Anyone here ever heard of Eugene Polley? Really? No one? He’s the inventor of a device that radically changed lives around the world. Eugene Polley. Nothing huh? You might have used his invention already today. He invented the television remote control. Eugene J. Polley lived his entire life in the Chicago area, where he worked for Zenith Electronics for 47 years. Hired as a stock boy during the Depression, he eventually became an engineer with 18 patents to his credit. But his most famous invention would become known as the TV remote control.
In 1950, Zenith released a product called Lazy Bones. It was an awkward device connected to the TV by a long cord. Zenith’s founder demanded something better. So in 1955 Eugene produced an innovation called the Flash-Matic, a ray-gun remote control sold just as TV sets were making their way into every American home. The Flash-Matic. That SOUNDS like something invented in the 50s, doesn’t it? “Absolutely harmless to humans!” the Flash-Matic ads promised. Within decades, a television could be found in practically every American home, and nearly every TV set had a remote to go with it.
At one point in his life, Eugene had high hopes for his invention. He said, “Maybe I did something for humanity – like the guy who invented the flush toilet.” But although the TV remote has helped the disabled and elderly, it has also been blamed for contributing to obesity, sparking marital spats, and causing many TV viewers to “zone out” as they “channel surf.” For many people, a TV remote control has become a symbol for convenience and even laziness. As John Ortberg once half-jokingly wrote, “Life without the remote control is an unbearable burden for the modern American family.”
Towards the end of his life, Eugene seemed to regret some of these negative consequences of the his remote. He said, “Everything has to be done remotely now or forget it. Nobody wants to get off their fat and flabby to control [their own] electronic devices.”[i] True? Can you even imagine getting up to change the channel on the TV anymore? No, but you’ll drive to the corner store for batteries if the remote batteries die, won’t you? It’s less walking to just get up and change the channel on the TV. But no, we’re going to get batteries. And I’m as guilty as the next person. Probably more so. In the past, only athletes competing at the highest levels needed to work out in gyms. No one else did. Life was enough of a workout. Now there are gyms all over the place because we have to force ourselves to move, to exercise.
Now, is there anything wrong with modern conveniences like vehicles, electronic devices, and remote controls? Of course not. Unless maybe we’re willing to make a 10 mile round trip in the car to get batteries so that a device that will change the channel on the TV 10 feet away will work. But the truth is, we live in a culture, a society, that values relaxation, recreation and play way more than it values work. We work SO THAT we can play better, play harder, with more expensive toys. I saw an ad on Facebook the other day posted by a friend of mine that said “Learn how to work less and earn more.” The word itself has a negative connotation. “No. I can’t. I have to work.”
Do you realize that work is a sacred duty, that work has been a part of God’s plan for humanity from the very beginning – even before the fall. The very first thing God did to us as human beings was to give us a job. Look at Genesis 1:28. “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Now flip over to Genesis 2:15. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Work is a sacred thing. A good thing. You have been put here to do something. To accomplish something. To be productive. To benefit society in some way.
Some people think that work is a result of sin entering the created order through the fall, but that isn’t the case. Work, a job to do, something to accomplish, existed before the fall. STRUGGLE in working, difficulty and resistance – THAT is the result of the fall. Flip over to Genesis 3:17-19. God speaking to Adam says “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 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.” Work is a sacred calling. ALL work. Not just my work. YOUR work. The struggle of work is a result of the fall. Not work itself. But struggle with work we do. That’s why we hate Mondays and love Fridays.
The Bible has a lot to say about work, and this morning I want to zero in on a passage in Proverbs 6. We’ve been looking at Proverbs this summer. Remember, Proverbs are instructions on how to live wisely and they’re really practical. They aren’t promises. Things don’t ALWAYS work out the way we hope when we live this way, but they’re much more likely to. And we’ve applied the wisdom of Proverbs, the wisdom of God, to our friendships, our relationships with parents and parenting, and to discipline and receiving feedback. Let’s look today at what Proverbs has to say about work. Turn to Proverbs 6:6-11.
Now, before we look at what King Solomon is saying about work here, we first have to understand what he’s saying about poverty. This passage has often been used to blame the poor for being poor. This passage DOES NOT in fact say that the poor are lazy. It says that the lazy may become poor, and those two statements are not equal. The Bible talks about the poor and how the people of God are to relate to those who are poor in incredible depth. It’s everywhere. The poor in the Bible are typically those who are poor because of circumstances beyond their control. They are poor because of famine. Because of plague. Because of the untimely death of the one or ones who supported them. Because of physical or mental illness or physical handicap. They were born blind. Born lame. Or were injured in some way. They are poor because of the unjust practices of the powerful who seek to keep others down, treating them unfairly and unjustly. It’s common, especially among the politically conservative, to use passages like this to blame everyone who is poor for being poor. But this passage isn’t saying that. It isn’t saying that no one who is willing to work will be poor. There are hard working poor everywhere. In fact, Proverbs itself talks about the poor. Proverbs 19:17: “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.” Proverbs 14:21: “ Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.” Proverbs 14:31: “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.” Proverbs 17:5: “Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker; he who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished.” Proverbs 22:22-23: “Do not rob the poor, because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate, for the Lord will plead their cause and rob of life those who rob them.”
This passage isn’t meant to distract attention from cultural and structural injustices like classism and sexism and racism that keep “the other” in his or her place. In fact, it really isn’t talking about poverty at all. This passage should not, in fact it cannot, be used as justification for looking down on the poor, or blaming them for their poverty, or for us not having our community meal or food pantry. This passage isn’t talking about poverty, it’s talking about laziness, and is simply using poverty as a warning – an example of what can happen to those who are unwisely lazy. There ARE examples in the Bible of those who are poor who have brought this condition on themselves.
Why? Well, if you’ve lived in this world on your own for any length of time at all, you know that life can overtake you. You know what I mean? Like maybe you’re living paycheck to paycheck but you’re paying your bills. Most of them on time. And you have lots of stuff. And then wham! You’re injured and can’t work. Or you become seriously ill and miss so much work that you lose your job. You’re cruising along, making ends meet, maybe barely, and then life happens. It’s the “every time I think I’m about to climb out of the pit, life happens” kind of thing. And even if you’ve been wisely saving, you may not have the resources to last through whatever is happening. How much less the lazy?
So what IS Solomon doing in this passage? He’s describing the orientation of a follower of Christ toward work. The orientation of someone who understand that yes, work is difficult, a struggle, because of the fall, but it is still a sacred calling. So what are the characteristics of someone who works as Christ calls us to work?
Look at V. 6. Notice first of all that he calls us to be observant. To watch what is happening around us and learn what we can by observation. There’s a line in a country song that says, “How’m I every gonna get old and wise, if I ain’t ever young and crazy?” And there’s some truth to that. Experience is the greatest teacher. BUT, as human beings with a fully-functioning pre-frontal cortex, we are also able to learn from the mistakes and experiences of others. I don’t have to repeat my parents’ mistakes. My bosses mistakes. My coworkers’ mistakes. I can be observant and learn from them and not repeat them.
But that takes humility. He is telling the lazy human, the sluggard, to observe and learn from the ant. How much does a single ant weigh? How big is an ant, even a big one, compared to even a small human being? There’s no comparison, is there. The smallest human can squash the largest, strongest ant with no effort at all. Outside of poverty, pride just might be the biggest obstacle to growth and learning. Don’t be so proud as to thing that even the smallest, most insignificant thing can’t teach you something. The wise are observant and learn from others, even those people and things who might be deemed insignificant.
Those who follow the way of Christ and engage in our work as wise and industrious workers are humble and willing to learn from others. We are also self-motivated. Look at Vv. 7-8. This isn’t saying that we aren’t aware of or don’t respect organizational structures and authority. We now know that there actually IS an organizational and authority structure among ants. But there also isn’t an ant out there cracking the whip, making sure every worker ant is doing the job and doing it right, motivating them to work.
That requires us to find meaning in our work. That’s easier to do in some jobs than in others. When you’re working on an assembly line or fixing someone’s computer or selling someone a new car, it’s harder to find meaning in your work than if you’re a doctor or nurse or teacher. But the truth is, all work has meaning because all work – whether it be the work of a brick layer or the work of a custodian or the work of an educator – all work is a sacred calling. It might be not in what you do but how you do it that you find meaning. I have a friend who is a car salesman who finds his significance in his relationship with his customers and their willingness to keep coming back to him when they need another car. It helps you contribute to your society in some way. And it helps you contribute to the support of your family. Work is an act of love.
Ultimately, laziness is a failure to love. It is a willful neglect of the sacredness of work. It shows a willingness to look to others to bear your burdens for you even if you are perfectly capable of shouldering them yourself. A willingness to not shoulder your share of the burden.
Wise and industrious Christ-following workers are humble and teachable, self-motivated, and we seize the moment and plan ahead. Look at V. 8. In the life of the ant, summer is the season for gathering and preparation for the long winter ahead. A wise worker understands the season he or she is in. I have another friend who owns an ice cream shop in town. I don’t see him very often May-August, maybe even September if it’s a warm month. But over the winter, even though he’s still open, I see him much more often. Why? Because he understands the seasons of his business, and he understands that you have to make hay, and sell ice cream, when the son is shining. He stays open year round. He has a small year-round staff that he is able to pay in February, when he is losing money daily, because he made so much money over the summer. He can weather the down times with ease and support his employees year round because he is a wise in his approach to making and selling ice cream, and he’s open 7 days a week in the summer.
Now look at Vv. 9-11. While the ant is out seizing the day, gathering when the gathering is good, the lazy person is just lying there. And this isn’t legitimate rest. This passage isn’t anti-days off, anti-vacations and holidays, anti-reasonable work days. Wise workers rest regularly and well so that they are able to work well the next day. No, this isn’t legitimate rest. This is untimely sleep. To the question “How much sleep is the right amount?” one wise man responded, “Apparently, its just one hour longer than whatever that person got.” One more hour mom. One more hour dad. Hit that snooze button one more time. The wise one knows when to rest, and when to get up and go.
Well what if I’m retired? What about me? Oh, there’s still plenty of work to be done. You’re just paid differently. Young retirees are an invaluable source of quality volunteers for tons of community organizations and churches. And there are grand-children to be watched, and loved, and visited. Young people in need of mentors. Adult children who could use a helping hand. There’s plenty to do, with whatever physical and mental ability you have.
I’d like to close this morning with the words of a friend of mine named Matt. He’s a pastor in Georgia who is currently fighting a pretty aggressive cancer. He posted this on his Facebook page a couple of weeks ago:
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might. Ecclesiastes 9:10.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men. Colossians 3:23
I have found that my anxiety grows when I am not being productive. Binge watching a television show or playing video games seems appealing when I am tired and stressed but these activities rarely bring relief from anxiety. When I am anxious I am tempted to shut down, turn inward and do nothing. This is not the path to peace.
I have seen however that when I am living into meaningful work or finding joyful service that I can rest from these activities. When I apply myself fully to the tasks God has given me each day, my anxiety decreases and restful sleep follows.
There is a place for recreation and rest. The question is, what activities truly help me to be restored and filled with joy and peace. Look for physical activities that move your body. You need the endorphins that exercise provides. Also, look for ways to involve yourself in community activities. Being surrounded by people you love while you’re having fun is a blessing.
Remember, God created Adam to work in the garden. We are meant to apply ourselves to meaningful work. Resting from meaningful work can bring peace and joy, but only when we have first applied ourselves fully to the task. God Bless!
[i] Emily Langer, “Eugene J. Polley, engineer who invented the first wireless TV remote control, dies at 96,” The Washington Post (5-22-12)