Towards a Practical Theology of Work — Part 2
Victor Chininin Buele
In the last post, we left off in Numbers 11, which tells the story of the people of God complaining, “There is nothing at all but this manna to look at” (6). It didn’t matter to them that the Lord had rescued them from slavery and given them manna abundantly. God’s faithfulness and generosity were perceived as betrayal and stinginess. They deemed Yahweh to be untrustworthy. Complaining and thankfulness are polar opposites.
And the people complained in the hearing of the LORDNumbers 11:1 (ESV)
about their misfortunes.
The people of Israel had been parked, so to speak, at Sinai. From Exodus 19 (the chapter before they receive the 10 Words from God) to Numbers 10, they had been at Sinai. They were impatient, they rebelled, they worshiped a false god. The cloud lifted from the tabernacle in Numbers 10:11-13, and the people started to move out of Sinai. And what is the very next thing we read starting in chapter 11:1? That they complained.
This is not just a common temptation for me, but one of the areas where I struggle the most. And let’s pay close attention to the fact that when we say “struggle,” we really mean “lose.” After all, we do not go around saying we are struggling when we are winning the battle. Struggling sounds more elegant than stating the truth that we are in fact losing. We lose the battle with whining and grumbling and discontent. We need heart transformation.
Israel complains and looks back to Egypt. Have you considered how hard it was to get Israel out of Egypt? It took miracle after miracle from the unrivaled and mighty hand of the Lord. The liberation of Israel was nothing short of a manifestation of the power of God. But, have you considered how hard it was to get Egypt out of Israel? You see, Israel became Egypt in many ways:
Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving.Numbers 11:4-6
And the people of Israel also wept again and said,
“Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt
that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions,
and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up,
and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”
They just couldn’t shake Egypt off so easily. They had vivid memories of the fish, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, the garlic. They craved the food of their slavery. They longed for their chains. They had no category for the generosity of God and for the faithfulness of Yahweh to keep His promises. They were hungry and nostalgic. They longed for their slavery.
I am like Israel. Every single day. My flesh wages war against what is good and right. Justification for my sins can very easily be concocted. Thorns and thistles are all around us. It is hard to earn our wages and to bring food to the table. It is hard because work, though originally created good by our good God, was stained by sin and cursed because of sin, the sin of our parents. Now, work gives us blisters.
Our backs hurt, we need surgeries, our eyesight diminishes, we have vitamin D deficiencies, our fingers don’t work as well, we suffer fatigue, depression, mood disorders, carpal tunnel syndrome. We become easily irritable and angered. We take what is not ours–whether a pencil from the office supplies or an “extra break.” We don’t always respect our leaders and speak well of them to others. We grumble and complain. Our compensation is not sufficient. Our package is not up to industry standards. We work too much. Too much is expected of us. We have to work yet another weekend, another long night. The customer has high expectations. We eat alone. We become disconnected. We disconnect from our spouses and our children. We divorce. We have “affairs” and divorce. We live hypocritical lives. We drown in debt. We put up appearances. We check our investment apps every few minutes to see just how rich we are. We spend too much.
It is hard to be a working human being!
“There is, therefore, a great need for discernment in our self‑understanding. Who am I? What is my ‘self’?John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 277.
The answer is that I am a Jekyll and Hyde, a mixed‑up kid,
having both dignity because I was created and have been
re‑created in the image of God, and depravity because
I still have a fallen and rebellious nature.
I am both noble and ignoble, beautiful and ugly,
good and bad, upright and twisted, image and child of God,
and yet sometimes yielding obsequious homage
to the devil from whose clutches Christ has rescued me.”
If in our sinful nature we are natural grumblers, and that affects the quality of our work as well as our attitude towards our work, then what must we do to be saved?
Yes, that is the right question. I could have said, “then what can we do to work better?” or “then what can be done to avoid those horrible side effects?” No, this is a matter of salvation. This is a matter of eternal life.
Eternal life is not just a time concept–to live forever. Eternal life is about the presence of God forever. The believer in Christ receives this undeserved gift through no merit of his own. It’s free but bought at the highest price of them all–the blood of Jesus Christ at the cross.
So, what will we spend eternity doing? No more Jekyll and Hyde, good mixed with bad, evil mixed with good, upright mixed with twisted. Righteousness, holiness, fruitfulness. Forever. Fruitfulness is not an eternity spent doing nothing. We will spend eternity in true productivity. We will pick up there next time and see how this can affect our day-to-day productivity as we await the Lord’s return and invest in the Great Commission to make disciples of the nations.
Time to Reflect
Until then, if the fruit of our salvation is joy in Christ, then that joy in Christ will be obvious in our work. The battle against grumbling and complaining will lead us into more and more of God’s presence as we are transformed into the image of Christ at every battle, every step of the way.
What is one tangible, practical way to work out our salvation as it relates to our work?
Thanksgiving. Being thankful will help us to shift our focus from our self-pity, self-centeredness, and self-awareness of our difficulties into the generosity, mercy, kindness, and love of God. After all, if Christ had not come, our work would have zero redemptive hope. As we seek discernment in our self-understanding to help us orient our sight heavenward, consider thanksgiving. Practice thanksgiving. Pray thanksgiving prayers. Pray for the heart to desire to pray thanksgiving prayers. Be thankful. Thank others in tangible ways. Every encounter is an opportunity to be thankful to God and to your neighbor. Our unbelieving coworker will eventually have to come to ask one simple question, “If we are thankful, who do we thank?” “What am I thankful for?” And the universe, or life, or chance, or luck will not stand the test–we can’t thank an impersonal god. Only God will suffice.
May we see eyes open to the glories of Christ as we set aside our self-indulgence in grumbling and pick up thankfulness to God our Father, our Lord Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.Psalm 86:12