A Voice in the Wilderness - Observations and Excursions of a Christian Zealot

Terry Walker's Weblog --- Occasional articles on the Christian Ethic

Sunday, May 01, 2005

From Dust to Dust and All the Toil in Between

In Genesis 2:15, God took Adam and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it. Later He commanded Adam and Eve to, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth (Genesis 1:28b).” No blood was shed, either by animals or man, for God had given every green herb for food for both man and animals. The fruit of every tree, less one, could be enjoyed. The Earth yielded its abundance freely, in perfect measure and with its full strength, and God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good, and the man and his wife were naked and were not ashamed.

I venture to say that no man beyond Adam has the capability to comprehend the true and utter magnificence of life within the Garden of Eden, because no man since Adam has experienced an Earth that was “very good,” an Earth free of toil, free of futility, free of vanity, and free of death. Can you imagine such a life? That’s what I thought; neither can I. Such a life is simply beyond our understanding.

But Eve, while living such a life as we cannot even comprehend, heeded the voice of the serpent and ate. She usurped the role of her husband and was judged by God. She, and all women, would bring forth children in pain. In like manner, Adam heeded the voice of his wife and ate of the one tree he was commanded not to eat. By God, he was forewarned that from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he should not eat, for in the day that he ate of it he would surely die. In the Garden of Eden there was another tree, the tree of life, from which Adam could freely eat. But Adam, now in a fallen condition, having sinned against God, could no longer be allowed to eat of the tree of life, as doing so would have caused him to live forever. Adam, fully capable of choosing to sin or remain upright, had chosen poorly and had become the same as you and I, a wretched sinner! Can you imagine living such a dreadful life, a sinner’s life, and living it forever? If you are Christian you most certainly can relate, because you were born evil, and until glory, evil you will remain, for even our present redemption has not yet delivered us from our decaying bodies. But thankfully, through our God’s mercy, He has predetermined the number of our days and will bring them to an end before we bear more than we are able.

So our faithful and loving God, having mercy on Adam’s fallen condition and knowing of the misery that was to beset him, cast Adam and his wife from the garden, to till the ground from which Adam was taken, saying beforehand, “Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”

So it was with this one act that all the Earth was cursed with futility. No longer would man easily tend a garden which gladly yielded its full strength. Now all mankind would struggle with constant futility. Man’s simple tending had become ineffective toil. Man would forevermore strive pointlessly. Man would endeavor to prosper, but to no avail. The lives of the sons of men had become vanity, sharing the same fate as the dogs. King Solomon, wrote, “I said in my heart with regard to human beings that God is testing them to show that they are but animals. For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again (Ecclesiastes 3:18-20).”

A short time ago I heard a radio pastor speaking on this verse as he attempted to use it to prove that King Solomon, the wisest man ever created, had no idea of the concept of bodily resurrection, and that the grave was all that followed death, even for the believer. This pastor mistakenly attributes Isaiah 22:13 to King Solomon when the Bible says “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” The Holy Spirit simply has not granted this Pastor the understanding that King Solomon was fully aware of a human resurrection after death. Was it not King Solomon that wrote, “He that winneth souls is wise (Proverbs 11:30)?” If one wins a soul for God but it is simply lost with the onset of corruption, then both new believers and their Christian soul winners should be pitied more than anyone else on the earth. For they have died to themselves while yet alive and have denied themselves daily only to die the same fate as the dogs. But such is not the case as our hope in Christ is not for this life only (Based on 1 Corinthians 15:19). This is a concept King Solomon understood entirely.

In Ecclesiastes, King Solomon took his time to record in detail, the pursuit of human endeavor while on Earth. Numerous times in this small book does he give us the answer to the age old question, “What’s the point of life?” So let’s delve deeply and find out what the Bible has to say about what a Christian is to do with his life, despite all this futility. First let’s look at some people who are doing it all wrong.

Example #1 -- The Selfish Worker --- Ecclesiastes 4:8
There is one alone, without companion: He has neither son nor brother. Yet there is no end to all his toil, nor is his eye satisfied with riches. But he never asks, “For whom do I toil and deprive myself of pleasure now?” This also is vanity and a worthless task.

This unsaved man will die having succeeded in accumulating nothing more than a pile of garbage, which stands in stark contrast to the man who wrote, “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8) It is in Christ alone that our work and our labor become meaningful. Our work is still toil, but in Christ it is toil with purpose.

Example #2 -- The Selfish Saver -- Luke 12:16-21
The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, “What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?” So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?” “So is he who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

This man said “I” and “my” so many times I lost count. He laid claim to everything. In his mind his crops were his, his barns were his, his goods were his, his land, his labor, his time, even his soul he thought of as his. He was not rich toward God but rather rich toward himself. But that night God, the owner and giver of all things, was going to take one small thing from this rich man, his breath. And then what would become of his riches, his life’s work, not to mention the fact that he lost his soul? Of this King Solomon said, “Then I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will rule over all my labor in which I toiled and in which I have shown myself wise under the sun. This also is vanity (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19).”

So what is the point and purpose of all this futility? Why would God curse the Earth and the labor of mankind in the first place?

One must understand that God’s purpose in all things is to glorify Himself. If you grasp this understanding then many things become obvious. God did not destroy Satan because, in letting him live, mankind now knows the difference between good and evil. As well we equally understand our need for God’s mercy because, without salvation, we inherently serve Satan (Luke 16:13). Satan’s and our sins stand in greater contrast to God’s righteousness because we now have a knowledge of good and evil (reference: the tree in the garden). No longer are we naked and unashamed, but rather now we have a need for a covering just as in the garden when God killed an animal to cover Adam and Eve. But an animal’s blood would not suffice. So it pleased God to send Jesus, our redeemer, who came to save sinners, not the righteous. Why? Because those who have been forgiven much, love much in return. Again, the further a heathen is from Christ-likeness the more glorifying it is for God to save him. I think of the Apostle Paul who once persecuted Jesus, then later labored more than all the other Apostles in the name of Jesus. He, a chief of sinners, had been forgiven much. It is in these contrasts that greater glory is found. So for the same glorifying contrast, God cursed the Earth because to do so magnifies God’s mercy when futility in a man’s labor drives him back to Christ through Whom all things come. The harder a Christian’s life, the more he must rely on his Father for faith, grace, and mercy. The less a Christian has in his life, the more his hope secures when he no longer has need of hope. So now that the deed is done and futility is upon us, what is a Christian to do?

Let’s look at the perfect worker Himself.
Jesus repeatedly said throughout His life that He was sent to Earth to accomplish the will of His Father. Jesus labored in this task perfectly despite the many toils listed in Isaiah 53:6-9. But, in verse 10b God says of His Son “and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities.” This task and all the others that His Father assigned, Jesus accomplished.

So what is the point of your life? First and foremost you must be converted! Without salvation your life will serve to glorify God only in His ultimate condemnation of you. Without salvation nothing you do will please God and everything you do, even worshipping God, is sin (Romans 8:8)! Jesus said “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of Heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3-4).” But what does this mean, “become as little children?” Little children have no money, no wisdom, no knowledge, no power, no job, they own nothing and have no ability to give back for all that is given to them, and they rely entirely on their fathers and mothers for their very existence. But then, perhaps this is the very thing that Christ had in mind. The Bible says that we are not adequate in ourselves to think of anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God (2 Corinthians 3:5). Perhaps the difference between little children and adults is that little children have not yet forgotten who to rely on for their daily bread. If you have yet to rely on Jesus, do so while the day is yet today, because tonight your soul may be required of you, and the flames of Hell a real and cannot be quenched.

Ah, but you are saved, praise the Lord Jesus. God has blessed you with many spiritual and physical blessings. You go to church and fellowship with the brethren. You do not covet or steal. You are content with all that you have. (Hebrews 12:29). You are aware that there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for you brought nothing into the world, nor will you take anything out of it. But if all you had was food and clothing, would you be content with these? The Bible says that people who want to be rich, fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains (Based on 1 Timothy 6:6-10).

I have been blessed with many material blessings. In past years my household has gained more than enough in a single year to buy another two or more households. Yet these material things never brought me joy, in fact they nearly destroyed me by bringing me to the brink of apostasy. Likewise, I have watched as others I know have become entirely consumed with the selfish acquisition of material wealth, denying family, loved ones, themselves and even the truth in the process. Ecclesiastes 5:12 says that the sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eats little or much; but the abundance of the rich will not permit them to sleep. I sleep well these days. Like King David, I am surrounded by ten thousand enemies, and my sleep is sweet. Yet God has not chosen to take from me the abundance of material things He has given me, preferring to make me a worker, using my calling to feed the sheep and toil under the sweat of my brow. I praise God that He has restored me and made me His worthless slave.

Serving God and His Sheep
Colossians 3:22-24 says, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ.”

I serve the Lord Christ, but do I serve him with a whole heart? A short time ago I heard some brothers say that I do nothing half way; that I go all out in all that I do. Oh, how I pray this was true, but I fail miserably. I and Christians worldwide are far too content to be motivated, we are too easily pleased; we do not set our hearts on the joys in Christ. We read of the incredible rewards and promises of God written in the Gospels and are not stirred into a greater pleasure in our God, nor do we increase in our labor for Him, and our pursuit of joy in Christ is set aside so that we may play with our earthly trinkets. Repent and serve Christ!

Robbing God of His Due
Malachi 3:8-10a says, “Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, “How are we robbing you?” In your tithes and offerings! You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me—the whole nation of you! Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house,” Are we not robbing God when we do not seek to serve His sheep with our whole heart? Jesus said that the first great commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

How can we think that we can love the Lord yet not serve His sheep who know him? While the old covenant believer had a set rule of 10%, the new covenant believer knows that God owns it all, and that we are but stewards of all that God gives to us. We are to spend and give as God would have us to. So who controls God’s money in your house, God or your own selfish flesh?

A Changing of Your Ways
Ephesians 4:28 says, “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.”

Does your labor return enough to allow you to give to others, or do you spend all that you earn on you and your family’s lifestyle? The Bible says “a worker is worth his wages”; are you receiving wages worthy of the Lord’s work that you are providing to your master? It is your duty to earn what your work is worth so that you may have something to give to others.

The Pleasure and Duty of Giving Material Things
Romans 15:25-27, says “But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things.”

Do you minister to others not only in spiritual things but also in material things? If you are not blessed financially, but are able bodied, then you likewise have a duty to serve through the means you possess.

Toil Without Vanity
1 Corinthians 15:58 says, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

The Bible says that the word of God does not return void. Likewise the labor of a Christian doing the work of the Lord will never be in vain.

So this brings us to a certain point. You are saved. You understand that because of the curse, your life will be filled with futility. You have seen the error of your ways in the way that you handle both your labor and the assets that you receive in return, but you still would like to know how to deal with the constant distress and misery that come with life lived in a fallen world.

Let’s take a look into an example from a good friend of mine, Roland Moore. A man I have studied and questioned and observed with great inquisition for what to him must seem like years (I am a high maintenance friend). A short time ago I arrived at Roland’s house to find him elbow deep in grease from his car’s radiator, which futility would have it, needed to be replaced. Seems that a routine trip blew a hole in the radiator, and the leak could cause serious engine damage. Karen, Roland’s wife, drove to Roland’s location to exchange vehicles, but not before Roland, McGyver style, temporarily repaired the radiator with bubble gum or putty or some other substance he had handy at the time. Karen was able to limp the car home without incident. Roland upon arriving home asked Karen if she smelled anything on the trip home, perhaps leaking radiator fluid. Karen, who strangely enough knows these things, said she smelled nothing “but the engine sure did squeal.” Roland, assuming damage to the water pump, went to investigate the matter only to find that the squeal was his now totally destroyed alternator. With the radiator now replaced and returning from yet another trip to Auto Zone, Roland installs the new alternator only to find that the alternator he just bought is not the correct one. Another trip to the store, another alternator installed and now my friend truly resembles a full fledged grease monkey. So I inquire of my friend as to how he remains in good spirits and without frustration during his obvious suffering of futility and toil. And my remarkable friend says that he praises God because of His mercy. He said, “God could have allowed this to happen while on the highway, or on a family trip, but God instead worked it out so that I could fix it in my driveway and not even miss the evening service.”

You see, my friend, whether he knows it or not, has learned not only to persevere during suffering, but also to deny his flesh’s desire. He could have allowed his emotions to get the best of him with anger, or self pity, or depression, but Roland instead remained steadfast, immovable, and abounded in the work of the Lord. Because of this, God’s pleasure, which was to teach me, prospered in Roland’s hand. This is the difference between a mature Christian and an adolescent Christian who is blown about by every wind that blows. A mature Christian does not simply read and gain wisdom and express it through fervent emotions, but rather he works what he has learned into a lifestyle of experience that glorifies God in all that he labors to do.

So how do you handle your life’s futility? How do you respond to others when they cut you off on the way to work? When the waiter himself wouldn’t eat what he just served you? Or when the grass grows faster, the bills come quicker, the in-laws just show up and the kids act a fool? How ‘bout much harder things, such as your daughter telling you she just had an abortion, your husband running off with his secretary, your brother refusing to abandon himself to Christ despite your best soul winning effort, and the diagnosis you never wanted to hear?

When these things come you will need more than any willpower you are able to muster, you will need to know and believe that God’s grace is sufficient for you. And there is no better time than now to start living and believing as Paul did when he said, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” (Romans 8:18-25)

Oh, dear Lord please seal these verses to our hearts and minds that we may not only be prepared to persevere when suffering comes, but that we might so deeply believe that we will without fail count it all joy when we fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of our faith produces patience. We ask that you let patience have its perfect work in us that we may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. Amen

The great and wise King Solomon wrote:
“Here is what I have seen: It is good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor in which he toils under the sun all the days of his life which God gives him; for it is his heritage. As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor—this is the gift of God. For he will not dwell unduly on the days of his life, because God keeps him busy with the joy of his heart.” (Ecclesiastes 5:18)

May God say of you when your days are done “My pleasure prospered in my good and faithful servant’s hand; his toil has not been in vain, well done My good and faithful servant.”

Brother Terry Walker
Providence Baptist Church
Greer, South Carolina

P.S. God in His providence always amazes me. He is a magnificent God and plays with irony as a child plays with his toys. At this moment, as I type these very words, I hear the muffled sounds of a storm, remnants of a hurricane, raging outside and the sound of the Coleman generator that is supplying the power to this computer. As futility would have it, the storm took out the power some time ago, endangering my chance of finishing this article and the church directory before tomorrow’s deadline. So I had no choice but to go out in the rain and hook up the generator and all the cables so I could finish this article about toil and futility. How is that for providence? Thank you God, I count it a joy, Amen.