Whom do you work for? Better, maybe. Whom do you want to please in your work?
Likely, you have a boss. Maybe, a board of directors, or shareholders. There’s probably somebody you care very much about pleasing in your work. And, this week at Woodland, we’re thinking about how our work reveals these important relationships. We’re also thinking about how work, properly understood, reveals our relationship to God as redeemed image-bearers of God.
Romans 8.18-25 meets us right where we live in our work lives, right where we’re situated in the tension between Christ’s two comings. We know about the goodness of work from Genesis 1-2. Work matters, because God works. We also know about the frustration of work from Genesis 3. Work frustrates, because people sin. What’s difficult for us is how Christ’s work on the cross—while saving us—doesn’t seem to change our work lives a great deal. Work still frustrates!
Important for us to realize is that our work (including its struggle and the way we do it!) reveals whom we belong to, because Jesus has bought us back (at the cross) and will buy us back (at His return) from our fallenness. The toil of work reveals our relationship as children of God.
Romans 8.18-25 is structured like one of those department store dressing rooms with the funhouse, infinite-mirror effect where two mirrors reflect one another. Quick observation shows that six “for”s explain one another and take us from Genesis 3-like despair to the certainty of incredible hope.
for … Present frustration can’t compare with future glory (:18) Sure, machinery breaks in our work. And, we’re passed over for promotions. And then, there’s times when sick days don’t cover the sickness. And, most of us know boredom and mindless repetition in our work. But, it’s not always going to be this way! Jesus’ work on the cross—received by faith—has made us heirs of God. We have an incredible inheritance to look forward to. But, we don’t have it yet. Verse 19 explains why.
for … Creation is waiting for us (:19). For creation waits with eager longing for the sons of God to be revealed (ESV). The word “expectation” actually means something like “to stretch the neck out”. God has begun to work the curse backwards by beginning with His image-bearers. So, while we await Christ’s return, the picture here is of the poor, frustrated, cursed creation poised for the completion of God’s work in us.
for … God frustrated creation to bring about freedom (:20-21). These verses recast Genesis 3 and explain why creation waits so eagerly. God Himself frustrated creation, so that it would be obvious that creation needs the same redeemer that we have. … cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life (Gen 3.17).
God’s answer to all this: a Savior, who begins with God’s image-bears. We find the first hint of this champion in Genesis 3.15, He shall crush your head … Till that champion comes, the present futility in creation should alert everybody to the need for a Savior. Take disasters like those in Houston, the Florida coast, Puerto Rico, and Mexico City. I need to draw the connection between those desperate situations and God’s work with me! Come for me, Lord Jesus, and then heal this poor world!
for … We suffer with creation till Christ comes (:22-23). Till Jesus comes, we groan with creation. Catch the reference to Genesis 3.16, as all creation tries to be fruitful, but can’t. In many ways we’re not out of the woods yet. We have the “first-fruits” of the Spirit of God, who lives in us and reminds us, “It’s all true!” We’re like adopted children who have new birth certificates all printed and ready, but haven’t yet met our new parents. We’re waiting for the final redemption of our bodies that will be renewed, along with creation, at Christ’s coming (see also 1 Corinthians 15). That will be the day!
for … We’re saved into hope which builds patience (:24-25). Till Christ returns, we’re hopeful, not because we might not be free of painful toil, but because that freedom hasn’t come yet. This hope of being in a new creation with bodies that work without sin is the hope we’re saved into. Till then, painful toil reminds me of whom I belong to. And, this hope increases my patience.
So, whom do you really work for?
You’re not wrong to think of your boss or company or clients. But, Romans 8.18-25 reminds us that we can be cheered in the midst of really hard work with the truth that we’re pressing toward the fulness of our new relationship as children of God.
Take a minute to consider the following questions as you consider Romans 8.18-24 and think about your daily work routine.
Look back through the passage and find each “for”. How do each of the ideas these words mark summarize or explain the idea before it?
What practical benefit does knowing that you belong to God have for your everyday work?
Have you ever thought that God works in stages in our redemption? What did Christ accomplish at the cross? What will He accomplish at His return? How does this distinction help you make sense of the everyday world you live and work in?
What are some particular frustrations you have in your work? What does your hope in the future redemption of your body at Christ’s return contribute to the way you respond to these frustrations?