Again tonight, we come back to the study of origins in the book of Genesis and chapter 3. We have studied in chapters 1 and 2 physical origins, the origin of the world. In chapter 3, we have studied the origin and impact of sin. And what we’re learning as we come to the text again for tonight in chapter 3, verses 17 to 19, is that because of sin, God cursed man. Let me read this text for you again, verses 17 to 19.
“Then to Adam, He said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten from the tree about which I have commanded you, saying you shall not eat from it, cursed is the ground because of you; and toil, you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you and you shall eat the plants of the field by the sweat of your face. You shall eat bread until you return to the ground because from it you were taken, for you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
The curse on man was sweat, labor, work, toil. And this, for men, defines life. Life is work. The earth is a rich provider of numberless things, but they are not easily procured. Everything man gains from the earth comes by hard work. And even when man doesn’t work, even when he may be retired or he may have enough money that he can support himself, he still lives on the work that other people do. Every meal that you eat, whether or not you worked to gain that meal, is the product of the labor of some who tilled the soil, planted the crop, protected its development or who nurtured the animals to provide for your food. We live, essentially, by work.
Now, in the original creation, man was in a lush paradise, you remember, where everything grew perfectly and profusely for his pleasure and nourishment. And he did have a responsibility, a joyous one, to tend to the garden, which probably meant that he went around plucking all of the good things that were there and expended no energy. But then came sin and dramatic alteration of man and his environment.
And as we’ve been learning from Genesis chapter 3, when sin came, came decay, came disease, came disorder, and came death along with sin. The original Eden fell into chaos, and I could summarize the chaos that we experience as decay (that is, the tendency toward death), disease (that is, malfunction and injury), disorder (that is, the general chaos), and ultimately death. The original Eden fell into this situation. That’s the general feature of life, that we are moving down a path of decay, disease, disorder to death. That is generally true in the world of everything in the world, all physical creation as well as all of us who are human and spiritual beings.
But in addition to that general effect of sin, there were some special effects of sin and these are called the curses. The persons involved in the original sin essentially were three. There was Satan (in the form of a serpent), there was Eve (the woman), there was Adam (the man), and starting in verse 13, the Lord pronounces curses. First of all, on Satan in verse 14 and 15. The Lord God speaks in verse 13, He confronts the woman about her sin. She points to the serpent. The Lord then curses the serpent in verses 14 and 15. In verse 16, He turns to the woman and curses her, and then in verses 17 to 19, the curse is pronounced that affects man.
So not only did sin plunge, as we’ve learned, the whole human race into decay, disease, disorder, and death, but there were some special effects, specific curses. For the woman, there was a special painful reminder of the seriousness and destructiveness of sin, and that reminder came in the sphere where a woman lives her life, that’s the home. And the curse fell on the woman in relation to her children. Verse 16, “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception.” For the woman, there would be increased conceptions.
In fact, there would be many more conceptions that a woman would have after the fall than before, that’s what multiplying your conception means, and those conceptions would bring with them tremendous pain so that a woman is struck, as it were, in the domain where she lives her life and that is as a wife and a mother in the home. Not only will she have pain from children, but she will have conflict with her husband. She will desire to rule him, and he will desire to subject her. So women have been cursed in the home, and we talked about how that’s played out in human history, and I’ll say more about that in a moment.
As far as men, they also were given a special effect of the fall, a painful and relentless reminder of the seriousness and heinousness of sin in the sphere where they live out their life and that is in the workplace. The woman’s place, truly, biblically, is in the home; the man’s place is to work and provide for the family. And so the curse on man comes in verses 17 to 19 in the realm where man lives out his life, and that is in the workplace, and the battle for bread consumes his life.
It’s hard for us, living in America in the twenty-first century or the end of the twentieth century, to get a grip on this because we have it so good. But for most of the world today and through all of human history up until modern times, life was essentially a battle for bread. And as I said this morning, there really wasn’t any such thing as lifestyle unless you were the king, unless you were royalty or nobility. There wasn’t any such thing as discretionary money. You basically had the clothes on your back, you lived in whatever place you could find to live, and you existed every day to try to work to provide something for your family to eat.
If you go back, for example, to the thirteenth century, to the fourteenth century in Europe - and we’d assume that at that time, there was a certain advancement in society. If you went back to that time, you would find that the death rate was so close to the birth rate that population grew at about .17 percent per year. Population would only double every 425 years because most babies died and life expectancy was about 30 years of age.
In the 1980s, that would reflect a great change. In the 1980s, population grew at 42 percent - significant increase. And in the 1990s, at about 51 percent. We have it much better off. If you were to go back, for example, to the eighteenth century and check in on British Queen Anne, who lived from 1665 to 1714, she had it as good as anybody in the world could have it. This is the Queen of England. You would be interested to know that she was pregnant eighteen times.
Now remember, this is part of the curse and before modern times, there were essentially no ways to prevent pregnancy other than abstinence, and so women were prolifically pregnant, and that was part of the curse, part of the suffering. You would also be interested to know five of her eighteen pregnancies, in five cases, the children survived birth. None of them survived childhood. All eighteen died before they could reach adulthood.
Now, you ladies who are mothers can understand the depth of that kind of pain. Not only did she (living in that day) go down, as it were, to the edge of death in even bearing that child, but when all of that was said and done, she lost them all.
If you were to turn to the man’s side in the eighteenth century, for example, in France, you would find that eighteenth-century French farming produced about 345 pounds of wheat per acre. Modern American farmers produce about six times as much, about 2,150 pounds of wheat per acre. Early fifteenth-century French farmers produced about 2.7 to 3.7 pounds of wheat per man hour, and the rate fell by about half over the next two centuries. Modern American farmers produce about 857 pounds per man hour as compared to 2.7, about 230 up to 310 times as much as their French counterparts.
French farmers worked very hard just to barely eke out a living. As the great French historian Fernand Braudel pointed out, “It became very difficult to sustain life when productivity in wheat fell below 2.2 pounds per man hour. But for most of the 350 years from 1540 to 1890, productivity was well below that level.”
I mean if you go back to the French Revolution, that’s partly why there was a French Revolution. People were starving to death. That’s how it has been for most of the world for most of human history, and you can look at the television from time to time and see the emaciated millions of masses in Africa who are still living out that sad scenario, trying to eke out an existence and mothers having myriad babies who perish before they ever reach adulthood.
This explains why earlier generations spent most of their time and most of their resources on food alone. Compare that with the United States. Under six percent of total consumer expenditures in the United States are for food - under six percent. We have 94 percent of our money going somewhere other than to feed us. Now, in other nations today and in past history, almost everything went just to provide a meal for your family. And life was very hard. I don’t know if you’ve studied any of that history. It fascinates me and whenever I have the opportunity, I read as much as I can about it.
We have had some amazing developments, folks, such as the invention of glass because glass admits light and heat but excludes cold and pests. That made a huge difference in the world. And then somebody invented screens to admit fresh air and exclude disease-bearing insects. And somebody else came along and developed ways to purify drinking water and process sewage. And then came mechanical refrigeration to prevent food spoilage and the consequent waste of food and also disease. Then came inventions that made work safer and travel safer and sanitary medical practices and antibiotics and so forth and so forth and so forth, modern surgical techniques.
Now, you might think you would like to be Louis XIV or Louis XVI, you might think you would like to have been Henry VIII and lived in a palace. But if that were the case for you, even at best, you would just be doing everything you could to make sure you ate, your family ate, and all your subjects had enough food so they didn’t starve to death, and that your army was strong enough so that it could at least fight if another army engaged it.
You might think you would like to have been an eighteenth or nineteenth century king, but you would have had to do without electricity and all its powers, lights, telephones, radio, television, refrigerators, air conditioners, fans, VCRs, x-rays, MRIs, computers, the Internet, printing presses, and all other industrial automation. You would have had to do without internal combustion engines and all that they power (cars, trucks, buses, planes, farms, construction equipment, trains, ships, et cetera). And every other synthetic thing like plastic, nylon, orlon, rayon, vinyl, and thousands of other products from grocery bags to pantyhose and everything in between, compact discs - and you can go on and on.
There wouldn’t be any artificial body joints and organ donations, and you couldn’t enjoy air conditioning. You couldn’t enjoy a cold drink because there wasn’t any ice, unless you lived in the winter where there was ice on the ground. You couldn’t have talked with anybody other than have a conversation with them. In those days, it didn’t make much sense to write a letter to somebody because you would have to deliver it - you might as well just go there and talk because the letter wouldn’t get there any faster than you because the only way the letter would get there would be if somebody took it there.
There was no way until telegraphy to send a message, the advent of the telegraph in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Prior to that, you couldn’t communicate at a distance in writing any faster than you could if you just went there and said whatever was on your mind. You couldn’t have listened to recorded music. You couldn’t have viewed photographs or television, as you know, or motion pictures or whatever - whatever. And when you think about what they endured in terms of trying to survive with medicine the way it was....
I was reading something I really didn’t know about. In the eighteenth century, there was a process - there was no antiseptic until half a century after that - the doctor was more likely to kill you than he was to cure you because he had two techniques typically that he used, at least in Europe. One of them was bleeding you. When you went in and you had some kind of a problem, they just started sucking blood out of you. The very opposite of what anybody would do today. The other thing was called laudable pus. They had the idea that pus was a curative, and so you took pus from one patient and spread it around to the others - and you wonder why there were epidemics and plagues and all of that.
Hard for us to identify with some of that, isn’t it? Now, it’s just a little tiny piece of time that we live in over the last 150 years when we’ve had the kind of things that we’ve had slowly developing. And as I said this morning, a lot of this is the result of the Christian influence, of working hard to make life better and mitigate some of the strain and stress of the curse. For the most part, the quality of living began to rise in that part of the world that was affected by Christianity. But man has lived a tough life and woman has lived a tough life. And we don’t always see that in the refinements of our modern day.
Well, let’s go back to the text for a minute. That was just kind of a general picture to make the point. As we look at the curse that came on man, I mentioned there three things I wanted you to see, the cause, the curse, and the consequences. The cause is in verse 17. God says to Adam, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying you shall not eat from it, cursed is the ground.” So the cause was that Adam chose to do what his wife wanted rather than what God wanted. That’s it, you listened to the voice of your wife. That’s all God has to say about it.
I don’t think you can get too far beyond that because that’s all we have in the text. No deception, no ignorance, no confusion, no subtleties. You have a premeditated, willful choice to follow his wife’s desire and disobey God. She ate, she wanted Adam to eat, Adam says, “I’ll do what you want rather than what God commanded.” It’s that simple. He listened to the voice of his wife - doesn’t tell us what his motivation was, but I can tell you what it was: He was more concerned about what she wanted than he was about what God wanted, right? Obviously - obviously.
He thought that she had a better take on the benefits than God did. He bought into her desire because he believed that it was important to her and that it would bring about some benefit to him, that’s why he did it, and the penalty was death. Back in chapter 2, verse 17, God had said, “If you eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you will die.” And they deserved to die then and there. And the principle of death was operative immediately into their lives. But God was gracious and they didn’t die. And as we’ll see in the next text, they were even given the opportunity for deliverance, for salvation, but there was a serious curse here.
The woman was to bear children, multiples of children. Now, Queen Anne only lived a few decades and had 18 pregnancies. We don’t know how long Eve lived, but Adam lived 930 years, and Eve must have lived hundreds and hundreds of years. It would be almost impossible to calculate the number of pregnancies that she had in that amount of time. So there’s grace in the fact that they don’t die then, but there’s also a very, very serious curse pronounced upon a woman who’s going to have the pain of childbirth and the pain of a struggle with her husband, and it’s going to last for almost a millennium.
And then there’s Adam, who has to go out and work the soil, and it says in verse 17 “all the days of your life,” and he lives for 930 years, so there is mercy and grace mixed with this serious curse. And I closed last time by just kind of posing the question that some people ask, you know, why is God so harsh? Why does God let people die? Why does God destroy people? Why does God allow disasters? Why does He allow death? Why does He allow disease? et cetera.
That isn’t really the question. The question is: Why does He let any sinner live? I mean we all deserve to die because that’s what sin does, it kills. The question isn’t why does God let all the bad things happen, the question is why does God stop the bad things that should happen and give us grace? Right? That’s the question.
People continue to talk about that little question, Why do bad things happen to good people? Do you know the answer to that? They don’t. Bad things do not happen to good people. You say, “What do you mean?” There are no good people. You understand that? Bad things happen to bad people - or better, we could just say bad things happen to people because people are bad and worthy of death. And the mercy and grace of God lets them live, and according to Romans 2:1 to 4, the goodness of God that lets you live is designed to lead you to repentance.
Here’s Eve. Who knows how many pregnancies she has in the hundreds of years that she lives and the other women in that time? Here is Adam, slogging through the field, producing food for almost a millennium. What incessant reminders they faced for hundreds of years over the seriousness of sin, that curse driving them to the recognition of their sinfulness and how serious it was and to the salvation that God offers the sinner. So that’s the cause.
Secondly is the curse, and we started to look at that in verse 17, “Cursed is the ground because of you.” The curse doesn’t actually fall on the woman in verse 14 and 15, it doesn’t actually - or rather in verse 16. It doesn’t actually fall on the man here, it falls on the sphere. The curse comes on the woman indirectly through childbearing and through her relation to her husband. And it comes on the man indirectly through the ground, “cursed is the ground because of you.”
As I said last time, the king of the earth, man becomes the slave of dirt. Dirt becomes his master. Previously rich, flourishing, nourishing earth will be the enemy of man, and he’s going to have to battle to get what it will yield to him to survive. “In toil you shall eat of it.” Eat of it you will, but not by just going through in a leisurely way, meandering around paradise, plucking whatever you want. It’s going to take a tremendous amount of effort. And down in verse 23, it says that later on, of course, we read that the Lord sent the couple out of Eden to cultivate the ground from which he was taken, and that’s what Adam had to do the rest of his life.
All human labor is in view here, the whole aspect of working, of expending energy, the battle for bread, all human labor, not just agrarian work or agriculture. This is the realm of man’s life, and it’ll be that way (end of verse 17) all the days of your life. It is not possible for a fallen, sinful man to live in a perfect world. He has to live in an equally fallen world, which yields its riches with reluctance. And this would remind him of his sin, remind him of the burden that’s on his back for disobedience to God and make salvation attractive to him as he struggles in the misery of his toil.
And if you go (as we did last time) to Ecclesiastes and you hear secular man speak, he says, “All is vanity, vanity, vanity,” which is a word for emptiness, nothingness. You go to work and you work, and then you wake up the next morning and you go back to work and you work, and you work your whole life and then you die, and everything you earned gets left to somebody else. This is vanity of vanities. Life takes on this cyclical sameness, this blandness, this lack of fulfillment, this meaninglessness.
I remember reading in one of Arthur Miller’s plays years ago that he was - he has a main character sitting at a table across from his wife and the main character says life has deteriorated for them into a discussion of how many miles they get on their Volkswagen. It is the inane reality of an empty life. Man labors all his life for what? And his labor costs him his life because he wears himself out in toil. This is the theme of much of Ecclesiastes chapter 2 and also chapters 3, 4, and it’s mentioned in chapter 6.
Now, this raises the question, of course, that we are endeavoring to answer in creating a Christian worldview: What is wrong with the world? Why are people the way they are? Why is life the way it is? Why is work the way it is? The answer is because this is the curse that God placed upon it.
Life is hard because God made it that way. There is wonder and there is beauty and there is richness and there is joy and there is love and there is happiness, but it is not easy to hold onto. There are wondrous things to enjoy out of the ground, wondrous things to enjoy to eat out of the animal world, which all have been created for our enjoyment. We have many beauties to enjoy in the world, but it yields those things for us at great cost as we work our whole life to produce those things or someone works to provide them for us.
So what’s wrong with the world? What’s wrong with the home? Why is the home such a battleground? Because that’s where the curse fell. The woman in the home feels the impact of sin on her relationship to her children, which have the potential to break her heart, to crush her physically, and she also feels the weight of the curse upon her relationship with her husband, with whom she battles lifelong. The man feels the curse in the workplace. He feels the impact of sin on the earth as he works all his life, that it might yield what is necessary for him to survive and to provide for his family.
And all of this is to help the woman and to help the man see what sin does and then to cause him to long for a better life, to long for a better situation, to long for better circumstances, to long for deliverance. Further detail of this curse is given in verse 18. “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you, and you shall eat the plants of the field.”
Now, He says the ground is cursed, and the only way you’re going to get anything out of it that you can eat is by work. That doesn’t mean that nothing will grow in dirt. You and I both know what grows there very well, with no cultivation and no attention at all, and it is thorns and thistles - by itself, with no help from man, you know how that works. You clear off a lot, you get it ready maybe to build a house, and for some reason you don’t build the house. Six months later, you come back and you have a jungle of weeds - inedible, not nourishing, toxic, tasteless or distasteful.
The ground, when left to itself, will produce - but it will produce not the rich food of Eden, it will produce thorns and thistles - inedible, noxious weeds, which provide no sustenance for man. This, by the way, if you go back to chapter 2 for a moment, verse 5, in the original creation, there was no shrub of the field in the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprouted. In the original creation, you had plants and you had trees. Chapter 1 makes that very clear. Plants are identified as created by God in verses 11 and 12 and so are the trees.
There were plants and trees but there were not (according to chapter 2, verse 5) what is translated shrubs of the field and plants of the field. I told you when we went through verse 5 of chapter 2, no siach and no eseb of the field. Eseb would be barley and wheat and oats. Those are planned crops. There were no planned crops in the original creation because you didn’t need to do that. And siach is thorns and thistles. There were no weeds. In the original Eden, you didn’t have to have cultivated planned crops, and you didn’t have any weeds.
You had the natural flourishing of the earth, producing all manner of food without crops as we know them that now produce flour, and from that we make bread, and there was no siach, no weeds, which grow profusely now, and also mentions in chapter 2, verse 5, that the rain contributes to that, as we well know. Take a vacant piece of dirt, do nothing to it, just wait and let it rain, and you will have a flourishing field full of weeds. How does that happen? Two things contribute to seed dispersal, wind and birds. Primarily wind and birds.
The wind blows the seed in, that’s why even when you put in a new garden in your house or a new lawn, you find some strange kind of things growing in it. That is deposited there by birds who somewhere else ate the seed and flew over your yard and deposited it. Birds are involved in seed dispersal and so is the wind, and they move across the earth and they spread these thorns and thistles. This means that while man has to cultivate the ground to start with, he has to develop the eseb, he has to develop the crops, he has to put them in the ground carefully, he has to take care of the soil to protect them.
At the time that he’s doing all of that, all of his labor is carried on, he has to fight at the same time the natural inclination of the ground to develop all the weeds that are being dispersed all over that field in those natural ways. So that’s why there’s a battle in the life of man as he attempts to get his food.
So thorns and thistles are going to grow and you shall eat the plants of the field. You’re going to have the eseb, the crops will be there, but it won’t be easy because of the presence of the thorns and the thistles. And that’s how agriculture goes. That’s the way it is. Now in modern times, we’ve invented all kinds of chemicals to deal with these kinds of weeds, and we all worry about what that’s doing to us - don’t we? - as we ingest the chemicals that are intended for the weeds. Well, so much for the curse. The consequence comes in verse 19.
The consequence - so here’s how it’s going to be: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.” In other words, you’re going to eat, but you’re going to sit down to a meal sweating. And you’re going to do that until you return to the ground because from it you were taken, for you are dust and to dust you shall return. Boy, that is a bleak approach to life, isn’t it? You’re dirt to start with, you’re going back to dirt, and in the meantime, you’re just going to be digging in the dirt. You’re going to spend your whole life trying to stop the weeds and make the crop grow so you can just survive another day, eat, and feed your family.
And as I said, in Adam’s case you’re going to be doing it for over nine hundred years. You think you’re tired of going to the same job for twenty? Thirty?
By the sweat of your face. You know why you sweat, don’t you? That’s a mechanism your body has to cool you because you’re expending so much heat and energy in your effort. And sweat is a wonderful way that your body is cooled. You get out on a warm day and in southern California, it’s hot and you’re working hard, and you begin to sweat, you’re working so hard. And then all of a sudden, you realize what a benefit that is when you get a breeze coming by and you’ve got that wonderful natural air conditioning. That’s God’s way of cooling you down in the midst of the heat of labor.
That’s how it’s going to be in life. Hard work. You’re going to work your whole life, and you’re going to eat bread. And some commentators say, “Well, do you think He really meant bread?” You know, when people ask me that question, my first reaction is, “If that’s what it says, that could be what He meant.” But we don’t want to necessarily limit it to that. It could be pasta, because pasta is made from grain. Could be rice cakes. It could be any kind of food, but I think it certainly is - to all societies and all cultures throughout all time, what is the staff of life? Bread - it’s bread.
It’s very biblical to eat bread, the universal staff of life, and extended from that, of course, to mean all the food that is provided by vegetation. And at this time, there was no eating of animals. That comes later, as we will see. But in this case, it was all that the ground would produce.
So man is pictured, he’s going to get his meal out of the ground, he’s going to get his bread out of the ground, but when he sits down to eat, he’s going to be sweating, and then he’s going to have to go back and do the same thing the next day. In fact, he’s going to keep doing it until he returns to the ground. That simply means death, until he dies and goes back to the ground. When people die, their bodies decay like all living organisms.
Work takes its toll on all of us, it really does. We work until we’re 60 or 65 and then we retire. And we think of that as a mercy, but even in our retirement, someone else, as I said earlier, is working furiously to provide everything that we get in our leisure years. Somebody is engaged in the battle for bread every single day of our lives, and for most of our lives, we’re involved in that. So as I said, most of the people in the world - for most of human history - were just battling to get the next meal, just to survive.
My travels in third-world - my travels - particularly, I think of India and some very desperate places even behind the former Iron Curtain in Russia and Ukraine and places like that. I remember staying with a little widow lady in Kazakhstan, Almaty, just a dear, sweet lady living in a very humble place. And a couple of us were ministering there, and she invited us to stay there because she had an extra bed because her husband had died a few weeks before and she was a widow.
And the struggle that dear lady went through every day that we were there to provide a meager meal for us in the morning and another meager meal for us in the evening. We were told later that she would stand in line three, four hours during the day to try to find some one egg that she could give to us in the morning. And that’s how it is. There isn’t any lifestyle for many in the world today because they live simply to survive.
So work until you die is the curse for man until he goes back to decay and dust. And then He says, “Because from it you were taken, for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” I don’t want to get scientific, but God made man out of the same basic components that He made the universe, right? We’re all constructed by atoms, protons, neutrons, et cetera. We are all made up of the smallest particles of which the earth is composed. And in basic terminology, the basic chemical elements of nitrogen, oxygen, calcium, et cetera, became the basic physical elements of the whole universe.
And that’s why 1 Corinthians 15:47 says, “The first man, Adam, is earthy.” Modern science has verified that we’re made out of the same stuff rocks are made out of. In fact, I’m always kind of shocked when I hear somebody say, “You know, we’re like 85 percent water.” Do you hear that? So death is not really the original end for man, but a tragic punishment for his disobedience.
So we learned, then, the curse comes to the woman in the place of her domain, and the curse comes to the man in the place of his domain. And life-long misery for the woman, life-long misery for the man - is that it? I mean is that the way it’s going to be? Is there any way to remedy that? Are we just going to live in this misery? Those poor people before the flood who lived, you know, for a millennium, it’s unthinkable that they would have to do that. I mean you can imagine Adam saying, “Well, honey, I’m 64. I’ve only got 840 years and I can retire.”
I mean where was there any hope in that kind of approach to life? Is that how it is for everybody? Are we all trapped in Ecclesiastes, vanity of vanities, all is vanity? Is there any solution to this? Is there any kind of condition that can come about to liberate us from this? From the mundane, trivial work just to survive and make it another day so we can work to make it another day so we can work to make it another day and survive another day? And finally, when we’ve racked our body with all this effort and dissipated our energy and worn ourselves out, we go back to the dirt we came from? That is a very fatalistic approach to life. Is there any hope for being delivered from that?
Well, there is. There is, and finally I want to mention this to you. I could spend a lot of time on this but I won’t because our time is quickly gone. But let me just cast a different picture here for you. Remember what I said about the woman, that she was saved in childbearing, 1 Timothy 2? All of a sudden, the domain of a woman, the home can be transformed by Christ, remember? Now she has a whole new approach to raising children. She is raising a godly generation.
She has a whole new relationship with her husband, whom she views as if he were Christ, and he has a whole new view of her, he loves his wife and gives his life for her, Ephesians 5. So in Christ, this relentless, mundane treadmill of emptiness is dramatically changed. The curse on the woman dramatically changes when, in Christ, marriage takes on the wonders and the glories of the Christian principles, and her relationship with her children is also affected in the same way.
And the same is true of work. Turn to Titus chapter 2. Some of you have been sitting out there, hearing me say this and saying, “I don’t feel that bad about my job, actually. I don’t feel like I’m caught in some inexorable cycle going downward in meaninglessness.” And if you’re a Christian, I understand that. I understand that you don’t feel that way. Titus chapter 2, verse 9. Now you’re going to see the terms “slaves,” “servants,” “bondslaves.” I don’t want to get into a whole thing about slavery and all the forms of slavery but, really, that’s a term that describes anybody who works for somebody else.
It doesn’t mean that they were kidnaping people and putting them on ships and hauling them across oceans to other continents and whipping them and beating them like animals, necessarily, at all. The Roman Empire basically operated with slaves, and all that meant was that people were employed by other people. There were people who abused their employees, like there are today. There were people who treated them well.
In the Old Testament, in Israel, there were servants in the house, and there were very clear laws for how those servants were to be treated. In fact, in the Jubilee year, all the servants were released to go back to their original homes. If anybody mistreated a servant, there was punishment prescribed for that individual. There was a time for liberating servants and giving them a certain degree of freedom every seventh year, the Sabbath year.
So the treatment of employees is a very, very important concern in the Old Testament. If a man was your servant and he worked a day for you, you had to pay him at the end of the day because if you didn’t pay him at the end of the day - he worked to feed his family, and if you didn’t pay him at the end of that one day, then he couldn’t feed his family. So the Old Testament (two places) says that if a man is a day worker and he comes to work for you in a day, you have to give him his wage at the end of the day; otherwise, he has no ability to eat and to feed his family. So there was a lot in the Old Testament about servanthood.
In the New Testament, servanthood is elevated because Jesus says, “I came not to be served but to serve.” And we as Christians are called slaves and servants. So it has dignity to it because we serve our master who is the Lord Himself. So when you see the term here (“bondslave” or “slave” or “servant”) it is in the context of viewing that as a general economic term referring to people who are employed by other people. And in Titus 2:9, servants or bondslaves are to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not stealing, showing all good faithfulness, loyalty, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect.
Now, here’s a brand new perspective on work. All of a sudden, work becomes an environment in which I can demonstrate my salvation. Okay? Work becomes the realm of witness. I can adorn the doctrine of God, not God the Creator, not God the judge, not God the sustainer, but God our Savior. I can work in such a way that people around me are going to see that God has saved me, delivered me from sin. Work then becomes the launch point of witness. Keep that in mind.
The word “bondslave” is doulos, it simply means somebody who’s in submission. The workplace, even though it is part of the curse and even though we go our whole life having to work, the workplace becomes the sphere of witness. The New Testament doesn’t strike a blow against this kind of servanthood or even slavery. It does set the standard of treating people the way they should be treated, of course. But God knows there are always going to be employers and employees. I mean that’s just the way it is.
You have to have authority and submission in order to have anything. It’s true in the church, it’s true in the home, and it’s true in the workplace. And so there’s no attempt here to denigrate that economic truth that some will lead and some will follow, some will plan and some will carry out the plans, that’s just the way it is. And what the Scripture says is if you’re an employee (and most of us are) you need to realize that this is the place where you can adorn the doctrine of God our Savior, where you can put on display the fact that you’re a Christian.
This is a very beneficial, very reasonable economic situation. You have some people who hire and you have some people who are hired. Just to talk about it as a bondslave or a slave or a servant doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s fraught with all of the terrible injustices and abuses that you might associate with some kind of kidnaping of people and shipping them off and treating them as if they were animals. That’s not how it was.
In fact, even in the Old Testament, many of the slaves willfully, when given their liberty, refused it. And when they did that, they would take their ear and they would stick their ear lobe up against a wall and drive a pick through it to pierce it, and that was a way in which a servant could say “I’ve given myself to my master for life.” That’s the language, by the way, used in Hebrews to speak of Christ in the text where he says “a body thou hast prepared me,” the original actually says “my ear is pierced.” Christ is saying, “I am a willing servant of my Father. I give Him my life willingly.
So Scripture uses servanthood as an appropriate motif for employment, as well as a spiritual analogy, and it becomes, then, the sphere of our witness. What a great opportunity that is.
Now, turn for a moment, if you will, over to Colossians chapter 3. Colossians chapter 3 is a parallel to Ephesians 5 and 6. But in Colossians chapter 3, there is a familiar section. Down into verse 22 for the main point that we need. “Slaves” - again, servants, employees - “in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service.” What that means is not doing what you should when they’re looking, when they’re watching.
I read a funny story this week about a missionary who went to some primitive tribe, and they were what you would call gatherers. They didn’t cultivate anything, they just collected stuff off trees and killed wild animals, and he wanted to teach them how to plant a crop. So he cleared some ground and he tried to teach them how to plant the crop. Well, he was concerned that it was going to take a tremendous amount of work to really produce the crop, and he had to go away.
It just so happened, according to the story, that he had a childhood accident, he lost an eye, he had a glass eye. Well, nobody in that tribe ever had seen a glass eye. He had to be gone for about three weeks. He was afraid that the crop that they had prepared would perish in the time that he was gone. So he got a bright idea. He put a post right by the field, took out his glass eye, and put it on the post and said as he left, “I’ll be watching you the entire time I’m gone.” When he came back, they had been very dutiful to take care of his field.
It’s not eye service that the Lord is after. It’s not that external service (or it’s called eye service in some translations) and he says this, “Not with external service” or eye service “as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.” Give me another word for “fearing” the Lord. Fearing. Respecting? Honoring? Reverencing? How about worshiping? Here’s a new dimension of work. Work is the sphere of our witness and work is the sphere of our worship. All of a sudden, as a Christian, the whole work world takes on a different perspective. It now becomes the realm of witness and the realm of worship.
You say, “What do you mean, the realm of worship?” Just this, that when I do my work to the very best of my ability, I can offer that effort to God as an act of worship. That’s what it says. Verse 23, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily.” You drive a truck, you teach school, you dig ditches, you put in plumbing, you’re a construction worker, you sell insurance, whatever, whatever. “You do your work heartily as for the Lord rather than for men.” And then, verse 24, “Knowing that from the Lord you will receive” - what? - “the reward of the inheritance.” It becomes the sphere of your witness, the sphere of your worship, and the sphere of your eternal reward.
That changes the whole thing. That’s not Ecclesiastes’ vanity, vanity, all is vanity, is it? That’s very different. And so through salvation, the curse is mitigated, as it was in the case of the woman who now has a relationship to her husband that is like that of Christ and the church, and a relationship to her children, which is one of godliness and one in which she’s producing righteous children. And all of a sudden what was a point of pain becomes a point of joy. And for the man, the mundane, routine, life-long struggle of work becomes for him the realm of witness, the realm of worship, and the realm of reward.
So, as a Christian, you go to work, you do your thing, you plow the field, whatever it is that field means for you. You do that work and you do it as unto the Lord Himself. Knowing, verse 24, “that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance.” And then this last statement in verse 24, “It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” What a great statement - what a great statement.
You say, “You mean - I thought that was true of preachers.” It is, but not only preachers. That’s true of bus drivers, school teachers, lawyers, doctors, anybody. Whatever it is you do, you work in an office as a secretary or a clerk or you work as a judge or you work as a policeman or you work as a fire fighter or whatever it is you do, it says you serve the Lord. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.
Now all of a sudden, it’s a completely different thing. I’m adorning the doctrine of God for the sake of witness, I’m doing my very best, and I’m offering it to the Lord as an act of worship. And I’m actually laying up eternal reward, which the Lord will give to me when my inheritance is presented.
Turn to Hebrews - I’m sorry, turn to Ephesians chapter 6. Turn to Ephesians 6:5 to 8 because this is a parallel, it starts in that Ephesians 5 passage, talking about marriage and all, and you get into chapter 6, verse 5, “Slaves” - again - or servants or employees - “be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart,” - I love this - “as to Christ.” Boy, what a statement.
Now, you couldn’t have it more clearly than that. You’re literally serving Christ. Again, not by way of eye service or external service as men pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. And what is the will of God? The will of God is that you be the best employee that you can possibly be, that you work hard, you give a full day’s work for a full day’s wage. Verse 7, “With good will render service as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord.”
You know, sometimes you think you’re not paid right. Isn’t that true? You don’t make enough, they don’t appreciate you. Somebody leapfrogged over you last week, you don’t like that. They don’t understand how valuable you are. They don’t know that if you were to leave, the company would fall apart. They don’t know that. You’re not compensated the way you should be. Just remember this: You’re not serving men, you’re serving the Lord. And the Lord knows (verse 8) whatever good thing each one does, and you will receive back from the Lord. You can have it now or you can have it later, and later lasts a lot longer than now. That’s eternal reward.
If you’ve lost the joy of your work because you’re grousing about your compensation, in the process, you may forfeit your eternal reward. And so work takes on a totally transformed perspective. First Timothy 6:1 and 2 needs to be added to this, just to fill it out. First Timothy 6:1 and 2, “Let all who are under the yoke as servants” - everybody who is an employee - “regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our teaching” or doctrine “may not be spoken against.”
Again, the whole idea here is to work in such a way that brings honor to God, that shows that God is a Savior, and it’s obvious that He saved you because you’re full of peace and you’re full of joy and you’re full of hope and you’re full of faith and you have loyalty and you’re submissive. All of those, the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control, when you live that out in the workplace, you demonstrate God as a Savior who has saved you.
Verse 2, “Let those who have believers as their masters not be disrespectful to them because they are brethren.” You think, “Well, my boss is a Christian, so he’s no better than me, we’re equal in Christ.” No. In the social structure, he is your superior, “You should serve him all the more,” verse 2 says, “because those who partake of the benefit are believers and beloved.”
If you have a non-Christian boss, the implication is serve him for the sake of testimony. If you have a Christian boss, serve him because it is right and because you want to benefit him, and you’re willing to make all the necessary sacrifices to one who is your brother, beloved.
So what do we see in all those passages? Well, we see work taking on a completely different perspective from that sort of curse perspective. And we say again that when you have God pronouncing curses, the curses are mitigated in Christ. When you work in Christ, you work with submission, you work with excellence, you work with respect, you work with honesty, you work with loyalty, and you do it for the sake of witness, and you do it for the sake of worship, and you do it for the sake of eternal reward. In that way, you find in your work not that sad cycle of meaninglessness but the joy of doing something so eternally purposeful.
Well, that’s enough for tonight. Let’s pray.
We thank you, Father, that when you save sinners, you redeem their work and you redeem their marriages and you redeem their homes so that the workplace becomes the place of witness, the place of worship, and the place of reward.
How wonderful that we really are delivered from the full blast of the curse in Christ, and our homes become a little bit of heaven on earth, and the workplace takes on a whole new fulfilling, joyous meaning for us.
We thank you for all the dramatic ways in which the Savior changes us, and we bless you and praise you for your grace. In His name. Amen.
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