"He answered, 'I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.'" Jonah 1:9
That's so simple, but somehow things just seem so much more complicated (Ecclesiastes 7:29). So I have to take out the shovel and dig a bit. Why is it that I feel naturally inclined to identify myself by work and works? Why? I think it's because as a being who has been made in God's image (Genesis 1:27) and yet who falls short of God's standard (Romans 3:23), I feel as though I need to do something to bridge the gap (Ezekiel 22:30). I think it's a deep, hidden need to feel that I have in fact earned God's love and deserve it on the basis of myself rather than Christ. I mean, honestly, it's just not normal to lay down my defenses before the eyes of God on the basis of things that somebody else has done on my behalf. Has anyone heard or thought of such a thing before (Isaiah 55:9)? Yet God's word tells me that I do not need to work in order to gain my value in God's eyes. "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world" Paul writes in Ephesians 1:4. But why?
Why was I loved, if not on the basis of my work and works? "Lord, why was I a guest?" That, we are not told. As the pastor said last month:
"As Peter Davids writes in his commentary on Jude and in relation to this point in passage, 'Every Christian can say, "I am loved by my Father." Yes every Christian can say that. And every Christian should say that. And every Christian must say that. But not every Christian does say that. Do you say that? Can you say that? Can you say that convincingly? I am loved by my Father. Listen, there is to be a degree of certainty if you are a Christian that you are loved by the Father. All Christians are to have this certainty - but, listen, where you look for that certainty can make all the difference. Don't look within yourself to find the reason for His love because it doesn't exist there. Don't look there! Too often, too many Christians look within themselves, to find a reason within themselves for His love for them, so that they can convince themselves of His love by what they have discovered in within. Do not look within. Thomas Watson - the Puritan Thomas Watson - wrote, 'We have enough in us to move God to correct us, but nothing to move Him to adopt us.' Don't look within to discover some reason for His love. If you look within you will find reason for His judgment. If you look within you will find reason for His discipline - you will not find reason for His love. I have this impulse to look within at times and I think this impulse is motivated by pride. I look within to find a reason for His love because I want to be worthy of His love. In my arrogance, I want to be worthy! In my arrogance, I want to make some contribution! I wanna find some reason within myself that I am the object of His love. If you are theologically informed and you search out your heart, all you will find is more reason for Him to discipline and judge, not a reason for His love. So how could He love me? Why does He love me? ... This is indeed a mystery. And I'm going to ask Thomas Manton, another Puritan from the past, to attempt to address this perplexing question. This is from a sermon on John 3:16 and early in the sermon he makes the following point on God's indescribable love toward sinners in sending His Son. Mr Manton said, 'Love is at the bottom of it all. But we may give a reason of other things, but we cannot give a reason of His love... But we have an answer at hand: because He loved us. If you continue to ask, "But why did He love us?" We have no other answer but because He loved us.' That is in short, 'He loved you because He loved you!' All came from His free and undeserved mercy. Higher we cannot go in seeking after the causes of what is done for our salvation. Why does he love you? Do you find it perplexing? So do I! ... Why would He love you? It's a mystery. It is, brothers and sisters, a mystery we will marvel at throughout all eternity. 'Why do you love me? Because I love you!' Be humble. Give thanks. Be amazed."
God's love is not earned by work. But how am I to understand work? I'm reminded of the parable of the hired workers (Matthew 20:1-16). I don't work in order to earn the Master's favor; I work because the Master has already shown me favor by choosing me. "...While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). I know it in my head, but it still needs to sink into my heart and transform my motivation and my thinking. It's unhealthy and sinful for me to view work as a way to justify God's already freely-given favor. Instead, I should value work as a means to worship my "working God" (John 5:17). "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." 1 Corinthians 10:31
It's easy to live by sight instead of faith, so I need lots of reminders. I liked the way that this article puts it: "Sometimes we are too concerned about the usefulness of something...But usefulness is not the most important thing in the universe. Usefulness is not our god...Jesus is our God, and it is useful to expend our material resources to honor and glorify him." And the song "You are God Alone" says: "You are not a God in need of anything we can give - by Your plan, that's just the way it is. You are God alone from before time began. You are on Your throne. You are God alone. And right now, in the good times and bad - You are on Your throne. You are God alone ... You're the only God whose worthy of everything we can give. You are God and that's just the way it is."
So, I need to ask myself - where do work and works stand in my heart? Are they the object of my worship or the tools of my worship? Do I clench them tightly and rely on them or do I offer them to God with open hands? Is my motivated rooted in the work itself or in the Master for whom I am working?
"I know that nothing is 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." Ecclesiastes 3:12-13