Over a fifty-year span an average person spends 100,000 hours working. Many, however, are dissatisfied with their jobs, because they feel unfulfilled, underpaid, or under appreciated.
Boredom, lack of fulfillment, fear of job loss, inadequate wages, and countless other pressures have contributed to this discontentment. Doctors, housewives, secretaries, salesmen, blue-collar workers, managers, and those in Christian service – regardless of the profession – all have experienced similar frustrations.
Understanding and implementing scriptural principles that relate to work will enable you to find satisfaction in your job and place you in a position where the Lord can prosper you.
We will examine three broad principles of work, explore God’s part in work along with our responsibilities in work, and review several practical work issues.
Biblical Perspective on Work
Even before the fall – the time at which sin entered the human race – God instituted work. “The Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). The very first thing the Lord did with Adam was to put him to work. Despite what many have come to think, work was initiated for man’s benefit in the sinless environment of the Garden of Eden. Work is not a result of the curse.
After the fall, work was made more difficult. “Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you should eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Genesis 3:17-19).
Necessity of Work
Work is so important that in Exodus 34:21 God gives this command: “You shall work six days.” In the New Testament we discover that Paul is just as direct. “If anyone will not work, neither let him eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Examine this verse carefully. It says, “If anyone will not work.” It did not say, “If anyone cannot work.” This principle does not apply to those who are physically or mentally unable to work. It is for those who are able but choose not to work.
A close friend of ours has a sister in her mid-thirties whose parents have always supported her. She has never had to face the responsibilities and hardships involved in a job. As a consequence, her character has not been properly developed, and she is extremely immature in many areas of her life.
One of the primary purposes of work is to develop character. While the carpenter is building a house, the house is also building the carpenter. His skill, diligence, and judgment are refined. A job is not merely a task designed to earn money; it is also intended to produce godly character in the life of the worker.
Dignity in All Work
There is dignity in all types of work; Scripture does not elevate any honest profession above another. A wide variety of vocations are represented in the Bible. David was a shepherd and a king. Luke was a doctor. Lydia was a retailer who sold purple fabric. Daniel was a government worker. Paul was a tent maker, Amos, a fig-picker, and the Lord Jesus, a carpenter. God can and will use us in any honest work.
In God’s economy there is equal dignity in the labor of the automobile mechanic and the president of General Motors, in the labor of the leader of a national Christian ministry and a secretary serving in that ministry.
God’s Part in Work
Scripture reveals three specific responsibilities the Lord retains in connection with work.
The Source of Job Skills
Exodus 36:1 illustrates this truth: “And every skillful person in whom the Lord has put skill and understanding to know how to perform all the work.” God has given people a wide variety of abilities, manual skills and intellectual capacities. It is not a matter of one person being better than another; it is simply a matter of having received different abilities.
The Origin of Success
The life of Joseph is a perfect example of God orchestrating success. “The Lord was with Joseph, so he became a successful man … his master saw that the Lord was with him, and how the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hand” (Genesis 39:2-3).
As we have seen, you and I have certain responsibilities, but we need to recognize that it is ultimately God who gives us success.
The Source of Promotion
Psalm 75:6-7 reads, “For promotion and power come from nowhere on earth, but only from God” (LB). As much as it may surprise you, your boss is not the one who controls whether or not you will be promoted.
This perspective on God’s part in work is a remarkable contrast to the way most people think. Our culture leaves God out of work, thinking that people alone are responsible for their job skills, success, and promotions. However, those with biblical understanding will approach work with an entirely different frame of reference.
One of the major reasons people experience stress and frustration in their jobs is because they don’t understand God’s part in work. Consider God’s part, how He gives you your skills and controls your success and promotion. Stop reading for a few minutes and think about this. How should this perspective impact you and your job?
Our Part in Work
Scripture reveals that we actually are serving the Lord in our work, not just people. “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Colossians 3:23-24).
This perspective has profound implications. Consider your attitude toward work. If you could see the person of Jesus Christ as your teacher or boss, would you strive to be more faithful in your school work or on your job? The most important question you need to answer every day as you begin your work is: “For whom do I work?” You work for Christ.
“Whatever your hand finds to do, verily do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). “…the precious possession of a man is diligence” (Proverbs 12:27). In Scripture, hard work and diligence are encouraged while laziness is repeatedly condemned: “He who is slack in his work is brother to him who destroys” (Proverbs 18:9).
Paul’s life was an example of hard work. “…with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we might not be a burden to any of you … in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you might follow our example” (2 Thessalonians 3:8-9).
Your work should be at such a level that people will never equate laziness and mediocrity with God. Nothing less than hard work and the pursuit of excellence pleases the Lord. We are not required to be “super-workers” – people who never make mistakes. Rather, the Lord expects us to do the best we possibly can
A frantic, breathless, over-commitment to work pervades our culture. Working hard must be balanced by the other priorities of life. Clearly, our first priority is our relationship with the Lord. “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).
If a job demands so much of your time and energy that you neglect these priorities, then you are working too much. You should determine whether the job is too demanding or your work habits need changing. If you are a “workaholic,” take extra precautions to guard against shortchanging the other priorities of life.
Exodus 34:21 reads, “You shall work six days, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during plowing time and harvest you shall rest.” I believe this Old Testament principle of resting one day out of seven has application for us today. This has been difficult for me, particularly during times of “plowing or harvesting” when a project deadline is approaching, or I am under unusual financial pressure.
Rest can become an issue of faith. Is the Lord able to make our six days of work more productive than seven days? Yes! The Lord instituted this weekly rest for our physical, mental, and spiritual health.
We can identify the six major responsibilities of the godly employee by examining an event in the life of Daniel – the well-known story of Daniel in the lion’s den.
In Daniel chapter 6 we are told that Darius, the king of Babylon, appointed 120 men to administer the government, and three men, one of whom was Daniel, to supervise these administrators. Then King Darius decided to promote Daniel to govern the entire kingdom. Daniel’s fellow employees then sought to eliminate him. First of all, they looked for an opportunity to discredit him in his job. After this failed, they appealed to King Darius, who decreed that everyone in the kingdom would be required to worship only the king or suffer the punishment of death in the lions’ den. Daniel was thrown to the lions after refusing to cease worshipping the living God. The Lord then rescued this godly employee by sending His angel to shut the lions’ mouths. Here are the six characteristics of a godly employee.
Daniel 6:4 tells us that his fellow employees could find no grounds for accusation against Daniel in regard to his job, because there was “no evidence of corruption” in Daniel’s work. He was absolutely honest
We discover the second characteristic of the godly employee in Daniel 6:4: “He was faithful.” The godly employee needs to establish the goal of being faithful and excellent in his work, then to work hard to attain that goal.
The godly employee is a person of prayer. “Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, (restricting worship to the king alone) he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously” (Daniel 6:10).
Daniel’s job was that of governing the most powerful country of his day. Few of us will ever be faced with the magnitude of Daniel’s responsibilities and the demands upon his time. Yet he knew the importance and priority of prayer. If you are not praying consistently, your work is suffering.
Honoring Your Employer
“Daniel spoke to the king, ‘O King lives forever!” (Daniel 6:21). What a remarkable response from Daniel. The king, his employer, had been deceived and was forced to sentence Daniel to the lions’ den. Think how natural it would have been to say something like, “You loser! The God who sent His angel to shut the lions’ mouths is going to punish you!” But Daniel’s reaction was to honor his boss.
The godly employee always honors his superior. First Peter 2:18 reads, “Servants (employees), be submissive to your masters (employer) with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.” One way to honor your employer is to never participate in gossip behind your employer’s back, even if he or she is not an ideal person.
Honoring Fellow Employees
People will play “office politics” in the never-ending competition for promotion. Some will even try to have you terminated from your job. Daniel was the object of attempted murder by his peers. Despite this, there is not evidence that Daniel did anything but honor his fellow employees. Never slander a fellow employee behind his or her back. “Do not slander a slave (employee) to his master (employer), lest he curse you and you be found guilty” (Proverbs 30:10).
The godly person should avoid office politics and manipulation to secure a promotion. Your superior does not control your promotion; the Lord Himself makes that determination. We can be content in our job by striving for faithfulness, honoring superiors, and encouraging our fellow employees. Having done this, we can know that Christ will promote us if and when He chooses.
Verbalizing Your Faith
King Darius would never have known about the living God if Daniel had not communicated his faith verbally at appropriate moments during the normal conduct of his job.
“The king spoke and said to Daniel, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you constantly serve, been able to deliver you from the lions?’” (Daniel 6:20).
Darius would not have been as powerfully influenced by Daniel sharing his faith if he had not observed this employee fulfilling his responsibilities with honesty and faithfulness.Listen to the words of Darius: “I make a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel; for He is the living God and enduring forever, and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed, and His dominion will be forever” (Daniel 6:26).
Daniel influenced his employer, one of the most powerful people in the world, to believe in the only true and living God. You have that same opportunity in your own God-given sphere of school and work. Let me say this another way. A job well done earns you the right to tell others with whom you work about the reality of Christ. As we view our work from God’s perspective, dissatisfaction will turn to contentment from a job well done, and drudgery will become excitement over the prospect of introducing others to the Savior.
Other Work Issues
There are several other important aspects of work.
Scripture does not condemn ambition. Paul was ambitious. “We have as our ambition… to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds” (2 Corinthians 5:9-10) What is strongly denounced is selfish ambition
“The Lord will render to each person according to his deeds … to those who are selfishly ambitious … wrath and indignation” (Romans 2:6-8).
“But if you have … selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where… selfish ambition exists, there is disorder and every evil thing” (James 3:14-16).
“But you, are you seeking great things for yourself? Do not seek them” (Jeremiah 45:5).
The motivation for our ambition should be a longing to please Christ. We should have as our goal to become an increasingly faithful steward in using the possessions and skills entrusted to us. In our work we should strive to please the Lord by discharging our job responsibilities to the best of our ability.
Scripture clearly discourages business partnerships with those who do not know Christ. “Do not be bound together (unequally yoked) with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord” (2 Corinthians 6:14-17).
Many have violated this principle and have suffered financially. In my opinion, we should also be very careful before entering into a partnership even with another Christian. I would consider only a few people as potential partners. These are men I have known intimately for years. I have observed their commitment to the Lord, I know their strengths and weaknesses, and I have consistently seen them handle money faithfully. Do not rush into a partnership! Prayerfully evaluate what it may entail.
Before forming a partnership, commit your understandings, assumptions, and agreements into written form with your future partner. “But we’ve been friends for years,” you may say. That may be true, but if you really value the relationship, you will protect it from a misunderstanding by putting the details of the agreement down on paper. This written document should also provide a method to dissolve the partnership. If you are not able to agree in writing, do not become partners.
A procrastinator is someone who, because of laziness or fear, has a habit of delaying, postponing, or putting things off until later. What begins as a habit can develop into a serious character flaw.
The Bible has many examples of godly people who were not procrastinators, and one of my favorite examples is Boaz. Naomi, the mother-in-law of Ruth, made this comment about Ruth’s future husband, Boaz: “Wait, my daughter, until you know how the matter turns out; for the man will not rest until he has settled it today” (Ruth 3:18). Boaz clearly had the reputation of a person who was faithful to act promptly.
Here are some practical suggestions to help overcome procrastination:
- List the things you need to do each day.
- Prayerfully review and prioritize the list according to the tasks you need to accomplish first.
- Finish the first task on your list before starting the second. Often that first task is the most difficult or the one you fear the most.
- Ask the Lord to give you courage, remembering Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
Wives Working Outside the Home
Most women in college have career plans outside of the home. Single women should consider a career as a means of support. Married women without children also often work outside the home. The most difficult decisions for women concerning work come when they have young children at home.
More and more wives are working fulltime jobs. In 1947 working husbands outnumbered working wives five to one; now the ratio is less than two to one. Married women work to provide additional income for their families, to express their creativity, or because they enjoy the job environment. Widows and divorcees often must work to provide for the basic needs of their families. A Stanford University study found that wives who work outside the home carry a particularly heavy load of seventy to eighty hours a week with the responsibilities of their job plus household work.
In my opinion, during the children’s early formative years it is preferable for the mothers of very young children to be home when the children are home, unless the family finances depend on their income. Titus 2:4-5 reads, “…encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home.”
As the children mature, the wife will have increased freedom to pursue work outside the home. Proverbs 31:10-31 reads, “An excellent wife … does him (her husband) good and not evil all the days of her life. She looks for wool and flax, and works with her hands … she brings her food from afar. She rises also while it is still night, and gives food to her household … she considers a field and buys it; from her earnings she plants a vineyard … She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hands grasp the spindle.She extends her hands to the poor … She makes coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple.Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies belts to the tradesmen … She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.”
Proverbs 31 paints a beautiful picture of the working wife living a balanced life with the thrust of her activity toward the home. My opinion is that a wife’s work is not so much in the home as it is for the home. The Bible does not say that a wife should be confined to four walls, but rather, involved in activities that relate to the home.
Some women are gifted as homemakers, and there is not a more important task than raising godly children. However, other women have the aptitude and desire to work outside the home. Either way, it is a decision that the husband and wife should make prayerfully and with full agreement.