has been done well — when you have crafted something with your own hands which is distinct from all other things. And this is an experience that much of our society does not relate to…sadly, in many cases, jobs never seem to come to an end, but just continue on week after week, month after month, and year after year — and then we wonder why people are anxious to retire and don’t feel like there is a lot of meaning in their labors.

Solomon has addressed this before and will come back to this theme again, but his simple answer is that since we do not know how many days our God has given us in this world — take satisfaction in the things you accomplish and in the provision that you earn from those labors. In the end, that will bring joy to your life; it is your portion in life — make the most of it. 

Concern and Contentment

“So, I rejoice in the Lord greatly for even now you have blossomed in your thoughts for me. You did think about me, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I am in poverty, I have learned in everything to be self-sufficient.”

(Philippians 4:10-11)

I have ranted more than a few times in this series of reflections about our modern Bible translator’s tendency to express the idea of thinking and reasoning in terms of feelings and emotion. In verse 10 the word in question is frone/w (phroneo), which means to think or to form a reasoned opinion. Yet, as we have often seen, the ESV, the NIV, and the NASB have chosen to use the term “concern” and the KJV and NKJV have used the words “care.” While it is most certainly true, given all that Paul has already written, that when the Philippians thought about Paul and about his situation, these thoughts did evoke concern, that is an inference from the text, not what Paul wrote. Further, while we might also argue that concern should be considered a thoughtful activity, in our culture it often is nothing more than an emotional response to difficult events in the lives of those around us. So, concern is not out of line, yet the concern that is being expressed is a thoughtful concern based on reasoning through the situation their beloved friend, Paul, was in.

The last clause in verse 10 is a little awkward in English. What does it mean that they did think about Paul but lacked opportunity? The Greek word that is translated as “opportunity” is ajkaire/omai (akaireomai), which refers to the time or opportunity to act upon something. In this case, to act upon what they perceived that Paul had need of while Paul was in prison. So, he is saying that he is aware that they had been thinking of him all along, but now, in sending Epaphroditus with their love gift, they had opportunity and acted upon the thoughts that they had.

Paul reminds them that he has not been utterly impoverished but in all things he has learned to be self-sufficient (he has a marketable trade that he often used to provide for his own needs). Many of our Bibles, again, translate this as “content,” conveying that in all situations Paul knows how to be content in his trust for God…that is certainly what is being communicated in the two verses that follow this one…but not so much here. This term only shows up once here in the New Testament, but also shows up 5 times in the Apocrypha as well as once in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, which helps us to discern its meaning. Literally, the term aujta/rkhß (autarkas) is derived from the Greek words aujto/ß (autos — or self) and ajrke/w (arkeo — meaning to be satisfied or to have that which is sufficient for one’s needs) — thus, “self-sufficient” as has been suggested by some scholars.

When looking at the Old Testament and Apocryphal uses of the term, it seems to be used in one of two ways, either to refer to being satisfied with the provision given (content) or that of being able to endure hardships. Thus, the idea of contentment is a legitimate translation of the term as reflected in most of our modern translations. At the same time, one must ask why Paul what Paul is doing during these times of hardship — namely, we know that he is working to provide for his needs (see Acts 18:2-3 and 2 Corinthians 11:9). One might argue that I am inferring just as I charged many of our translators of doing when they rendered “think” as “concern” above, and that charge would be accurate were the literal meaning of the term not before us, which reflects the idea of self-sufficiency.

The purpose of this point is not to parse hairs but to illustrate that Christian contentment does not mean that we sit back and just rest in whatever circumstances we may happen to be in. No, as a Christian, when we are in need (real need that is), we should strive to meet that need with the skills that we have or even by learning new skills.

In many cases, Christian missionaries were expected to learn a trade before they went onto the mission field. It was a means by which they could support themselves in the context and culture that they were ministering. For many small Christian churches today, pastors are bi-vocational, providing the majority of their own financial needs through a trade while serving a church that is not in a position to support them (this I did in my first calling right out of seminary). It is certainly the right of the pastor to have his needs provided by his flock (1 Corinthians 9:18, 1 Timothy 5:17-18), but because of the needs of the congregation, it is also his right to refuse that compensation. Too often Christians fall into the trap that conveys almost a poverty mindset — God will provide so I can be content! Indeed, God does provide, but often he provides through the sweat of our brow and the labor of our hands. In the end, we need to be content, but recognize that often our contentment comes through work.

Attaining the Goal…

“Not that I have already received this, nor have I already been perfected, but I pursue it that I might attain it, for I was made to attain it by Christ Jesus.”

(Philippians 3:12)

As we discussed above, the language of “attaining” the goal of the resurrection is not implying a doctrine of merit…that we somehow are able to earn the work of salvation. Instead, the final clause in this verse is the key to understanding the whole…why do we strive forward toward this goal? We do so because Christ has made us to strive forward to this goal. It is God’s work, not ours.

Some of our English translations vary in how they render this final clause. The verb, katalamba/nw (katalambano — “to attain a goal”) is used twice, the first time as an active subjunctive (“that I might attain”) and the second time as passive indicative (“I was made to attain”). This sets up parallel ideas — I run to attain it because Jesus is drawing me irresistibly to this goal.

On a practical note, the question is whether or not we think like this. Do we really think that we are growing in our sanctification because God is working in us? Or, do we fall into the trap of being prideful about our growth in sanctification. Often it is the latter. Often we like to focus on what we have done rather than on what Christ has done in us…and what a colossal difference there is between the two.

Can I Grumble About It?

“Do all this without grumbling or debate,”

(Philippians 2:14)

Oh my. This is where we so often get ourselves in trouble. We know what the right thing is, we know we ought to do it, we don’t want to do it, but since it is the right thing we do it anyway — grumbling the whole time (at least to ourselves!). And here we go, we have the Apostle Paul telling us that we need to count one another’s needs as greater than our own and that we are to be obedient to Christ’s commands in all ways…but also that we are to do so without griping about it. Oh my. For some, I think that griping is a favorite hobby even, but no, not in the life of the Christian.

God’s interest is not just in our right actions. Were that the case, he would never have rebuked the wayward Israelites regarding their sacrifices…even to the point of saying that he hated and detested them. Why? Because their hearts weren’t in the right place. They believed that if they just performed the ritual in the proper way, then God would be pleased with them. God was not. And Paul echoes to us as well, in the Christian church, that God likewise will not be pleased by our service or by our offering of praise if our heart is in the right place.

Note that this also means that Christians don’t have carte blanche in their worship even if their heart is in the right place. for the Christian, the spirit of obedience must be joined with actions of obedience. Both go rightly together and cannot be separated in a life of faith.

And just in case you are wondering, the words that Paul uses here carry exactly the same connotations in English as they do in Greek. The word goggusmo/ß (gongusmos) means to talk about things in a low voice behind people’s backs or behind the scenes, typically in a way that voices a complaint. The word dialogismo/ß (dialogismos) means to debate or dispute someone’s reasoning…to argue about the conclusions of others. As fond of grumbling about our obedience as we might be, this too needs to be put to death in our lives.

True obedience follows a heart that is committed to Christ in all things and no matter the cost. That kind of heart does not typically develop overnight, but happens through training and conscious decisions to honor Christ in all things. It is a reflection of our love to God and his Son, Jesus. And a heart like this is equipped and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Loved ones, embrace it…oh, and embrace it without grumbling or arguing about it…

God Gets the Glory…Great Things He Has Done

“And Abram and Nachor took to themselves wives. The name of the wife of Abram was Saray and the name of the wife of Nachor was Milkah — the daughter of Haran who was the father of both Milkah and Yiskah. And it came to pass that Saray was infertile and had no child of her own.”

(Genesis 11:29-30)

 

I suppose that there are no great surprises in the various spellings of familiar names — again, transliteration is not a precise science and there are many agreed upon spellings of these names that do not reflect the literal transliteration from the Hebrew into English. Saray, is better known to us as Sarai, whose name means, “My princess.” Milkah is the daughter of Haran, which makes her the sister of Lot. Milkah (or Milcah) means “Queen.” It is interesting that, based on names, both Abraham and Milkah marry women whose names denote royalty. Milkah has a sister named Yiskah, or Iscah in our English Bibles, whose name probably is derived from the word for “to look” or “to look at.”

And now we have the family line laid out before us as well as another tidbit — Sarai was barren and could bear no child. Perhaps that is the reason for Abram taking in Lot, his nephew, when his brother dies. We do not know the answer to that particular question. What we do know is that God is waiting until Abram’s father dies (and thus Abram becomes the covenant head of his home) and then is going to begin doing mighty things in this man’s life. The wait is for another purpose as well — so that the only explanation for this man’s success could be attributed to God.

How we like to have our successes attributed to our persons. Yet, how much better it is when our successes are attributed to the one from whom the success originated! For any good success that I might have is only because of the grace of God and the hand of God working in my life. It is all about God and his work from beginning to end — I am not my own. How often we fall on our faces because we do not recognize that truth and how often we allow our bloated egos to become so puffed up with pride that we become a blight even to ourselves and need be laid low all over again. Oh how the “mighty” have so often fallen. Loved ones, cling to God, trust his leading, but also ensure that you understand that any good credit belongs to God alone. We are but tools in his hand — may we be always sharp and ready for use.

Works of Men and Works of God: Zechariah 1:1-6

“Your fathers, where are they?  And the prophets, do they live forever?  But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers?”  -Zechariah 1:5-6a, ESV

 

What a contrast that is set before us by the prophet.  All of the works of man will eventually fade, but God’s works and his word will last forever.  As mighty as many of the prophets were, they died.  Abraham died; Moses died; Elisha died; Isaiah died; our generation will die.  Yet, God’s word will remain; it will remain unchanged; and it will still carry with it the power and authority that it had from the very day it was spoken through the various inspired writers.  If Moses was nothing more than a faithful servant in God’s house, in what have we to boast?  Nothing save the cross of Christ.

How often, when we read the Bible, do we focus on the various characters of the story?  What did King David do next?  Will Elijah survive the attacks on the prophets?  How will Nehemiah get the people to work?  These are important questions to ask, but when we ask these questions, let us never forget that these men were nothing more than servants of the All-Mighty God. 

In turn, we need to ask ourselves just where we are placing the emphasis in our own lives and in our own ministries.  Do we see the ministries as something that we are doing?  Or is the ministry God’s and we simply have the blessing of being able to participate?  Do we conceive of ourselves as being anything more than an unworthy servant?  If we do, we are placing the emphasis on things that will not last (namely ourselves).  Let us seek to place all of the emphasis in our lives on something that will last forever, and that is God and His word.  And even though in the new heavens and the new earth, the written word and the law will pass away, he who fulfilled the law perfectly will be in our presence and we will be able to commune with the very Word of God face-to-face.