Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version
Whether we realize it or not, Christian men are builders, as Paul describes himself in 1 Corinthians 3. We are building our lives to become more like our Lord Jesus Christ. The question is — are we building according to Scripture, or not? One way to find out is to compare ourselves to the standard that God’s Word sets for mature Christian men. The Lord has given us many descriptions of what it means to be a good building man, and eight words that form the acronym BUILDERS can be used to describe such a man:
In my previous two articles, I’ve explained the basic teaching of Scripture on manly boldness and understanding. Christian men need to be bold when they communicate by speaking plainly, directly, and fearlessly. Second, we need to understand what reality is, what it’s like, and live according to what God has revealed to us. The third quality all Christian men need to possess is industriousness. This is the virtue of being focused, clear-headed, disciplined, and hardworking. In other words, it means trying to use every opportunity and resource we have to please the Lord and glorify Him. In this article, we’re going to examine the main reasons Christian men ought to be industrious; the main duties in which we ought to be industrious; and the sources of power and motivation for being industrious.
Why We Ought to Be Industrious
The most important reason why we ought to be industrious is because this pleases the Lord, and that’s our main desire as His people. The apostle Paul expresses this passion in 2 Corinthians 5:9-10, and explains that the reason he wants to please the Lord is because he’s going to be evaluated and rewarded based on what he did during his life:
9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him [the Lord]. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
In this life, the only way to “do good” is to be industrious, since every fallen element in this creation is a force with the power to tempt us to do evil. We have at least three main enemies, as is often said: the world, our flesh, and the devil. All three of these foes are intent on keeping us from doing any good at all in the most effective ways possible. Therefore, we have to make every effort to obey the Lord, and imitate Him.
Paul gives one of the next most important reasons in 1 Timothy 4:7b-8, where he commands the young pastor Timothy,
Rather train yourself for godliness; 8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
The Greek word translated “train” was used at that time for training done by athletes in the athletic centers called gymnasiums. There, they would strip naked, and then work their bodies to the point of exhaustion in order to be the best athletes they could be. That’s why the word can also be translated “discipline”. These words speak of industriousness, or diligence. So, Paul is telling Timothy to suffer through the pain of spiritual practices and disciplines for “godliness”. The word “godliness” comes from an old Anglo-Saxon or Germanic word that literally means “goodliness”, or being good. In our case, being good means being like God as He’s revealed in Christ. Thus, Timothy is instructed to discipline himself in order to be like Christ.
Paul gives Timothy two truths that should motivate him to pursue godliness. The first is that it’s “of value in every way”. In other words, every aspect of being godly is valuable to us. The second truth is that godliness “holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come”. In other words, it’s valuable because it benefits us now, and will benefit us for eternity. But being godly takes diligence and discipline.
Paul gives Timothy yet another reason that Christian men should be industrious in 2 Timothy 2:15, where he commands him,
15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
The Greek translated “do your best” literally means “be quick” or “be earnest”, and could also be translated “be diligent”. Why is Timothy to do his best to present himself to God “as one approved”? Because he’s “a worker”. And what work is he doing? He’s “handling the word of truth”. If we’re a godly Christian man, then we’re going to be “handling the word of truth” in some way or another on a regular basis, since it’s our duty to learn God’s Word, and to teach it to our neighbors as we have the opportunity. Hence, all Christian men are workers handling the message of truth.
Because Timothy’s a worker who is handling God’s Word, Paul commands him to “be diligent to present [himself] to God as one approved”. What does God need to approve him as? A handler of God’s Word. This takes diligence, since the man approved by God needs to rightly or accurately handle it. And what’s the main reason Paul gives for us to do this? So we won’t be made to feel ashamed because of our poor handling of God’s Word, due to our lack of diligence.
Ways in Which We Ought to Be Industrious
The first way in which we ought to be industrious is described in 2 Peter 1:5-7, where Peter instructs his audience on how to be Christlike in different areas of their character:
5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
First, Peter points back to the reason that they ought to obey his command, which is that they’ve “become partakers of the divine nature” through God’s “precious and very great promises” (v. 4). As sharers in God’s nature through the Holy Spirit, he first commands them to “make every effort”. Just as Paul’s commands for Timothy, this requires diligence and discipline from us.
Without going into a full explanation about how all these actions relate to one another, Peter urges his audience to cultivate seven characteristics in themselves, in order to become more Christlike. First, they’re to add “virtue”, or “goodness”, to their “faith”; second, they must add “knowledge” to their goodness; third, they’re to add “self-control” to their “knowledge”; fourth, “steadfastness” to their “self-control”; fifth, “godliness” to their “steadfastness”; sixth, “brotherly affection” for each other to their “godliness”; and finally, “love” to their “brotherly affection”. In all of these efforts, they’re to put in maximum effort.
The Book of Proverbs describes several other practices that we need to be diligent in. The most important one is found in Proverbs 4:23, which commands:
23 Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.
The first duty this requires of us is to “keep”, or “guard”, our “hearts”. In the Bible, the “heart” represents the control center of a person, just as the “brain” is often seen today. In other words, our “heart” is who we are as a person apart from our physical features. It includes our mind, thoughts, emotions, desires, and will, with the mind being the central feature. Thus, the wise man here is telling us to guard our minds, thoughts, desires, and will from corrupting influences, and to keep it from leading us to sin. But how does he urge us to do this? “With all vigilance”, or with all diligence. This requires industriousness and discipline.
The reason this proverb gives us to guard our heart is that it’s from our heart that “the springs of life” flow. This is a metaphor for the source and sustainer of life. Just as springs of water provided the necessity of water to people at that time, so the springs of life provide our very life and being. And our heart is the source of this life. Thus, the quality and character of our heart will determine the quality and character of our life. Just as natural springs of drinking water need to be protected from pollution and destruction, so also our heart needs to be protected from contamination and ruin. But again, the proverb doesn’t merely tell us to protect our heart, but to do it with constant and focused diligence.
The second most important encouragement in Proverbs that calls for diligence is the encouragement to simply seek what’s good for us:
27 Whoever diligently seeks good seeks favor,
but evil comes to him who searches for it.Proverbs 11:27
This proverb expresses the general principle that anyone who gives diligence to getting the good out of life is at the same time working to gain “favor”. In the Jewish understanding of Proverbs, “favor” is the equivalent of the New Testament concept of “grace”, or God’s approval and blessing. This is clear when we compare the positive first statement to the negative second statement, which is the direct contrast of the first. Just as those who industriously seek good get good from God, those who search for evil get evil from God. The use of “evil” in the second sense obviously doesn’t mean sin on God’s part, but harm and corruption to the seeker of evil. So, good building men ought to be diligent to pursue what’s good for them, since we’re already seeking God’s approval and blessing.
But how do we seek what’s good for us? First, we need to be diligent to discipline our most present and direct enemy in the war of our life of building — our own sin-prone body. Much like Paul commands Timothy to discipline himself to be godly, and therefore profit, in 1 Corinthians 9:27, he describes his own discipline of himself, and why he does it:
27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
In order to seek what’s best for him, Paul first disciplines his body. This is because our bodies are still corrupted by sinful inclinations that tempt us to sin. As John implies in 1 John 3, the world uses the three temptations of our flesh to tempt us to sin — the lust — or strong desire — of our flesh, the lust of our eyes, and the pride in our lives. Because these three enemies are at work in our bodies, we must discipline them.
But what is the goal of disciplining his body? Not to hurt it, but to “keep it under control”, or to harness it. Although our bodies are often used by our sinful desires to tempt us, they are our only vehicles in this world for doing God’s will. Therefore, we need to control them, and strive to do this constantly.
Finally, Paul explains his motivation for disciplining and controlling his body. It’s to avoid being “disqualified” after “preaching to others”. In verses 24-27, Paul is describing the Christian life as a race that’s run to receive a prize. He first urges the Corinthians to run this race so that they’ll win it. But in verse 27, he explains that in his own race of preaching the gospel as a missionary and church planter, he’s diligently competing in this contest so that he won’t be disqualified from it, or not able to finish it, and receive the reward of eternal life at the end.
By saying this, Paul’s not saying that he can cease to be a child of God, but that the only way he’s going to end his life as a Christian is by disciplining and controlling his body. The reason we can know this from this passage is that he brings up his preaching of the gospel as the reason why he ought not to be disqualified from his race. He’s saying, “I discipline and control my body, so that after preaching that others should seek eternal life by trusting in Christ, I myself won’t fail to trust in Christ, and thus fail to gain the prize of eternal life at the end”. This is an expression of the true historical doctrine of “the perseverance of the saints” that’s also taught in Hebrews 6 and 10, among other places in the New Testament. Therefore, if we want to be true building men, we need to discipline our bodies.
After disciplining our bodies, the next area of building that requires industriousness is understanding and using our resources in order to build our lives. Various Proverbs describe how we’re to do this.
Proverbs 10:4 describes the general truth that the way we’ll gain wealth of any kind is by being diligent:
4 A slack hand causes poverty,
but the hand of the diligent makes rich.
So, if we’re diligent, we’ll usually gain resources from the Lord. More than this, Proverbs 12:24 tells us that we’ll also have mastery over our lives, rather than being mastered by others:
24 The hand of the diligent will rule,
while the slothful will be put to forced labor.
Here, rather than the contrast being one of wealth, it’s a contrast of freedom verses slavery. If we want to “rule” over ourselves and our lives, we must be diligent. But what are we to do with the resources that we’ve gained from our industriousness? First, we have to value them as tools for serving the Lord. The Christian Standard Bible expresses this more accurately than most other translations in Proverbs 12:27:
27 A lazy hunter doesn’t roast his game,
but to a diligent person, his wealth is precious.(CSB)
In other words, one of the most important ways that we’ll understand the true value of our possessions is if we work hard to obtain and to use them. But how will we know how to use them? Proverbs 27:23-24 explains:
3 Know well the condition of your flocks,
and give attention to your herds,
24 for riches do not last forever;
and does a crown endure to all generations?
So, not only do we need to be diligent to acquire resources, but we need to be diligent to know the condition of them, so we can know how to best use them. Of course, the gaining and use of our resources requires us to plan out our lives, so Proverbs 21:5 explains that only diligent planning is sure to provide us with more than enough:
5 The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance,
but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.
As we’ve seen in all of these Scriptures, everything we do as Christian men must be done with focus, discipline, and hard work. Now we’ll consider the manners, motivations, and means of being industrious.
Our Sources of Motivation and Power for Being Industrious
The most important source of power for our industriousness is God’s grace and power that’s working with and in us. Paul describes this power of God’s grace in 1 Corinthians 15:10, where he writes,
10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
Here, Paul says that he worked harder than any of the other apostles. Why? Not because he was a naturally harder worker, but because God’s grace, or favor, was the power enabling him to work hard. He expresses this reality a little differently in Colossians 1:28-29 — this time focusing on his preaching and teaching ministry:
28 Him [Christ] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
In this passage, Paul calls his hard work “toil” and “struggle”, or painful and exhausting work and conflict. But he doesn’t call the energy he uses in this struggle his energy, but the Lord’s energy. In Philippians 2:12-13, he commands the Philippians to be diligent for this same reason:
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
How do we know that he’s commanding them to “work out” their salvation diligently? First, we’ve already seen that becoming more Christlike requires diligence. But second, Paul tells them how to do this — “with fear and trembling”. Why are they — and we — supposed to cultivate our salvation while being fearful and reverent? Because God is the One who’s working in us. Why? First, “to will”, or to give us the will to work out our salvation. And second, “to work”, or to give us the ability to work out our salvation. In other words, the reason we cultivate our salvation, and increase in being saved from our sins, is because God is giving us both the desire and ability to do so. That’s why we ought to live as if we’ve been saved with awe and reverence toward God.
But how do we do this? Paul instructs the Galatians on how to be industrious in two main ways in his letter to them. One of those ways is described in 5:16, where he promises them,
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
So, what’s the promise? That if they “walk by the Spirit”, they won’t satisfy “the desires of the flesh”. What does it mean to “walk by the Spirit”? The first thing it means is to live your daily life through the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. But how is this done? As Paul teaches through his arguments in Galatians, this is done by trusting the Lord by believing His Word.
The second main thing that Paul says empowers our industriousness in Galatians is the love that we have for others:
Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.Gal. 5:13b
Love is one of the main motivators that ought to empower us to work hard to serve others, as we have a command to do here.
Finally, Paul explains at the end of 1 Corinthians 15 that our industriousness in serving the Lord is worth it because we’ll eventually be given new, perfect, and glorious bodies in God’s completed kingdom:
58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
Brothers, let us strive to always abound in our service to the Lord as industrious men of God. If you would like to participate in a gathering of industrious Christian men who want to help one another become better Christian men, then please consider going to this November’s Builders Summit, a Friday through Sunday morning gathering of fellowship, teaching, study, and learning in northeast Pennsylvania. This year, 2 graduates of The Master’s Seminary and 4 BTWN podcasters and pastors will be teaching. All lodging, meals, and activities are included in the relatively low registration price, and those traveling by PLANE can REGISTER FOR FREE. Check it out at builderssummit.org.