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Working at Works: A Primer on Works (4 of 8)


Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Philippians 2:12

The complaint comes up over and over in my Friday men's group: "Nobody wants to work these days." The decline of the American work ethic over the past generation has become the stuff of legend. Everybody's looking for the handout, the easy road, the short-cut to retirement, the life of ease. The work week has grown shorter for most people, while their expectations of what their "work" should provide, in terms of wages and benefits, continue to rise. "Nobody wants to work these days."

You could say the same thing about the works of the Law, which are the expression of love -- the only thing that matters in the life of faith. Paul says these critical indicators of true and lively faith don't "just happen." If we would bring our salvation to completion in works of holiness and love, we're going to have to work at it. Which means dedicating our minds to study and understanding, our hearts to re-directing our affections and aspirations, and our consciences to a whole new set of priorities. And it means learning to practice the works of love that touch others with the grace of God: new ways of speaking to others, a whole new set of skills to be mastered and demonstrated so that what comes through in our actions reflects the holiness and love of Scripture and not just those self-centered ways we come by naturally.

None of this happens just because we spend time in church or a Bible study, or simply as a result of being one year older in the faith. If we're not working at works, our faith is not working. Paul exhorted his readers over and over to give themselves diligently to the pursuit of good works (cf. 2 Cor. 7:1; Gal. 6:1-10; Eph. 4:17-24; etc.). The objective, as he wrote to Titus (3:1, 8, 14), is that Christians should be a people ready and devoted to good works at all times. But if this is to be the case in our lives, we'll have to work at it rather more diligently than most of us are at present. Very few of the followers of Christ today seem to want to work at their faith -- to work at internalizing and expressing a life of obedient love. If we have to work at it, it's not what we want. But if we don't work at it, our faith won't come to light in works, and it will then, recalling James (2:17), be no faith at all.

Would you describe yourself as working hard at works of love?


Comments:

Was this article written in the 1970s? Times have changed in America! Americans now work more hours per week away from home than the Japanese. The average work week is over 50 hours per week. And with both husbands and wives working away from home, the usual chores, the home-making, and the culture-making in the community that husbands and wives prior to the industrial revolution, and wives since, did with a good chunk of their time, has to be done in the remaining hours available in the week. That is work, too, in the Biblical meaning of the term. With school sports now on Sundays as well, there is no real day of rest left. Ask foreigners about how hard Americans work. And compare what the poor family was able to have 50 years ago, compared to what they have now. Not toys, but homes, mother able to stay home and raise children, things like that. What would the poor of 50 years ago have to make now to be able to own their own home, and the mother not be forced to work, too, but allowed to be a homemaker and mother? Those are the -real- economics.
Your post brings to mind 1 John 3:18 "Dear children, let us not love with words or in tongue, but with action and in truth." What does our love look like? For our friends, for our adversaries, for our neighbors? For the poor? For our GLBT brothers and sisters in Christ? For the sick? How might we love all of these people not just with lip-service, but with action and in truth? That is something I try to meditate on and then put into action.