Labor Day weekend always gives us an opportunity to consider the issue of work. Whether you’re employed, unemployed, underemployed, soon to be employed, or even retired, consider what the Bible teaches us about the subject of work.
Obviously, work is more than just a job you get paid for. The mother who stays at home with three preschool-aged kids works hard — but often doesn’t earn a salary for it. The people who mentor or volunteer or coach — they are typically hard workers but rarely do they get paid for their work.
So let’s not define work as a salaried position. Work is all that we do that keeps us busy. Understand, work can be a good thing. Work is a gift from God.
The book of Proverbs talks over and over again about the value of hard work and what it means to work for the Lord, how to develop a strong work ethic. Work itself is not bad. But if we’re not careful, very easily work can become a god.
Let me offer three suggestions for a healthy view of work. First, we must stop equating busyness with worthiness.
The chief reason most of stay so busy is because we believe that if we can just stay busy, then we matter, then we have worth. No one knew this better than Solomon. He was a man who worked hard to try to gain purpose and meaning. But look at what he writes at the end of his life in Ecclesiastes 2:18, “Everything is meaningless — like chasing the wind. I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned.”
Solomon asks, “What have I been working so hard for? I have worked and worked and worked so that I will die and someone else does something with my work and I have no idea what they’re going to do with it. What’s the point in that?”
You weren’t designed to find your worth in your occupation. Our identity is not what we do, it’s who we are — or better yet, whose we are!
Secondly, God gives everyone work to do. Work was designed by God for our benefit. God told man to work in the Garden of Eden. Ecclesiastes 3:13 says, “That everyone may eat and drink and find satisfaction in all his toil — this is the gift of God.”
Work is not just something for this life but for the life that is to come as well. The descriptions of heaven in the Bible paint this picture that we’re all going to be working — doing tasks together to bring glory to the Lord.
I just hope there are no expense reports.
This is also why the concept of retirement is not found in the Bible. That’s not to say it’s wrong to retire and enjoy some pleasures during the golden years of life. But the idea of giving up every responsibility in order to relax and play and spend money is found nowhere in Scripture.
God wants us to continue working for him and for his mission. We were designed to be productive creatures.
Lastly, work is a way to bless others and to worship God. At Christmastime, we watch, “A Christmas Carol.” Many of us love that story, and one of the reasons it’s so popular is because all of us see a part of ourselves in Scrooge. We work and we toil and we invest ourselves in our careers but at the end of the day we’re empty, looking for joy and significance.
In fact, the Bible says this is one of the ways we can tell who’s a real Christian and who’s just faking it. Ephesians 4:28, “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.” Instead of working exclusively for yourself, find ways to bless others with your work.
The opportunity to work is indeed a blessing from the Lord. At death, you will not regret not getting more done at work. You know why? Because at that moment, more clearly than ever, you will know that loving God and loving people was always job No. 1.
Columbus’ Justin White is senior minister at First Christian Church. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.