“Some people say a man is made outta mud
A poor man’s made outta muscle and blood
Muscle and blood and skin and bones
A mind that’s a-weak and a back that’s strong
You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ‘cause I won’t go
I owe my soul to the company store”
In 1946 Merle Travis wrote the song “Sixteen tons” (made famous by Tennessee Ernie Ford in 1955) depicting the life of coal miners who lived in company housing, bought their supplies at the company store and were paid a form of vouchers or tokens known as the “truck system” instead of money. In many cases the workers went deep in debt and became nothing more than a working slave to the company. Throughout the verses of the song the listener gets a glimpse into the life struggles of those who worked in the early days of the coal mining industry.
Karl Polanyi in his book The Great Transformation points out that though labor, land and money are vital parts of the market they shouldn’t be considered commodities. “Labor is only another name for human activity which goes with life itself, which in its turn is not produced for sale but for entirely different reasons, nor can that activity be detached from the rest of life, be stored or mobilized; … A market economy according to Polanyi is nothing more than a fictitious story of which labor, land and money are characters. It is this model Polanyi believes destroys a society. Polanyi shows great concern for the negative effects the market economy model has on humanity in general.
When looking at work is there a redemptive purpose behind what we do? Does human work have more than a monetary value? Is it more than a commodity to be bought and sold? Martin Luther looked at work as the “masks of God.” “Our works are God’s masks, behind which He remains hidden.” Matthew 25 supports this mindset when Jesus is discussing the judgement of the Gentiles.
“For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.” “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me.’” (Mt. 25:35-40)
Work was not only part of God’s plan from the beginning of creation as shown in Genesis 1, it is the primary way God meets the needs of His people by using our everyday labor. It is also true that ultimately as we meet the needs of others around us, we are ultimately meeting the needs of Jesus. Those small insignificant acts of love and compassion are in the eyes of Jesus noticeable and quite significant. Our actions toward others are actions directed to God as well.
Does God really care that much about what His people do within the society in which they reside? How serious should we take a society that is pagan or downright aggressive toward the Christian faith? Should the society in which we live dictate how we go about God’s Kingdom business? How should we respond to a society that doesn’t believe the things we believe in or value the Bible the way we do? Jeremiah’s first letter to God’s people exiled to Babylon strongly stated for them to build homes, get married, raise families and “work for the peace and prosperity of Babylon. Pray to the Lord for the city where you are held captive, for if Babylon has peace, so will you.” (Jer. 29:7) Why would God give this command to Israel? According to verse 11 it is was because God had positive plans for Israel, plans that includes a future hope.
Along with Capitalism often comes a consumerist mentality. Sadly, it appears the consumerist mentality has joined the church. How does a church minister effectively to a society that is oriented around the acquisition and the consumption of goods and services at a surprising rate with little hesitation as to the cost or effect how this lifestyle may have on people or the environment? Especially if the church is of the same mindset. Consumerism tends to breed a “What’s in it for me mindset?” Customer satisfaction becomes a key to any commercial enterprise. To be successful services are tailored to the wants and perceived needs of the client. Sadly, this mindset can be seen in the church where people jump from congregation to congregation or from denomination to denomination looking for the right family program, the right youth group or desiring to hear the right sermon message that supports their thoughts and opinions. Is this search for perfectionism part of the consumer mindset? Is the church set up to disappoint their members because they trying to keep up with the latest and greatest market trends? Is it possible to be a Christian and not a Consumerist? I once read that true joy is putting Jesus first, others second and yourself last. That may be something to think about when confronting a me first society.
 Polanyi, Karl. The Great Transformation, Boston: Beacon Press. 2002. 75-6
 Polanyi, 76
 https://christcovenant topc.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/Luther-on-gods-masks/