The Wisdom of Work (Proverbs 6:6-11; Proverbs 26:12-16)


      The average person will spend 80,000 hours at work in their life. An article published in the Business Insider a few years ago detailed some interesting facts about the workplace.
  • 80% of people are dissatisfied with their jobs.
  • On average, Americans work 8 different jobs before they are 30.
  • 25% of employees say work is their main source of stress and 40% say their job is "very or extremely” stressful.
  • More than 13 million working days are lost every year because of stress-related illnesses.
  • The average American spends 100 hours commuting each year.
  • 64% of Americans canceled vacations last year. One-third did it for work-related reasons even though most felt they were more in need of a vacation than the year before.
  • In the United States, workers take an average of 57 percent of their vacation days. That means most of us voluntarily give up about 50 percent of the time off we're legally allowed so we can continue to work instead.
  • 25% of people check into work hourly while on vacation, via email and phone. 59% said they check work during traditional holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. Basically, work is everywhere.[1]

Work is everywhere. Everyone will be called to work in one way or another. Are we all destined to be dissatisfied and stressed during our work life? How do we approach our work? How should we understand the purpose of work? How can we approach Monday morning with joy instead of dread? How should our faith impact our work lives?

      German Sociologist and Economist Max Weber coined the term “Protestant Work Ethic” in 1905 in his seminal work, “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.” He argues in the book that the protestant work ethic traced back to Martin Luther redefined worldly work as one’s Christian duty that benefits both the individual and society as a whole. Since the Protestant Reformation, the church has believed that one’s faith should be displayed as a sign of grace. So one’s hard work and frugality became markers that one possessed a true faith in Christ. One’s work was a picture of the grace one had received by Christ.

      Work has always been important in our culture. The Protestant Work Ethic built America’s railroads, supplied factories, and harvested crops. America grew in cultural dominance because of the people’s ability to work. Although there are many who still value work, there are others who have given their work an inordinate amount of power in their lives. Some work too much, while others do not work enough. Solomon hoped to encourage and warn to young people to have them see the importance of work while guarding against the dangers of poor work habits. Before we dig into the practical exhortations, let us first build a brief theology of work.

The Theology of Work

            What we believe shapes how we live. If we want to live right, we must first believe right. Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” Work has always been part of God’s world.

God Designed Work

            Work was established in the opening two chapters of Genesis. After God created Adam and Ever he charged them to work to care for his good world, Genesis 1:28, “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘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.’” Adam and Eve were called to exercise dominion or to work to care for the garden. In the parallel account of creation, in Genesis 2:5, “there was no man to work the ground,” so God formed man and Genesis 2:15, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Work was created and designed by God. It is good.

God Cursed Work
            The world used to cooperate alongside humanity to bring joy to a man’s hands while he worked the ground, but after man’s sinful rebellion God cursed our work. Our work would no longer be easy, but difficult. God cursed Adam’s work saying to him,

Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return. (Genesis 3:17-19)

The ground now works against humanity. The sweat that Adam experienced in the garden is like stress we feel before walking into the office on Monday before a presentation. The curse brought sweat and stress into our work.

God Redeemed Work

            God had pity on humanity. We were under the curse of sin and death so God sent his Son to redeem us from the curse by being cursed for us. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” (Galatians 3:13-14) Christ became a curse to reverse the curse. He came that we may have life and life abundantly. He restored purpose in our work. He restored promises from our work. We no longer live to serve ourselves in our work, but now we live to serve him.

            A key text on work is Colossians 3:22-24 where Paul redefines our work by redefining our master. He writes,

Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:22-24)

Every day we work, we are serving Jesus Christ. This should give us purpose in any job we have whether if it is a ditch digger or a stay-at home mom, a sales rep or a CEO, a janitor or a postman. Every job has value because it is done for the honor of the Lord Christ. We get to serve Jesus through our jobs. Praise God for his kindness to allow sinners to experience joy and eternal value in our work.
           The Bible never speaks about retirement. Retirement is a modern construct. You may no longer need the money for a paycheck, but that does not mean you are not called to work. The Bible says whatever we do we are to work heartily unto the Lord. It is the Lord Christ we are serving. Many of you no longer work for wages, but continue to work diligently for the good of your family members who need care, for your community, and for your church. Whatever stage of life we are in, we must view it through the lens of Scripture. We should always live with an eye on eternity whether we are 15 or 75 years old. (I would commend to you John Piper’s Rethinking Retirement: Finishing Life for the Glory of Christ.)

      This 30,000 foot view of work should shape your 9-5. It should shape every minute of every hour of every day of your life. We have been purchased with a price. We are not our own, but belong, body and soul, life and death, to God, and to our Savior Christ Jesus. We want to work wisely, not only for practical benefits, but for the glory of the Lord Christ. It is from him we will receive our inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading. And Proverbs has much to say about how the wise work. Although many of us will apply these principles to our jobs, keep in mind that your job is only a small part of your work. How we work encompasses our jobs, our home life, and our service.

The Wise Works Diligently

      All of the exhortations to wise work can be summed up in one word: diligence. Diligence is constant and earnest effort to accomplish what is undertaken; persistent exertion of body or mind; careful and persistent effort. This is something that desperately needs to be recovered in our society. We all have personal stories of those who demonstrate diligence in their work and frustrations of those who are slack in their work. According to God’s Word, the wise will work hard. We have to recover a healthy, robust biblical view of work. Besides honoring the Lord, there are practical benefits to working diligently.

They Have Resources

            It is easy to spiritualize work, but we cannot avoid that we work to get money to pay our bills and put food on the table. We do not work only for money, but we do work for money. Proverbs are generally true, but not always true. There are people who work hard, but are still in poverty. The majority of world is filled with people in this situation, who for whatever the reason, be it systematic problems, discrimination, or infrastructure, work hard, but have little to show for it.

Although it is true that some hard workers are poor, often those who become wealthy are diligent. Proverbs 10:4, “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.” The diligent hand is careful and persistent. Wealth does not come over night, but it takes long term faithfulness. My uncle worked as a HVAC repairman for years. He lived a modest life, but retired a very wealthy man. His years of diligence gave him riches. Proverbs 21:5, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” Proverbs 13:4 says, “The soul of the diligent is richly supplied.” A general rule is those who work harder have more in the end. Slow and steady diligent work is a picture of a wise worker.

Let us consider the ant. Let us learn from her ways and be wise for, “Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.” (Proverbs 6:7) Work hard, work steady and you will have the resources you need to live.

They Have Rule

            Not only will the wise worker have resources, but he will also rule over people. Proverbs 12:24, “The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor.” Those who work hard are often the ones promoted and trusted with the responsibility to lead. It is always a poor move to promote someone who is lazy, but diligent worker will eventually rule over those with little effort. 1 Timothy 5:25, “So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.” Our good works will not remain hidden and we will be rewarded for them.

They Have Reputation

Proverbs 22:29, “Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.” Diligence will lead to skill which will lead to influence. Frank Chodorov wrote how political figures were once required to demonstrate reputation of skill in his work. He writes,

There was a time, in these United States, when a candidate for public office could qualify with the electorate only by fixing his birthplace in or near the “log cabin”…In short, he had to be “self made.” The so-called Protestant Ethic then prevalent held that man was a sturdy and responsible individual, responsible to himself, his society, and his God. Anybody who could not measure up to that standard could not qualify for public office or even popular respect.

You do not work for the reputation. You work and you will get a reputation. A man in our church, Olin McKee, has the reputation as one of the finest business men in Rock Hill. He built half the city, because his work was such a high quality, he received a reputation of excellence. His reputation kept in business for over 30 years. The diligent will receive a reputation that is fitting for the God they serve. 

They Have Righteousness

            Christians are called to work hard, but they are also called to work in righteousness. A shoemaker once asked Martin Luther., “How should he make shoes for the glory of God?”  Luther responded, “Make a good shoe and sell it at a fair price.” Christian should operate in the public sphere with kindness and equity. Proverbs 16:11, “A just balance and scales are the Lord's; all the weights in the bag are his work.” Proverbs 20:23, “Unequal weights are an abomination to the Lord, and false scales are not good.” It is tempting to sell things above their value or to buy things below their value. On the last day, a few dollars will not be worth it. We are living for the Lord Christ. We should work for righteousness. We bear His name so let us conduct our business in a way that fitting to the Lord.

They Have Risk

There are many blessings to work, but there also are some very potent pitfalls. Bob Schultz writes in his book, Created for Work: Practical Insights for Young Men,

The grand quality of diligence, which is essential when you begin working, turns a man into a workaholic if not balanced. The freedoms that bless the industrious become snares when given to selfish pleasure. The diligent are tempted to forget God, trust in riches, and look down on the poor. What once was the reward of hard work quickly transforms resources to fulfill the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Be on guard. God designs the diligent to collect resources and talents with the goal to use them in an appropriate season for good. As always, Jesus leads us by His example.[2]

Diligence turns into a snare when people do not fear the Lord. Diligence must be placed under the protection of the fear of the Lord.

It is very easy to have work become an idol. Our work becomes an idol when we give it more importance than the Lord. Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert write in God at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs,

For many people today, their passion is their job and all things their job and all of the things their job can provide for them – money, status, identity, pleasure and purpose. Our jobs capture our hearts and our devotion. We give ourselves to them day in and day out. They become the primary object of our passions, our energy, and our love. We may not be willing to admit it, but we worship our jobs.

Have you given your work too much importance in your life? Does you work give you ultimate satisfaction? Or does it give you a sense of meaning or value? Work is a terrible god because it can never satisfy. It always wants more: more to be done and more to be achieved. Satisfaction will always be elusive. We cannot be defined by our jobs, but by our King. The most important title in our lives is not Senior Pastor or Senior Vice President, but Christian.

Another danger to the diligent is compartmentalization. There are many who are diligent at work, but may be a sluggard at home. Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” We serve Christ at the office and in caring for the home. Diligence at work can also lead people to become spiritual sluggards. God has given the Sabbath to protect us from the snares of diligence. We rest from our labors on Sunday as a reminder to live for the eternal Sabbath rest for the people of God in heaven. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul? Regularly practicing the Sabbath will guard our hearts from the idolatry of work.

The Sluggard Works Lazily

If the main attribute of wise work is diligence, than the main attribute of foolish work is sloth. The Proverbs contrast the diligent and sluggard frequently. The sluggard is wise in his own eyes and allows pleasure and ease to dominate his life. The main problem of a sluggard is that he does not see the value of work. He does not serve others, but wants others to serve him. There are great dangers for the sluggard.

They Have Hunger

If the diligent are satisfied, the sluggards are hungry. Proverbs 12:27, “Whoever is slothful will not roast his game, but the diligent man will get precious wealth.” Proverbs 13:4, “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.” Proverbs 20:4, The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing.” In an agrarian society, one’s food had to be cultivated from the land. A sluggard who refuses to work the land did not eat. The modern advancements in our society may mask sloth by not allowing the sluggards to experience the consequences for their slack hand.

They Have Hem-Haws

            Sluggards are full of excuses for not doing the work.  They hem and haw when asked to work. Proverbs 26:13-14, “The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the road! There is a lion in the streets! As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed.” A sluggard can always find a reason not to complete a task. They put off until tomorrow what should be done today. Sluggards may do the work, but they give excuses why mediocre work is ok. When I was 16 years old, I worked in maintenance for an outdoor mall. My job one Saturday was to weed the little decorative pebble islands throughout the parking lot. The work was tedious and boring. I decided that it was easier to shift the pebbles over the weeds rather than pull them. I excused my lazy, slack work because “no one” could tell the difference. Be on guard for the excuses in your work. Serve gladly and with a cheerful heart whether at work, at home or in the church. Remember you are serving the Lord Christ.

They Have Hatred

      Sluggards do not love their neighbors. Our work is an expression of our love for God and our love for our neighbor. Sloth does not serve others and should be taken seriously. We cannot minimize the sin of sloth. Proverbs 10:26, “Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to those who send him.” Proverbs 18:9, “Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys.” If you have ever sat around a fire and had smoke get in your eyes, you know how frustrating it can be. The smoke stifles the pleasure and enjoyment of the fire. A sluggard stifles pleasure and enjoyment of others. They serve themselves and do not serve others.

Paul writes to the Ephesians how the new life in Christ should change our work habits, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” (Ephesians 4:28) How one worked in and for the community was a sign of their faith. Do you view your work as a way to love your neighbor and community?

They Have Helpers

            Sluggards are fools. Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child. Sloth is bound up in all of our hearts. We all have tendencies to live as sluggards in different areas, but we cannot accommodate for sluggards. There seems to be an epidemic among young people who have an aversion to hard work. The problem is not with the young people, but with the people who enable and accept that behavior. If you serve the flesh, the flesh will grow. It does not serve our children or Christian brothers and sisters to enable their laziness. Paul warns the Thessalonians how to handle idleness,

For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. (2 Thessalonians 3:10-15)

We are obligated to warn people of the dangers of idleness and if necessary allow them to experience the consequences of laziness.

The world may tolerate sloth, but Christ does not. Sluggards do not love the community, but love themselves. Those who love themselves do not love God and are in danger. It is not loving ignore laziness, but we most admonish the idle.

The Gospel at Work
    
        Beloved, God has redeemed our work through the gospel. Who we work for is far more important than what we do. We serve King Jesus through our work. We should approach our work as way to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. We should allow God to use our work to sanctify us and to serve our neighbors. We should approach our jobs not as a means to an end, but as an expression of our Christian discipleship for the glory of God. Paul tells Titus that Jesus Christ, “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:14) Jesus Christ laid down his life so that we could work diligently for his glory. God’s people should care about their jobs. Our jobs matter to God. He died and rose again to purify us to work to display God’s glory. Our work does not save us, but is a sign of God’s grace in our lives. God allows us to work so let us work for good of our neighbors and the glory of God.




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Steven Brazzell

Charlotte, NC