Teaching Values: A Work Ethic

by Jeff Asher

It is evident from the Scriptures that from before the foundation of the world God intended that men should be employed with useful and productive labor. It is a mistaken notion that considers work a punishment for Adam and Eve’s transgressions. God in the creation announced that man was to “subdue…and have dominion” over all the earth (Genesis 1:26–28). In order to facilitate this objective, He planted a garden “eastward in Eden” and placed the man in it with this instruction: “dress it and keep it” (Genesis 2:8–15). While it may seem idyllic to some, God never intended for man to be at his leisure with nothing to do.

However, it is true that sin complicated man’s existence in this world affecting his ability to fulfill his intended purpose. Because of sin, the earth brought forth “thorns and thistles” (Genesis 3:18). This caused man “in sorrow” to “eat of it all the days of thy life” (Genesis 3:17). That word “sorrow” literally means “worrisomeness, labor, pain, or toil.” Sin brought a curse upon the earth and man with the curse came “strength labour and sorrow” (Psalm 9-0:10).

While some think work is an evil to be avoided if at all possible, God has ordained it because it is good (Ephesians 4:28). The man that works is to be held in honor and esteem by his fellows (I Thessalonians 4:12); whereas, the idle man is worse than an unbeliever (I Timothy 5:8; cf. John 3:18; II Peter 2:20).

God has ruled that the man who will not work should not eat (II Thessalonians 3:10). Such a man is not worthy of the fellowship of the saved (3:11–12). The sluggard is contemned in the Scripture (Proverbs 10:26) and consigned a place with those whom the Lord hates (Ezekiel 16:49). God does not condone idleness knowing it breeds wickedness (Proverbs 18:9; 21:25; II Thessalonians 3:11; I Timothy 5:13; Ephesians 4:28); whereas, industry promotes thrift, self-reliance, charity and a worthy character.

The Joy of Work

As parents we must communicate to our children not only the necessity of working (Proverbs 13:4; 14:23), but also the benefits (Ephesians 4:28b). We make a terrible mistake if all we are able to instill in our children is an appreciation of employment for the sake of acquiring things (Proverbs 16:26). Work like everything else ordained of God is intended to affect our character. What we must communicate to our children is the “good” in work and the joy that it brings.

The Joy of Self-Reliance. Work makes it possible for us to have sufficiency without relying upon another (I Thessalonians 4:12). The benefit here is that with favorable circumstances we may have more than enough (Proverbs 13:4; 27:23–27). It is a matter of simple economics, when we work there is increase (Proverbs 10:4; 12:11; 14:4); when we are idle there is want for ourselves and others (Proverbs 13:23; 20:13). Aesop understood this truth and taught it in his famed fable of the Grasshopper and the Ant (cf. Proverbs 6:6; Matthew 25:9).

The Joy of Independence. The self–reliant are autonomous. They He do not seek the permission of others to act (Acts 5:4; Matthew 20:15); neither become slaves to other men (Proverbs 15:19; 22:7; Matthew 25:26–27). Rather, they rule themselves and their circumstances (Proverbs 10:4; 12:24). Industry gives men liberty (Proverbs 10:15; 11:28; Psalm 112)

The Joy of Satisfaction. All of us were raised hearing these maxims: “Take pride in your work;” and “any job worth doing is worth doing well.” This “chimney corner scripture” is based upon veritable truth (Ecclesiastes 9:10; Proverbs 10:4; 13:4; 18:9). The rewards in life are the result of the approval of others (Job 7:2; Matthew 25:21) Advancement comes as men recognize in you the ability to do the assigned tasks correctly (Proverbs 22:29). When we are slack and do less than that of which we are capable we are held back (Matthew 25:26–29). This principle is true in life, as well as, spiritual things. Always give your best.

The Joy of Self-Worth. However, one need not despair waiting for men to recognize ability. You should find satisfaction in knowing that you have done a good job (Ecclesiastes 5:12). Being a diligent worker and giving a full days work for a full days pay should build confidence and self–esteem (I Thessalonians 4:12). You are worthy of your wages (Luke 10:7; I Timothy 5:18). You have earned them and they are your due (Romans 4:4). Furthermore, the believer has the knowledge that God sees and whether or not our employer appreciates us, we will not lose our reward (Colossians 3:22–25).

The Joy of Philanthropy. When we have learned to work and begin to reap the fruits of our labors, we are then empowered by God to have the full blessing. The goal of our labor should not be to consume it upon ourselves, but to use it for good (I Timothy 6:17–18; cf. James 4:3). Jesus taught us that is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). The blessing in having is the power to give it away (Proverbs 11:25; 22:9; 28:27; Ephesians 4:28). There is no greater joy than that which comes from knowing you have really helped a neighbor. Furthermore, the truly liberal soul opens himself up to other opportunities to be used to bless (II Corinthians 9:10; Proverbs 21:26). Through work we become a channel of blessing. There are so many good things which may be done with the fruit of our labors (I Timothy 6:18; Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:6).

Four Things that Teach a Biblical Work Ethic

More than anything else, a good example is important to children (Proverbs 31:27–28). Growing up where everyone works helps instill an appreciation for work. More than this, the habit of working together and dividing the labor in the home makes a good worker (Matthew 4:21–22).

In addition to this, idleness must not be tolerated (Proverbs 10:5; II Thessalonians 3:10) Whether it is a family garden, chores about the house or a part time job, young people need to learn to work (Lamentations 3:27).

A positive example must be joined to a good attitude about work. Children learn what they live. If the parents are shirkers, thieves and malingerers chances are the children will be as well (Ephesians 6:5–8; Titus 2:10; I Peter 2:18–21).

Children also learn to work by learning that employment is necessary to enjoying the pleasures of life (Proverbs 13:4; 16:26). Parents err in this regard when they do not expect youth to begin to earn some rewards. When everything is given that becomes the expectation. Such is unrealistic and harmful for all (Proverbs 10:5, 26; 15:19; 21:25).