Work is Good
“Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense…A worker’s appetite works for him; his mouth urges him on… Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty” (Proverbs 12:11; 16:26; 28:19)
Every person born inherits a work ethic, although they can be quite diverse. Even in war-torn Liberia, some residents stayed in Monrovia and learned to fight to live, as many still do in some countries today, such as Syria. People work to stay-alive by finding food and water wherever they can; medical help, generators, and protected areas are sought out and staked out. When I worked in Liberia in 2008, after the fifteen-year civil war had ended, it was difficult to find employees who understood the requirements of full-time work. Most of the younger adults had never worked and never finished their education. All of my assumptions about what it takes to work an eight-hour day were invalidated until we started training our new employees about our expectations. That experience left me with more openness about what constitutes good work practices. But I had always believed in hard work and teamwork whenever possible, and that did not change.
God gave Adam work to do in the Garden of Eden before all the trouble with his Fall from grace. “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.” (Genesis 1:26) After God created Eve, he told them both to: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (1:28) Some commentators treat work as a result of the Fall’s curse for disobedience (including John Gill), but it was part of Adam and Eve’s perfect life in the Garden. However, after the Fall, the curse made work difficult due to thorns in the ground and all the other effects of sin (in marriage, childbirth, enmity with Satan, death, etc.). Today some work is backbreaking; every time I see people working on roofs of buildings on a hot summer’s day or first responders I am reminded of the difficulty of work because of the curse.
The verses from Proverbs speak of the benefit of diligent (hard) work on the land and its consequences—plenty of bread and a desire to work even more (as his appetite works for him, urging him on). There is a contrast between the worker’s “plenty of bread” and the idle person’s “plenty of poverty.” The lazy person lacks sense (12:11), which leads to spending her time in “worthless” activities…those that don’t produce anything of value, leading to “plenty of poverty.”
We all see work differently but left to ourselves, we either idolize work, at the one extreme or try to avoid it at the other. Few of us have a sober view of work, God’s view, the biblical view of work that is neither idolatry or drudgery. “A Proverbs driven life is one that works hard for the glory of God. Embodying a biblical work ethic, and seeing work as truly a calling from God, is a core part of our purpose…Being productive and creative, we imitate God in our work. As we confront the challenges of our work, our grace-motivated responses demonstrate the fruit of God’s Spirit in us…[there is] spiritual significance to every act of work” * Our biblical worldview should inform our work, whatever we do. 1 Corinthians 10:31 commands us, “…whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
How do you view your work? Is your work extremely difficult or extremely unsatisfying? How can you change your view of work? Or have you been putting off changing the type of work you do, or how you do it? Will you embrace your work, whether it’s a vocation, ministry, volunteering, or caregiving, as an essential aspect of your spiritual life?
* Selvaggio, Anthony, “A Proverbs Driven Life, Chapter 3—Work as a Divine Calling,” Shepherd Press, 2011, (Kindle Edition)