Solid Snippet Article #037

Your Heavenly Employer

Theology of Work
July 2012


The book of Genesis has always been a thoroughly interesting read. There are so many things that leave us with partial answers to our questions. One consideration is the environment of the Garden of Eden. Most scholars readily accept the idea that this garden is at least a template of what believers might expect in heaven for eternity. Our redeemed minds spend much time and resources thinking on noble things, like what heaven will be like.

When we consider the work ethic expected of believers, we can start at the very beginning. Many people do not get involved in a job that brings them joy or satisfaction. Some work long hours or even hate their jobs. Others in an attempt to keep up with the Jones’ or to run the rat race because of the false hopes of the American Dream will run themselves ragged and end up with health issues. We live in a world where work takes up so much of our lives that it can easily become our master.

But what does the Bible teach about work? Will we work in heaven? Is work part of the fallen world? Does God have any rules about work? As we trace the Bible’s principles on work, let us start in Genesis. Notice in the Garden of Eden that Adam was given work to do in the garden before the Fall. In Genesis 2:15-17, God puts Adam in the garden to work it. This tells us that God intended work to be part of what humans do.

We are hardwired for purpose in our work. Also, we are hardwired to work and be productive. But we must have both. Work is hard, if not impossible, when we cannot see the reason or purpose in it. But we must also be productive. It is unnatural for us to not produce anything. Even in just sitting around, we produce something: waste! We are creatures of production. I believe God made us this way.

It is at the Fall of Humanity in Genesis three where God specifically curses the good thing He gave in working in the garden. In Genesis 3:17-19, God put a curse on the man because he did not lead by example nor did he stop his wife, Eve, from sinning against God. He did not take his role as the leader in his home and lead his wife in righteousness. Because of this, Adam, and every human being who works, found work much harder to do.

The curse first affects his ability to eat from the Tree of Life. This means that no longer will he live immortally. He will now be subject to death because of his sin. But next, his work will be cursed so that it is harder to achieve the same success. Now tending to the ground and the fields is work instead of a joy. All the days of our lives, we will toil in the fields and toil for all that we consume. Work is harder and less fulfilling because of the Fall of Humanity. It is not that we were never supposed to work, but that we were supposed to receive enjoyment and fulfillment even from our work.

But it is not like that today, and the Bible points to the Fall of Humanity as one of the main reasons for this. The Bible teaches us a balance between work and rest. There are certainly two extremes to work. The first is laziness, inactivity and waste. The other extreme is what we call workaholism, working beyond the bounds of what God designed us to work. Let us take a closer look at these throughout the Bible.

The first extreme in work ethic is laziness. What does the Bible say about laziness? The report is certainly not promising for those who would like to be lazy. The book of Proverbs is chalk full of wisdom for living a God-designed life of destiny. In it, the wise man who teaches his son many things says these things about laziness: The Scriptures relate being poor to being lazy. This does not mean that all poor people are lazy, but it does mean that all lazy people are headed in the poor direction. The Proverbs associate laziness with sleeping too much. After all, if there’s nothing to do or nothing on your agenda, what’s the point of crawling out of bed in the morning? Those who are lazy find themselves not only poor, but do not care for even their own needs. Like sin leads to death, laziness is seen to offer only unpreparedness and poverty.

Similarly, Solomon, the writer of Ecclesiastes and most of Proverbs counsels this: “Through sloth the roof sinks in, and through indolence the house leaks” (Ecclesiastes 10:18). Solomon further clarifies that even what a lazy person has is not well kept. If a lazy person cannot even attend to their own needs and resources, one would not expect them to be able to have a good work ethic. And that is exactly what Solomon hints at here.

“Oh, Pastor, the Old Testament is always too harsh! Read me what the New Testament with all of its grace and mercy has to say about laziness!” No problem. As happens in all things, the New Testament is a continuation of the Old. Paul tells his mentoree, Timothy, “Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not” (1 Timothy 5:13). That’s not exactly graceful, but it is tactful. The word “busybodies” suggests that they do something, but it happens to be gossiping. Even the writer of Hebrews reminds us, “…so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb 6:12). Even in our Christian walk, there is work to be done for God through obedience.

It is quite clear that laziness does not have its place in the Bible. Laziness goes against God’s ordained work for Adam and for all human beings. Even before the Fall, God expected Adam to be productive. God was productive in His creating the universe, and as human beings made in His image, we also work and are productive. To not be productive is a trait of the marred image of God, not the full image of God.

So then, what does the Bible say about work? Can I even take a break? The biblical balance is hard work for six days, and then a rest of the seventh day. This is called Sabbath in the Bible, and the Sabbath, while it speaks to work ethic, is much more involved than just work. Sabbath is a seventh day not only of rest, but of reverence for God. It is a day of reflection, of worship, and yes, of rest from labor.

God is our chief example in Sabbath, for He worked six days creating, and then rested (Exodus 20:11). The Sabbath is made special, or holy, set apart from the other days. To be sure, even in our work, as we will find later in our study, we work as unto the Lord. But on the Sabbath, we celebrate God’s goodness and we rest. We were physically designed by the Grand Designer to rest. There is a host of medical evidence about those who do not take a Sabbath. But it must be clear that not taking a Sabbath does not just affect your body. It affects your whole being, from your emotions to your decisions to your spiritual walk.

The Sabbath is commanded by God in the Ten Commandments. As with all of God’s commands, they are not meant to restrict us as much as to show us God’s designed way to get the most out of life! Through obeying God, we live the greatest life possible on this planet! God actually wants the very best for you, an abundant life. But you have to be obedient and live the way He has designed life to be. Otherwise, you run into all kinds of consequences when life is not lived the way it is designed, just like if you used a sledge hammer to put up a picture in your house.

People like to argue about the Sabbath. When is this day? The Jews say it’s Saturday. The Christians say it’s Sunday. When is it? Scripture does not tell us what day God rested. The Sabbath day on Saturday was set up, I believe, so that the whole community could observe the day. Christians have their Sabbath on Sunday because that is the day the Lord rose from the dead. Every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection! It is true that Constantine made Sunday an official day for Christians in the Roman Empire in 325 AD, but it is most likely that this was already Christian practice (1 Cor 16:2, where the first day is the first day of the work week, a Sunday on the Jewish calendar) and that he simply made it official when Rome became a Christian empire.

The important thing is that you take one day out of seven, and of course this expands to the seventh year and every 50 years as well with the Jubilee that no one practices in God’s Law, to both rest and revere God. It is both. You must not only sleep in or lay on the couch. You must also revere God! People think it’s one or the other, but you must do both. Resting does not mean that you can do nothing. It means that you put a special emphasis on that day for the Lord. It means that this day is different from the other six days. As a pastor, my Sabbath is not a Sunday. I’m preaching and ministering to people. Like most pastors, I take a different day during the week and spend it as a Sabbath. Even I am not as faithful as I should be to observe the Sabbath every week faithfully. And when I don’t, I feel it all week long!

Just like the tithe, the Sabbath teaches us to trust in God for that seventh day of rest. The tithe teaches us to rely on God for the other ten percent of our income. And the Sabbath teaches us to let God supply our needs for that seventh day. The principle is that when we honor God and give Him that day for His glory, He will surely bless the day and all of our needs will be met.

We see this most clearly in the wilderness with the children of Israel. They were given manna from heaven, a wafer-bread-like substance for 40 years! God never stopped providing for them this simple need of food! The word “manna” means in Hebrew “What is it?” But they were given manna enough for one day. If they tried to gather enough for more, it would spoil, rot and stink! God was teaching them how to labor His way. But on the sixth day, before the Sabbath, they were given a double portion, for the next day. There would be no manna on the Sabbath, but the manna from yesterday did not spoil! Honor the Sabbath, and God will honor your reverence of Him!

So there is a rest in God for those who are faithful to work well in six days. We honor God on the seventh and don’t work, but rather celebrate and worship Him wholly. We devote that day to Him for His glory and work. And He blesses that devotion. We live in a world where businesses are open 24-7-365. They claim they need the full amount of time to make the most money, but there is a restaurant that closes its doors as a corporate practice on Sundays. And they are not hurting for business at all! God’s principles work. We’re not even getting into what it would look like to practice the Jubilee, but that’s a different topic for a different article.

The other extreme that sin causes us to have in work is to be a work-a-holic, or someone who does not have a balance in their work ethic. Work-a-holic comes from alcoholic because someone who is working more than they should is like someone who drinks more alcohol than they should. Some work this extreme for the same reason that alcoholics get drunk, to escape the realities of the life they have chosen. Not all do this. But some find more solace in their job than their family and relationships. This is not healthy!

Working is better than not working, but working too much would be in violation of the Sabbath principle. Let’s take a look at what the Bible says about work: These verses point out once again that the ability to consume resources is directly related to one’s work ethic. A person who does not work does not deserve to eat food. You have to pull your own weight. You have to invest productivity to earn the right to consume, as far as the Bible is concerned. Now, God also takes care of the poor who even through work are not able to produce as much as they need to consume. But we must understand that even the poor in Israel tended to work in some fashion, whether it was begging for money or working in the fields the extra gleanings of wealthy land owners. I will be writing an article very soon about the poor in the Bible.

Even moreso, this New Testament that is so full of mercy and grace more than the Old Testament, which is not true at all, presents a harsh outlook, questioning those who don’t work even if they are believers in Jesus! Jesus provided for His family. Even on the cross, Jesus, as oldest son, made sure that His mother Mary had provision through the apostle John. It is assumed by most scholars that Jesus was working His earthly father’s business of carpentry before He began His public ministry. One of the marks of a true and devoted follower of Christ is that they work for the Lord with excellence and provide for the needs of their physical and spiritual family (Acts 2:42-47)!

Not only is there a correlation between production and consumption in God’s Word, but also a principle that work should be skilled and done with excellence. There seems to be a testing of the work we all do on the Day of the Lord at the end of time. God cares about the quality of the work you do. We are commanded to put our whole heart into our work and work with excellence. Think about this: your work as a representative of Christ is just as much about His reputation as yours. When we don’t do a good job, it reflects poorly on our witness! Another principle about our work as believers in Jesus is that it must be done with excellence as unto the Lord. If anyone is curious why I have pointed to a passage about slaves and masters in the New Testament, it is simply that our American idea of slavery, and our history with it, is very different from Roman slavery and biblical slavery. Surely enough slavery of other human beings in any fashion is not God’s very best. Many question why Christians did not outright fight against slavery and why Paul instead provided guidelines for it instead of abolishing it.

What Americans do not understand because we color the Scriptures with our own historical meaning of slavery as a horrible moral evil is that slavery in the Roman times was more like our current employer/employee relationship. Oftentimes, a slave could earn independence and freedom from their master. True, it was up to the master to be kind enough to allow a paying into freedom, but it was easily possible for a slave to gain freedom, if that slave even wanted it. Slaves were not treated the best in the Bible times, but they were treated better than in American slavery.

Some slaves were even paid to work for their masters. The payment is what made them slaves. They might have had a debt to repay. Even the Old Testament Law of Moses allowed for slavery to be an option when someone had a debt to pay! Slavery does not have to be so horrible. In fact, it is up to the slave and master to be godly even in this situation in life. Let me remind each of us as believers that Paul uses the language of slavery to show that we are slaves to righteousness and to God’s Law!

So then, a slave and a master would have to be godly in their approach toward one another. A slave was asked to be obedient and a master was asked to be kind and not threaten the slaves. If the master acted like God, our heavenly Master, toward his slaves, and if the slave honored his master as he honors Christ, the slave relationship was essentially Christianized and not really a slavery situation anymore. I hear people who work for good bosses say they’d rather work for so-and-so than anyone else all the time. When we treat one another properly at work, we will find that work is not nearly as harsh as the curse has made it to be!

Slaves, or in our day employees, are expected as Christians to do excellent, top notch work for their employers. We are also expected to have the mind and attitude of Christ toward them. That means that we don’t bad-mouth them or be insolent. Granted, if we are being mistreated, we do need to voice our concerns, but in a godly, redeeming and Christ-like way. Along with our excellence in job performance, we must consider that we are actually working for the Lord, not for people. “As unto the Lord” is a serious injunction by Paul that calls us to consider our work as working for God, not for them. So what would you do if God was your employer? How then would you approach your work differently?

If you are a Christian employer, there is something for you to do as well. It is up to you as a manager of your people to be kind and like Christ toward them, dealing with them in grace. Don’t pick favorites or pit employee against employee. Competition must not become ungodly or demeaning. Treat them with respect, and you will find they enjoy working for you, and you’ll get more efficiency and production out of them for it! But it is key for employers and managers to realize that they are working with people, not things. Don’t act like you own the people. Act like a team player, but serve in the leader role and function.

Of course there are a host of other principles about work you can gain from God’s Word! There are parables that speak directly to work ethic. There is wisdom literature that teaches us how to be better workers. We all want to enjoy our jobs. No one wants the job that they are not built to do. They spin their wheels for a long time and remain unhappy. Sometimes there are seasons in our lives where we must even do these jobs. But we must remember these principles and do them with joy, as unto the Lord. If the Lord asked you to do menial tasks that must be done to serve others, you would do them for Him. Our Lord Jesus taught us to be servants first (John 13:12-20).

Indeed, there are a host of other passages in both Testaments referring to work, but these principles will help you to have a Christian work ethic in whatever you do:
  1. A balanced work ethic honors God and His principles.
  2. A balanced work ethic is a witness to unbelievers and believers.
  3. A balanced work ethic places priorities in the proper order and maintains them.
So when it comes to work, the Bible teaches us that work is part of God’s design for humanity. It is something we would do even if sin did not get involved in our world. The medicine of Scripture’s teachings for those who do not work is for them to work more and balance out in their work. It calls them to be productive and to serve the Lord through whatever He has gifted them and skilled them to do in their lives.

For those who work too much, the Bible’s medicine is a steady dose of Sabbath and rest. They are not to overwork themselves. We were designed to glorify God by being good stewards of this body and life He gives. When we overwork, we neglect the other areas of our lives. We must worship God by giving Him one of our seven days in a week. For those who are fairly balanced in their work attendance, the message of God’s Word is that we must be excellent at what we do because it is ultimately for the Lord’s sake, not ours. Even in duty we must pay attention to detail and so glorify God.

Most of all, we find that we have work to do for God. We are imitators of God, His representatives and ambassadors in this world. Being godly and shedding Christian values on each situation in your job honors God. Living for Him while at work is a boon to anyone’s evangelistic efforts. Even in work, Christians must look different than the world! And in these ways, wherever you are and wherever you go, you can do your greatest job as a child of the King by witnessing about Him and showing others through demonstration the grace and power of our Lord. Our primary job is to serve Christ, and the nine to five is a way in which we can do that!