By Paul Koch –
We have all heard at some time in our life, usually on the lips of a well-meaning grandmother, that famous saying, “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.” This is a great saying and there is truth found in it. In fact, if you think about it, this saying focuses us on a central problem of mankind. The thing is, our hands don’t stay idle. To be idle is to be unproductive, to do nothing, but we are busy creatures always working in some way. So, this a cautionary saying that if our hands are not being employed toward something good, something faithful, or something beautiful then they will be employed towards something wicked – for they will not stay idle.
Our God is a working God. When He speaks to Moses from the burning bush and sends him off to Pharaoh to demand that he let His people go, Moses says “Ok, sure thing. But who do I say is sending me? What is your name?” The Almighty God, the Creator of the universe says to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God’s name is the verb “to be”. He is existence in and of itself. Yahweh is being, living, existing, doing, working. God is anything but idle. He speaks the world into being. He separates the dry ground from the waters. He establishes the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. He causes this creation to spring with life and vegetation. He gives the seasons and establishes the sun, moon and stars. Yes, our God is a working God, and you are made in His image – which means you will work.
Before mankind’s fall into sin, before the serpent’s deceiving of Eve and the eating of the forbidden fruit, man worked. He was created in the image of God and placed in a garden in Eden as it says in the text, “to work it and keep it.” We are doers, builders, creators and workers in the creation of God. But since the fall, since that terrible day when disobedience and evil tore at our relationship with our Creator, that work has not been easy. The ground and our labor is cursed, thorns and thistles choke out the good garden and God says, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” So our work becomes our struggle, which is why there is truth in that old saying, idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.
The proof of how broken our ability to work has become is found most significantly in the cross of Christ. Because of sin, because of our desire to be like God, we found ourselves in a bondage that we could not work our way out of. You cannot work hard enough or pure enough or long enough to rid yourself of sin and evil. You cannot work your way into heaven. In fact, the very best work that you accomplish turns out to lead you away rather than closer to your God. Your lack of work can’t save you, your best work can’t save you, you can’t save you. So, God gets to work. Our God is a God who works. He bears your sins. He walks the down the faithful and narrow road without wavering. He suffers, dies and rises from the grave because you cannot work for it.
This gift, this deliverance, this new life of hope and confidence leaves us in a conundrum. For we are still made in the image of a God who works. But now what do we work for? How do we work? Is our work a virtue? Is it a vice?
You don’t have to think very long to realize that your work is more than strained; it is broken. I mean, there is a practical reality to work. I work to provide for my family, to put gas in the cars and a roof over our heads and food in the fridge. People work to buy things, to make homes, to survive in this world. But we also work because it gives a sense of purpose and identity to who we are. The most common ice breaker in any conversation with someone you’ve just met is to ask them, “What do you do for a living?” For, in some way our work is associated with who we are. Though I would have never guessed it when I
was a young man, work can be addictive. That’s right, people get addicted to their job, hooked on putting in the hours and staying up late. Work can be detrimental to relationships. The structure, pattern and reward of work can become the greatest sense of security in this world.
There are others who are frustrated by their work; it is unfulfilling or demeaning in some way. Oh, they work, but they loath doing it. We all know people who hate Mondays, not because there is anything particularly vexing about that day on the calendar, but they just hate going off to their jobs. Work can become tedious and uninspiring. There are also those who long for work but cannot find it. They’re unemployed or underemployed and work becomes as source of pain and suffering. This isn’t limited to work that you do to earn a paycheck, it is the work you do throughout your days. The work of being a parent or a grandparent, the work of volunteering or supporting a friend in need; it is all met with struggle, with doubts and insecurities. But whether you are defined by your job or addicted to it, or seeking validation or just some inspiration, the temptation arises over and again for you to wander off into idleness.
Now idleness is not to do nothing. As Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica he commands them to “keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.” Idleness is a dangerous thing. Idleness is to be a busybody and engage in activity that makes us look like we are working while we are actually not helping anyone. In fact, it seems that Paul is cautioning the church about idleness because it is destructive to the actual work of the church. When you cannot work for your own salvation and when your daily work is frustrated, it is tempting to become idle. To become idle is to simply receive without giving, to become idle is to gossip and criticize without offering solutions. This undercuts the church, it devours the fellowship. Many a child of God has been wounded and driven from the fold because of the temptation of idleness.
Instead, the love of Christ is to flow through you. As I said earlier, you cannot work for heaven. God is not interested in what you can offer Him. He isn’t in need waiting for you to make things better. No, He has worked for you, and in that work He has declared you to be free. You are forgiven and set free. What then are you to do with your work? Why, you are free to work for your neighbor, to work for one another, to work for those who need the gifts you have been given. The love of Christ pulls you out of idleness to good and purposeful work where you strengthen and build up one another, where you become the hand and feet, the smile sand hugs, the mouths and ears of God for one another.
This is a great time to be alive! Your salvation is sure, secured by the blood of God’s only begotten Son. You are free to work with joy for others. Paul encourages, “do not grow weary of doing good.” The return of our Lord is coming, and with His return comes the resurrection of all the dead, the new heavens and the new earth, and the eternal gifts of paradise are yours in Christ alone. In the meantime, you get to work to do good, to love one another.
Our broken and frail work for salvation met its end in the cross of Calvary. But now a new work is just beginning, a work that is anything but the Devil’s handiwork.