Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, January 24, 2022

True Work

King David Series- 2


Genesis 2:4-15 and 1st Samuel 16:14-23

Last week we began to look at David’s life, and we basically skipped over the man who came before David, King Saul.

Saul was the first king of Israel. And he had such a promising start. He was handsome. He was tall. He came from an influential family. And he seemed to have the right spirit for the job. He shied away from being king. He actually hid when they went to acclaim him. After his anointing, he went home to the family farm. He didn’t start demanding taxes or building himself a palace; he went back to plowing the fields! It was only when a crisis arose that he stepped into the role. And in those early days, there were detractors, people who thought little of him, but Saul was gracious to them. Everything seemed to be going well.

But soon the cracks started to appear. There were signs of trouble. It seemed that Saul was much more interested in making decisions based on material and military interests than he was based on spiritual interests. He also over-stepped his bounds. He was the king, the political leader. But soon he started offering sacrifices, taking the role of a spiritual leader as well. Why? Not to honor God, but to keep order, preserve unity.

Saul seemed to view God as a means to an end. The end was the political and military security of the nation, and in the service of that end, Saul figured that he could use God. He wanted to use God to make his work as king prosper. He worshipped God, not for God’s sake, but just as an insurance policy. “We need to have God in the mix, so that we will have security and prosperity.” Unfortunately, such thinking is still far too common. Our nations’ leaders, many of whom I don’t think are terribly interested in God, still give lip service to God, for the sake of “preserving unity” and “having a spiritual insurance policy.”

But God is not a means to an end. And so God rejects Saul and replaces him with David. At least spiritually, Saul is replaced. Literally, he’s still the king, for now.

Saul begins to experience spiritual torment. This is difficult, I think, to understand. Do I think that God sent an evil spirit to torment Saul? Not exactly. I think it’s more a matter that God removed his protection from Saul. Or more precisely, Saul removed God’s protection from himself by his own choices. But if God can use a physical illness to discipline someone, then it seems logical enough that he can also use a psychological illness to discipline. But we should also remember that the purpose of

God’s discipline is always to bring about repentance, not to punish. Saul simply never repented, and so he continued to descend into spiritual torment. In the Hebrew way of thinking, if God is sovereign over all things, then all things in some way, can be attributed to God. Hence, the Hebrew text says, “God sent a spirit to torment Saul.” Maybe the best answer is simply to say that our understanding of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility is difficult to comprehend fully!

The symptoms of this psychological condition included depression, paranoia, and eventually, violent outbursts. Saul’s servants come up with a plan: Let’s find someone to play music for him, as this seems to calm his spirit. They suggest David. He’s a good harp player. (Or lyre player, depending on which Bible scholar you ask!) He’s young and strong and brave and wise and good-looking. And he’s blessed; God is with him.

So David gets new work. He goes from the sheep fields to the royal court. And soon he also gets work as an armor-bearer, one who attends the king on the field of battle. How strange to think that the newly anointed king is now serving the old, rejected king!

From a practical perspective, David is learning how to be a king first-hand. But from a spiritual perspective, David is even now already doing king’s work.

I think we get pretty mixed as Americans up on the subject of work. On the one hand, we often seem to view work as some kind of a necessary evil. “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go.” “I’m only working because I can’t afford to retire yet.” “I can’t wait for the weekend.” “Thank God it’s Friday!” And yet, on the other hand, we are also a nation of workaholics. We worship our work, often to the detriment of other aspects of life, including God, family, and our own health.

Neither of these is a very biblical understanding of work. Genesis 2, which we heard earlier, tells us that work was part of the order of this creation before sin entered the world. So work is not a necessary evil or a curse from a fallen world, though it certainly can be in this world now that it is fallen away from its original goodness.

But one of the first things we learn about God in the Bible is that God is a working God. And if we are made in the image of God, then work is part of God’s design for us. I think the clear sense of Genesis 2 is that in some way, God’s work is not complete without a representative of God working in this world. When we work, we participate in God’s work. Our work derives from God’s work.

And we certainly shouldn’t look down on work as insignificant in any way since it is the primary context of our lives. Is there anything that we do more than work? Probably not. Aside from sleeping perhaps, it is the single activity that consumes more hours of our lives than anything else.

And by the way, when I talk about work, I am not referring just to paid work. Working in your garden or cleaning your house or any number of other things are also work. So, yes, even if you’re retired, this message still applies to you!

Work is the primary context of our lives. Therefore it is also the primary arena for living out our spirituality! We live our lives in relationship to God in our work more than anything else. Work is also the primary arena for our temptation. And probably the biggest temptation of our work is that it makes us think that we are God. When we work, we have a sense of control. And we are tempted to derive our value from what we do rather than who we are in relationship to God.

But not all work is the same. Not all work is equal. Not all work is true work. In his book, Eugene Peterson coins a phrase. He says that all true work is kingwork. God is king. And if we are made in his image, then true work is kingwork. So what is kingwork?

Kingwork is both ruling and serving. David is already anointed as king. And yet where do we find him? We find him serving Saul. Should a king be a servant? What a ridiculous thought! Or is it?

Is not Jesus our King? And what did Jesus say about his kingdom? “The greatest of you is servant of all.” And “I have come among you as a servant.”

In true work, we both exercise dominion in this world while at the same time serving both the God who made this world and the people who are made in his image who live in it. Kingwork is ruling and serving at the same time.

Second, kingwork is living vocationally.

Now we Christians have this silly habit of separating “callings” from “jobs.” The word vocation means “called.” And we say some people are called to their work. We say those who are in ministry are called. And often times I’ve heard people say that teachers and doctors and others who educate or heal are also “called.” But then we say that some things are just “jobs.” Who would call picking up trash or running the cash register at McDonald’s a “calling?” It’s just a job!

Living vocationally is not about having the “right job.” Living vocationally is about doing the right kind of work in any job. If you do it with all your strength, if you do it as best as you can, if you do it as if you are serving God, then you are living vocationally, living a “called life,” regardless of your “job.”

And third, kingwork builds up.

The very first words of the Bible are, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was empty, formless, chaotic, and cloaked in darkness. God’s Spirit hovered over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light.’” God’s work begins with driving back chaos and darkness and creating order and light. There is the essence of true work: order and light. We could also say truth instead of light, since they are frequently the same thing in Scripture. True work creates order and truth.

Building a house is true work. It brings order. Teaching a child is true work. It brings light. Selling crystal meth is not true work: It brings only chaos and darkness. You can make money doing it, but whether or not you can make money at something has very little to do with whether or not it’s true work. I’ll leave my thoughts on politics aside at this juncture.

David’s work in Saul’s court was music. It brought order and light and hope to the chaos and darkness of Saul’s troubled mind.

We know that eventually Saul will descend so far into madness and paranoia that he will try to kill this young man David, who for now he really likes. Sometimes we wonder how God can allow such evil to happen. But David, the shepherd boy playing a harp, reminds us that we are never defenseless against evil. We can sing hope and light and order against the darkness.

No matter our job, our vocation, our calling, is to sing hope and light and order.

Verse of the Day...