Plagiarism

Recently Eerdmans Publishing Company discovered that a commentary on Ephesians and another commentary on Philippians by the same author contained a considerable amount of material that was not written by the author. [1] The trouble was not that author made use of the work of other authors to make his book better. Rather, the problem is that he didn’t properly acknowledge his sources and give credit where credit was due. This is known as plagiarism. Plagiarism happens in high schools and colleges across this country. It turns up in research papers, books, magazine articles and online materials. Sometimes this happens accidentally because someone is tired or pressed for time and doesn’t take the time to make sure that quotations from another authors’ work are accurately and properly acknowledged. Other times people plagiarize deliberately. They steal material written by others, perhaps so that they can appear more intelligent and sophisticated, or perhaps to save themselves from doing the hard work it takes to do it oneself.

Regardless of the motive plagiarism is wrong. The trouble with plagiarism is that it’s theft and it’s condemned by the 8th commandment. “Thou shalt not steal” (Ex. 20:15). Plagiarism is also condemned by the 9th commandment “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” (Ex. 20:16). Purposely presenting someone else’s materials as your own is deception. “Lie not to one another, seeing ye have put off the old man and his deeds” (Col. 3:9). Authors who deliberately  (or inadvertently) plagiarize someone else’s work can lose their jobs, lucrative book contracts, or professorships at colleges and universities. As for students, you can get kicked out of college for doing this. God has given us minds to write books, articles, and blog posts, and to deliver speeches. Making use of the work of others is not wrong and can be very profitable. However, Christian honesty demands that the sources we use in our work always be acknowledged. When we borrow from the work of others, we must properly give credit where credit is due. Where such acknowledgement is inadvertently omitted, it should be corrected immediately. This is a good reminder. Those of us who are students must be honest and must not engage in this kind dishonest intellectual theft. Even when we are in a pinch and deadlines are pressing down on us, sinfully stealing others work is never the solution. Those who intentionally present another’s work as their own need to repent of this sin and seek forgiveness. May God help us be honest Christian witnesses in all our research and school work!

Kevin Rau

[1] http://www.eerdmans.com/Pages/Item/59043/Commentary-Statement.aspx

Work in the New Year

God calls all of us to be involved in some form of work. Some of us work on a farm, while others of us work in offices, still others in restaurants and factories. Others have jobs in fields like engineering, chemistry or another mathematical  or scientific field. In addition, we each have talents and abilities given to us by God. God requires us to use these gifts in the service of the church. Whatever our calling, God requires that we do our best. We’ve all had jobs that we haven’t cared about much for one reason or another. But even in jobs such as these, we ought to work hard for the glory and honor of God. As the apostle says “whether therefore we eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31).

Struggling with a negative attitude toward the work we are called to do, whether in the workplace or at church, is nothing new. It is something everyone struggles with at some point. Moses, the author of Psalm 90, was called to one of the hardest tasks that any of God’s people have had to face: leading the children of Israel through the deserts of Egypt and the Middle East to the land of Canaan. He was a man who got discouraged sometimes in his duties, as we sometimes do in our own work as well. Part of this was the realization that he was a sinner leading a large group of fellow sinners who sometimes faced the anger of God as a result of their disobedient actions. “For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled. Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance. For all our days are passed away in wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told”(Psalm 90:7-9). God called Moses to lead His children to the Promised Land, but often it seemed that Moses and the Israelites faced nothing but plagues, hunger and enemies. How could they carry on in the face of all of this? They prayed to God for His grace and wisdom, so that they could persevere in the face of overwhelming odds. “So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom… that we may rejoice and be glad all our days”(Psalm 90:12,14b). We too battle sin as we go about our callings in this new year and as a result we also get discouraged. Like the Israelites, we too need to ask of God for wisdom in our lives. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him”(James 1:5). In other words, when we pray to God in faith for the strength, wisdom and guidance that we seek, He will give it to us in great abundance. This doesn’t mean that our lives will be easy and that we will get everything we want, but it does mean that we too, by the grace of  God, can maintain our spiritual perspective on our work in this life, no matter how overwhelming circumstances may be in our lives. Then we can pray with Moses “…establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea the work of our hands establish thou it” (Psalm 90:17b). May God give us the grace we need to work to His glory in the year ahead!

Kevin Rau

Reflections on lawn mowing

I was just sitting outside enjoying the beautiful weather and my eye fell on the grossly overgrown lawn in the backyard. We have been getting tons and tons of rain in West Michigan over the last several weeks (including a pretty sizable storm last night complete with some of the loudest canon shot thunder one ever has the opportunity to hear), but this week the temperature has soared up to the mid-70s and the sun is wide out in the open blue sky. The result is a very rich and luxuriantly green grass, resplendently colorful daffodils and tulips popping out of their bulbs, and trees giving way to extraordinary flowers of white and pink (my wife and I just spotted a beauty on a jog this afternoon; the tree was as thick with white flowers as it will be with green leaves in a couple of months). What a wonderful God we have! A beautiful God who has produced a beautiful creation (out of nothing!) simply by the Word of his mouth. So foolish are the unrepentant proponents of the theory that dares suggest that mere chance and time gave way to such splendor.

But I had cause for another thought as I sat on the back porch enjoying the sunlight. As I mentioned, the grass is growing, and it is rich, green and beautiful. However, it needs to be cut and I am at the moment unable to achieve this result. My lawn mower is currently in the shop undergoing repair, a problem that wouldn’t exist if I had simply taken the time to get it fixed during the bitter cold months of winter when it was merely a useless chunk of steel taking up room in the garage. But I decided to procrastinate (as usual), so when I do finally get the mower back I will inevitably be induced to double or triple cut and then spend significant time blowing the clippings around to get that nice polished look of a finely manicured lawn. Don’t worry…for those of you who probably think I’m just a sap who is complaining about the relatively easy work I’ll have to do in a day or two, I do enjoy the work and am actually excited to finally get going. But as I thought about these things an idea for the blog began to emerge in my mind, so here goes.

Currently I have been reading Ecclesiastes in my own personal devotion (perhaps you now know where I am going with this thought). In chapter 2 of that book, after Solomon reflects on the vanity of seeking after the pleasures associated with such things as wine and laughter, we read:

4. I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards:

5. I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits:

6. I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees:

11. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.

12. And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what can the man do that cometh after the king? Even that which hath been already done.

Perhaps in the modern day we might add something like this: ‘I repaired my lawn mower and mowed the grass, but this also was vanity and vexation of spirit.’ Equipment is in constant need of maintenance, and anyone with a yard knows what it will look like a week after he mows.

There are a couple of things I want to say about this. First of all, I think all of us who like perfection (whether that be on a lawn, a house renovation, a paper for school, or what have you) need to be kept in check by the book of Ecclesiastes. Perfection in our daily work on the job or around the house is not wrong to strive for; do your best! Work hard! But recognize that in the end, whatever you do will eventually be undone. The creation does not cease from doing its utmost to become again the vast, desolate, overgrown, uncultivated wilderness (and thus, probably very beautiful in its own way!) that it was before we humans started plowing and building houses. The grass you cut will grow again. The flower bed you weed out will be completely weed-ridden in a week or two. The house you renovate will be outdated in a decade.

The second thing I want to say is related to the first thing. Because of the utter vanity of pretty much all of the work we do in this life, we need to relax a little. I know for certain that every paper I turned in at school could have been better. Many of us tinker around with this sort of thing for hours and hours, but rest assured that the perfect paper will never come. Now, I am not trying to encourage anyone to be lazy, but there does come a time when one must simply be content with what he has been able to accomplish (for me, deadlines make this a little bit easier!).

Finally, when considering the utter beauty of this creation, but also the complete futility of almost all of our labor therein, think about what the new heaven and new earth will be like. I am not suggesting that there will be no work in heaven. Surely there will be. All of our work will be to glorify God eternally. Therefore our work will no longer be vanity and our spirit will no longer be vexed. We shall be satisfied in everything that we do by the beauty and wonder of God himself in the person of Jesus Christ.

JH