The following is an abridged transcription of a sermon spoken by Pr Chiang Ko Chang on 01 July 2011 during the Evangelistic Service in Telok Kurau church. Read on to find out Why do you labor and what is work like in the beginning…
Why Do You Labor?
Labor has become our second nature. Some, upon retirement, still choose to engage in activities or work. It would seem that as long as we are alive, we are compelled to labor. Perhaps we are relieved of our work when we are unwell. But often, being idle can be tiring and it is not long before we start looking for something to do. Once, I was home tidying my book cabinet when my eldest son came to me. He was only four or five years old then. I told him to go to his mum instead because I was busy. The very next day, I saw him carrying a box of toys to a new spot and rearranging the toys there. After a while, he packed all the toys and shifted to a different spot. When I asked him, “What are you doing?” He replied, “I am busy,” without even lifting his head. He was imitating my actions from the day before; having observed me when I was tidying my study area, he, too, tried to tidy his toys. It seems that being busy is in our nature.
From the moment an infant is born, he is busy eating and drinking. As he gains the ability to walk and run, he starts busying himself by exploring the world. When he starts school, he is busy studying. After graduation, he is busy with work. Thereafter, comes marriage and he busies himself with his family. This cycle repeats itself with the birth of his child. It is apparent that man’s life is full of labor. From the bible, we know that this nature is created by God. The bible describes us as children of God and as His children, we are like Him. The Lord Jesus said, “My Father labored until now and therefore I will continue to work.”
The God whom we worship is the True God and Creator of the heavens, the earth, and all lives on earth, including human life. Genesis 1:27-28 tells us that God created man in His own image. Not only do we have God’s image as our appearance, we also have the characteristics of God. Verse 28 says that God entrusted all the things of the world he created into the care of man. Unlike what the theory of evolution suggests, that the fittest survive, humans are keepers of the world because God arranged for it to be so. He formed man out of dust and breathed the breath of life into man’s nostrils. Man has spirit and he comes from God.
We’ve heard that our first ancestors, Adam and Eve, lived in the Garden of Eden. What was it like to live in the Garden of Eden? Perhaps we imagine life was carefree without labor, much like being on perpetual holiday. There are no studies, examinations, and so it was likely a place without worry. Yet, it is clear from Genesis 2:15 that God had entrusted His creation to the care of man. This was man’s labor – to tend and keep the Garden of Eden. Verse 19 described how Adam had to name all the animals that came before him. Even within the Garden of Eden, man was working.
However, work in the Garden of Eden was not tiresome because man was able to communicate with God daily. He was able to share the joy of work with God. Even today, we may feel the same way when we see the result of our hard work. Even though we may be exhausted, the sense of achievement is satisfying. And we are tireless because we are able to share with God all the things that we have done in our lives.
How has work now become a labor?
Genesis chapter 3 tells us that it is because of sin. God did not create robots; He desires that man can listen and obey Him out of his own initiative. The robots men create execute commands based on instructions programmed. The smart computers that are like human beings can be described as intelligent. Yet God has created a human brain that has all these functions and is able to think, decide, and more importantly, bring glory to God by listening to His word willingly and without prompting. To do this, there must be a standard, much like how students sit through examinations to test where their standard lies.
The tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden was a standard God used. As long as man did not go against this standard, he would have been able to enjoy God’s company forever and have the joy and satisfaction of working. God instructed that they must not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, otherwise they shall die. Our ancestors were not able to overcome temptation and went against God’s word, committing sin.
Sin is not about going against criminal law or moral standards. It is an inability to meet the standards set by God. From Genesis 3:7 onwards tells us that both Adam and Eve tried to hide away from God for they felt the shamefulness of their nakedness and wanted to cover themselves up. There was now distance between God and human beings.
Didn’t God know that man had sinned when He came looking for Adam and Eve? He knew, but He wanted to give them a chance. We see that in their sinfulness, they shirked their responsibilities; Adam pushed the blame to Eve, Eve shirked her responsibilities and blamed the serpent. Do we have this undesirable trait? When a child commits a wrong, he doesn’t have to be taught to know how to push the responsibility to his siblings. I have even seen children who, despite being in the wrong, will hit their parents. We seldom find children who courageously own up to their mistake. This shows we are in the bondage of sin. When God looked for Adam and Eve, it was to give them a chance but they tried to escape from their responsibilities and pushed them blame onto others.
Genesis 3:17-19 tells us that the consequence of sin is toil and labor for man. Although it appears that man still has to work, but because of sin, he has to toil and labor for the ground is cursed. The land has to be ploughed before food can be planted and even so, there are bad elements like thorns and thistles to be grappled with. God did not create bad elements such as diseases and mosquitoes to harm mankind. All these things came about after man sinned and the ground was cursed. After toiling and laboring, man finally meets with physical death and returns to dust.
Man primarily labors for status or wealth
Man has come to place all hopes of labor and work into gaining tangible things.
He has forgotten that there is God, the creator of all things. He has also forgotten that he needs to face the end of life and the need to toil and labor while alive. Most people will say, “I have labored for my family and my company, and I wish to be well-remembered,” because they want to either earn more money or leave a positive legacy after death.
Yet Ecclesiastes 9:5 tells us that the memory of the dead is forgotten. There may be many names from the past we still recall or streets bearing names of important people from the past, but exactly who they are and what they have done, we may not know. Some Chinese families have the tradition of ancestral worship and may hope that their descendants can similarly remember them. But how many of us can recall the names of our grandparents, great-grandparents, or great-great-grandparents? The dead are no longer remembered. So if one were to labor for the sole purpose of leaving a good reputation and name, it will come to nothing.
Most of us labor for the sake of more money. Some buy lotteries or gamble, and many are harmed as a result of this pursuit after monetary gains. The book of Ecclesiastes discusses a lot about wealth and money. For example in Ecclesiastes 5:10 onwards, it tells us that the rich lose sleep over fear of the potential loss of their wealth. For some, the pursuit of wealth comes at the expense of family relations. Children who are unable to understand their parents’ hardship waste away their hard-earned money. Other unfilial children may conspire with outsiders to cheat or harm their family in order to gain wealth. Genesis 6:1-2 tells us how some sacrifice their health in their pursuit of wealth.
Exactly what do they get out of this? There are those who earn money in order to spend and indulge themselves. The author of Ecclesiastes says the same thing in Chapter 2 Verse 10-11. He toiled and labored much and could enjoy whatever he set his eyes upon. Yet, he felt the vanity of it all because wealth and enjoyment did not bring him true contentment. We know that King Solomon is the author of Ecclesiastes and based on historical records, he was a very wealthy king, empowered with great authority. He was the wealthiest man on earth then but yet, he felt only emptiness in his heart. “All the labor of man is for his mouth, and yet the soul is not satisfied.” (Ecc 6:7). It is clear that under the influence of sin and estranged from God, man’s sense of emptiness is one that cannot be filled with any material things on earth.
Proverbs 23:4-5 tells us not to labor for riches or rely on our own understanding, for our riches can make itself wings and fly away like an eagle. A similar Taiwanese saying describes man as having two legs but money as having four, meaning that money is very hard to pursue. Indeed, no matter how much we pursue after money, we will never be satisfied.
In that case, why then do we labor? It is in God’s design that we should labor because through this, God causes us to ponder over the purpose of this busyness. There was this wealthy and famous Taiwanese entrepreneur, Wang Yung-Ching, who owned a hospital in Taiwan. He had his own medical team looking after his health but while out on a trip in America, he choked to death. Despite his massive wealth, he still died. In the period after his death, his children quarreled over their inheritance and there were many industrial mishaps and accidents. Many commented on how Mr. Wang would be sighing in Hades if he knew what went on. He had toiled and labored all his life but left only problems after his death.
Ecclesiastes 3:10-14 – I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. 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. I know that whatever God does, it shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, and nothing taken from it. God does it, that men should fear before Him.
Everyone dies but God has placed eternity into man’s heart so that he will consider how to live forever and ever. We know that in our busyness, there ought to be a purpose. What we need to have is a God-fearing heart. The God of Heaven came to earth once in the form of Jesus Christ, to teach mankind that we have to labor for our eternal life and salvation.
John 6:27 – Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.”
Lord Jesus teaches us that we need to labor for the food that endures to everlasting life. He calls Himself the bread of life, to give us food for everlasting life so that our spirits can be delivered and while we are alive, we can be preserved by Him. This is a reminder for believers to take their work seriously because as believers of Jesus Christ, we should work seriously according to God’s will and experience the joy of God’s abidance in our lives.
Many of us have experienced this; believing in Christ doesn’t mean we will suddenly become rich because we will still need to work our part. But when we have a God-fearing heart, we will not go against the law and harm others in order to gain more profit. In Taiwan, there was an incident where plastic materials were mixed into food ingredients so that cost can be reduced and a greater profit gained. Christians will not do that. Even though we have to toil and labor, God will take care of us.
Let me share a personal testimony. We used to live in a house that was so old, every time there was a downpour, water would leak through the holes. Whenever there were outbreaks of typhoons, we would worry about our house being blown away. We also had such anxieties even though we believed in Jesus. My mother thought about earning more so we could afford to build a sturdier house but my father was a civil servant on a small salary. He was also one of the Exco members in church.
We had a small shop selling chickens and eggs and we helped to incubate the eggs. I still remember that for every chick hatched, we earned about 20-30 cents in Singapore dollar. Just imagine how long it would have taken to save up enough to build a house. Then I found out that my mother bought lottery tickets. I thank God she has never won once, not even the smallest consolation price.
Once, I asked her why she bought lottery tickets and she said that if we won, we would be able to afford a better house. But God’s will was for us to rely on our labor. Finally, we were able to build the house the year I finished primary school. My mother thanked God and shared, “The will of God is indeed good. If I had struck lottery, I would be greedy and not be able to concentrate on the family business, just thinking of lottery tickets. That would have affected our family finance.” Indeed, through our own labors, God blesses us bit by bit so that we will treasure and cherish it more.
The great September earthquake in Taiwan happened in the year of 1999. It registered 5 on the Richter scale and the great tremors caused me to worry about our twenty-year old house. My father very calmly assured me, saying, “Haven’t you noticed? We cherish this house so much because it was built with our hard-earned money. We also built it with full knowledge of the frequent earthquakes that occur, so we specially asked the architect to include two solid metal pillars in the building. Haven’t you noticed them?” My parents’ hard-earned money led them to cherish our house and it is evident that God has bestowed blessings upon our hard work. So while we labor for our eternal life, we are able to enjoy benefits in our present life.
How should we work hard on our eternal life?
Jesus said that we must first seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then in our lives, we will receive God’s care. Matthew 6:24 tells us that our Lord Jesus desires that man not be slaves to money. We see this in Genesis where God placed all His creation into the hands and care of man. It is clear that in the eyes of God, man is very precious. God cares for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field even though they are not as busy as man. He calls us to observe His creation and think about ourselves. We are God’s creation, His children, and He has promised to care for us, especially if we become people of the Kingdom of God and pursue after His teachings.
Paul, in Ephesians Chapter 2, introduces that through the blood of Jesus Christ and His salvation, we have become partakers of the Kingdom together with the saints. Verse 11 mentions that we were once like people who didn’t know God, yet the salvation of Christ is meant to be given to all men. He sacrificed Himself on the cross, shedding His blood so that we can be reconciled to God. Paul says that we are therefore, no longer strangers, but fellow citizens with the saint and members of the household of God.
Peter testified in Acts 2:38 that we must repent, be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that our sins may be forgiven and we will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Baptism, according to the scriptures, is done in living water, in the name of Jesus, and we are fully immersed, facing downwards. This is consistent with how our Lord Jesus did, as an example for us to follow. When our sins are forgiven, we become restored as sons of God.
In the True Jesus Church, we follow the truth that is recorded in the bible by performing baptism in the same way and we are affirmed by God through accompanying signs and miracles. In December 2000, during a baptism I conducted in Tainan, Taiwan, Church, the husband of our church sister saw a vision. Our sister had registered for their two children to be baptized then, but her husband was still an observer and felt that he himself was not prepared to be baptized yet. I shared with him that children are baptized on account of their parents’ faith, and invited him to come attend the baptism as well. Thank God he was submissive and came to witness the baptism, as well as listen to the teachings concerning baptism. We prayed before the prayer and he testified after that during the prayer, even though his eyes were shut, he felt that everything in front of him was red. When he opened his eyes again, he saw that the water at the baptismal site had turned to blood even though other areas of the sea appeared normal. He had witnessed the blood of Jesus during his children’s baptism. I told him that even though I was the one conducting the baptism, I didn’t see the waters turn red. Lord Jesus truly loves him and wants to declare to him that this faith is true. Thank God that after a year more of studying the truth, he decided to be baptized. This is but an example of the miracles happening in the True Jesus Church, and is evidence that what we are doing, the mode of baptism we use, is in accordance with what the Bible teaches.
Romans 3:21-22 says that the righteousness of God will be added to those who believe in Him. God created man in accordance with His own image, but our ancestors went against His word, sinned, and lost the glory of God (v.23). Today, when we believe in the Lord Jesus, He calls us as righteous (v.27) and we return to the glory of God. This is not by any works we do. Some religions emphasize charity or other good works as affirmation of their faith. Christians must do good but the key here is to see who our works are affirmed by. The book of Romans tells us that believing in Jesus, we are made just and in the sight of God, we are reckoned as good and have the conduct of a good person. Likewise, Christians must have good conduct and do good, for this is according to what is recorded in the Bible. This includes preaching the gospel, and inviting our friends to come and receive God’s grace. This is work God has entrusted to us. When we have a God-fearing heart and perform our duty well, God promises that He will care for us.
I majored in Chinese Literature and in 1989, after leaving the army I served for over four years, I started my search for a job. Many people felt that it would be best if I became a teacher, given my background. But even though four of my relatives are in the teaching profession, none of them were able to help me find a position as a teacher in my hometown. I decided to go to Taipei to continue my job search. Every day, I trawled through classified ads and sent out my resumes to various companies. I told myself that even though I had yet to find a job, I would go to church for services and pray to God about needing a job. I believe in God’s promises and told Jesus my needs. I was hoping to find a job that would be located near church so that I can go to church for service after work. During my four-and-a-half years’ service in the army, I barely had time to attend church services. I didn’t feel the need for a high salary and so was praying for a salary that would be equivalent to the allowance I used to draw in army. I also prayed for a job that would allow me to be in the office as well as out, because I would have found it tiring to either stay only in the office or out all day.
I had gone for many interviews with many companies with virtually no news. Then I heard from a company advertising for someone with the skill set I could offer. During the interview, I realized that this company had all the conditions I had prayed for. They were only 5 minutes away from Taipei church, offered a pay similar to the allowance I used to draw, and requires me to travel outwards to submit paperwork. Whenever I went outdoors to submit documents, I just had to be sure my colleagues were informed and either return to office before 3pm or apply leave. After finishing work, if I still had time, I could cycle over to church to see if there was anything I could help with or even join the preacher for tea. I was amazed that I could find such a job. Indeed, when I think about it, God has said that if we seek after His Kingdom and righteousness, He will add other things unto us. This is why in our life of faith we will have many such experiences. This is also the reason why we ought to believe in Jesus and walk in His way.
Having believed in the Lord, there is a certain wealth we must work to store – treasures in heaven.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:19-21 that treasures on earth will be destroyed or stolen, but it is better if we store our wealth in Heaven. What does accumulating wealth in heaven involve? Having believed in the Lord, we must do good deeds and He will affirm us. The good deeds that we do will be treasures in Heaven but we must be one who follows the Lord, for this is the only way our labor and busyness can be of real significance.
Rev 14:13 – Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.”
This verse tells us that those who die in the Lord are blessed indeed. What does it mean to die in the Lord? It is when we truly believe in Jesus, have received salvation in the True Church and sins are forgiven, lived in the Kingdom of God and done what God deemed as right. Only then when we leave this world will it be a true blessing for God has confirmed and affirmed us and we can say that we have rested from our labors.
In John 6:28-29, Jesus said to the Jews that to work the works of God, we must believe in the Lord. We must work hard for our faith, be responsible in our daily life, such that our names will be recorded in the Book of Life. We who work in the Lord, unlike the people of the world who desire to leave a name behind in this world, work to leave our names in God, which carries true significance. Revelation 20:11-15 describes judgment in the end times. This passage describes the great white throne that is the throne of judgment. The heavens and the earth have fled away, the entire universe removed, and everyone is brought before the Lord where everyone is judged according to the Book of Life. Anyone whose name is not found in the Book of Life shall be thrown into the lake of fire, Hell (v.15). This is the reason why we ought to pursue to leave our names in the Book of Life.
In our church, there have been many testimonies of members seeing the angels sent by our Lord Jesus to receive them, prior to their departure from this world. In one of our churches located in the northern part of Taiwan, there was an Elder Liu who worked very hard and took on all sorts of jobs when he was younger. He became zealous in his service for God after he came to believe and became one of the committee members in charge of the funeral affairs for church members. Perhaps as a result of working too hard when he was younger, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer in his later life. He was hospitalized for a month before passing away. A few days prior to his death, he asked his son to request for a day away from the hospital. They saw that the elder was dying, so they gave in to his request but got him an ambulance and sent him a nurse. When his son asked him where he wanted to go, the elder said that he wanted to see his burial ground. “For a large part of my time, I have been arranging other people’s funeral and seen them buried. Now it is my turn. I cannot attend my own funeral so while I am still alive, let me go see it.” His son was curious as to why he felt this way and Elder Liu replied that it because Jesus was coming to receive him soon.
Such is the faith of one who believes in the Lord; he is not afraid of death for he knew that he was going to see Lord Jesus. His son testified of Elder Liu’s experience during the funeral. The day before he decided to leave the hospital, he saw four angels who came to his bed and sang him the hymn, Heavenly Home. After the hymn ended, one of the angels came beside him and asked, “Uncle, are you ready?” I felt specially moved that the angel didn’t address him as an Elder, but as Uncle. Elder Liu was ready and he had been waiting for this day since the moment he believed. Since Lord Jesus was bringing him away, he wanted to see his burial ground. He gathered his children and grandchildren after he returned to the hospital that day and gave them his final words. He wanted them to keep themselves in the faith, be zealous in their faith, and work well, so that in future, they will meet again in the Lord Jesus. That Saturday, our Lord received him back and Elder Liu received rest in the Lord.
All the testimonies I have shared go to show that our faith is real. As believers, we still need to do our part, work hard and never give up on our faith because God will remember everything. Why do we labor? Let us not labor without any real purpose. We are all laboring but let us be busy for our eternal life for this is the only way our busyness is of significance.