Last week I was invited to speak to a gathering of business leaders in Lagrange, Kentucky. About 50 Christian men and women meet monthly to encourage each other to be faithful to the Lord in the marketplace. They regard their jobs as a place of ministry and opportunity. I chose to talk at their luncheon about the value of hard work. I’d like to share some of my thoughts in this space over the next several weeks.
There’s a familiar story about a farmer who invited the new preacher to his home for Sunday dinner. Before the meal, the farmer showed the preacher around his property. The preacher irritated the farmer a little because he kept saying, “The Lord has an impressive crop there!” “The Lord sure has blessed you with a beautiful lake there.” “I see The Lord has an outstanding herd of cattle in that pasture.” “That’s a spacious barn the Lord has there.”
Finally, the farmer had heard enough. He said, “Preacher, you should have seen this place when the Lord had it by himself!”
God created the world in an undeveloped state. God told Adam and Eve, “I want you to subdue the earth and have dominion over it” (Genesis 1:28). When we develop God’s earth, improve our surroundings and enhance the lives of others, we are participating in the will of God.
Most people think of their jobs as a curse. They dream of getting out of work as soon as possible. After all, didn’t God say to Adam, “Because of your sin, you’re going to have to work by the sweat of your brow”? So our idea of the good life is not to have to do any work. If someone hits the lottery for millions of dollars, the first thing they do is quit their jobs. We envy those who inherit a vast sum of money because they can live a life of leisure. We look forward to retirement when we can quit work, relax and enjoy life. We think it would be paradise to be free from any responsibility.
Some despise the idea of working so much they resort to stealing from others or in some way exploiting the system to avoid labor at all cost. Three young boys were bragging about how fast their dads were. The first boasted, “My dad is so fast he can shoot an arrow and get to the target before the arrow does. The second said, “My dad’s faster than that. He can shoot a deer with a rifle and get to the deer before it falls.” The third scoffed, “That’s nothing! My dad gets off work at 5:00 o’clock and he’s home everyday by 4:30!”
People invent ways to avoid work. One retired supervisor in a large business reported that when he first started the absentee rate in his company averaged about 3%. Now, 50 years later, a 10% absentee rate is considered good.
The Bible instructs us, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12).
The Bible teaches that it is God’s will that every able-bodied person has meaningful work to do. Obviously, there are some occupations that are not ordained by God and are spiritually detrimental. The prostitute, the bookie, the drug pusher, the mafia boss are not working in vocations that honor God.
But Adam and Eve were given meaningful work to do in the garden prior to their fall into sin. Genesis 2:15 reads, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Adam and Eve had a job in paradise. They were gardeners in God’s perfect environment.
After the first man had sinned, God pronounced a curse on his work. “God said to Adam ‘Cursed is ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you …By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground” (Gen. 3:17-19).
The curse was not “work.” The curse was that man had to battle, weeds, thistles, thorns and crabgrass. The curse was yard work! However, the Bible clearly teaches that legitimate work is a blessing not curse.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “You ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you…For even when we were with you we gave you this rule; “If a man will not work, he shall not eat. We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat” (2 Thess. 3:7-8 & 10-12).
God’s Word teaches there’s a time to rest, a time to take a vacation, a time to retire and shift gears. There were weekly Sabbaths, annual feast days and a year of Jubilee programmed into the Biblical calendar. People were given permission to relax and rejuvenate their spirits and bodies.
But God made it clear that those who were capable of working should be ambitious enough to find meaningful work to do and do it well. The fourth commandment begins, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work…” (Exodus 20:9).
In the upcoming blogs, I plan to share with you the many benefits of hard work. We’ll consider five reasons why your work matters to God and why He wants you to be productive in the marketplace.
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