Getting down to business – The dignity of work
Many persons, including Christians, struggle with the concept of work. For some it’s a means to an end, the means by which they earn money to buy the things they enjoy. They don’t enjoy work. Yet for others, work is almost idolatrous because it is the basis of their self-worth and self-image. Neither of these views is helpful or help us find satisfaction and fulfilment.
What should be the proper view of work? Is it a secular or a sacred thing? The Bible has a lot to say about work. A review of Jewish history shows they looked at work as a secular thing. They saw it as a common, human second-class effort; whereas religious duties were first class, sacred, divine and noble. The Talmud, the systematic arrangement of Jewish tradition and law, for example, has a very interesting prayer in it that the scribes prayed (a scribe was a person who devoted his entire life to studying Scripture). Here is the prayer:
“I thank Thee, O Lord my God, that Thou hast given me my lot with those who sit in the house of learning and not with those who sit at the street corners. For I am early to work, and they are early to work. I am early to work on the words of the Law, and they are early to work on things of no importance …”
This faulty and shallow view is far from the truth and does not truthfully reflect God’s position on work. Where would the growth and development of a nation come from if there weren’t people who had other forms of gainful employment? Martin Luther, the reformer from the 16th century, said, “…there is absolutely no difference before God … between one who preaches the Word of God and one who washes dishes.”
With God there’s no such thing as the sacred and the secular employment. In the Old Testament, God speaks a blessing over commercial work. Psalms 128:2 (NET) says, “You will eat what you worked so hard to grow. You will be blessed and secure.”
God blesses all forms of work because work is from Him. Furthermore, Jesus is a worker and said in John 9:4 (NIV), “I must work the works of Him who sent Me. “Work is an honourable thing that should be valued highly. It’s a gift from God and He always gives His best. The writer of Ecclesiastes says: “To enjoy your work … this is indeed a gift from God.” Ecclesiastes 5:19 (NLT).
Author John MacArthur outlines five benefits of this gift. First, work is a means of glorifying God. When we work, we are demonstrating a divine skill that came to us through the creator and demonstrates His glory. Second, it’s a means of providing value or fulfilment to life. There is a deep satisfaction that comes when we have accomplished something. Research also shows that people who work are less depressed and scripture confirms this: “… there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work.” Ecclesiastes 2:24 (NLT).
This leads us to the third benefit; it prevents us from being idle, which is spiritually very deadly. The adage states, “…idle hands are a plaything for the devil,” so let’s be occupied in meaningful tasks rather than leaving ourselves idle and open to the devil. And not being idle, we are able to provide for the things we need in life, which is the fourth benefit. God’s gift to us is a way to gain wealth, purchase food and other essential for life.
Finally, work is a means of serving mankind. Whether we are gas station attendants, dishwashers, plumbers or teachers, we all contribute to the well-being of another person. We all render a service to mankind by which our lives are made more pleasing.
That is why the scripture exhorts us, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as though you were working for the Lord and not for people.” Colossians 3:23 (NIV).
God has given us skills which will bring us satisfaction and give Him glory. So, let us not allow His gift – work – to lose its intrinsic value. Let’s value His gift to us and work diligently and wisely to bring Him glory.