In the ancient Near Eastern world, the gods were lazy, creating human beings to do the work they did not want to do. Not so Yahweh, the triune God of Israel. “He never sleeps” declares the Psalmist (121:4). Jesus explains, “My Father is still working, and I also am working” (Jn 5:17). A plethora of metaphors identify God as a worker: weaver (Ps 139:13-16), shepherd (Ps 23), and potter (Jer 18:1-9) to name a few. God’s work (Gen 2:3) is the basis for human work.
Work was originally intended by The Lord for human good (Gen 2:5, 8, 15). The curse of pain and hardship that would accompany labor came as a result of sin (Gen 3:17-19). It was prophesied that Noah would be a comfort to people because of the cursed ground (5:29). But work gives meaning to life, providing pleasure as a gift of God (Ecc 3:12-13; 5:18-20; 8:15; etc.).
Without work the result is poverty (Prov 6:6-11). Laziness is condemned in Proverbs only bringing a person to ruin (Prov 18:9). Night (Ps 104:23), one day a week (Ex 20:9-10), and festivals were opportunities to rest from “laborious labor” (Lev 23:7-8, 21, 25, 35, 36; etc.). Work produced a product (Gen 4:21-22) depending on how a person was gifted (Ex 1:14; 35:24; 1 Chr 4:21; 2 Chr 34:13; Is 19:9). When offered in service to God work is not bondage but a joyful, liberating experience (cf. Deut 28:47). In the new earth God’s children will “long enjoy the work of their hands” (Is 65:22-23).
Judging from statements from both Testaments work should be understood as worship—the total response of the total person to our Lord Jesus (Rom 12:2; Eph 6:7). Indeed, the word for work in the First Testament (Deut 6:13) is the same as tilling the soil (Gen 2:5), collective worship (Deut 4:19), or a general statement of life dedicated to serving God (Deut 10:12).
Work honors The One who makes life possible. Work provides for personal needs (2 Thess 3:10-13), families (1 Tim 5:8), and the needy (Eph 4:28). Hard work is seen as positive (Prov 31:10-31) fulfilling the first great commission to rule and subdue the earth (Gen 1:28). Right attitudes toward work are to be developed by self-discipline (Gal 5:23), submission (Col 3:22-4:1), and single-mindedness (2 Tim 2:1-7). The whole of the Christian life—labor, work, endurance—is to be subject to and energized by faith, love, and hope (1 Thess 1:3).
Work brings benefit to humanity. Labor produces the following guidelines for service in the Christian community:
(1) Value and enjoyment should accompany a believer’s explanation of all work (e.g., home-work);
(2) Study of environmental science must emphasize earth exists for human activity not the other way around;
(3) Work is not a necessary evil but rather a gift, intended by God for human good, dispelling the common complaint “Why do we have to do this?”;
(4) No one occupation is more “spiritual” than another, there are no “lesser activities” in life, and people must learn that jobs are not to provide money so we can “do ministry”;
(5) Developing skills in a profession is far less important than developing character qualities that encourage discipline in a lifetime of work;
(6) Labor supplies opportunity, creativity, and responsibility for the Christian willing to commit the time and effort;
(7) Redefining worship as established in The Bible would begin to change Christian thinking that every activity has redemptive value.
Dr. Mark Eckel, Professor of Leadership, Education & Discipleship, Capital Seminary & Graduate School. “Work” was originally published in 2003 for an ACSI enabler on biblical integration.