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Work by the book

"Work by the book" Continued...

Issue: "Warrior class," Aug. 28, 2010

Some affluent people work hard in ways that provide no satisfaction. Some poor people work very hard, but others both domestically and internationally do all they can to avoid work. Miller writes, "Why are some nations poor? When you believe that work is a curse, you avoid work and don't respect the work of others. Work and labor are demeaning." He and I have been in "whole nations where the goal is to avoid work and where those with power corruptly live off the efforts of those who are less powerful."

Miller also notes that "much of the blame for these stagnant economies can be laid at the feet of the greedy and corrupt behavior of the government officials and those mercantilists and tribal chiefs who control the economy. This behavior is institutionalized in laws and structures that are against freedom and either strip the poor of the fruits of their labor or rob them altogether of the opportunity to work. Autocratic leadership styles squash initiative, innovation, and creativity. Controlled economies and rampant corruption sap economic initiative. Lack of property rights and copyright protections prevent hardworking people and artisans from enjoying their rightful reward."

Here in the United States autocracy is growing but is not yet dominant. Miller points out that we do have a problem with Gnosticism, the belief (among others) that the material world is evil and profane. Miller writes that "we are showing a Gnostic orientation whenever we demean things of the physical world . . . or see work in the fields that deal with them as a less-than-full Christian calling. . . . Like much of the animistic world, Gnostic Christians forget that when Christ returns there will be a new heaven and a new earth; instead they see this world as vanishing."

Miller has a different eschatology: "When Christ returns, there will be a great shaking. All that is of the kingdom of God will be left standing; all else will be in a pile of rubble. Similarly there will be a refiner's fire. All that has been built that relates to the kingdom of God will be left by the refiner's fire. All else will be destroyed by the fire. The earth will not disappear when Christ returns! It will be a refined, purified earth, a 're-newed' earth. The kingdom of God is both now and not yet!"

Miller's thinking also underlies the first of the two web resources I recommend. Lifework: Developing a Biblical Theology of Vocation (mondaychurch.org/theology) is a free, downloadable 84-page resource that contains an overall explanation and a series of vocation-related Bible studies on subjects from agriculture and accounting to motherhood and relief work.

Its basic message is that "God has a general calling for all of the redeemed, first to salvation-justification, and then to the Christian life-to be godly men and women, to be servants, to seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness. He also has a particular calling for each follower of Christ, a place to work for His unfolding Kingdom. We shall call the former (general calling) life and the latter (particular calling) work. Together they are one's lifework."

The specific studies are particularly interesting. The one on communication notes how the Gospel of John starts, "In the beginning was the Word," and how Genesis 1:26, "Let us make man in our image," reflects a conversation among members of the Trinity that was going on from even before the beginning. Verses regarding ethics are crucial: Proverbs 19:22 notes that "a poor man is better than a liar," and Ephesians 5:6 states, "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience."

The study on business points readers to parables of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and the shrewd manager (Luke 16:1-15). It spotlights proverbs that business managers should take to heart, such as Proverbs 16:3, "Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established," and 22:16, "Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty." As women move up in the workplace the work (both intellectual and physical) of the most celebrated woman in Proverbs is worth recalling: "She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard" (31:16).

Wayne Grudem's short book is to Darrow Miller's long one as the Lifework website is to the other top website resource I've found, that of the Theology of Work Project (theologyofwork.org). It has teams of scholars and workplace practitioners researching each book of the Bible along with 20 key topics about work, such as calling, compensation, globalization, business ethics, and conflict. The goal is to produce and disseminate papers and other materials that will help people to see God's purpose in work and workplaces.

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