Homophone – hom’-o-phone, n. a work pronounced the same as, but differing in meaning from another, whether spelled the same way or not, as heir and air.
(Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary © 1989)
Two words – – Same sound – – Different meanings – – Both dangerous
Idol – Idle
Happy Labor Day! Established in the late 1800s initially by local governments, it became a national holiday in 1894. Celebrated on the first Monday in September, it is meant to give an opportunity for our nation to pay “tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country” (https://www.dol.gov/general/laborday/history). Traditionally, it also marks the end of summer and used to be the final weekend to wear white. Should we as Christians care about this federal holiday or simply see it as a welcome day off from school or work? And what if we’re retired, should we just thank God that we don’t have to go to work anymore?
The Bible talks a lot about work, so yes, we should think and know what God says about this important subject. In fact, as you well remember, God tells us right at the very beginning that He is a creative, powerful worker—He created the universe! And we were made in His image: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27 NIV). Work is not a result of the curse—before there was ever sin in the world, we were to exercise delegated authority and work to the glory of God. However, the reality of sin means that while there is (by God’s grace) still some fruitfulness in our labor, there is also much frustration (see Gen. 3:16-19). And there is the internal temptation to make work an idol—trying to find ultimate happiness and purpose in this world, or to be idle in our work—despairing to find any meaning or joy in our jobs or refusing to work and expecting others to give us everything we need.
When Work Becomes an Idol
When you think of someone worshipping their job, what comes to mind? Surely not that they make a model of their workplace or have a picture of their boss to which they bow down and before which they burn incense?! No, nothing so obvious normally happens. Instead work becomes an idol when it becomes the object that we trust in to deliver us, to bring us happiness and security, to give us purpose and make our lives meaningful. At that point we have put our trust in work in place of God. As one pair of writers says, “our work can become the primary object of our passions, our energy, and our love.” When our identity is wrapped up in our job then our greatest hopes and deepest despair is tied to our success or lack thereof! What a shifting, unstable foundation upon which to build a life!
God alone is worthy of our worship; He alone must be ultimate in our lives. “Keeping Christ Preeminent in all things” is not just a nice tagline, it is our daily goal. We must be aware of the constant danger of idolatry—of trusting something “in place of or alongside the only true God” (Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 95). It is dangerous to set anything else on the throne. Timothy Keller’s observation is astute: “We may not actually burn incense to Artemis, but when money and career are raised to cosmic proportions, we perform a kind of child sacrifice, neglecting family and community to achieve a higher place in business and gain more wealth and prestige.”
When We Become Idle
Despising work is also dangerous! Work is a blessing and an opportunity to honor and serve God even as we are working for others and to provide for ourselves. Colossians 3:22-24 speaks to this: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (NIV, emphasis added)
If we do not see and understand that in our job we are working for Jesus, our Savior and King, then it is all too easy to become lazy or not care about the quality of our work. Traeger and Gilbert put it well in their book: “One of the most subtle—and perhaps most dangerous—forms of idleness in our work is our failure to recognize God’s purposes for us in the workplace. We may be active in our work, but we have concluded that our work simply doesn’t matter. … Being idle does not necessarily mean inactivity—a lack of productivity. It can be an inactivity of the heart, an inability or unwillingness to see or embrace God’s purposes in the work he’s given you to do. It’s a heart that does not grasp how God is using your work to shape you, a heart that denies your Christian responsibility to serve ‘as if you were serving the Lord’ (Ephesians 6:7). When this kind of thinking takes hold in our minds, the results are devastating. Despondency, joylessness, complaining, discontentedness, laziness, passivity, [etc.]—these are the fruits of being idle in our work.”
Live (and work) for King Jesus
Danger seems to be all around us. We can think of idolatry and idleness as deep ditches on either side of the career path. The key to safely navigating it all is to know Christ and, as Hebrews 12:1-2 exhorts us, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus [fixing our eyes on Him], the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (ESV)
Have a blessed month,
!Sebastian Traeger & Greg Gilbert, The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 18.
2Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters (NY: Dutton, 2009), xii. See also his book, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work.
3The Gospel at Work, 36-37.