Text: Proverbs 6:6-11 — Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. 7 Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, 8 she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. 9 How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? 10 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, 11 and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.
Introduction: We are now into our sixth message in the preaching series, “The Lordship of Jesus Christ.” If you’re interested in listening to any of the previous messages, you can go to our website at www.riverridgewi.com or download our river ridge church app. By way of review, so far we’ve talked about how Jesus came to be Lord of all; what it means for us to submit to Him as Lord of our lives; and the importance of acknowledging His rightful reign over our minds, our worries and our pocketbooks. This morning, I thought I’d talk about the work we do as it relates to our relationship with Christ.
Now before I launch into this message, I want to recognize that a person’s work can take place inside or outside the home. In fact, I think I’d like to define work as the engagement of a person in physical and mental activity for the care, benefit and support of oneself and/or others. This is my own definition and it’s intentionally broad in that it values the work of people while at home, in the workplace and even as volunteers serving others.
You probably already know that God has designed us with work in mind. Before the fall of man, He put Adam in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it according to Genesis 2:15. Then God created Eve as a partner for Adam so that together they would be able to fulfill the mandate to “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” From the very beginning, God intended that work would be an important value for all of us to pursue.
Unfortunately, that which God gave mankind to bless … has for many of us become a curse. We find that we are married to our work or that the expectations of our employers are so extreme they make us feel more like slaves than workers. If you’re feeling a bit this way, overworked, over-regulated, under-leisured, and under-benefited, take heart that I’m not asking you to adopt mid-19th century work rules like the ones that were discovered in the ruins of a London office building. Listen to what one employer from that era expected from his employees…these rules having been posted on the wall of one workplace: (1) This firm has reduced the hours of work, and the clerical staff will now only have to be present between the hours of 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. weekdays (six days a week for a total of 55 hours); (2) Overshoes and topcoats may not be worn in the office, but neck scarves and headwear may be worn in inclement weather; (3) A stove is provided for the benefit of the clerical staff. Coal and wood must be kept in the locker. It is recommended that each member of the clerical staff bring four pounds of coal each day during the cold weather; (4) No member of the clerical staff may leave the room without permission from the supervisor; (5) No talking is allowed during business hours; (6) Now that the hours of business have been drastically reduced, the partaking of food is allowed between 11:30 and noon, but work will not on any account cease; (7) Members of the clerical staff will provide their own writing instruments. A new sharpener is available on application to the supervisor; (8) The supervisor will nominate a senior clerk to be responsible for the cleanliness of the main office and the private office. All boys and juniors will report to him 40 minutes before prayers and will remain after closing hours for similar work. Brushes, brooms, scrubber, and soap are provided by the owners; (9) The owners recognize the generosity of the new labor laws, but will expect a great rise in output of work to compensate for these near Utopian conditions. Aren’t you glad work conditions aren’t the same for most of us? If anything, they seem to be moving the other way with people demanding fewer work hours and more time for leisure activities.
Be that as it may, today I invite you to join me as we look to the book of Proverbs (the greatest of all the wisdom writings) to discover what God says about what we might call … a good, old fashioned Judeo-Christian work ethic. Let’s begin by reviewing several verses that remind us of the importance of hard work from the Old Testament.
I. The Importance of Hard Work (A Collection of Proverbs). Proverbs 12:11 – He who works his hand will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense. That’s pretty clear and doesn’t need much explanation. Proverbs 12:27 – Whoever is slothful will not roast his game, but the diligent man will get precious wealth. This is a contrast first describing the lazy person who manages to capture his prey, but doesn’t even bother to cook it, so it just sits there and rots. Then there’s the man who prizes everything he gets because of the hard work exerted to acquire it, and treats it accordingly. Proverbs 14:23 – In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty. If you spend too much of your time talking, and not enough working, you may find yourself doing without some of the necessities of life. Proverbs 16:26 – A worker’s appetite works for him. His mouth urges him on. This is another way of saying that hunger is a strong motivator to find work. I remember when I was in my final interview for a sales position with Wells Fargo Alarm Services. The Regional VP asked why he should hire me. I told him, “I have a wife and seven children to feed. I am highly motivated to succeed.” That was enough for him. He gave me the job! Proverbs 19:24 – A sluggard does not plow in season; he will seek at harvest and have nothing. Work is based on the principle of delayed gratification. We do our sowing now and reap the results later. Proverbs 22:13 – The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets.” People who don’t want to work will always find an excuse to avoid it! Just one more … Proverbs 27:33 – Know the condition of your flocks and give attention to your herds, for riches do not last forever … This verse reminds us that yesterday’s work doesn’t guarantee tomorrow’s success. Every day we must look carefully to our work and do our best so that we will have what we need for the future.
Well, these are just a few of the verses that speak to the value of hard work and the resulting good that can come to those who embrace it. I like what the famous Italian sculptor, painter, architect, poet and engineer of the late 15th and early 16th centuries, Michelangelo Buonarroti Simoni, said about hard work. Many considered him as the greatest living artist of his lifetime. He has since been held as one of the greatest artists of all time. Listen to his words of wisdom: “If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.” Even gifted people who are recognized as some of the greatest ever at what they do cannot avoid hard work in getting to be the best. I’m reminded of the story told by Southern Baptist preacher Ron Dunn about a concert by a gifted pianist that he and his wife were blessed to attend. In the middle of one song, she leaned over to him and said, “I would give anything to be able to play like that.” It struck him very quickly that she didn’t really mean it, so he said, “No you wouldn’t. If you really would give anything to play like that, you would do what he does … commit yourself to sacrifice most everything else and practice ten to twelve hours every day of your life.” Of course, that’s not what she had in mind. What she meant was, “I would give anything if God would suddenly give me that man’s ability without having to work to acquire it.” You don’t make it in life without putting your best foot forward and working at it as hard you can. That’s the message of Proverbs. Laziness and achievement are mutually exclusive.
II. The Example of Hard Work Proverbs 6:6-8 – Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. One of the things I say frequently to my kids is this: There will always be a place for you to work if you do three things consistently … show up on time for work; do your best every day and have a positive attitude. Having now been in the work force for over forty years, I find that many workers are deficient in at least one of these areas. Either they can’t get themselves out of bed and make it to their jobs when they’re supposed to, or they’ve learned how to cut corners and give only minimum effort, or they have been sucked into the vortex of malcontented employees who just sit around and whine about their working conditions or supervisors. I hope you’re not one of those or hanging out with others who are. Remember: Bad company corrupts good morals. The writer of Proverbs admonishes anyone given to laziness to pattern themselves after a different example … one of lowliest of creatures in all of creation … the ant. It has no ruler commanding it to work (though there clearly seems to be some sort of social structure among them), yet it is always busy gathering food and storing it. It seems to be self-motivated and self-directed. It doesn’t need to be told what to do. The ant serves as an example to us of hard work and productivity. It doesn’t spin its wheels doing things that merely give the appearance of activity. Every exertion is aimed at a specific outcome. That’s how we ought to be when it comes to our jobs. We work both hard and smart to get the most out of our efforts. I knew a person who always had a new scheme for making a fast buck. You’ve probably known others like him. The only problem was that he never actually earned enough to support himself, let alone anyone else. He was and, to my knowledge, continues to be the example of the sluggard! The Bible warns against get rich quick schemes by the way. It says, “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it” – Proverbs 13:11. It’s absolutely true. Just look at how long it takes a professional athlete (35% of retired NFL players are bankrupt within two years) or lottery winner (they are more likely to declare bankruptcy in three to five years than the average American) to lose it all. God wants us to appreciate the benefits of hard work. That’s why he says to go to the ant and consider her ways!!
III. The Neglect of Hard Work (Proverbs 6:9-11 – How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man). Isn’t it interesting that just 3 little things … a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest (hands folded when they should be working) … can lead to poverty? The reference to a robber here is meant to cause us to think about unforeseen consequences. No one plans on being robbed. It just happens and when it does, the victim is left with nothing. That’s what the sluggard who does not work can look forward to … nothing. Then there’s the mention of the armed man. This is a more hostile takeover by someone before whom one cannot defend himself. Either way … the result for the person who neglects hard work is the same and that’s the point. He’s left without enough to meet even the most basic human needs. Application: It is one thing to be poor because of a lack of opportunity to provide for yourself and your family. In cases like these, the person’s family (1 Timothy 5:4 – If a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God) and then one’s church should step in to help. But when a person is hungry because he refuses to work … the Bible is clear … if a man won’t work, don’t let him eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
A few more thoughts about hard work and then we’ll wrap this up:
· Just because it’s hard work doesn’t mean it’s God’s work. It’s possible to be involved in something that God doesn’t want you to do in order to make a living (Do not steal; do not profit from the suffering of the poor – See Nehemiah 5; Do not compromise Christian virtues to make money). There are right and wrong ways to provide for your families. Always choose the right way. Some hard workers have another problem. They have become workaholics who find their value and worth exclusively in their job performance. As a result, they spend far too much time engaged in it and not near enough time with the people important to them. Avoid both and you’ll do well.
· The keys ingredients for success are often the same for everyone. Planning and forethought, diligence, a good attitude and an unswerving commitment are what help many to be good providers. For Christians, I would add another one: We are called to do everything for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). This was the perspective of Martin Luther. A cobbler was said to have asked him how he could glorify God after being converted to Christianity. Luther’s answer was not that the cobbler should join the ministry or even sell a “Christian shoe,” but rather that he should make a good shoe and sell it at a fair price. You see, Luther believed and taught that every person is gifted by God and called to employ those God-given gifts in loving service to their neighbor. Christian cobblers, he said, should not make shoes with little crosses or fish symbols (ichthuses) on them – they should make the best shoes they can make and sell them at a fair price so their neighbors can have good shoes. Do it to the glory of God.
· Those who choose the easy way (laziness) will find that it only gets harder, while the hard way (work) becomes easier. Sooner or later, people grow weary of those who put more effort into getting out of work than simply doing the job they agreed to do. When we step up in our work and do it to the best of our ability we discover over time that our skills have grown to be equal to the tasks. Then, what was once very difficult becomes very rewarding.
Conclusion: If you ever pass through Corbin, Kentucky, you will have the opportunity to visit the very first Kentucky Friend Chicken. Back in 1940 a man named Harlan Sanders, a follower of Jesus Christ, lived there. He bought an old, run-down restaurant and built a motel beside it. The number one food item at his eatery was fried chicken … in fact it was acclaimed to be the best fried chicken in the state of Kentucky, made from 11 herbs and spices. In 1956, Colonel Sanders discovered that a major interstate was going to be built that would cause most of the traffic to bypass the town of Corbin. Obviously this was not good news. If his enterprise was going to survive, he had to make a difficult choice. So, he sold his two businesses and went into the chicken spice business. Then at the age of 66, when most people today are retiring, he opened a restaurant off the interstate where people could only buy his one specialty food item, fried chicken made from his 11 herbs and spices and decided to call it Kentucky Fried Chicken. And the rest, they say, is history. Today, you can still purchase food at that first KFC, but there is also a museum there where you can read the credo of Colonel Harlan Sanders. It is called the Hard Way. Here’s what it says: “It is comparatively easy to prosper by trickery, the violation of confidence, oppression of the weak, sharp practices, cutting corners, and those methods we are so prone to pileate (hold up) and condone as business shrewdness. It is difficult to prosper by the keeping of promises, the deliverance of value and goods and services and deeds and denouncing the so-called shrewdness with sound merit and good ethics. The easy way is efficacious and speedy, the hard way … arduous and long. But as the clock ticks away, the easy way becomes harder, and the hard way becomes easier. As the calendar records the years, it becomes increasingly evident that the easy way rests upon a hazardous foundation of shifting sands, whereas the hard way builds solidly a foundation of confidence that cannot be swept away. Thus, we build it.” Men and women, and for that matter, boys and girls … you are called by God to provide for yourself and (where applicable) your families. If you’re going to be successful at this, it will demand focused effort and energy. When you say Jesus is Lord, you’re agreeing that work is your calling. Remember: If you follow the hard way, the way of the ant who takes advantage of opportunities to work, it will get you and those you love where you want to be.