This is the seventy-first lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.
See Mel Lawrenz’s book, How to Study the Bible: A Practical Guide.
(This past Monday was Labor Day in the USA, an observation that appears in different forms in dozens of other countries.)
We all work. Those who work in offices or on highways, those whose work is taking care of family and household needs, those who work at being students. Work is built into the created order of things.
The Bible has much to say about the dignity of work, which helps us to see our labor as more than “just a job.” And, of course, we should keep in mind the labor of many who may not receive a paycheck for what they do, but whose contribution is just as valuable. Studying at the university or changing diapers or volunteering at a soup kitchen is valued labor in the eyes of God.
The first thing to notice in Scripture is that God is a laborer. Genesis 2:2-3 says: “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” And what a work it was! We all would do well to have a day during our week, when we stop what we normally work at (the word “Sabbath” means “to cease”) to reflect on God and the work he is doing through us.
God’s work shows his wisdom. “How many are your works, LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures” (Psalm 104:24).
Jesus was the son of a laborer, and was a laborer himself (Mark 6:3). Jesus had callouses on his hands. He had strong muscles from swinging the hammer, pushing the saw, and shoving the plane. He sweated. He picked slivers out of his fingers.
The Bible shows work woven into the created order of all things. Genesis 2:15 says “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 says: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and 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.” Ephesians 4:28 says: “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.”
Do you have a difficult and discouraging job? Many do. Genesis 3:17-19 tells us that our work sometimes is not like tending a nice garden, but working the difficult, stubborn fields full of thorns. If you feel sometimes as though you slog through your job just to put bread on the table, know this: there is dignity in accomplishing just that. We should be compassionate to our friends and family members who work in very difficult circumstances. And for those who are the managers or bosses of others, we should see our humane and constructive relationship with those who answer to us as a mandate and a privilege.
The Bible warns those who are not working enough (“A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man”—Prov. 6:10-11). And it consoles those who have been working hard and need a rest, as was the case when Jesus’ disciples were working so hard they didn’t have time to stop and eat: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31). It must have been comforting to hear from the Lord Jesus Christ: c’mon, take a break. That is a message many of us in this high-pressured world need to heed. Sometimes we honor God not be doing more and more, but by taking a break—at God’s command.
And then there is the most important work of all. Work that doesn’t seem like work, because it is easy and simple, but accomplishes the most important thing in life: getting connected to God. One day a man asked Jesus about spiritual work: “What must we do to work the works God requires?” Jesus’ answer? “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:28-29). Believe. Just, believe.
God created us to be productive as we live in his Creation. Work is honorable, even if it is sometimes frustrating.
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Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s minister at large. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel is the author of 18 books, including How to Understand the Bible—A Simple Guide and Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership (Zondervan, 2012). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.