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iRelate - Making the Choice to Commit to Community

Rod MacIlvaine 10/07/2012 (1241)

Work, Community and Evangelism
Selected Scriptures

Interview: Interview Toby and Frank this week.


This is week five in our series called iRelate, and this morning we want talk about bringing a sense of community into the workplace.

Now, I am not going to ask for a show of hands, but if I were to ask how many folks in this room like your job, I suspect that fewer than half would lift their hands. If I changed the words and asked how many love your job…very few would say yes.

Job satisfaction is hard to come by these days.

People who examine the state of work in American have observed a trend in the past six years: worker satisfaction is declining. And it's declined even more steeply as real unemployment rises and regulation make starting small businesses a real chore.

Let me give you a sampling of statistics about work.

• Forbes Magazine suggests that 1/3 of all employees are ready to leave their jobs.

• CBS News suggests that only 45% of Americans are satisfied with their jobs…the lowest ever recorded by the Conference Board research group.

• Gallup suggests 71% of workers are "not engaged" or "actively disengaged" at work.

• Worst of all is Deliotte's Shift Index reported that 80% of Americans are dissatisfied with their jobs.

Now these stats are just the tip of the iceberg. If you do a simple internet search about worker satisfaction, you find the state of work in America has moved into a very unhealthy place.

And if you get into more deeply researched book like Charles Murray's, Coming Apart, it reinforces the idea that many Americans are stuck in jobs going nowhere and providing no meaning.

The question is why? Why the decline in worker satisfaction?

My opinion from speaking with people, and from reading widely, and from doing some coaching is that people crave meaning.

And they don't find meaning in the workplace - unless they bring it in from the outside. And that means you bring it in because of a prior faith that you have in Christ.

What I want to argue this morning is this.

As followers if Christ it's vital that we bring our own sense of our meaning into our work. Look, it would be nice if our work was a thrill a minute. Most people never experience this. So we have to bring the meaning we already derive from Christ into our work and let that meaning shape what we do.

I don't think that pastors, historically, have been very good at encouraging this. Pastors sometimes gave the impression that the only sort of legitimate work is direct ministry. Ministry is spiritual! But being a carpenter, nurse, doctor, businessman, factory worker or you-name-it is slightly less spiritual. In other words, really godly people get directly involved in ministry.

The biblical picture of work is dramatically different.

According to the Bible work is intrinsically good. It flows from the character of God. God is a worker. And work is good because it's an opportunity to use God-given talents. It's good because it's an opportunity to contribute to a stable economy. So any work (that's legal and ethical) has the potential to glorify God.

For instance, let's suppose I pray the Lord's Prayer every day. Every day, I'm praying, "Lord, give [me] this day my daily bread." If I'm sincere, I'd better hope that God is calling people into farming. I'd better hope God is calling people into baking. I'd better hope God is calling people to deliver bread. I'd better hope that God is calling people to be accountants so the bread company stays in business.

The daily bread Jesus commands us to pray for doesn't materialize out of nowhere. It comes as the product of intricate economies, over which God is sovereign, and in which good people are called into productive labor. When you pray, you are generally praying for God's provision within the context of a preexisting economy.

That means all work can be spiritual. All work can glorify God and can give eternal meaning.

So we have to bring our own godly significance into our work - and that is going to influence our relationships at work.

This morning, I want to look at the apostle Paul as an example of a worker, and I want to show you how he brings a meaning into his workplace, and how this impacts relationships.

• We'll look first at Paul the tentmaker.
• We'll then look at Paul the theologian of work.
• And then I want to interview two people who have a unique take on this.

Let's start with...  

1. PAUL THE TENTMAKER - Paul had a profession that was well-known in the ancient world: He was a tentmaker. Acts 18:3

A. We sometimes forget about this because it's only mentioned on place in the Bible: Acts 18:1-3.

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus…with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade.

WHAT SPECIFICALLY IS THE TRADE OF TENTMAKER? Let me give you the story of this profession. Paul grew up in Tarsus, in the region of Cilicia. Today we would identify that region as extreme southeastern Turkey. The region was famous for certain goats whose hides was perfect for tents.

Goat-hair was the ancient version of Gore-Tex, because goat hair was porous when it's dry but waterproof when wet. As the rains hit the goat hair fabric, the fabric shrinks and it becomes reasonably waterproof. So just like Wisconsin is known for its cheese and Oklahoma is known for its oil, Cilicia was known for its famous goats with hair perfect for tents.

Tents were in high demand in the ancient world. Nomads needed them because they were always traveling. Tents were used in every city in the ancient world to provide stalls for tradesmen in marketplaces. Tents were used in Jewish festivals. They were used by caravan traders to cover their wagons as they traveled to market.

So this was a high-demand (and potentially) high-profit industry.

GOOD JEWISH BOYS IN THE ANCIENT WORLD GREW UP LEARNING THE TRADE OF THEIR FATHER. And let's speculate about Paul's dad for a moment. We know that Paul was born a Roman citizen. And we sense that Paul learned tentmaking from his father. That's the way it happened in the ancient world; dads passed on their occupations to their sons.

How would a tentmaker from Tarsus become a Roman citizen? Scholars speculate that Paul's father possibly was a contractor with the Roman army, producing field tents. The soldiers loved the tents. The Romans army trusted Paul's dad. And he is rewarded with Roman citizenship. It's pure speculation, but it's an intelligent guess based on the culture of the time.

When Paul was born, he gained Roman citizenship, through his father. You might even imagine Paul's dad saying, "Now Paul, this tentmaking is a great business; it earned me citizenship in the Roman Empire."

AND PAUL DEFINITELY USED TENTMAKING AS A RABBI. Paul may have been born in Tarsus, but brought up in Jerusalem and educated to be a Rabbi. And the tentmaking profession came in very handy. All rabbis were required to have a trade. Paul already had one.

Now, I want you to think about what Paul actually did in this profession.

EARLY TENTMAKERS ONLY MADE TENTS. But as time went on, these guys became proficient at making other products: leather aprons for blacksmith shops, leather coverings for wagons, leather straps for camels and so on.

By the 1st century, the term tentmaker is a term that applied to all sorts of leather work. Jews could not be tanners, but they could work leather. Paul probably had a repertoire of things he could make anytime and anywhere, if he just had the raw materials and the tools. I can guarantee you that had a line of half a dozen specialties…things he did really well…things he could probably do in his sleep.

TENTMAKING WAS VERY PORTABLE BACK THEN. You could go anywhere with your tools, and when you arrived you had instant friendships. Experienced tradesmen in the ancient world clustered together in guilds.

They even provided hospitality for travelers. So you could go into a new city, show exampels of your work, and experienced tradesmen immediately could judge your level of skill. It was like showing a portfolio for an advertising guy. You had immediate work.

So, not only was this a very portable business; this was a very relational business.

NOW WHY AM I GOING INTO SO MUCH DETAIL ABOUT THIS? Look, we should never over-spiritualize the life of the apostle Paul, and assume he was removed from the mundane realities of the marketplace.

• Paul knew the pressure of deadlines.

• Paul knew demanding customers.

• He knew how to price his products.

• He knew how profit margins worked.

• He knew how to haggle with people who wanted to get a bargain.

Paul would have considered work integral to his life.

One author I read this week put it this way:

"Far from being at the periphery of his life, tentmaking was actually central to it. Paul was Paul the tentmaker. His trade occupied much of his time…. His trade determined his daily experiences and his social status. His life was very much that of the workshop. He had artisan-friends like Aquila, Barnabas, and perhaps Jason. He knew leather knives, and awls and wearying toil. He knew what it was like to work long days over a workbench.

B. So how did Paul weave his work into his ministry?

Let me give you three quick examples:

IN 1 THESSALONIANS 2:9 PAUL SAYS THIS: "For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God."

Thessalonica was a great place to do business, because it was a Roman free city; that meant you didn't have to pay taxes. You got to keep a good portion of what you made. This city was not only wealthy, but the Via Egnatia passed through Thessalonica and therefore ensured plenty of traffic.

What does Paul do when he arrives? He would have gone to the marketplace, made contact with the local tentmaking guild and set up shop.

You'll notice Paul claims he worked night and day, while he proclaimed the gospel of God.

When Paul says this, he's indicating that much of his ministry took place at work. He was weaving his ministry in and through his work. He was building repeat relationships on the job site and sharing Christ.

How did all this happen? He showed Christ through his work ethic. He expressed Christ through the quality of his work. He earned respect, and that respect opened doors share the gospel.

In other words, Paul's work and Paul's ministry were woven together in the marketplace.

Paul's major way of sharing the gospel was through one-on-one discussions and small group interactions. Yes, he preached in synagogues and sometimes spoke publicly in the marketplace.

But most of his ministry took place in the context of doing his profession.

PAUL ALSO DID THIS IN CORINTH. In 1 Corinthians 4:12 he says, "We labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things." I want you to notice that Paul connects the context of his persecution with the work that he does.

The Greeks had a different view about work than the Hebrews. Plying a trade was considered a noble thing in Hebrew culture. But "the status of the manual laboror…was…despised in Greek culture." The Greeks thought the body was bad. Therefore, manual labor was bad. People strived to avoid it and get slaves to do it.

So when Paul says that he is "reviled" in Corinth - in the context of his work - it's possible the non-Christians are reviling Paul for being a Christian and still having to work with his hands.

These high-class Greeks are likely saying, "Hey big shot. If Christianity is true then why you still working? Why aren't you a rich guy with slaves to do your work for you? What good is your religion?"

You can just imagine a conversation like this taking place outside his tentmaking stall in down town Corinth. But when Paul is reviled in this way, what does he do? He replies with words that bless his persecutors. His words model the integrity of Christ. That opens doors for Christ.

You don't get the impression in this 1 Corinthians passage that Paul was so spiritual that he was above all work frustrations. No…you get the impression that he struggled with work just the way everyone else did. But he brought meaning into it, so that he could demonstrate the integrity of Jesus.

WE GET ANOTHER INSIGHT FROM ACTS 19:11-12. "And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them."

TV evangelists have often used this verse in the most ridiculous ways, having no idea of the historical background.

Paul probably worked a full-time job in Ephesus.

• During the morning, he was a tentmaker.

• During siesta time he led a church planter training school at the school of Tyrannus.

• During the later afternoon, he was back in his shop making tents.

• And then later in the evening, he met with small groups.

So, he was an extremely busy man with a high-pressure job. But now we have a problem: People are begging Paul for ministry, but he's got a deadline.

So here's what happens: People head to Paul's workshop, and Paul can't get out to do healings. So people grab the sweat bands around his head. And they grab the shop aprons around his waist. And they take these items of clothing to those who are sick.

Why'd they do this? They remembered that in Jesus' day, people touched the hem of Jesus' garment and they were healed. Paul is a believer-priest. Maybe this would work with Paul. So they took these things, and amazingly, people were healed.

This form of healing was particularly appropriate in Ephesus, because it was the center of occult magic in Asia Minor. And God's supernatural power through Paul overpowered the occult that came from the magicians.

Who is the conduit for these miracles? The guy in the tentshop!

So, what do we learn from this? We learn that even in mundane activities of ordinary work, the supernatural can show up. God can work through us. And we can work through us in ways that go way beyond what we would expect.

C. Now, let's pause for a moment and let's think about the overarching idea that comes from Paul the worker.

Paul brought relational excellence into his work. He brought community into his work.

This relational excellence was the same excellence that Jesus brought into his work: He treated people with a winsome combination of grace and truth.

We need to do the same; we need to bring grace and truth into the workplace. On the truth side the job needs to be done. On the grace side, the job needs to be done in ways that dignify and uplift those around you. Your grace/truth style will need to be contextualized to the realities of your specific marketplace, but the pattern can work anywhere.

For example: In some cities, Paul was undoubtedly the hired hand for another tentmaker. He was an employee. Let's say a buyer is haggling over a product. Paul can't be all grace and no truth and lowball the sales price. Paul has to follow the guidelines of his employer. That's truth. But he can do it in a way that reflects Christ. That's grace.

• Applying grace and truth on the police force is going to be different than applying grace and truth in the counselor's office.

• Applying grace and truth in a high tech research center is going to be different than applying grace and truth a medical office.

But the pattern stays the same. We strive to exhibit grace and truth. In Paul's case…

• Grace was infused into the strong relationships that Paul sustained.

• Truth came in the excellence of his work. Truth also came in the message he gave. He was never afraid to speak of Christ in ways that were appropriate to each occasion.

WHEN HERB KELLEHER WAS STILL THE CEO OF SOUTHWEST AIRLINES, Kevin and Jackie Frieberg penned the story of Southwest called, Nuts!: Southwest Airlines' Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success.

In the book they tell great stories about the corporate culture of Southwest. In one chapter, the Freibergs make it clear that Kelleher and the senior executives wanted a culture of love to permeate the corporate spirit at Southwest.

Kelleher did this for philosophical reasons. He believed love was the deepest need of the human heart. So here's how they described this environment they wanted to produce. They said (quote):

• Love is action oriented.
• Love is patient.
• Love is kind and generous.
• Love is courteous and affirming.
• Love is compassionate.
• Love extends grace and forgiveness. They have a culture where the norm is to forgive and forget.
• The even use the word grace. Love shows grace.

There are no references to 1 Corinthians 13 in this book…no references to the Bible at all. Southwest pioneered a corporate culture based on love because they felt this tapped into a basic human need.

By the way…that book was published in 1996. And what the Freibergs espoused back then is now mainstream management theory today. Love, grace and candor are the rage in business management theory right now. Gone is the obsession with power and intimidation and the fixation with bullying and coercion.

In its place are the soft values of building up employees and giving them a gracious environment to call home.

Don't get me wrong: when we bring grace and truth into the work environment, we don't tolerate carelessness, sloppiness, technical incompetence and so on. We still demand all those things. People might be terminated because they fail to deliver those things. But we have a culture that mixes excellence with relational warmth.

When we bring grace and truth into the workplace, we bring meaning into the workplace. We bring the presence of Christ.

That's Paul the tentmaker. Now let's look at Paul the theologian.

2. WHAT DO WE LEARN FROM PAUL THE THEOLOGIAN - What we learn from Paul the theologian is that work is not an add-on to what we are. Work is integral to who we are. 1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17, 24

A. The foundational passage on work that would have formed Paul's theology is Genesis 2:15. As a Rabbi, he knew this creation passage backward and forward. It was central to his thinking about work.

Genesis 2:15: "The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it." Please notice the two things that God did; he had them work and keep the garden. That tells us that human beings, before the fall, were workers. Work was part of what it meant to be in the image of God. God works. Humans work.

Digging deeper, we find that the words "cultivate and keep" are hugely significant. The word work (as in work the garden) is the Hebrew word, abad. That word abad means to till the ground. But it also means to serve someone (as in a slave serving a master) or as a worshipper serving God.

Hold on to that idea for a moment.

The word for keep (as in keeping the garden) is the Hebrew word, shamar. The common use of shamar is to guard a flock of sheep. But the word also refers to keeping God's commandments.

In other words, the word shamar means to obey God.

So notice is that Moses is making a play on words.

Cultivate and keep also mean worship and obey.

As Adam and Eve cared for God's creation, they were simultaneously having fellowship with their creator. Work and glorifying God go hand in hand.

Now, Moses knows what he's doing when he makes this play on words. Moses is saying that…

All of our work should be an expression of service and obedience to God.

In other words, there is no sacred and secular dichotomy.

When Adam and Eve were cultivating trees, and landscaping gardens, and training animals, they were working in God's presence. They were working with God's power. And they were working for his glory.

The same holds true for you. Everything you do in life from the most exalted thing to the most mundane can be an expression of worship and obedience to God.

God has constructed life so that every act can be performed to his glory.

B. Paul was steeped in this theology. So notice how he applies it in the New Testament.

There are three "whatever verses" in the New Testament, and Paul emphasizes that all work is spiritual in the three "whatever" verses.

• Whatever verse number one is 1 Corinthians 10:31 - "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."

You can work on an Excel spreadsheet to the glory of God. You can rake leaves to the glory of God. You can change diapers to the glory of God. You can run a marathon to the glory of God. Those activities become a spiritual event, when done in God's presence for his glory.

If that's the case, then what mindset should we have as we do it?

• Colossians 3:17 is the second whatever verse - "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father."

If I do something in the name of the Lord Jesus, I do it with reference his values. I do it with reference to his integrity. I do it remembering that I live inside his kingdom, and he's coming back, and I'm going to stand before his judgment seat. To give thanks means that I view all of life as a gift, including my work.

Hopefully my work expresses an entire worldview.

• Colossians 3:23 is the third whatever verse - "Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve."

I regard my ultimate boss as Jesus. I work ultimately for him. I seek to glorify him in the work that I do.

Our privilege as Christ-followers is that we bring meaning into our work, and we do it in two ways:

 First, we bring grace and truth into the work culture. And that transforms our relationships.

 Second, we bring a higher kingdom cause into our work.

What I'm saying is that direct personal ministry for most people is going to flow out of earning respect through the quality of your work, and the attitude you bring to work and the relationships you sustain at work.

We see proof of this in 1 Thessalonians 4:10-12: "We urge you, brothers…to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one."

Living quietly and minding your own affairs means that you live a normal daily life of faith, and that you keep a good job, so that you can live godly before non-believers.

It is possible you'll be in a job you don't like for a time? Yes, that's life. Is it possible, you'll be in a career for a time that doesn't energize you with motivation? Yes, that's life. So what do you do in those times?

 You first bring that grace/truth relational style into your work.

 Then you bring your higher purpose of serving Christ into your work, serving in his name, which means serving with his integrity, consistent with the context in which you have been placed.

Now, with that in mind…

3. LET'S TAKE A LOOK AT SOME PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS. I want to give you two quick take-aways and then do an interview.

A. FIRST APPLICATION: If you bring meaning into your work, I suspect you'll discover more opportunities to express Christ than you expect.

Earlier this month, Thom Rainer did a survey of the impressions that non-Christians have of their Christian friends. In the article, he identified seven types of comments that non-Christians make about Christians.

The surprising find of the article is that non-Christians would appear to be very interested in what we believe. Let me give you just for of his findings.
One person said this: I would like to develop a friendship with a Christian. "I'm really interested in what they believe and how they carry out their beliefs. I wish I could find a Christian that would be willing to spend some time with me."
Another person said this: I would like to learn about the Bible from a Christian. "The Bible really fascinates me, but I don't want to go to a stuffy and legalistic church to learn about it. I would be nice if a Christian invited me to study the Bible in his home or at a place like Starbucks."
Here's another comment: I wish I could learn to be a better husband, wife, dad, mom, etc., from a Christian. "My wife is threatening to divorce me, and I think she means it this time. My neighbor is a Christian, and he seems to have it together. I am swallowing my pride and asking him to help me."
And here's a final one: I wish a Christian would take me to his or her church. "I really would like to visit a church, but I'm not particularly comfortable going by myself. What is weird is that I am 32-years old, and I've never had a Christian invite me to church in my entire life."
I think there is more openness out there than you think. And if we'll just bring the foundational skills of grace and truth into our workplace, we may find more opportunities to express Christ.

B. SECOND APPLICATION: Look for tangible ways to make a difference in people's lives in the context of the workplace.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that all of us have a "chief want" in life. I like how that's phrased. We all have "chief wants." We'd like it if someone came along and helped us discover how we could get our chief want.

Two weeks ago, I read an article by Carmine Gallo in the Harvard Business Review blog about the online shoe store: Zappos. Mr. Gallo toured Zappos' headquarters in Henderson, Nevada, and he met with the Zappos Goal Coach. How many organizations do you know that have full time goal coaches? Zappos does. Here's how the conversation went.
"What kind of goals do you help people achieve?" Mr. Gallo asked.
"Almost anything," he said. "The other day I worked with a young man who wanted to learn how to play guitar and a woman who wanted to start writing the book she had always dreamed of."
"What does that have to do with Zappos?" I asked.
"It has everything to do with Zappos," he responded.
Zappos has achieved a reputation for superior customer service because it doesn't see employees as cogs in a wheel. Employees know that Zappos' leaders genuinely care about their well-being. It's also one of the "happiest" places to work.
So, here's an online shoe store that services customers that they don't see, nor do they have personal interaction with the folks who buy their product, but they're actively trying to make it one of the "happiest" places to work.
That goal on the part of Zappos is an example of grace. That grace works together with the truth that you must still sell a product that makes a profit.
Here's a…
C. THIRD APPLICATION - Find a style that fits with you.
Look, the gospel never changes. But we must cultivate a style that fits with the culture of our work and our gifts.
• Daniel's style in Babylon was very different than Jonah's style in Nineveh.
Both are prophets. Both are biblical authors. Both are followers of the true God. But their styles couldn't be any different. Why? They exist in totally different cultures with different demands.
You've got to be sensitive to corporate culture on your job, and then you have to contextualize how grace and truth might work there.
• We also see that Paul's style in Athens was different from Paul's style in Ephesus.
Paul in Athens had to deal with philosophers. Paul in Ephesus had to deal with workers of magic. Paul could be more direct in Ephesus. Paul had to set forth a stronger foundation in Athens. But in both places he got out the same gospel.
Same is true with you. In a small business you might have more latitude. In a large corporation you might have less latitude. But in both places you can bring personal meaning from who you are in Christ and bring in relationships.
But the foundational thing you bring is that relational style of grace and truth, contextualized for your specific situation.
So at this point, I want to bring up Toby Lavine and Frank Brewster.


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