Lord’s Day 35 (Q/A 96-98): SWEAT EQUITY

96   Q.  What is God’s will for us
in the second commandment?

A.   That we in no way make any image of God^1
nor worship him in any other way
than has been commanded in God’s Word.^2

^1 Deut. 4:15[-19]; Isa. 40:18; Rom. 1:23; Acts 17:29
^2 1 Sam. 15:23; Deut. 12:30; Matt. 15:9

97   Q.  May we then not make
any image at all?

A.   God cannot and may not
be visibly portrayed in any way.

Although creatures may be portrayed,
yet God forbids making or having such images
if one’s intention is to worship them
or to serve God through them.^1

^1 Exod. 23:24; 34:13; Num. 33:52; Deut. 7:5; 12:3; 16:22; 2 Kings 18:4

98   Q.  But may not images be permitted in churches
in place of books for the unlearned?

A.   No, we should not try to be wiser than God.
God wants the Christian community instructed
by the living preaching of his Word—^1
not by idols that cannot even talk.^2

^1 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:19
^2 Jer. 10:8; Hab. 2:18-19


LORD’S DAY 35 (Q/A 96-98)
“Sweat Equity”

Sweat equity is where you contribute your time and labor for the restoration or upbuilding of something, usually as a means to substitute using money (financial equity).

As with most anything, sweat equity has a positive and negative aspect. On the positive side, as with the model that Habitat for Humanity uses, sweat equity enables low-income families to contribute themselves to a building project, to participate in the construction of their homes and the homes of others. Sweat equity opens up possibilities and opportunities for ownership where a financial lender may not take the risk, or where a family simply doesn’t have the funds to contribute.

In our human nature, the negative aspect rears its head. Our human nature is that after a job well-done, we can become self-congratulatory, or mold the outcome to our own liking, our own image. I’ve been to several Little League games where some fathers have lost their cool with other fathers, seeing their sons as the outward embodiment of themselves, their hopes, perhaps…their sweat equity of investment of time, dropping off at practices, purchasing sporting equipment. Consider the mixture of cultural fascination and cultural critique of Honey Boo Boo as the cultural image of youthfulness gone wild with parental encouragement.

But we don’t even have to turn to outward images, to external expressions of idolatry, societal images.  The potential and, in fact, common practice of idolatry is lived out daily in our hearts. Pride is our killer, and pride emerges again and again with our sweat equity – anything we have achieved, anything we have done, anything we have invested time, energy, money…we extend our image, our illusion and vision of what should be. What retirement might be like. What this career might be like in this or that place.

Don’t get me wrong. Strategic planning, casting our nets wide, setting goals are all good things.  But the Lord knows our human natures and the inclinations of our hearts….unchecked and unrestrained, our sweat equity quickly translates into image of ourselves, idolatries of ourselves cast upon others.

What are our modern-day, lived-for idols and images that are counterfeit gods? What are yours? What are mine?

The worship of God is comprehensive; it’s not primarily on a Sunday morning…the worship of God is Sunday through Saturday, all the days of our lives.

Where are the altars that we bow to?

The Holy Spirit has given us the trifecta gifts of faith, hope, and love. These three gifts enable us to live in such a way that we are propelled by that which we cannot see, an utter dependence on God’s leading and direction, receiving and giving love.

Idols and images have a way of being placeholders for our hopes and our fears, the deep anxieties of the heart. The fascination with cultural icons or the next “American Idol” exhibits our anxieties of what we wish to be. Idols and images are expressions of gratifying/satisfying the anxiety by providing a ready placeholder for past-present-future hopes and fears.

Faith, hope and love don’t work on such a timetable. Faith, hope, and love are given by God, and deepen over time, through experiences of trial and travail, through prayer, through patiently waiting upon God, through the hearing and receiving of Scripture, through the sacraments, through deep friendships as gifts from God for the people of God.

When we are tempted to see in our sweat equity that we have crafted our present, that we have planned our future, that we are dealing with our anxieties, Q/A 96-99 knocks on our hearts. We show our gratitude to God, in delighting in Him, casting our hopes and fears of all the years upon Jesus the Christ:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20, NRSV)

The Reformed theological tradition holds to the dual nature of God’s covenant with us as being both a covenant of grace and a covenant of works: we receive and understand God’s reconciling love in Christ as a covenant of grace – we are the beneficiaries of God’s love not because of what we’ve done nor of who we are, but solely from God’s desire to be with us and for us; that is grace.

Yet, what we receive as a covenant of grace, from the perspective of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, the work of salvation as effected in the incarnation, the life of servant ministry, His death, His resurrection – that was work, that was sweat equity…the sweat equity of the Son of God, the Son of Man…for the daughters and sons of God. For you. For me. For us.

The one who is the very image of the invisible God, restores us and restores our identities as ones whom God has created in His image. May you reflect the image of  His Son, Jesus Christ, whose sweat equity was given for you for the life of the world.