“I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it , and received instruction. Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man” Proverbs 24:30-34
Work, or employment, is something which will affect, does affect, or has affected all of us at some stage in our lives. We are living in a world which is demanding more and more from workers, to the extent that we are seeing work related illnesses and disillusionment at work at an all-time high. So too are we seeing more and more people not wanting to work, but rather live off state handouts.
As in many other areas, Christians have a responsibility to ensure their lives reflect what God teaches in His word about this subject of work. This article is not written to, nor does it seek to instruct, those who cannot work due to illness, raising children or such like. It is written to offer counsel to those who are able to work in their daily lives.
The work place has changed beyond all recognition since the Bible was written, so the question is, “Is it still relevant today for the modern worker?” I believe the answer is clearly yes, and God willing as we look at the scriptures you will see why.
Why do we work?
The world often asks the question ‘Why do I have to go to work?’ and I suppose comes up with a variety of answers.
Well in the first two chapters of the book of Genesis, we read of how God created the heaven and the earth. We read that God had created all things perfectly, He had created man after his own image (Genesis 1:27), and He had provided everything including food for Him (Genesis 1:29). According to the scriptures, God created all things for His pleasure (Revelation 4:11) and after His creation God saw all things, and we read “it was good.” (Genesis 1:31)
Man had perfect peace in the presence of God, until the woman Eve took of the fruit of the tree (which God had expressly forbidden Genesis 2:17, Genesis 3:6) and gave it to Adam who eat it. Immediately following that, sin came into the world, bringing death (Romans 5:12) and all that is associated with it i.e. pain, suffering, disease etc.
“And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
This thought is also echoed in Genesis 5:29,
“And he called his name Noah, saying. This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of our ground which the LORD hath cursed.”
You see, work, toil, labour, whatever you want to call it, came about because God cursed the ground as a result of man’s sin. Man only has himself to blame for having to work, no-one else, because he disobeyed God. God said “don’t”, the Devil said “do” and man followed the Devil, just as he too often does today.
What is Work?
I think the answer to this question is an evolving one. Work in Bible times was totally different to work today; there are jobs today that didn’t exist 20 years ago, and work in parts of Africa or Asia is very different to work in the UK or USA. The scriptures would seem to identify work as that which is physical and manual; however, there is clearly a more widely reaching meaning than just that. Consider the following verses:
Genesis 3:19 “In the sweat of thy face shall thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground.”
Proverbs 6:6-8 “Go unto the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways and be wise: which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.”
Proverbs 12:11 “He that tilleth his land shall be satisfied with bread”
Proverbs 12:14 “…and the recompence of a man’s hands shall be rendered unto him.”
It seems to me that as we read the above verses, we see that work is that task which we do which provides for us and our families. Work deserves wages, whatever that may be.
Genesis 29:15 And Laban said unto Jacob, Because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought? Tell me, what shall thy wages be? ”
Genesis 30:28 “And he said, Appoint me thy wages, and I will give it .”
Luke 10:7 “…for the labourer is worthy of his hire…”
Also, work isn’t always easy. Throughout the scriptures we read of labour, toil, travail and sweat. Having to work is a result of God’s curse, and therefore we shouldn’t expect it to be easy. It’s a physically demanding task, the Bible tells us so.
What are the Benefits of Work?
I suppose we could say there are many benefits of work, probably more than I could list here. However, the Scriptures lay down for us some clear benefits to those who work, and they are all to do with the quality of our life here on earth.
- Work brings earthly provision
- Proverbs 28:19 “He that tilleth his land shall have plenty of bread…”
- (See also Proverbs 6:6-8; Proverbs12:11)
- Work brings earthly wealth
- Proverbs 10:4 “He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent maketh rich.”
- (See also Proverbs 13:4,11)
- Work gives satisfaction and peace of mind
- Ecclesiastes 5:12 “The sleep of a labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep.”
- (See also Proverbs 12:11)
- Work provides enjoyment in its fruits
Although most of us I’m sure, at one time or another, have moaned about going to work, or eagerly desire finishing work, it is clearly one way that God chooses to bless His children with the things they need whilst here on earth.
What are the Consequences of Refusing to Work?
Just as going out to work has its benefits, so too does refusing to work have its consequences. As we see in Proverbs 12:14 “…the recompence of a man’s hands shall be rendered unto him.” Therefore, if a man’s hands do nothing, so to speak, so shall he reap the consequences, which are considerable.
- Refusing to work brings laziness
- Proverbs 6:9-10 “How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? When wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep.”
- (See also Proverbs 19:15; Proverbs 24:30-34)
- Refusing to work brings poverty and want
- Proverbs 6:11 “So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man.”
- (See also Proverbs 10:4, Proverbs 20:4, Proverbs 24:34)
- Refusing to work brings a bad testimony
- Proverbs 10:5 “He that gathereth in summer is a wise son: but he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame.”
- (See also Proverbs 18:9; Proverbs 24:30-32; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12)
- Refusing to work brings hunger
- Proverbs 19:15 “Slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep; and an idle soul shall suffer hunger.”
- (See also 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12)
- Refusing to work brings humiliation
- Proverbs 20:4 “The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing.”
- Refusing to work leads to time being spent in unscriptural activities
- 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12 “For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.”
You see, refusing to work has considerable consequences. We live in a world that wants something for nothing, where folks don’t want to work but still want the benefits of it. The words of the Lord are quite clear, “..if any would not work, neither should he eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10) Note, the application here is to those who would not work; not those who do not, or those who cannot, but those who wilfully refuse.
What Should be our Attitude Towards Work?
This is the sticking point for most Christians. We know we have to work, yet we do so grudgingly, moaning and groaning about our employment at every opportunity (Philippians 2:14). Sadly, there are too many of us who just go through the motions at work, doing as little as we can get away with. The Scriptures teach us quite clearly what our attitude towards work should be.
- We should work as hard as we can
- Ecclesiastes 9:10 “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.”
- We should work hard and diligently irrespective of those around us
- Proverbs 6:6-8 “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.
- (See also Colossians 3:22; Ephesians 6:5-7)
- We should work as though we were working for the Lord
- Colossians 3:23 “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.”
- (See also Colossians 3:17)
- We should be content with our wages
- Luke 3:14 “…And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.”
- (See also 1 Timothy 6:6; Hebrews 13:5; Philippians 4:11)
- We should use our work as an opportunity to witness for the Lord
Many of us fail to realise that we spend more time at work than anywhere else. It is there where people will watch us, and see if our actions match our words. It is also there where arguably we have the greatest field of lost souls to witness to. We must ensure that we see our workplace as a wonderful opportunity to witness for the Lord, and when we do let our light shine, those around us may see our good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven.
Who do we Work For?
Due to the familiarity, routine and longevity of our working lives, many of us I’m sure forget who we are actually working for. The obvious answer would be our employers, but there are others as well.
- We work (to provide) for ourselves
- 2 Thessalonians 3:10 “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.”
- (See also Proverbs 12:11; Proverbs 13:4,11; Ecclesiastes 2:24)
- We work (to provide) for our family
- 1 Timothy 5:8 But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”
- (See also Proverbs 10:5)
- We work for our employers
- Colossians 3:22 “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eye service, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God.”
- (See also Ephesians 6:5-7)
- We work for the Lord
When we go to our place of work, we shouldn’t just go through the motions, but we should realise everyday that we are not only working for ourselves, our families and our employers, but ultimately we are working for the Lord. If we saw the Lord Jesus Christ at work with us, how different would our attitude to work be? May we all work in such a way that our employers can say of us “..the labourer is worthy of his hire.” (Luke 10:7)
When we look at the Scriptures, we can see clearly why we work, what work is, the benefits of work, the consequences of not working, what our attitude should be towards work, and ultimately who we work for. We can also see that to go to work if we are able is a clear Scriptural instruction to the Christian.
Without doubt, work provides many earthly benefits, such as provision for our families, earthly wealth, job satisfaction etc. These things are all good, however, they have no eternal value. I fear too many today are going too far, making work the be all and end all of everything. Many are seeing marriages broken, families falling apart, children going astray and health suffering as a result of their desire to succeed at work. Many today need to take stock of what life is all about, and why we actually go to work.
Ecclesiastes 2:11,18 “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…Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me.”
There is a saying that goes, “we work to live, not live to work” and the Preacher writing the book of Ecclesiastes certainly knew that if our lives are lived solely for work then they are indeed vanity.
While He was here on earth, the Lord Jesus Christ said the following words recorded for us in John 6:27 “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.”
Life without the Lord Jesus Christ is empty and unfulfilled, or vanity as the Scriptures put it. The Scriptures, as we have seen, give clear instruction on the importance of work, yet it must never become our reason for living, and it must never take the place of the Lord Jesus Christ in our lives. As the Scripture says in Mark 8:36:
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”