Work, The Other Six Days
Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek
It’s striking to me that almost entirely absent from Proverbs are the key focal points of Old Testament religious life—things like the temple and priests and the sacrificial system and the Sabbath. They are there, but they are whispers.
However, over and over again, Wisdom shouts. And where does she shout? Not in the temple or to the priests or on the Sabbath. She shouts in the market place; at the city gates; the places of commerce; farms and fields and harvest and oxen and barns. In the Book of Proverbs, Wisdom raises her voice over the other six days.
We have been in a series for eight weeks in the book of Proverbs called “Wisdom for all of Life.” This morning, we finish it on the topic of work. Each week, we taught the book in different ways—sometimes one continuous passage or sometimes a shotgun approach where we grabbed related verses that were scattered across the book. This morning, we will focus on just one verse. Let me read it to you, then we’ll pray, and begin out study of it.
Proverbs 11:1, “A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight.”
Here’s a picture of a poster I used to have. I’m kicking myself because I got rid of it. I wish I would have saved it. A couple of moves ago, I threw it away. I got it in college. I hung it on my wall, and later after college, I hung in on the wall of my cubical.
You can tell already, but it’s a poster of Lance produced by Nike. Lance is on a bike, of course, and in the background it looks like a church building, perhaps indicating devotion and zeal, or worship. In the upper right-hand corner there is a quote from him that reads:
This is my body and I can do whatever I want to it, I can push it, study it, tweak it, listen to it. Everybody wants to know what I’m on. What am I on? I’m on my bike busting my [butt] six hours a day. What are you on?
And many times I would look up at that poster and think: If you work hard, if you do it with excellence and motivation and effort and passion and devotion and time on task and you’re smart about it, then you can get ahead. Rather, then you will get ahead. It’s going to happen. That’s what the poster, that’s what the “Legend of Lance” communicated.
It does not take a sports junkie to be aware that that poster, looks very different in 2014 than it did in 2004.
Our work matters. It is meaningful. God made it that way. When people do their job with passion and effort and excellence, they win our admiration. But, the way we get to an outcome matters. Profit is good. Market share is good. Dividends are good. Successes is good. Victory is good. But it matters how we attain these things. The way we go about our work matters. It matters to us, and it certainly matters God.
We can see this in the Book of Proverbs. In Proverbs, it’s clear that God cares about the other six days, that is days other than the Sabbath day. But Proverbs is just a one snapshot of the whole Biblical story. Studying Proverbs is like putting on a DVD, skipping to the middle, pausing it, and discussing what is on the screen. That’s a good thing, but it’s important to recognize is that Proverbs is a part of a story that has been somewhere, and is going somewhere.
So, to organize our thoughts, let me briefly remind you of the beginning of the story, the very beginning of the DVD. And then we’ll come back to where the DVD is paused here in Proverbs 11. And what we’ll see is that, in Paradise, there was a working God and working people.
1. In paradise, there was a working God and working people
Genesis 1:1-2 famously reads, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.”
These are familiar, are they not?
Genesis goes on: “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” Later, “And God said… And God said… And God said… And God said… And God said…” Six times! The imagery is of creating and speaking.
God speaks creation into existence. And, O, does he love what he has made. His creation makes him smile. Over and over it says, “And God saw that [what he made] was good.” And finally, that he saw it was “very good.” God smiled. The image is not one of drudgery in a cubical, but the delight of an artist.
But you know what is really, really interesting, is what it says in Chapter 2:1-2. It says, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his…” What does it say? God rested from his creating? No. Rested from his speaking? No.
“…And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.” It’s repeated twice for emphasis. Genesis 2 says, “You know all that stuff God was doing in Chapter 1, let’s call that “work.” God was working! And doing it joyfully. This picture in Genesis 1 is of a working God.
Subdue and dominion. That sounds like work. And in the context, these are not violent words, they are doing just what God did, taking raw, unformed, uncultivated materials, and making them useful, making environments where creation—all creation—can flourish. In other words, the beginning of the DVD has God and humans working in Paradise.
It seems strange doesn’t it: work… in paradise? I thought paradise was the absence of work? Nope. Adam worked the land so that it would produce food. He named animals. He worked. He took care of creation. And there is no sin yet. His work has value all by itself.
Sometimes we think that our work has value because if we do it well enough then maybe one day we’ll be able to tell other people about Jesus. In Genesis 2, it is before sin. Thus, there was no need for evangelizing because everyone alive walked with God already, and here work has a function!
If we had more time, we’d look at Genesis 3 and read about how sin came into the world and part of the curse made work hard. But I think we’ll be able to see the temptation for sin clear enough as we look at Proverbs 11:1. In fact, let’s come back there now.
2. Proverbs 11:1
Again, it reads, “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight.” There are other verses that say similar things (Proverbs 16:11; 20:10, 23).
What does that mean—a “false balance”?
The word here for “false,” is a word used of both speech and actions (2 Kings 9:23; Psalm 17:1), and weights (Amos 8:5; Micah 6:11; Hosea 12:7) in the OT. It gets at the idea of falsehood, and trickery, and deceit.
What about the word “balance”? When we hear balance you likely think of money—think a balance sheet in book keeping. But think of a scale, like this one from HS science class. You know how it works. You put a known weight on one side, let’s say 5 lbs., and on the other side you put some unknown amount product, let’s say grain, until the scale balances. When the two sides balance, then you know you have 5 lbs. of grain.
So there is this obscure verse in 2 Samuel. It’s about a prince named Absalom, one of King David’s sons. Apparently, this Absalom had quite the set of hair and 2 Samuel 14:26 when he would cut his hair it would weigh such and such an amount of shekels, “by the by the king’s weight.” So the picture is that somehow the king (the government in our context), established certified and standardized weights and measurements. Before the kingship in Israel, which began around 1030 BC, there are similar verses in Genesis and Exodus that describe local merchants (Genesis 23:16) and priests (Exodus 30:13) doing just this exact same thing—establishing standard weights and measures.
So you want to be in the ‘gain business’ and it’s 950 BC or so, and I live in Bethel—about 10 miles north of Jerusalem. So, what do you do? You go to appointed officials, or they come to you, and you find a rock that weights exactly 5 shekels and perhaps they put a seal on it, or chisel a certain marking in it so that everyone knows that you have a 5 shekel rock—or to just to keep our metrics, say a 5 lbs. rock.
But let’s just say, as a grain merchant, I acquire 2 legitimate 5 lbs. rocks. And at night, I take one of them and I hallow out the some of the rock. I make it lighter. Then I put clay over the hole and paint it if I need to, make it dirty or something.
Now when you come to buy grain tomorrow, I use the true rock, the just weight, because you are smart and you’re people of means; so I sell you a “just” five pounds of grain. But let’s just say your mother comes, and she is in a nursing home; or let’s just say you send your child to go buy grain for you. Then, I don’t use the 5 lbs. rock. I use the 4 lbs. rock that looks just like the 5 lbs. rock. Now, you think you bought a full amount, but you didn’t. I cheated you. And you have no idea. Probably.
Or, you go to the pharmacy, and you want amoxicillin for your kid—or maybe it’s not amoxicillin, it’s something rare, really expensive drug—and the criminal working in a lab coat behind the glass has diluted the medicine to save profit. Now that would be extremely rare, but how do you feel about it?
Or, let’s say you are a shareholder in a certain publicly traded corporation and quarterly that company reports their earning, but they don’t report their actually earnings, or losses. They keep to sets of books.
You feel like God does about it. “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord.” It does not make him smile.
I reached out to over a dozen people in our congregation last week to ask them two questions about their vocation. The first question was this: “In your vocation (or field or industry), what are the main temptations to take advantage of others?” In other words, what are the false balances in your vocation?
Here are some of the responses:
One man, who works in information technology, wrote this: “The biggest temptation… is to use our specific knowledge as power over others… Because the IT world has it’s own language (and dialect) as well as acronyms that some just don’t know, it is very easy to exaggerate the truth or even hide it completely…” In other words, it’s very easy to pull out a different, false weight from your pocket and use it.
Another man, who works in the non-profit world, one temptation he mentioned, among several, was “Report inflated statistics to convince potential donors/supporters that a more substantial amount of good is being done.”
A person who works for the government wrote, “In my field [the temptation is] to misconstrue to the public the intentions of someone from the opposing political party… This can be done in a variety of ways, but the objective is to make [the person from the other party] appear uninformed, uncaring and/or unintelligent.”
Another person, who works in the insurance business said the temptation is “to oversell a customer—[selling] them more then they need.”
One gentleman, who worked in education for years, told me that managing the power dynamics, or the authority dynamics, was a challenge. For example, sometimes a student would be “in the right” and the teacher who had all of the authority would be “in the wrong” and he had to not be swayed by the power differential.
One couple, where each works in scientific fields, wrote: “As a scientist, there may be a temptation to hold his or her professional opinion as more important than those of others, or that his or her viewpoint may be artificially elevated for the purpose of financial gain, or so that others will be impressed.”
One person who works in the legal field said, “In working for a large firm there is a lot of pressure to bill clients. Every six minutes you should be billing someone for something. Sometimes this leads to “creative billing” or possibly spending more time on things than absolutely necessary.”
One person who works in real estate, wrote, “[There is the temptation] to stretch the truth (lying) or withhold information by not disclosing all the facts that I am aware of. ‘Hey, that big hole (sinkhole) in the back yard is probably just from a groundhog.’”
One mother of several young children wrote, “It is tempting to take advantage of my kids’ desires to watch TV all day long. While some TV is ok, it would be easy to allow them to watch excessive amounts just because it makes my life easier (and want to browse Facebook or Pinterest for a little bit longer). However, it is not in their best interest to do so.”
One man, who has worked in several different fields of construction, after talking about cutting corners where work is not visible, he have this anecdote: “There was one particular job where I was the project manager for the owner of the building. They had contracted a company to install a new fire alarm system in a large high rise building… The [installing] company ordered their workers only to use conduit where it could be seen [even though it was required everywhere]… In fact, where [their work could not be seen, like pipe chases and behind walls, they] using the old wire that was already there from the old system [even though they were contracted to replace it all].” The story goes on with several more layers of deceit, but eventually they were found out and removed from the job.
One man, who has worked in higher education wrote of two temptations: “[First, while] being the Department Chair, there can be the temptation to use the position of leadership to schedule courses and class meeting times that suit me best without consideration for others feelings or desires. [Second, there is temptation] to write recommendations that are not totally factual, but reflect your feelings about a person fair or not.”
One person in banking wrote, “The less savvy a person is [about banking], the easier it is to hide cost or terms that are truly unfavorable to the consumer. There is a temptation to try to make more money off people you know won’t question you. Also, the more desperate a person is the more money/fees you can make off of them because you know they have less options.
I could keep going and going, but we’ll move on. But let me say this: I don’t know how “false balance[s]” play out in your day job, but I know they are exist. People use them often enough that they are not dusty. If you have flirted with false balances, break up. Come clean. Not simply are you hurting others, but as the verse points out, God is watching.
But there is a second half of the verse. If we could say, the first half makes God frown, then we might say, the second half makes him smile. Again, it reads, “a just weight is his delight.”
What this means is that God loves integrity. He loves just weights. It makes him smile. I think this is the case because, like a mirror, work done with integrity, reflects back his image properly. God is a God of integrity and when he sees it in people, particularly his children, it makes him smile because he sees his own image.
This is hugely important as we think about the meaning and value of work. This means, in whatever job you are doing, you should never feel as though you are a mere “hamster on a wheel”—that is, doing a pointless job with no dignity, meaning, and value.
I asked my father-in-law if I could share this and he said yes. He and his wife are both veterinarians, and a few years ago, they bought an existing veterinary clinic. It’s not around here. The culture of the clinic at the time they bought was this: “I don’t care if it’s expired medicine, use it anyway.”
My parents-in-law are Christians, and that ain’t gonna work for them. But many times over the holidays when I would see him we’d talk about how it was going. And it was a fight. It was hard. Some employees left, others were asked to leave, and others got on board, but it was hard. It would have been easier to let it go.
But you know what, I believe God was pleased. He was pleased. It makes him smile. Five years later, it’s the type of clinic that you want to take your pet to. You want Bruce doing surgery on your chocolate labrador because he’s not cutting corners—not using a false balance.
When I reached out to 15 or so people in the church, the second question I asked was this: “In what ways does my vocation (when done with integrity) contribute to the good of society?” Here is what a few people wrote.
A person in government wrote, “My vocation can contribute to the good of society by providing an honest government that is focused and concerned about meeting the needs of the citizens and using their tax dollars in the most efficient and effective way possible to benefit all of society.”
Our insurance salesman wrote, “We can help people to avoid the situations that could cause serious financial harm by “covering” many types of issues/damage.”
The young woman in marketing and advertising wrote, “I think advertising has a very negative taste in people’s mouths. Many brands have banked on sex appeal, crude humor and extreme exaggerations of the truth as a way to sell their products. However, if you take away advertising, how would anyone know outside of the community what others have to offer? Advertising isn’t just for the big corporate brands. Non-profits, charity organizations and others use advertising and marketing to promote the good works they are doing and give an opportunity for others to contribute. Even big brands use of advertising and marketing allow for our economy to function…” In other words, what I do matters—to people and to God.
Our non-profit worker wrote, “We contribute to the good of society in general by filling a void that commercial organizations cannot or will not fill. Because we are here, fewer children will grow into juvenile delinquents, take up space in prison, or cause a detriment to society. We are a viable organization in that there are lower crime rates, and higher levels of moral behavior by young people who come through our programs.”
Our scientists, wrote: “Our vocation provides the means to acquire rocks and minerals for building materials, energy resources, water resources, determine geologic hazards, and provide clean-up of environmental pollution to protect people’s health.” Very important stuff. If you want a building that stands over the long haul, or if you want your health not to be adversely affected by something in the soil, then what they do matters to us. And it matters to God.
Our person in the legal field wrote, “Law helps to protect the rights of some when wronged and when there is no other human recourse.”
Our real estate person wrote, “[My vocation contributes to the good of society] by helping people find suitable housing and advising them, or giving them pertinent information, so they can make good financial and practical decisions.” As someone who has just gone through the process, I know how meaningful it was to have someone I could trust helping coach me in the process.
One of the mother’s at our church wrote, “Parenting with integrity contributes to the good of society in many ways. Helping children become people who value truth and learn how to work hard, honestly, and respect others will create a next generation who will stand up for those things. Being able to say “no” to my kids (like to excessive TV, candy, toys, etc.) is a way for them to be able to learn that they don’t always get what they want (like in relationships, the workplace, etc.) It helps them develop a respect for others and for authority.”
One person who worked in construction wrote, “[My mentors in the trade] taught me that we cannot or should not separate our vocation from the rest of our lives. They modeled to me that you cannot be a person of excellence in your personal life when it is not reflected in what you do to make money or provide for your family… I feel one of my biggest contributions has been to be able to pass along a strong work ethic to my children.”
Our person in higher education wrote, “[I contributed to the good of society by] helping students find God’s will for their life and then help them become well prepared for that vocation.
Our person in banking, wrote: “Bankers can help protect people from themselves by providing good financial advice. We can help educate people and provide financing for projects. Banks can help grow the individual and corporate wealth of society.”
Many things could be said. But the main burden of my sermon is that when we have a biblical understanding of work, then we know that what we do matters. Many of you feel as though what you do does not matter, but this verse says, that if you do it with an integrity and a view to pleasing God, then he smiles.
As we close, there are two links to the gospel that I want to surface.
I have this coffee table book at my house about the Tour de France. It was done in honor of the 100th year of race. If you go to the back and look at the list of winners, there is something interesting. From 1999-2005, it lists no winners. Every other year has winners, but during these years, the winner is removed. There is nothing there. Do you know why?
If you say, because “Lance Armstrong cheated,” then you would be correct, but that answer is insufficient. If Lance cheated, which he did and has admitted to, then why not give the title to someone else. Give it to the person in second place. Or third place. But they can’t do that. Why? Because cheating, because deceit was so prevalent—and I won’t say every cyclist was cheating, but because deceit was so prevalent—official governing bodies of the sport made the decision to not award a winner during those years.
I would be possible to look at Proverbs and think, Well, if we just work honestly, well, then God will be pleased. But that’s not the full story. I mentioned at the start, that looking closely at Proverbs was like putting in a DVD and pausing it right in the middle—pausing it at Proverbs 11:1. If we consider the whole story, what we actually see, is that all of us are like professional cyclists during the Armstrong ra—that is, none of us is perfect. Who hasn’t cheated in one way or another on something? Who has had perfect integrity all of the time? No one.
But what we see, when we “un-pause” Proverbs, is that the story is going. And it’s going towards the gospel.
There is an interesting link with our passage and another very famous passage. I said that in the OT the word “false” could refer to weights, as it does in Proverbs 11:1, but it can also refer more generally to speech and actions. That is, false speech and actions, or trickery and deceit. Later in the OT, this same word—false, or trickery, or deceit—shows up again in an interesting place. It shows up in Isaiah 53. Isaiah 53 is one of the great passages in the OT that clearly explains the work of the Messiah, the work of Jesus.
In Isaiah 53:9-11 we read,
9Although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. 11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.
You can see that word ‘deceit’ in v. 9. The passage says, that sin was prevalent among everyone; but in the messiah, there was “no deceit.” And the Lord crushed him. Put our sins on him. And if we put our faith in the work of the Messiah, the work of Jesus, we are, as it says, “accounted righteous.”
That’s the first pointer to the gospel, that we have a savior who loves use when we were deceitful and died in our place.
The second pointer to the gospel, is that in this same Savior, we find rest. In Matthew 11:28-30 we read,
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Any stay-at-home moms that are tired? Anybody here tired serving the Lord in their cubical? Anybody get worn out using just weights? If so, then know we have a kind and gracious leader that would delight to give us rest.