The Blessing of Work
J. R. Miller, 1905
"We urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle." 1 Thessalonians 5:14
"In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle." 2 Thessalonians 3:6
"We hear that some among you are idle!" 2 Thessalonians 3:11
WORK is the divine law for humanity. The person who does not work, if he be able to work, is failing God and also bringing blight upon his own life! Work is part of the constitution of our being. Health requires it. Idleness has curse in it! God works, and if we are to be like God—we must work too. Idleness is most undivine. The unhappiest people in the world—are those who do nothing! They have lost the balance of life. They are out of harmony with God and the universe. Work is the law of life—and a prime secret of happiness and health.
The work assigned by the Master is not the same for all. "To each one—his work." We do not all have the same gifts and capacities. Paul illustrates this by a reference to the members of the human body. Each member has its own use and function. Suppose all the members were eyes—how helpless would the body be! Eyes are important—but we need ears and hands and feet as well. Sometimes people chafe because they can do so little; but the smallest member of the body is essential. If it did not do its part, the whole bodily mechanism would suffer. And the least important member of human society—has his place and his part to do, without the faithful doing of which, there will be a blank in the great world's work.
We need not envy any other's capacity for usefulness. It may be more brilliant than ours, may seem greater, of a higher grade. Its influence may reach out more widely. Our friend may be able to speak or sing to thousands, while our stumbling word or our unmusical voice may make no impression whatever. Sometimes people occupying small fields in Christian work, grow discontented and seek something larger. But when we remember that it is the Master Himself who allots our work to us, and assigns our place—we may be sure that there is no mistake.
Then, we do not know what place is really narrow or of little importance, or what work is really small in its value to Christ and the world. It may be that the seemingly almost useless task assigned to us some day or some year—is of immeasurable importance to the kingdom of Christ.
In preparing for a great battle, one of the most able and successful generals was assigned by the commander, to the guarding of a certain bridge which seemed entirely out of the field of conflict. The general chafed and thought himself dishonored in being thus kept out of the battle in which other officers were leading their men to important victories. He heard the sound of battle far away—and fretted at being kept in his obscure place, with his command absolutely idle. But at length the line of battle swerved and moved toward him. The enemy was falling back, and the bridge he was guarding became the very key to the situation. So it came about, that this brave and valiant soldier was in the end—the hero of the battle. The commander had foreseen the importance of this bridge and had assigned his ablest general to defend it.
Just so, we do not know the importance in the Master's eye—of the obscure position we are set to occupy or of the inconspicuous work we are set to do. Yet, it may be the vital element in some great providential movement. Certainly, at least, we can trust our Master's wisdom in our assignment. He knows why He wants us at this obscure point—why He gives us this little task. Let us do the small duty just as faithfully, as carefully, and as skillfully—as if we were working in the eye of the whole world! Some day we shall know that we were assigned to the right place and to the right work.
Our work for Christ is more far-reaching than we dream. In the Master's work, character is of utmost important. We must be good—before we can do good. There is a tremendous power in a godly character. Those who would do the Master's work acceptably, worthily, should give, therefore, the most careful heed to their personality. The wise man says, "As dead flies give perfume a bad smell—so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor."
In nothing is this better illustrated than in the power of personal influence. There are men who are good, with right principles, honest, true, upright, benevolent, earnest, strenuous in good work—but who have little faults of temper, of disposition, of manner; little marring habits, untidiness, carelessness in speech, neglect in keeping promises; things in their business or social life which affect the purity or honor of their name; disagreeableness or unsavoriness in their relations with others—dead flies which cause the oil of their influence to send forth a bad odor.
No one can tell another what his particular work for Christ is. The kinds of work—are as many as the people are. "To each one his work." No two of us have precisely the same capacities, and, therefore, no two have precisely the same tasks assigned.
How to find our own work in life is sometimes a perplexing question. For one thing, however, we may know that it is always something near at hand. It is never far away, never hard to find. It is said in Nehemiah, in the story of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, that each person built next to his own door.
An artist wished to leave behind him some noble work which would make him famous for all time. Despising the common clay which was easily found, in which he had always wrought as an apprentice, he went far and near in search of some fine material fit for the beautiful form he wished to fashion. After journeying over all lands in vain quest for what he wanted, he came home at length, weary and disappointed, to find in the clay by his own doorstep, that from which he molded the masterpiece of his dream.
Just so, Christian people are forever making the same mistake. They long to do some beautiful thing for Christ—but never think for a moment that they can do it in the things of the common days, while really the opportunity comes to them every day—in the duties that seem trivial and commonplace. The common tasks of our everydays, furnish us the elements which go to make the divinest deeds. Just to be kind to a poor woman, to a sick man, or to a little child, to visit a stranger, to feed one who is hungry—is fit work for the Son of God to do. We may always seek our work for the Master close at hand. We may begin with the homeliest tasks that await us as we go out any morning—and then go on doing always the next thing, however simple it may be.
That is the way God's will is made known to us. One act prepares for another and leads to it. Then some day we shall find that the common kindnesses of the passing days are transmuted by divine grace—into gems for the crown of glory for our heads!
We must not make the mistake of thinking that Christian work consists merely in devotions and acts of worship. A minister preached one day about heaven, and his sermon was greatly enjoyed by his people. The next morning, a wealthy member of the church met the pastor and spoke warmly of the discourse. "That was a good sermon about heaven," he said. "But you didn't tell us where heaven is." "Oh," said the minister, "I can tell you now. Do you see yonder hill-top? In a cottage there, is a member of our church. She is sick in one bed, and her two children are sick in another bed. I have just come from her house. There is not a lump of coal, nor a stick of wood, nor a loaf of bread, nor any flour in that house. If you will go down town and buy some provisions and some coal, and send them to that home, and then go yourself to the house and read the Twenty-third Psalm beside the woman's sick-bed, and kneel and pray with her—you will know where heaven is."
The next morning the man met his pastor again, and said, "You were right—I found heaven!"
In the place of worship—we learn of heaven's joy and happiness; out in the fields of need—we find heaven in service of love. It makes our work very sacred—to remember that it is the Master who assigns it to us. Easy or hard, it is what He gives us to do. It must be right, therefore, for He is perfect in wisdom and perfect in love. Sometimes the Master lays us aside, and then we find our duty not in the active service—but in the quiet waiting. But whether it is to lie still or to work—He knows how we can best honor God, fulfill the end of our existence, and sweeten and enrich the world in which we live!