One of the things recovered by the Protestant Reformation is the value of work. In fact, it became known as the Protestant Work Ethic. But that ethic is slowly being chipped away by forces from two very different directions.
On the worldly front, the work ethic is under attack by an age of corruption and entitlement. Rather than the traditional ideal of making money by working hard and gaining wealth by saving or ingenuity or inventiveness, we seem to be entering an age of corruption and entitlement. Gaining wealth through fraud extends from Wall Street to Washington DC to Main Street. It has become such a common income stream that we can’t even tell if it is being policed. And don’t get me started on our entitlement culture that lives for handouts to corporations and individuals alike.
But there is another direction of attack on the Protestant Work Ethic that is a bit more subtle and actually happening within the church. For lack of a better description, let’s just say it is coming from the radical ministry camp that looks down on what they consider “secular” work and the wealth that is derived from it. It hints that those engaged in traditional jobs are somehow missing the call to radical discipleship, or worse yet, are second-class citizens in the kingdom of God.
So let’s address these issues by looking at what the Bible says about work. As with almost every topic the Bible touches involving practical instruction, there is an important balance to keep in mind. On the one hand, we are not to make work and the pursuit of wealth our life’s goal and our god. On the other hand, we are not to trivialize work as just a “worldly activity”.
Consider James 4:13-15, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this and that.’ ”
It would be easy in light of this passage to take a dim view of work and say, “Why bother, it’s all going to burn up?” God is not encouraging laziness here. He is asking us to view our work in light of His eternal perspective; to make our plans subject to His will. So rather than minimizing the value of work, let’s turn to the Scriptures to find four principles about what God would like us to accomplish through our work.
Principle one is that we work to provide for our families. “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (I Tim 5:8). Pretty strong words. The concept is clear. One aspect of our work responsibility and value of work is to provide for those who depend on us. And while the concept is clear, let’s be sure to think through the implications. Are you willing to take whatever job is necessary to provide for your family? Or are you so focused on finding just the right job for you that your family has to suffer through income gaps as you bounce from job to job? I have a lawyer friend who took a second job stocking grocery shelves when business was slow in order to keep providing for his family. That is the kind of providing we are talking about.
Contrast this idea with the world’s message. The world says that we work to find self-fulfillment. So we need to find the perfect job that satisfies that need. God’s word teaches us that the need to provide for our families is more important than a focus on our job satisfaction. There is nothing wrong with finding a job you love and even changing jobs to accomplish that. Just keep the right priorities in mind and let’s make sure we are not ignoring our family’s needs while seeking our own way.
Next time, we will move on to principle two: we work to redirect wealth from the world’s system to God’s purposes.