The Gift of Ability for Blue Collar Workers (Sermon Notes)
I know. I say this all the time. But this morning’s text tells one of my favorite “Bible stories.”
There are certain stories that are just favorites, you know? Who doesn’t love the story of David and Goliath? I love the often-overlooked detail that, before David showed up at the battlefield, for 40 days the armies of the Israelites and the Philistines had faced off shouting their war cries at each other every morning. Then they apparently just dropped their weapons to their sides and walked back to camp! (Can you imagine the Chiefs and their opponent traveling to the stadium, taping up, suiting up, going through their pre-game routine, taking the field with fireworks and fog machines, crowd roaring, high fives and chest bumps all around, and then just pulling their helmets off, heading back to the locker rooms, and calling it a day???) Or who doesn’t love the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel? (We talked about it a few weeks ago.) All the prophets of the false God Baal crying out to their god with no response. And Elijah just egging ‘em on—“Cry a little louder—maybe your god’s on vacation, or taking a nap, or using the men’s room!” Who doesn’t love the compassion Jesus shows the woman caught in adultery? Or the healing He brings to Jairus’ daughter? Or the moment when He tells his professional- fisherman disciples how to fish—“Cast your nets on the other side, boys!”—and He turns out to be right! We’ve all got our favorites, I’m betting. (I’m hoping, at least!) But there’s a Bible story that’s been added to the “favorites” list for me as I’ve been examining what the Bible has to say about work. It’s a story found in Exodus, chapter 31, and it has to do with the construction of Israel’s tabernacle following their covenant with God at Mt. Sinai.
God has delivered the Hebrew people—the descendants of Abraham—from slavery in Egypt. He’s brought them to Mt. Sinai under Moses’ leadership, where He covenants with them. We’ve talked about how all this is really an expression of the same kind of creative activity we see God doing in Genesis—He takes chaos and gives it form and structure. He creates a “people” where, before, there was just “property.” His actions recognize Abraham’s descendants not as machinery but as human beings, and by those actions, then, He gives them an identity, an identity together as “the people of God”.
Rightfully, God wants to be “present” and “known” at the center of their existences. And so He instructs Moses that a tabernacle is to be built—a “place of dwelling,” a “sanctuary,” a sacred place where God would meet with His people and they with Him. God gives Moses explicit revelation regarding the design of the tabernacle—and it is a complex, costly, elaborate, and beautiful undertaking. If you’ve ever looked at blueprints for the construction of a building, and especially if you’ve read any of the accompanying specifications - that’s kind of what Moses gets from God. Not only details on the construction, but specifics as to materials and surfaces and fabrics and decorations. When I read through the Scriptures that lay out the details of the tabernacle and its construction, it boggles my mind! On the right day, I love complexity! “Life’s in the details, my friend!” But even I get lost in the intricacy that’s involved in what we know about the construction of the tabernacle for the Israelites. God, on the other hand, wasn’t thrown by the details, or by the challenge of getting the tabernacle built. He knew just what to do and just how to do it. And that’s where we’re going to pick up the story in Exodus 31. Exodus 31:1-11 says this:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law with the atonement cover on it, and all the other furnishings of the tent— the table and its articles, the pure gold lampstand and all its accessories, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, the basin with its stand— and also the woven garments, both the sacred garments for Aaron the priest and the garments for his sons when they serve as priests, and the anointing oil and fragrant incense for the Holy Place. They are to make them just as I commanded you.”(Exodus 31:1-11)
Pentecostal people love to talk about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost—Acts, chapter 2. Pentecostal preachers love to preach about the activity of the Holy Spirit in the life of the early church - the evidence of the God’s activity among God’s people—about salvation, and healing and deliverance from demons—all when the church lives full of the Holy Spirit. But Pentecostal people and preachers alike ought to be reminded that the first person ever recorded in Scripture as having been “filled with the Spirit of God” was not an apostle or even a preacher—it was a guy who worked construction. My blue-collar buddy—Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.
“See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God" (Exodus 31:2-3)
And the evidence that, indeed, he’s been filled with God’s Spirit shows up first on the jobsite! Talk about redefining “the initial evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit”! When you don’t limit your reading about the Holy Spirit to the book of Acts—when you include the first infilling recorded anywhere in the Bible—the initial initial evidence appears to be marketplace skill and ability—the blessings of God upon this worker! God says to Moses, “I’ve made this guy the guy for the job: by filling him with my Spirit!”
And that really takes us to where I want to go, this morning while I talk with you a bit about “The Gift of Ability.” We’ve talked about the gift of work—how we, because we’ve been formed in the image of the God who works, were made for work, ourselves— His work—“good works He prepared in advance for us to do”! is work that continues the creative, cultivating process He began in Genesis, chapter 1.
We’ve talked about the gift of rest—of Sabbath, really—and how it serves as (1) a means of testimony, as (2) an opportunity for celebration, as (3) a tool to for building our identity in Him and as (4) a way to prophetically declare (and live in the now) the Sabbath experience He promises will be ours for all eternity.
Today, I want to talk about the Gift of Ability —those abilities God gives us by means of the Holy Spirit. And I invite you to expand your definition of “gifts given by the Holy Spirit” beyond those listings of the “gifts of the Spirit” we read about in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4…to consider that whatever capacities you enjoy… whatever strengths you exhibit… and whatever opportunities you may have to invest who you are fruitfully in the world around you…serve as evidence of the beauty of Holy Spirit empowerment for every facet of your life. What we discover from the account of Bezalel and Oholiab is that God chooses us purposefully God equips us bountifully God connects us cosmically
Let’s talk about it a bit. First: God chooses us purposefully. There’s no doubt—God chose Bezalel with a purpose in mind. The whole passage opens with Bezalel’s being chosen: “See, I have chosen Bezalel… (Exodus 31:2 ). And then goes on to list a dozen tasks (or more) for which Bezalel was chosen. If you whittle those eleven verses all down to the core, what God tells Moses comes out something like this: "See, I have chosen Bezalel…and I have filled him with the Spirit of God… to make everything I have commanded you," (Exodus 31:2, 3, 6 NIV) in order that he might build a tabernacle to My glory…in order that he might make everything I have commanded you to make, so that I might be in the heart of this nation, at the center of my peoples’ lives, rightly celebrated and rightly available! There was purpose in Bezalel’s calling!
God’s always doing that, you know? The Scriptures are filled with examples of God calling people with a God-honoring, Kingdom-advancing purpose in mind. He calls Abraham:
“Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:1-2)
He calls Moses:
"Go to Pharaoh and say to him, 'This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.’”(Exodus 8:1)
He calls Gideon:
“Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” (Judges 6:14)
He calls Jonah:
“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it…” (Jonah 1:1)
He calls Peter:
"Simon son of John, do you love me? …Feed my sheep." (John 21:17 )
He calls Paul—then Saul—on the Road to Emmaus:
“Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:6)
And here’s something I know about God—he’s no “respecter of persons.” Paul makes it clear that that’s true regarding where we all stand before God in terms of our sinfulness and need of forgiveness. "God does not show favoritism" (Romans 2:11). And Peter declares that’s equally true of God’s readiness to pour out grace on everybody (much to Peter’s surprise)—Acts, chapter 10: "God does not show favoritism" (Acts 10:34).
The same is true of the purpose with which God forms us and calls us! He doesn’t form some of us purposefully. And others, sort of nonchalantly or carelessly. God doesn’t have a day on the job where, you know, He didn’t sleep well the night before, or ate something that upset his stomach, so He’s not paying attention. No—I’m convinced—what was true for Jeremiah. What God said to Jeremiah is true for us:
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
The specifics of your call may be different than someone else’s, but the respect He affords you as one formed in His image, as one fearfully and wonderfully made, means you were formed with just as much intentionality, just as much thoughtfulness—that you are just as “burdened with glorious purpose”—as any human being who’s ever lived! “See, I have chosen Bezalel" (Exodus 31:2).
Neither your place and calling—nor mine—may seem as noteworthy or significant in our eyes as the place and calling Bezalel was afforded, but—you know what—we’re not in charge—we don’t get to make that call. (“Coach, I don’t want to play right field—I want to pitch!” Well, guess what—there are times and places where you just trust that the coach knows why He has you positioned where He has you positioned. And if you want to pitch instead of playing right field, at least part of getting the opportunity to pitch involves playing right field like there’s no tomorrow!) Here’s what I do know: Just as purposefully as God chose Bezalel, He’s chosen every one of us. “You did not choose me,” Jesus said:
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit--fruit that will last--and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” (John 15:16)
What can we learn from Bezalel and Oholiab? First God chooses us purposefully.
Second, God equips us bountifully.
I preach to myself here, and you can listen in if you want. And my guess is that you ought to—that you need to—because my guess is you’re just as inclined as I am to look at what you don’t have, think about what you lack, than you are to consider what you do have, and more than that what God is willing to bountifully supply to you! I defy you to find me a place in the Scriptures where God and all He supplied was not enough! I defy you to find me a place in the Scriptures where God was stingy! God gives to Adam what? "Every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it” (Genesis 1:29). God says to Noah: “Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything” (Genesis 9:3). God tells Abram (Abraham): “Look around … All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever” (Genesis 13:14-15).
One might conclude that God is not only the God who works and the God who rests, but the God who gives--and that in abundance! When Jesus feeds five-thousand with five loaves and two fishes, “They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish (Mark 6:42-43). There were leftovers enough for each of the twelve disciples to require a carry-out basket! (“This little Styrofoam thing isn’t gonna work—you got anything bigger?”)
When you get to the end of the book—the consummation of all things in Christ—the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21 is marked by such abundance that “the nations … walk by its light and the kinds of the earth … bring their splendor into it” (Revelation 21:24). Our God, my friend, is more than enough. He acts in ways that are abundantly generous toward us! We’ve said this before, but God acts not out of our lack but out of His abundance!
“Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-5)
What’s the motivation there? To be sure, our need was great—beyond our capacity to meet it. But it’s not the need that motivates God’s actions—it’s His abundance!
“From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.” (John 1:16 )
I’m hungry for you to understand, this morning, that God’s abundance toward you—His ability and willingness to supply every need and equip you for every good work— doesn’t stop the minute you step on the shop floor or into the office or into the classroom or into wherever it is you find yourself employed! God equips us bountifully.
And—here’s a thought—through His purposeful calling and bountiful equipping (presuming here that our lives are submitted to Him) God continues to engage this world and shape it according to the intent He had for it when He formed it! He gifts Bezalel and Oholiab and “all the workers” (Exodus 31:6 says) with “ability” to carry out His purpose…to continue His work. Just as He gifted Adam with certain capacities to continue His work in that sanctuary we know by name as the Garden of Eden…he gifts Bezalel and Oholiab and “all the workers” with the capacities needed to see “His kingdom come and His will done” in the construction of the Tabernacle for Israel. And I declare today that He’s done the same with you—equipped you (not minimally, but bountifully) so that you--on the job and off it—can be successfully about your Father’s business. God chooses us purposefully God equips us bountifully
And third, God connects us cosmically.
I love myself for using that word—“cosmically!” I know—that’s not a word we use every day - unless, perhaps, you’ve delusions of grandeur or are really into sci-fi or something. But the reality—and think about this in terms of what we just said about how the calling and equipping of God is one of the ways He continues his creative and cultivating work in the world—He gifts people with what they need to do the tasks He wants to see accomplished—the reality is that one of the greatest things God does with our work, then, is to connect us to “everyone else” and “everything else” that’s going on around us in ways that (at the same time) tie our work to His eternal plan in ways that help us see the connection (and sometimes just “trust” the connection) between our quite local activity and God’s cosmic activity between what we’re doing in our small world 9 to 5 and what God is doing in His boundless world for all eternity!
Listen—we’ve talked about broadening our understanding of what Scripture means when it describes those “good works which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10) broadening our understanding of that to include the reality that maybe those works involve our activity, and our productivity, on the job! Well, it’s only three verses prior to this verse that where the Apostle Paul declares that part of the reason God does that is: “in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus”(Ephesians 2:7 NIV). Paul connects the “good works” God’s prepared for us in the here and now—yep, even “good works” that are no more “spiritual” than just giving an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay—Paul connects even those good works with the eternal destiny every one of us carries of bringing glory to Jesus forever and ever in His coming Kingdom!
I declare that my work and your work is cosmic in scale. We act, too often, like the activity of the Holy Spirit on the earth today is limited to the salvation of the human soul, and by that we miss the greatness and engagement of God with our world. The Scriptures reveal that the activity of the Holy Spirit has liberty to engage the whole person and the entire planet…including every laborer’s task and every economic system—or, as Abraham Kuyper (who we quoted a week or two ago) has said:
“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’” Abraham Kuyper
I love it that the first person about whom (the Bible says) God himself says "I have filled him with the Spirit of God" (Exodus 31:3) I love it that that guy was a construction worker. That Bezalel and Oholiab— filled with the Spirit of God—knew their task was not just to build a portable tent…but to create a place of worship to God Almighty. I tell you that that’s our task, as well. Called purposefully, and equipped bountifully, and connected cosmically…we’re privileged (yep, even in the rough and tumble of the day- to-day 9 to 5) to complete those “good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
These discussion questions relate to Kent Duncan’s sermon: The Gift of Ability for Blue Collar Workers. Learn more about his integrated outreach to blue collar workers by reading his thesis: Facilitating Marketplace Ministry in a Blue-Collar Context.
Tell us something about yourself by answering one of the following questions:
- What is the most creative part of your work?
- When you were first hired, what was your biggest challenge?
- When someone new comes on the job what is a key thing that you have to teach them?
- Tell of a time when you have added wisdom to your tasks at work.
Discussion Questions relating to this week’s sermon: The Gift of Ability for Blue Collar Workers
- Read Exodus 31:1-11. Filled with the Spirit, Bezalel and Oholiab shaped and assembled raw materials to construct a tabernacle. Bible Scholars suggest that their labor echoes God’s labor in forming the world (Genesis 1). Assuming that’s so, can you see your work displaying that same connection? In what ways?
- According to Exodus 31:1-6, God chose Bezalel and filled him with His Spirit purposefully. How would you describe God’s purpose in Bezalel’s call? What conclusions might you draw about God’s purpose in calling you to the work you do?
- R. Paul Stevens suggests we’re called “to Someone before we’re called to do something.” How does your relationship with Christ precede and shape your calling as a worker?
- The Scriptures consistently reveal God’s ability and readiness to supply generously. In what ways is your work marked by God’s generosity in equipping? Are you able to make God’s abundance a consistent part of your work experience? If so, what evidence of this God-confidence can be seen?
- “[Spiritual] gifts in the new creation,” writes Terry Cross, “do not only serve a sacred, invisible really, but also serve the physical needs of humanity.” In what ways can you see God’s gifts serving His purposes through you on the job?
- God’s purposeful call and generous equipping connect our work to His cosmic plan as He gifts and places us to continue His creative activity in the world. In what ways do you see your work connected with God’s? In what ways do you see your work connected to other people?
- What difference does a sense of God’s calling make when you consider your work as rooted in His call, blessed by His abundance, and connected to His plan?
- In what ways might you view your work differently this week in light of these Scriptures?