(First of all, I do not expect nor intend this to be an all encompassing, comprehensive review on what Scripture says about work, but will do my best to cover some highlights and direct you to further reading if you are interested. Furthermore, I will submit and let Scripture do most of the talking.)
What is work?
I think it’s important to start by taking a look at how work was intended to be. This brings us to the very beginning of Scripture in the book of Genesis.
Believe it or not, humans were meant to work. In its original form, work was not a curse, but a blessing. We see in Genesis where God gives Adam the responsibility to “work” and “keep” the garden of Eden. He even had the task of naming all the animals. How exciting and kind of nerve racking! It wasn’t until the Fall that work became difficult and often painful:
“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,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
So we’ve seen how work was intended in Genesis, but what does the rest of the Bible say about work?“Whoever is slothful will not roast his game, but the diligent man will get precious wealth.” (Prov. 12:27) “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.” (Prov. 10:4) The master, speaking to the servants who took what was given to them, worked, and produced profit (In the Parable of the Talents told by Jesus in Matt. 25: 14-30: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” On the contrary, in the Parable of the Talents, the master calls the one servant who did not take what was given to him, work, and produce more, a “wicked and slothful servant!” (Matt. 25:26) “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (2 Thess. 3:10)
Personally, I enjoy eating, and so Paul’s warning to the Thessalonians particularly hits me with conviction!
We see in Scripture, NT and OT, that we are called to work, and to work hard. As noted above, it will be toilsome, and it will be difficult. But at the same time, there is much satisfaction and joy to be had when we obey what God has called us to!
“Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.” (Ecc. 5:18)
We were meant to work. And I think most people would agree with this on the surface, but often times I hear jokes about what people would do if they won the lottery or came into money some other way. Guess what the very first thing is almost all the time? “I would quit my job!” Honestly, I’m not convinced most of those people are just joking around. Hopefully, if these people really felt called to quit their day jobs, they would pursue something else that they really feel called to as well, but to me, these kind of responses seem to uncover the hearts of those making them. Most of the time, I would argue that responses like this are motivated by selfishness, greed, and the desire to not have to work.
Mark Driscoll offers up helpful advice on dealing with issues in our current lives and society’s perception of it. He makes the assessment with things like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, but I’ll apply the same logic to Work. Driscoll says we have three options when dealing with a cultural issue/societal perception: we can reject it, receive it, or redeem it. He argues that the right choice in almost every situation is to “redeem it”. Therefore, Christians need to make every effort to participate in God’s redeeming of work the way sin has cursed it.
So, how do we do that?
I’d say the initial answer is pretty simple: work hard and “without grumbling” (Phil 2:14).
Of course, it does get more complicated in trying to discern what that looks like exactly in our individual lives because there are countless factors that go in to finding the right work for you. To provide further guidance this question, here’s five helpful questions to ask yourself about finding the work God has for you:
-Does this work glorify God?
-Does it benefit my fellow man?
-Do I consider myself called to this work, or can I at least do it well and find enjoyment in that?
-Does it provide for material needs?
-Does it permit me to lead a godly and balanced life?
(These 5 questions are quoted from Richard D. Phillips’ The Masculine Mandate on page 21, see reference below)
So we know that we’re supposed to work and work hard, but are we supposed to do this every hour of every day? I’ll explore this question in the next post about “Rest”.
A major source I used to organize my thoughts here was a book called The Masculine Mandate by Richard D. Phillips. I’m only four chapters in through the book, but it’s already brought conviction and encouragement.