March 31, 2019 – Heaven and Work
Rev. Charles Drew
Sermon Series: What Heaven Has to Do with Real Life
Ecclesiastes 1, 12; 1 Corinthians 3 (ESV)
The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. 2 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. 3 What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? 4 A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. 5 The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. 6 The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. 7 All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. 8 All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. 9 What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us. 11 There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
1 Corinthians 3:1-6, 10-15
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? 5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth… 10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw- 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
A haunting question: “Why am I putting in all this effort when there is so much frustration and inefficiency in what I do, and when in the end it will all be forgotten?”
The Bible teaches that our work may be remembered forever.
I) Heaven promises the possibility of meaning to our present work
A) Heaven and the work of the church
Paul, Apollos, and Jesus: 1 Cor. 3:12ff
B) A broader meaning.
For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing whether good or evil. (Eccl. 12)
1 Cor. 3.13, 14: “disclosed”… “survive”… “reward”
- Not talking about whether we get to heaven or not based upon their work, but whether we get to take anything with us.
- Our work might (and might not) survive the purging at the end
- The eternal durability of our work will not depend upon the type of gifts we have been given (“gold, silver, and precious stones” versus “wood, hay, and stubble”–! Cor. 3:12), but upon the “foundation” upon which we build.
- Why is Christ so foundational?
C) Meaning for us.
“I reject at once an idea that lingers in the mind of some modern people that cultural activities are in their own right spiritual and meritorious—as though scholars and poets are intrinsically more pleasing than folks who pick though trash for bottles… The work of a Beethoven and the work of a house-cleaner become spiritual on precisely the same conditions, that of being offered to God, of being done ‘as to the Lord’.” (Learning in War-Time, C. S. Lewis)
II) Two questions
A) How does our work “last” into eternity?
Hard to know—but it will be satisfying.
“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little. I will put you over much. Enter now the joy of your Master.”
B) How do we build upon the foundation of Jesus Christ?
- Bringing the Lord to work with us.
- Bringing the Savior to work with us.
Questions for Reflection
- What haunts the poet in Ecclesiastes 1:1-11? Do you ever share his sense of the vanity of your life and work? Why? Why not?
- The occasion for 1 Corinthians 3:1-12 was a squabble in the Corinthian church over whether Paul’s work or Apollos’ work were more important. Summarize Paul’s response to the squabblers.
- Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3 and elsewhere that a day is coming when every person’s work will be fully revealed and assessed. On that day that which does not measure up will “go up in smoke,” even if the person who did the work may not. How do you react to this notion? Why is final judgment described as a “revealing.” What sorts of things will be revealed?
- Reflect on the following statement: “The notion of a thorough assessment of our lives is sobering. But it is also exhilarating, for it tells us that God respects us enough to evaluate everything we do.”
- 1 Corinthians 3 makes clear that God’s assessment of our work will not be based upon the type or prominence of our calling. How does the comparison between Paul and Apollos make this point? Why is it important to understand that God’s evaluation of our lives is not based upon the type or prominence of our gifts?
- God’s assessment is based instead upon what two things?
- Building upon the foundation of Christ can mean (among other things) bringing him as Lord to “work” with us: that is, imagining what our work world (our workplace, our block, our family, our politics, our studies, etc.) would look like if he were to assert his reign in them, and then nudging that work world, according to our ability and opportunity, in that direction. Identify at least one way you can bring, or have brought, Christ to work with you.
- Building upon the foundation of Christ can also mean bringing him as Savior to work with you. This will show up in at least two ways: (1) Knowing that we are sinners in need of forgiveness will keep us from acting as if we know all the answers to whatever problem we are addressing at work—it will, in other words, keep us humble; (2) We will be servants—always looking for ways to reflect the servant leadership of Christ in what why do, how we do it, and in what we seek our work world to do. Where can you make some progress in these areas?
Prayer of Confession
Lord Jesus, all authority in every sphere of life has been given to you. It is only a matter of time before the fullness of heaven will cover our world as the waters cover the sea. We confess that we limit your reign. We tend not to bring you with us to work and study. We often fail to see colleagues and adversaries as you do. We rarely empty ourselves in the service of others. We often fail to speak of you when doors open. Forgive us for living so much of the time as if your kingdom were not real. By your Spirit give us your love and your Father’s love for this world. Amen.