Presented on The Lutheran Hour on October 5, 2014 By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker (Grace for Hard-working People Too!) Copyright 2014 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Ephesians 2:8-10
Christ is risen, He is risen indeed and trusting in Him may not always be good business, but it's what eternal, abundant life is all about. Amen.
We've been on the road with the Apostle Paul the last few weeks. Today we follow him to the ancient city of Ephesus. It was a major business center of the Roman Empire, a kind of New York City of the time. At this great seaport of the Aegean Sea, ships docked to bring tradable items from around the globe; ancient marketplaces buzzed with deals. Roads radiated out from Ephesus in every direction carrying those goods wherever there was money to be made.
And within its city walls was the Temple of Artemis. You might be tempted to think, "So what?" Well, that's like saying, "Wall Street," so what? Or the "Twin Towers," so what? Or the "Statue of Liberty," so what? At the time the Temple of Artemis was greater than all of these combined, it was considered one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. And, for the Ephesians, that temple was a major player in all they were doing, in their business life, their commercial life, even their social life. If life was about good business, then for many in the ancient world, to work in Ephesus was good business to the max.
Now, I've lived and worked in New York City. It is quite a place. If you've been there, worked there, or lived there, you know that there is an attitude in that city. It's an attitude that doesn't put up with nonsense! It's a no-nonsense kind of place. There is a constant drumbeat to get down to business; a constant pressure to "get down to brass tacks."
You've heard that phrase before, right? Do you know what it means? It most likely came from the haberdashery trade, you know, the people who worked with clothing, bedding, and drapes. To get down to brass tacks was to measure accurately between the actual tacks on the counter of the shop. Instead of the rough-and-ready measuring of a yard of material by holding it out along an arm's length, cloth was better measured between these brass tacks which were set at accurate intervals. Fairness, get it right, get it accurate, it's just good business.
I think that the Ephesians were a bit like that too. They wanted to get down to brass tacks when it came to the important things in life. This was a place where business, philosophy, and religion all came together as one. But the thing that mattered most was good business.
How do I know? Let's just take a look at Acts, Chapter 19, where the Apostle Paul is proclaiming the Good News of Jesus to the people of Ephesus. If you want to know the meat of that message, if you want to see more clearly the core of that teaching, just go to the letter in the New Testament of the Bible that bears the city's name, the letter to the Ephesians. Paul goes to this business center of the ancient world and says, life and salvation is "God's free gift to people who are dead in their trespasses and sins." Even the business-savvy need a grace that saves dead in their trespass sinners. Like us today, what was needed for the soul solutions of life was not more law and order, not the beauty of our philosophy and art, not even good business. Life is more than all of that. Life comes from repentantly knowing God by faith in and through the Person of Jesus the Messiah.
Paul proclaimed a message about a God who is not made with human hands. He proclaimed a God who can't be manipulated by our deals, but comes on His gracious terms alone to all who will believe. That's the Good News of God who saves, who redeems, who restores all of life; the political, the philosophical, the commercial, and the personal.
But that God gets in the way of how we do things, doesn't He? That God is very often not good for business when our business is selling the spiritual things of life as a man-made commodity in the marketplace.
In Acts, we see that Paul's preaching of the Good News made the silversmiths of Ephesus angry. Hey, they had the Disneyland of the world at their feet, the Temple of Artemis. There were idols to be made and idols to be sold, business to be transacted. If religion was part of it, then it must be harnessed for the sake of business. But, Paul's preaching of Good News as a free gift in Jesus alone, that didn't just undermine the peddlers, that went right to the heart of the matter. What was bad for business in this case, was good for people's souls and that is what matters most, period.
If you go and read the account in Acts 19, it was quite a dust up. Paul almost lost his life. On our "Footsteps of Paul," trip, we walked down the same streets of Ephesus. I even stood in the amphitheatre in Ephesus where the riots against Paul erupted. Standing there, I was amazed again at how easily we sinful people can totally miss the point of life. I can hear the anger of the crowds as they shouted to denounce Christ's teachings, by resistant force, all because Paul dared to offer them the grace of God that comes through faith alone in Jesus! Wow! Eternal life or temporal idols? Incredibly, they rejected Christ, the One who makes life worth living, work worth doing, customers worth valuing, businesses worth building, neighborhoods worth serving. Many that day didn't realize that without a relationship with God in and through Jesus, eventually, none of these things ultimately matter at all!
We're tempted the same way today, aren't we? We have a "show me the money, follow the money, greed is good" mentality as if life can be reduced to good business. People are tempted to believe that life is what you make of it, and what you make of it is your business. In fact, in many of our movies and books, one of the most cruel phrases that one can say, or hear; think about it for a moment. Ready? It's when the powerful guy says to the one that has been slapped around a bit. He then says, "You realize this wasn't personal, it was business." Can there be anything more devastating to hear than a phrase which tells you that you are not even valued as a commodity, let alone a human being? Well, according to the Bible, that is not even how business was meant to be.
Paul proclaims later to the Elders at Ephesus in Acts 20:21, "I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." That's the key to it all. Real life isn't "show me the money," It's "show me Jesus so that I might know Him and believe in Him." Real life is knowing the truth and the power of this phrase, "For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift from God- 9 not by works, not by business, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's workmanship, His handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."
So, let me say it this way to any Ephesian-types, Wall Street-types, CEO-types today, from the Bible's point of view, the life of grace in Jesus through faith, giving God glory and honor as one lives it out and serves our neighbors through our work; well, dare I say it, "that's good business!"
If you don't think it's true, hear the warnings of Scripture for those who put their trust still in wealth and commerce alone. The writer of Ecclesiastes says it this way: "So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I hated all these things I had toiled for, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they've got control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless," he says. 22 "What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving," he says, "with which they labor under the sun? 23 All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless" (Ecclesiastes 2:17-23). Sounds like a lot of people I know. Maybe that's you too.
Jesus speaks to this even more clearly when He counsels, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and vermin destroy, where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal" (Matthew 6:19-20). Money fades. Wealth earned always is stolen away eventually; that's the warning. But "store up real treasures," that's the wisdom, that's the invitation. And that's what Paul invites us all to see today for our lives. He wants us all to see and trust in the power of faith in Christ alone!
So, in the business spirit of Ephesus, New York, Dubai, or wherever you happen to live and work, will you get down to brass tacks with me today? Will you get down to brass tacks and face faith facts?
Paul says it plainly, the key to life and salvation is repenting of the notion that you can make life what it was meant to be on your own with merely the skill and wisdom of your sinful mind and heart. Repent of the notion of striving for life apart from God, when God is the One who so much desires that you have life to its fullest extent.
Get down to brass tacks and trust in the good news that you, me, all of us Ephesian-types are saved by grace, saved by the undeserved kindness of God in action for you and me on the cross of Jesus Christ. We are saved with a grace that is infinitely beyond our accomplishments and infinitely gracious to cover all of our sins.
Trust in the Good News that this gift is yours through faith, that confident trust, that all of your life is in Christ's hands, and that is good news.
Trust in the Good News, that this is not of yourself; so that your confidence, your certainty, your boldness to face the future, to make the tough decisions you face daily, that all these things depend on Christ, His Word, His presence, His guidance, and He doesn't let His people down.
And get down to brass tacks in life with me today, by realizing that knowing Jesus means that you see all of life differently in Him, for Him, for those He brings to your life. New status, new stature, new life for you, and yes, you'll do business differently, too, you'll see customers as brothers and sisters, you'll see workers as gifts from God, you'll see your abilities as gifts to be used to bless, you'll live striving for excellence, calling for excellence, yes, even demanding excellence from yourselves and those you work with; not to get your pound of flesh or to retire on Easy Street, but to honor God and to serve your neighbor well.
This is a whole new way of life, one that can be yours today and always. Brass tacks, faith facts; by the power of the Holy Spirit take a risk, trust in Christ!
You know, I've been privileged to serve with some pretty special people in my ministry. Some I've worked with were very powerful people in business who were also the most humble, gracious, and caring people in Christ I have ever known. If you are listening today, you know who you are. You have made my life and my ministry such a joy. And you have been a tremendous example of "Christ-likeness" to others.
And there is one thing that I've noticed in all of your lives. When the time was right, you were willing to take the risks of life that needed to be taken. You took risks in business, you took risks on certain people when others would have rejected them or protected oneself instead of them. You, like so many successful people, were willing to lay it on the line when the times demanded it. If you look at the biographies of successful entrepreneurs, especially Christian entrepreneurs, there is always that all-in moment in their life at some point in their success.
To the Ephesian-types among us today, by the power of the Holy Spirit, be risk takers by faith, put your trust in Christ in all things and get to work in His Name for others.
It reminds me of the story of C. J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove. She was the first self-made, millionaire American woman. I love her story. She was born to ex-slaves, working hard in the cotton fields to overcome poverty. She had to deal with the personal tragedy of losing her parents at a young age, as well as dealing with the overt racism of the times. She even overcame a personal struggle, a devastating scalp problem that would have overwhelmed almost anyone else, causing her to lose all of her hair. After moving to St. Louis and going to work in a barber shop, she created a product to deal with her scalp problem as well as creating unique hair products for African-American women. From the very roots of her struggle, with a strong faith in God, she risked it all and she created one of the most successful businesses in America. Traveling the south, she not only sold her products but created a way of hope and dignity for all those who used what she offered. She put many people to work in her factory in Indianapolis and eventually was part of a cultural revival of Harlem towards the end of her life.
When her life was on the line, she took a risk, a risk rooted and motivated by faith, that made all the difference in the world, not just for her, but for many who would be blessed by her work. Like C. J. Walker, there were many in Ephesus who came to faith and put it to work in their lives too. And there is one thing that we can learn today from Ephesian-types among the people of faith; that is the value of taking risks by faith, in faith when life and love demands it!
In a way, Paul is presenting to you and me today, the risk of life that matters most of all; the risk of life that comes by faith in Jesus Christ alone. Jesus risked it all when He was born under the law in your place, He risked it all when He suffered for the sins you committed in your place, and He offers you His resurrection life as a gift. He risked it all so that you could have His all by grace through faith. Repent today of the "show me the money" way of life, that way always comes to nothing. You can't take it with you. Receive in faith that new life that comes in Jesus, start living with a whole new mindset, one that risks faith, trusts in Christ and gets to work, serving others as to the Lord.
And that mindset, it is a much stronger motivator than just working to supply your own needs. It produces a much greater work ethic. It also deals with the problem of the love of money - the root of all kinds of evil. It frees us to be ambitious and serving at the same time because we are striving in grace, for others, in God's Name.
As Luther reminds us, the key to life itself is knowing and believing that we are saved not with gold or silver, but with Jesus' holy precious blood, His innocent suffering and death, that we may be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, serve Him in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
Sometimes, when this faith runs up against the show me the money ways of this world, it may not be good business at the moment, but it is the key to life and salvation now and forever. So, Paul gets down to brass tacks. He shows you Jesus and the facts of faith, of life and salvation in Him; and that is what really matters to the hardened business people of the ancient world as well as to the Wall Street types and the hard-working folks of today. Trust me on this. Or should I say trust in Jesus Christ on this? Receive the grace of God through faith in Him. Store up treasures in heaven with Him and get to work. You'll be glad that you did.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for October 5, 2014 Topic: Grace for Hard-working People Too!
ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, this week's Lutheran Hour message talked about God's grace for people who lived and worked in ancient Ephesus; these were no-nonsense, business types. We often assume that people who are trying to make it big in the world don't have time to bother with spiritual things. What about that?
SELTZ: Mark, there is no doubt that there are a lot of people who think like that today. We hear it all the time, the point of life is to get an education, get a good job, make a lot of money and then retire to do what you want.
ANNOUNCER: But I'm guessing that is going to miss the whole point, isn't it?
SELTZ: Yeah, I think so, and God's Word says so too. 1 Timothy 6 says, "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil," and Jesus says, "You can't serve God and money." It's pretty clear that the goal of life is to know God by faith and everything else flows from that.
ANNOUNCER: Does that mean hard work and good business is bad for our relationship with God?
SELTZ: Not at all. In fact, Christians should strive for excellence in all they do. The Bible teaches us to work with our hands, use our minds, earn our keep; but not as the "essence of life," but as just another means to give God glory and to serve our neighbor.
ANNOUNCER: Isn't that what St. Paul was trying to get across in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus?
SELTZ: I think you're right. Paul says, "You are saved by grace through faith!"....then, you are God's workmanship, created to do good work...." Life is knowing and trusting in God for what He has done for you, period. Living life, earning money, getting a job, loving our neighbor, having a family, all these things have meaning and value as we see them as gifts from God to exercise our faith in love. If we put the "work gives our lives meaning" in place of "our relationship with God" gives our lives meaning, yeah, we miss the whole point of everything. So, it's important, keep the order straight!
ANNOUNCER: That, in turn, puts a different perspective on things like work and commerce.
SELTZ: Yes, and that's why Paul got into trouble in Ephesus. The people there were using religion as a means for business, and Paul proclaims the preeminence of the grace of God for all, above all things. So, free gift, period. No more having to buy idols, no more temple taxes and guilt-relieving trinkets; no, God paid the price. Then he says, "Now strive to bless people with your commerce. Give God glory in your work."
ANNOUNCER: And it seems like that would make people want to work even harder, but for the right purpose.
SELTZ: Right. What dad wouldn't want to work hard for his family, the way that God has done everything well for him? What mom wouldn't try to give it her all in whatever she does because the love that motivates her flows from the love of God that she's received? Even working hard so that you have something to give away, that becomes a goal for those who know that God gives us all things, our hands, our minds, our eyes, our ears, all our senses and the ability to do creative and wonderful things with our life. In fact, having something to give away freely; that's one of the signs that we are maturing in our life.
ANNOUNCER: As the old saying goes, "It is better to give than to receive."
SELTZ: And that's especially true because God's joy is giving to you and me as His children. I heard someone say, "Earned Money is 'coined' worship," a way to serve others with our labor in God's Name. Or, work is an opportunity to bless the world we live in, to bless those we love and care for as God's agents of grace. Christians should love to roll up their sleeves and get to work on Monday with the same joyful attitude that draws us to church on Sunday.
ANNOUNCER: I'm hearing you say God's grace, then, empowers our lives, and those lives will then involve meaningful work.
SELTZ: Correct. Work is a blessing from God, it has value in that it gives us the opportunity to put the gifts that God has given us to work, so that we and those we love will have the things that they need in this life.
ANNOUNCER: In that sense, then, we become part of God's active involvement and blessing in the world.
SELTZ: That's the dignity of our God-given vocations. We were meant to work, to bless each other through our work. In fact, there is a so-called "Protestant work ethic" that talked about work in this way and I think that it has been a blessing, especially in the United States.
ANNOUNCER: So, then, keeping faith in God first and foremost, hard work and good business can bless us and those around us.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
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