Work is often referred to as a four-letter word and seen as a necessary evil that we want to rid ourselves of as quickly as possible. The modern version of the “American dream” certainly doesn’t involve going to work. Instead, we long for the day when we can sleep in and then relax on our back porch. Is it possible that we have a wrong view of work though? Our theological understanding of work has a very big impact on many other aspects of our lives, including retirement, work ethic, gambling, and so on. Since it’s such an important piece of our lives, we need to make sure we have a solid biblical understanding.
In the Beginning
The biblical concept of work starts at the very beginning. In Genesis 1, we see that one of God’s characteristics is that He is a worker. The first work ever recorded was done by God when He created the heavens and the earth in six days. On the seventh day, He rested. “So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Genesis 2:3). God may have rested on the seventh day, but His work wasn’t finished at the end of creation. He continues to work in the way that He maintains order in the universe and sustains his creation. He’s also constantly at work in the process of redemption.
Jesus has modeled work for us since the beginning of time. We see His work in creation in John 1:3, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” He worked as a carpenter and a preacher during His earthly life. Jesus continues to work for us now as our intercessor and High Priest. Jesus’ desire was to imitate God in His work. “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work’” (John 4:34).
God made us in His image and as image-bearers we reflect His characteristics. We should delight in the privilege of imitating our Creator and work is one of our opportunities to do just that. However, if that’s not reason enough, we are also commanded to work. Exodus 20:9 tells us “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work.” By telling us to work six days and rest on the seventh, God is bringing the focus back again to His nature and the model He presented to us in creation.
Effects of Sin
Flawed theology could have us believe that work is a result of the curse, but that is not actually the case. Work existed before sin and the resulting curse. If we look back again to creation, we see in Genesis 1:26, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God goes on to tell man to multiply and subdue the earth, that is to rule over it and manage it for His glory. God created us for work and just like the rest of creation, it was “very good”.
Then sin and the curse entered the picture. In Genesis 3:17-19 we read, “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread…” Once man sinned, work was no longer going to be easy. Adam was now going to “sweat” as he battled to overcome the curse. He had the same work to accomplish, but the curse was going to make it much more difficult. Now, when he tried to grow crops, he would have to battle thorns and thistles. It’s important to note that the nature of work did not change as a result of the curse. While it got more difficult, we are still charged with the original task of taking dominion over the earth and subduing it for God’s glory.
Principles of Work
There is no shortage of scripture addressing the topic of work. Following is an abbreviated list of principles we can glean from scripture.
You are always working for God – Colossians 3:23-24 – “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
Serving Christ is our ultimate source of motivation.
Respect your employer – Ephesians 6:5-8 – “Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.”
1 Peter 2:18 – “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.”
Every employer should want to hire a Christian employee because they’ll show respect to the people around them and will work just as hard even when they’re not being watched.
Respect your employees – Ephesians 6:9 – “Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.”
All workers should want to work for a Christian employer. They pay a fair wage and treat people with respect and dignity. They also care about you and your family and strive for excellence in all aspects of business.
Be honest in your dealings – Proverbs 20:17 – “Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth will be full of gravel.”
Proverbs 11:18 – “The wicked earns deceptive wages, but one who sows righteousness gets a sure reward.”
Don’t cheat your customers to make a greater profit. Employees, don’t cheat your employer by not doing the work you are being paid to perform while collecting a full paycheck.
Pay a fair wage – 1 Timothy 5:18 – “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’”
James 5:4 – “Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.”
In caring for our employees and their families, employers should pay a fair wage for the work being performed. Anything less is stealing from the employee. This also applies to anyone we hire to perform a service.
Don’t feel entitled – Proverbs 13:4 – “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.”
Employees should not demand a wage greater than they deserve. Economically, an employee must always add more value to their employer than they are paid. If not, the employer can’t afford to pay you. The cost of an employee doesn’t end with the amount on their paycheck either. There are additional costs the employer must bear to have you on their payroll.
Laziness and foolishness lead to poverty – Proverbs 24:30-34 – “I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense, and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.”
Proverbs 10:4 (NIV) – “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth.”
Work and money go hand-in-hand. Hard work will ultimately pay off and laziness will eventually lead to poverty.
Chasing fantasies leads to poverty – Proverbs 28:19 (NIV) – “Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty.”
It’s one thing to have dreams and desires. It’s another to chase fantasies. One key test is the correlation between work and money. Most fantasies are built on the idea of getting something for nothing. If it doesn’t require work, it likely won’t pay off in the end.
Work to care for others – Ephesians 4:28 – “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”
Working just enough to provide for our household is wrong. Bad theology would have us believe that work is bad and to be minimized or avoided once we’ve earned and stockpiled enough. Scripture informs us that work is good and should be performed as long as we are able and if we’re blessed with surplus income, we should be looking at how we can help others.
Not all work is instantly rewarded – Proverbs 20:4 – “The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing.”
A farmer that only wants to harvest will never have a crop. Work hard, doing the work that needs to be done and trust God for the results in the end.
Great skill will be noticed – Proverbs 22:29 (NIV) – “Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank.”
Never settle for anything less than your best effort and don’t get discouraged when it isn’t always recognized. Sooner or later, great skill will be rewarded. If not by man, then by God.
Work Provides for the Poor
It is the area of work that bears the responsibility of providing for the poor. There are two methods of care, depending on the situation, and both are threatened by society’s flawed view of work.
1. Work provides through jobs – 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 – “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” In the Thessalonian society, work had become second class and many had stopped working and were dependent on others for handouts. Paul was instructing the believers in that area to stop giving to those who could work for their own food.
It’s interesting how our welfare system has done the same thing. Our society understands work as a bad thing and any system that would force the poor to work is considered oppressive.
A quick look at the Old Testament validates a welfare system built on work. “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 23:22). Notice that the landowner was not instructed to pick the crop and give it to the poor. Instead, he was to leave it for them to harvest themselves. There is dignity in work and when our method of care steals that dignity away, we have done a disservice to those on the receiving end. The poor don’t need a handout, they need a job and that’s what we should try to give them.
2. Work provides through giving – There will always be those that are unable to work though. Paul didn’t leave them out of his instructions to the Thessalonian believers. In the very next verse after telling those who could work to get busy, he said “As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good (2 Thessalonians 3:13).” He urged the believers to not get discouraged by the deadbeats because we still need to show compassion to the truly needy among us. We are able to care for those who can’t work by sharing the surplus of our work with them. If a person is able to work, they should. If they are unable to work and are without ample resources, we should be ready to share.
Work is a behavior we perform out of our love for the Lord. Just as with any other service we perform for God, there is not a time for us to say we’ve done enough as long as we’re physically able to continue. We were made for work. We imitate God through our work. We serve others through our work. So, why is it that we spend most of our adult lives dreaming of the day when we can stop working? Sure, work is hard. That’s the result of sin and the curse. However, when equipped with a biblical understanding of work, we should always find pleasure in the knowledge that we are serving and glorifying God with our bodies and our minds and pray for the grace to endure the hard times. Remember, “everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man” (Ecclesiastes 3:13).
Brad Graber, CFP® has been working with clients on personal financial planning and investment issues since 1996. He invests his time mentoring and educating individuals on ways to be better stewards of the resources God has entrusted to them.