What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
"Tend" and "keep"—We might say "embellish" and "guard" or "add to" and "keep from deterioration." Anybody who has taken care of a piece of material equipment of some kind—a garden, a house, an automobile, clothing, it matters not—knows that one can embellish it, dress it, and that it takes work. It also takes work to maintain it, to guard it from falling into a state of disrepair.
God's real purpose here has something to do with the material things of life, but He is considering something much greater than that, something spiritual. He is indicating that spiritual things in our lives are also going to have to be embellished, added to, dressed, and they will have to be kept from deteriorating and guarded. There is work involved in those activities. Proper management, or dominion, over the things that God has put within the scope of our authority take work. So, both of these words indicate work.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Love's Greatest Challenges
Over the past several hundred years, the idea of a "work ethic" has captured the imagination of philosophers, theologians, and ordinary men and women. The fundamental principle in any ethic of labor is that hard work teaches certain virtues and enables people to advance beyond the circumstances of their birth. If a young street urchin desires, he can—through hard work and integrity—climb from welfare to well-paid. The "rags to riches" motif grew from this ethic of work.
In His curse on Adam, God tells the man that his entire existence—"all the days of your life"—would be filled with labor. He would have to work for every morsel of food that would pass between his lips or those of his family. He would have to wage war on the natural processes of nature, such as weather, weeds, insects, fungi, and disease, to reap a crop, and he would never be assured of success. He would sweat in work, and he would sweat in worry.
All of this fighting, as one would expect, would take its toll on him. The constant pressure to provide for his own would drive him to work harder, longer hours. He would be constantly exposed to the fickle elements, which would sap his vigor. All this work would age him prematurely, and one day in the midst of his labors, he would simply die and return to the dust that he had been fighting all his life.
But amidst this struggle would come something of eternal consequence. Notice the words of Solomon:
For what has man for all his labor, and for the striving of his heart with which he has toiled under the sun? For all his days are sorrowful, and his work grievous; even in the night his heart takes no rest. This also is vanity. There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God. (Ecclesiastes 2:22-24)
Solomon, knowing the human condition was a result of God's purpose, reveals that men can receive something good from his toilsome lot. Verse 26 lists three virtues we can derive from our labors: "For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight; but to the sinner He gives the work of gathering and collecting, that he may give to him who is good before God."
A person who combines his work with a relationship with God will receive growth in character! On the other hand, a sinner, cut off from God, must endure the drudgery of the struggle, and the rewards of his work would eventually benefit the righteous, not himself!
Later, Solomon repeats his observation in chapter 3:
What profit has the worker from that in which he labors? I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. . . . I know there is nothing better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God. (verses 9-10, 12-13)
This seems to verify that God's curse on Adam is in the end a gift from Him! Why is this curse really a blessing? We find the answer in verse 11:
He [God] has made everything beautiful in its time [or, God times everything beautifully]. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.
The curse, if properly used, can lead a man to merge his life with God's "work" or purpose, which leads to "eternity" or eternal life! Man, apart from God, has no idea what God is doing, but one with a relationship with Him will have it revealed to him—and he can then use this knowledge to "work out" his salvation (Philippians 2:12)! He can direct his labor along eternal lines.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The First Prophecy (Part Three)
Never let anybody convince you that Christianity is not a religion of works. Christianity is hard work! That is what our Savior says. It is difficult! It is hard work because its direction and purpose run counter to human nature.
Confusion about "works" enters the picture when people wrongly try to associate "works" with "salvation." We are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8)—there is no argument with this biblical fact. Works enter the picture as a necessary part of the process of growth within God's purpose—not salvation. Salvation is, in a major sense, an already finished work of Jesus Christ, which is why so many biblical statements about salvation are written in the past tense.
However, laziness plays a large part in why we do not grow. God expects us to work, though we will not earn salvation by it. We grow because of work, by overcoming problems. If we are too lazy to work at overcoming things, though we may be in God's Kingdom, we are not going to reap the rewards God's promises to overcomers.
God is looking for His children to grow. Every parent wants his child to become a mature adult who is able to take his place in society, to live independent of the family yet still be connected to it in a loving way, to stand on his own feet. God sets the pattern, and He wants His children to grow as free and independent moral agents. However, we are not that way when He finds, calls, reveals Himself and His way to us, and leads us to repentance. He wants us to grow into what He is:
And God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." (Genesis 1:26)
God gives everybody who reads His Book an early indication that work will play a major role in what He has created. Dominion! That is "rulership" or maybe a better word would be "management." And dominion over or management of our own personal environment requires work.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Love's Greatest Challenges
The charge does not accuse Him of healing but of breaking Sabbath regulations. In both cases, Jesus repudiates the charge by arguing 1) that the works of salvation are contemplated by the Sabbath commandment (see Deuteronomy 5:15, where redemption is the focus of the keeping of the Sabbath), and 2) that what Jesus did—being contemplated by the Sabbath law—is equivalent to God doing the same thing. It was this that really angered the Jews because they surmised that He not only had "broken the Sabbath" but in their eyes did something far worse: blaspheming God by making Himself equal with God.
It ought to be obvious that Christ did not regard the Sabbath as a time of idleness. He certainly looked at it far differently than the Jews did. He admitted that what He was doing here could be considered as work.
But what kind of work is it? Since He equated Himself with God, what He was saying is that He was doing the work of God. That is His justification. "My Father is working until now," and He did not break the Sabbath!
It is interesting that the word "answered" in verse 17 also appears in verse 19. It is the only place in the New Testament where this particular Greek word is translated "answered." It is a particularly strong word. What it means is that Jesus was heatedly defending Himself. It is showing that He considered their accusation to be "personal," as it were, and He reacts to it very strongly.
What comes out of His mouth is, "My Father has been working till now, and He works on the Sabbath!"
Then Jesus answered and said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do." (John 5:19)
Jesus is saying, "I am imitating what I have seen My Father do. Therefore, I am not breaking the Sabbath because God does this on the Sabbath!"
What we have to figure out is what kind of work does God do on the Sabbath? This is important to understanding the principle of the kind of work that is permitted on the Sabbath. What does God do that Jesus is copying?
God shows that He rested from His work. The kind of work that God is doing on the Sabbath does not involve the work of physically creating something. So we can eliminate that right away. Notice John 1:1-3:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made [past tense] through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.
John is referring to the physical Creation. Those works were finished, as it were, from the foundation of the world. Jesus is not referring here to the work of earning a living. The work that God is involved in is something else entirely!
God does His work ceaselessly and effortlessly. Jesus is telling us what kind of work it is: the work of redeeming. It is the work of salvation. It is the work of healing people, particularly their minds.
In John 5:31-36, Jesus Christ says, in essence, "What I am doing proves that I am the Messiah." At that time, He had just healed someone, redeemed him from bondage to an illness, from uselessness. He just gave to him the liberty to have hope. He just delivered someone out of his discouragement. That kind of work is the work of salvation. God "is working salvation" (Psalm 74:12).
Also consider John 6:29: "Jesus answered and said to them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.'" God is working to produce in us faith in Jesus Christ because salvation is by grace through faith. Faith is the foundation from which everything in God's purpose grows. God is working to get us saved. He is able to do it, but we have a part in this salvation in that we have to make choices. The basis of our choices is whether or not we believe in Jesus Christ. If we believe Him, then we will make the right choices. It is essential, then, that our faith be increased.
So, the purpose of the manifestation of the works of God in Christ is to produce faith. If one has faith in God, then what will he do? He will apply God's Word, and that produces liberty in himself and in others. We can now begin to see the part that the Sabbath plays in this. It is essential to increasing our faith.
The work that God is doing is not the work of a physical creation but the work of a spiritual creation. He is creating sons in His image. Christ is Redeemer, Deliverer, Savior—and that is His work! What does He spend His time doing? He spends His time healing, forgiving sin, teaching the way of God, and doing good. That is His part in the work of God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 3)
The implication is, "My Father has been working from the beginning, and He's continuing to work." What is Their work? It is creating, creation. God is the Potter, we are the clay. He is the One doing the shaping, the molding, the creating. "It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves." He is the One who is continuing the creation that He began and revealed in Genesis 1. He is still working on us! Continuing the pottery metaphor, the Holy Spirit, then, can be compared to the water that the potter uses to bring the clay to the right consistency to enable him to shape it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Pentecost and the Holy Spirit
We do not use "hitherto" much anymore. It means that the Father began working at some unexpressed time in the past, and He is working still. He began working and has never stopped. His audience understood this because they say that God was working on the Sabbath.
If God has never stopped working, He works seven days a week, 365 day a year, decade after decade, century after century. He is working and has never stopped for the Sabbath. Then Jesus adds, ". . . and I work." The Jews did not like this at all because Jesus associated Himself with God, and He was declaring, "I work on the Sabbath too," basically throwing their accusation right back at them. But the very fact He said it incensed them because they knew immediately that, in order for this to be true, He had to be equated with God.
The Father and the Son began working on a project in the indefinite past. Once that project began, They worked without stopping - "hitherto" - even now. Remember, God is our model, and He works on the Sabbath. But the key is the type of work that He and His Son do.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 1)
God's intention is clear. We are to gain property and possessions by honest work and/or inheritance from those who have the right to give them. We must come into possession of things in a way God approves.
The verb "labor" indicates exertion to the point of exhaustion. In addition, Paul admonishes us not merely to work to satisfy our personal needs and desires, but also to be able to give freely any excess to others in need. The admonition implies distributing the excess personally rather than indirectly through an agency. He adds in Acts 20:35, "I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"
Stealing is totally against the grain of God's way of life. Our God is a working, creating God (John 5:17), and we cannot be in His image if we are gaining possessions through stealing. In the spirit of God's law, a person not only steals by taking another's possessions, but also by refusing to work in order to share and give to others in need.
This commandment does not reach its fullest expression until the ninth and tenth are added to it. Stealing frequently has its genesis in a desire to have something one has no money to purchase, or the unwillingness to work patiently until one does. Deception then enters. A person will try to acquire a desired possession in such a way that others will think he procured it honorably. We can stop this sin at any point in the process, but few make any effort to restrain their lust, deceit, and itching fingers.
Robert Kahn was correct in saying, "There are a hundred ways to steal but only one way to be honest." In order not to steal, we must be scrupulously honest. What good is it if we are one-half or three-quarters honest? What if God was honest with us only part of the time? Could we trust Him? Can others really trust us if we are only partially honest? Do we lock our doors because we trust everybody? Thievery creates distrust, fear, and suspicion, destabilizing institutions and communities.
The reason we should refrain from stealing is not just to avoid sinning. This in itself is very good, but scrupulous honesty produces integrity, wholeness. Such integrity enables us to live confidently before God and man. The apostle John writes in I John 3:18-19: "My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him." Personal integrity is a major source of positive, confident living.
A conscience can be either a good or bad guide because it is educated by an individual's experiences. Practicing scrupulous honesty builds character and educates the conscience in the right direction so that it will send the right prompting at the right time. We cannot allow ourselves room to rationalize stealing. We must be scrupulously honest always, or our character will descend on a path of degeneracy.
There are hundreds of ways to steal, and dozens of excuses for stealing, but only one way and one reason and one law of integrity. That way is honor, that reason is a clear conscience, and that law is God's. He says, "You shall not steal." Never. In any way. From any one.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Eighth Commandment (1997)
2 Timothy 2:15
The King James translates that as "study." However, modern translation typically do not agree because the meaning and usage of this English word has changed. To us, study means "hit the books," "learn," "analyze, investigate, examine, scrutinize," or "earnestly contemplate." But the Greek word means something quite a bit different. It literally means to "make speed," "to hurry." It conveys the sense of "to make earnest effort; be prompt to labor." In almost all modern translations, "study" is rendered "be diligent," "work hard," or "do your best."
The primary question, then, is, "What can we do to show ourselves approved by God?" because God's charge is, "Hurry to do it! Be quick about it! Be diligent at it. Do your best."
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part Four)
Just as surely as a dead person does no works, so a faith, a religion, that does not include works is also dead. Thus, a person in whom living, saving faith exists will produce works.
One must also consider Ephesians 2:8, 10, which tell us that salvation is by grace through faith, and that the Father created us for good works, which He prearranged for us to perform. Therefore, how can a person with a dead faith, one that produces no works, be in God's Kingdom, since he would be failing to do the very thing for which God is creating him in Christ?
Furthermore, we are to be in God's image and to imitate Christ. Jesus says in John 5:17, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working." Our spiritual Father is a Creator, and a creator works. Most certainly, Jesus worked during His lifetime on earth, living a sinless life to provide us a means of justification. As our High Priest, He continues to work toward our salvation.
The root of this issue is that people have a dismally vague knowledge of what sin is, as well as an equally weak appreciation for the dangerous filthiness of sin, which can prevent us from entering God's Kingdom. We live in an exceedingly sinful nation in which we are confronted by sin from every quarter, including from within. Sin is so blatantly exhibited that most people seem to treat it with casual indifference until some form of it—rape, murder, thievery, lying, gossip, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, drunkenness, etc.—personally hits them.
So many are unaware of what sin is that they ignorantly participate in it. Television and movie "entertainment" overflows with it. In fact, sin is woven so tightly into the fabric of movies and TV shows that one could wonder if any other subject material exists! In America, over one million unborn children are aborted each year, and people euphemistically call this a "privacy right," hiding from the reality that they are murderers! What else can one honestly call the taking of life from an unborn human being created in God's image?
Through Jeremiah, God accuses Judah of having a "whore's forehead," indicating a people so perverted and hardened in their sins they could no longer be shamed (Jeremiah 3:3). If we as a people have not reached that stage of degeneracy, we soon will because God cries through Ezekiel, "Make a chain, for the land is filled with crimes of blood, and the city is full of violence" (Ezekiel 7:23). Is there any other nation in the Western world that so openly exhibits as many violent crimes as the United States of America?
When one realizes sin's stranglehold on the United States, it becomes clear that a majority of its people are either ignorant of their responsibilities to God and fellow man, or no longer care what God thinks. A recent Barna poll reveals that an astounding 76 million American citizens never darken a church doorway to receive spiritual and moral instruction. How can they possibly appreciate what sin is and does?
Of far greater concern, though, are those who are reading this. God's ministers are responsible to make their teaching of God and His way as sharp and clear as they can so that those they teach can understand, not just the basics, but as broadly and deeply as possible so that it can be lived.
Wrong ideas about holiness usually lie in wrong ideas about human corruption. The responsibility of the Christian to seek the holiness of God provides the very reason God requires works. I Peter 1:15-16 charges us, "But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy.'"
The obverse of this common ignorance of sin is that, without a firm understanding of human corruption, we have little appreciation of the radiant glory of God's holiness toward which we are to strive! Sin lies exposed as the root cause of humanity's corrupt condition, but many, even in the church, do not appreciate the depth of persistent corruption in themselves.
Vague, dim, and indistinct understandings of sin will never serve a Christian well. He must always apply his mind to growing in understanding to throw off spiritual vagueness and simultaneously glorify our Father and Elder Brother. If one does not grasp the depth of his carnal heart's disease, it will constantly deceive him into thinking he has little to overcome, thus dragging him into pride. The human heart is so sick God tells us in Jeremiah 17:9 that it is incurable!
Scripture uses terms for sin that are easily understood, but unless one meditates on them, they may not provide a clear picture of sin's many means of exerting its influence. The Bible's terms generally mean something like "missing the mark," "turning aside," or "slipping off the path." They can sound quite innocuous unless one recognizes the devastation sin has caused and ponders it seriously.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Two)
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