"A Labor of Love" #79-52
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on September 2, 2012
By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Does The Devil Have Power Over Me?)
Copyright 2013 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Ephesians 6:10-13
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you in Jesus, whose grace, strength, and protection gives all who believe, power to live life boldly in His Name. Amen!
What's your full-time job? On this Labor Day, when so many are still looking for meaningful work all around the world, that's an emotional question. If you asked people what they would rather have, a full-time or a part-time job, most would say, "full time," of course. That's one of those things that gives a person the ability to live their lives, to care for their families, to do the things that are important in life.
That's what Eddie thought too. Do you know a person like Eddie? You see, Eddie worked at a Chicago warehouse complex all his life. After growing up in Kentucky, he made the trek north to the big city so he could find his fortune. He was eighteen when he was hired to work eight-hour shifts in the freezer building of a grocery store chain's main distribution center. After he paid his dues loading frozen food items into trucks and enduring the freezing temperatures every workday for more than a decade, he moved around to several other departments, finally landing in the salvage building. He became the top man on the seniority list. Sitting atop his forklift, he loaded one-ton bales of cardboard onto boxcars and into truck trailers destined for the recycling center.
Day in and day out, Eddie showed up to put in his eight hours. During the cold and damp Chicago winters when snow and ice blew into the open loading dock doors, Eddie was there. During sweltering summers when the humid air hung thick in the cavernous salvage building and blowing fans merely shifted hot air from one place to another, Eddie was there. He was a dedicated worker.
Are there any "Eddies" in your life? Are you someone like Eddie? This weekend is a Labor Day celebration in the United States. On a day like Labor Day, we celebrate hard work and hard workers just like Eddie, like you. Today many are celebrating the "Protestant work ethic," the value of discipline and ingenuity, honoring the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of the U.S. and other countries around the world.
But that's not why I wanted to tell you Eddie's story. Eddie, you see, had a very interesting perspective on his job at the warehouse. He called it his "part-time job." Yes, he logged forty hours or more each week. Yes, he was considered a full-time employee by the company. But Eddie felt that something else was his real full-time job. During lunch and breaks, you could find Eddie in the break room, reading glasses on, hunched over his Bible, reading God's Word. You could see Eddie pause in prayer before he ate lunch or before he started to visit with his co-workers. You could hear Eddie speak up about his faith in Jesus Christ, and you could notice the absence of profanity as he talked with his fellow workers.
To Eddie, his full-time job, the job that really gave him purpose and joy in all that he did, was his life of faith, his spiritual labor, his walk with Jesus.
What is your full-time job today? What is the work that ultimately matters in your life now and forever? Do you need something more than routine to fill your day? Are the daily grind and the daily challenges of life's work too much for you? For your life, and for a life of hard work, and for the struggles you face, Jesus said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).
Jesus Christ's life, death, and resurrection were a labor of love for you so that you could love the labor that you provide for others in His Name!
St. Paul says, "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power!"
In this world even living is hard work. Would you agree with me?
In fact, the Bible is very clear....life in this world is no cakewalk. St. Paul says in Ephesians chapter six again: "We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (vs. 12).
There is more to life than meets the eye! A spiritual battle is raging. The devil, the world, and all of our flesh press us to the limit. And you feel the effects, don't you? Life can be down right hard, even at its best. It can be exhausting, even when all is well, and it can be overbearing when it takes those nasty turns.
There are things in life beyond humanity's best labors. There are things too big for our best ingenuity. Maybe you are feeling that painful reality right now as you hear me today. When you feel like you're unraveling because every day is filled with too much stress, you know how hard life is then.
When your relationships are on rocky ground and you feel that they're at risk, you realize how hard life is.
When you face financial need and you don't know where the money will come from to pay the bills, you understand how hard life is.
When you wrestle with health issues and you see how challenging it is to grow older, you know how hard life is.
When a loved one dies and your heart is weighed down with grief and sadness, you understand how hard life is.
When you feel like you're being pulled away from the strength God gives you and you're beaten down by your own failure and sin, you know how hard life is.
Paul's words in Ephesians chapter six were practical words, written to people who knew Jesus Christ by faith, people who now wanted to get about the business of living as His people in the labors of this world. These words were written in the context of the labors of household life--the family labor of love. Keeping the family together, paying attention to spouse and children, being devoted to one another and having time for each other.
Yes, life is hard there too, even in the midst of the most precious of all relationships. Even when you try to do the right thing for those you love, for those who love you, there are challenges. One word Paul uses over and over again in this section of Ephesians is the word "against." Your struggle is "against" the rulers and authorities. It is "against" the cosmic powers over this present darkness. It is "against" the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Sometimes you feel like you're up against everything, don't you? So, even at your best, you wonder, is there hope, purpose for your labor, for your labor of love and service?
Well, remember Eddie's answer. For more than forty years, Eddie worked in that warehouse complex. During that time, he and his wife raised two daughters. Eddie earned enough to put them both through college. It took some scrimping and sacrifice, but the girls graduated and moved into fulfilling careers.
During Eddie's warehouse tenure, his wife battled with cancer. The surgery, chemotherapy were rough, but the treatments and the many prayers won out. After forty-five years of marriage she was cancer free.
There were plenty of other battles Eddie endured. And sometimes those challenges that seemed to come against him, against them, they were almost more than they could bear. So, where did his hope and help come from? Not from his own strength or might. No, it wasn't Eddie's skill that got him through. It wasn't his careful planning or his command of life. It was God's strength and God's grace. The Psalmist in the Old Testament said it this way, "I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth" (Psalm 121:1-2).
And St. Paul challenges us today even more pointedly, more practically. He says, (Ephesians 6:10-11), "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil."
He offers those who trust in Jesus, a duffle bag of weapons to attack the challenges of this life. He offers the Christian a craftsman's box of tools, with nuts and bolts provisions to live life boldly in the power and presence of Jesus Christ, this world's Lord and Savior, to labor then joyfully in love for others the way that Jesus, Himself loves you!!
You see, Eddie realized that his lunch box, steel-toed shoes, and hardhat weren't enough for the battle he faced in the world. Eddie needed Jesus.
He needed a Savior who could do the work that righteousness and justice demands, One who could love with an everlasting love. Jesus, Himself describes His labor, His job as "doing the will of him, the Father" in John chapter 4. And what was the will and the work of the Father who sent Jesus? Jesus said again in John 6, "And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day" (John 6:39 NIV).
This was the Savior's labor of love.
His miracle birth sent Him into the rough and tumble, dog-eat-dog world. He grew up in a carpenter's family, learning the trade and living in obedience. He faced every temptation and trial and, yet, was without sin. He lived perfectly in our place, fulfilling the law of God for us. And then, on the ultimate Labor Day, Jesus was crucified to pay the price for our sins. He gave His life for you and me, dear friend. It was a labor of everlasting love. As the Bible declares: "When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy." (Titus 3:4ff).
It's the armor of this Jesus that Paul offers you and me today. It is the weapons of faith in Him, the tools of the Holy Spirit, that Jesus, Himself wants for you to have as you go about the business of living your life in Him for others.
Whatever challenges you face, you have the ultimate toolbox for life. Whatever might come against you today, tomorrow, or in the future, you're outfitted with exactly what you need: the gift of God's armor!
Ephesians six goes on to describes it this way: "Stand firm, with the belt of truth wrapped around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all of this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Ephesians 6:13-17 NIV).
Did you really hear what God makes available to you today? Did you listen to the gifts that He provides that will enable you to work, to labor, to withstand the onslaught of life's challenges?
You have a belt of truth to hold all things in place, the indisputable truth of the risen Savior Jesus. It holds you together and gives you clarity when doubts or fears try to creep in. Hold on to His Word, His promises, because they will hold on to you!
You have a breastplate of righteousness, a protective covering that guards your heart. Not your own righteousness, not your own work, but Christ's righteousness for you as a gift. Only that breastplate can overcome the doubts of this life, the stinging truth of your conscience and the temptations that overwhelm even the best of us.
You have shoes that are fitted for the tasks of faith, shoes that get you where you are to go, fitted with the Gospel of peace. Your Savior steers you on life's pathway and uses you to bring the Good News of life in Him wherever you go.
You have the shield of faith. It is strong protection as you face the future. It is a solid safeguard against Satan's attacks. When he tries to make you uncertain, unsure, to make you vulnerable, let the One in whom you trust, Jesus Christ, be your first and your last defense!
You have the helmet of salvation. When you wonder if God loves you or you're tempted to think you are alone, the Holy Spirit guards your mind and reminds you that you are saved and a redeemed child of God.
And you have the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. You're not simply surviving as the world throws one obstacle after another at you. You have the living Word of God that defeats the enemy and cuts a pathway of God's grace and promise for you in this world, all the way to heaven.
God's labor of love in Jesus gives you what you need today, dear friend. You are clothed with Christ! He will enable you to face your struggles today, so that you'll still be standing with Him, today, tomorrow, and forever!
So, what's your full-time job then today? What is the work that gives your life purpose and meaning, now and forever? Eddie knew and I'm sure that he would want you to know, too. Eddie's life bore testimony to Jesus' labor of love for him. Eddie depended on the gift of God's armor every day. And when he stopped working at the warehouse, he insisted that he merely had set aside his part-time job because his full-time job of following his Savior, of loving and serving others by faith in Christ, was one that would never end!
And, that kind of Labor Day love can begin for you today, too. Trust in the Lord above all things, trust in His gifts, His tools, His armor given you to live life boldly as His people right now. And begin to look at this life as a life of faith lived for others. That can begin by committing yourself today to love's labor of praying for those in your life and praying that the Good News of Jesus Christ wins the day in the lives of people, here on this continent and around the world!
As Paul says also in Ephesians 6, "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should" (Ephesians 6:18-20 NIV).
Labor Day is a call to God's people to take up the eternal tasks that flow from faith, praying to Christ without ceasing, bending His ear with your requests and concern for others, praying for those in need, and rolling up your sleeves in service to those who need you today, too. You may not be as physically strong as you used to be. You may not have a job you like or a life-situation that you're fond of. But as Christ's man or woman, you have eternal work, purposeful work to do now no matter where you stand today.
You know, when I'm out speaking at churches and conventions for the Lutheran Church, I love meeting people who know the joy of Jesus Christ in their life, who radiate it in and through everything they do. I've met so many of you out there in the church, and I want you to know that you have been a real blessing to me because your full-time job of being Christ's people is a blessing, a blessing to me, a blessing to others.
Keep up that good work, keep at that labor, it's a full-time job worth doing! That's a job that never needs a retirement day because it not only blesses the recipients, it blesses the givers too. May you be blessed as you celebrate God's labor of love for you today as well as encouraging one another to continue to strive for His excellence in all you do, to give God glory and to love others in His Name. Amen.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for September 2, 2012
Topic: Does The Devil Have Power Over Me?
ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer. A listener wants to know when we talk about this spiritual battle that goes on in the world, does the devil have the power to do anything he wants to in our lives?"
SELTZ: Hearing about the spiritual battle can be disconcerting, Mark. But, while this battle is very real, God assures us that we have no reason to despair. As people redeemed by Jesus Christ, the power of the devil has already been overcome.
ANNOUNCER: But the devil still is prowling around, isn't he?
SELTZ: Sure is. And 1 Peter 5:8 gives us the warning: "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." The devil is very real. He is the enemy. And he is after us.
ANNOUNCER: And although Christ has defeated him, the devil would like to take a few more with him when he goes.
SELTZ: That's right. Unfortunately, evil does love company. But in the following verse, Peter tells us that the devil's power is limited and can be resisted. In verse 9, he says, "Resist him, standing firm in the faith..." Faith in Jesus who conquered death and the devil gives us the greatest defense against Satan's attacks. In fact, in James 4:7, he tells us: "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." The devil runs from the risen Christ!
ANNOUNCER: Here is a question. Is the devil as strong as God?
SELTZ: No, and it's important to remember that the devil is not equal to God. The devil is a rebellious angel. Angels were creatures created by God, not counterparts to God. The devil does not have the amazing attributes of the Almighty Lord of all. The Bible tells us that the devil has been defeated. Revelation chapter 12 recounts a scene of the devil's defeat. Verses 7-9 tell us: "There was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down-that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him."
ANNOUNCER: And, here on earth the devil is still not in control.
SELTZ: Not at all. And the clincher, of course, is the fact that our lives have been purchased by the blood of Christ. We are God's people. The devil has no claim over us. But he can tempt us. He can lure our sinful flesh into disobedience. We need to be on guard. We don't ever have to fear, however, that our lives in Christ can be dominated by the devil. The Bible even reminds us that Satan's temptations are predictable. 2 Corinthians 2:11 says that "we are not unaware of his schemes."
ANNOUNCER: It's good news to remember that Jesus is in control. With that in mind, what help is there for enduring the temptations of the devil?
SELTZ: A key answer to that question is in Ephesians chapter six. The Apostle Paul lets us know that our battle on earth is, indeed, a spiritual battle. But he emphasizes that we will be able to stand in the midst of this battle when we are clothed with the armor of God. The truth, the righteousness, and the salvation of Jesus Christ will be our protection. Faith in the Good News of Jesus, being rooted in the Word of God, it will keep us safe. Devotion to prayer and to the proclamation of the Gospel will keep the devil at bay.
ANNOUNCER: So, staying connected to God's gifts keep us strong in this spiritual battle.
SELTZ: Absolutely. And that's why the devil doesn't have the power to do anything he wants in our lives. God loves us too much for that. He gives us wonderful gifts to keep us safe and strong. Remembering whose we are because of our baptism and rejoicing in the real presence of Christ in us especially through the Lord's Supper, that carries us through life this side of heaven.
ANNOUNCER: What advice would you give to people who find themselves shaken by the reality of that spiritual battle?
SELTZ: The Bible gives perfect counsel here, Mark. Colossians chapter three begins this way: "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:1-3 NIV).
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.
"I Lift My Eyes to See" by Stephen A. Starke & Amanda Husberg. From We Praise You and Acknowledge You, O God (© 2011 Concordia Publishing House)
"Thy Works, Not Mine, O Christ" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice" arr. Jan Bender. Concordia Publishing House.