STUDY SEVENTEEN: THE BIBLICAL WORK ETHIC

© Rosemary Bardsley 2006, 2016

John Stott, in his book Issues Facing Christians Today, points out the following common attitudes to work:

Work is something to be avoided
Work is a necessary nuisance
Work is meaningless in itself – a means to an end
Man is a compulsive worker

These contemporary attitudes to work differ considerably from biblical perspectives on work. Irrespective of whether we are home-makers, self-employed, employers, employees, volunteers or unemployed we need, as Christians, to identify and embrace a biblical understanding of work, biblical attitudes to work and biblical work ethics.

The following issues also confront us in the context of our daily work:

How we view our daily work
The concept of ‘an honest day’s work’
Our attitudes and relationship to other people involved in our work situation
Questions of rights and responsibilities

 

A. FOUNDATIONAL BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVES

A.1 The perspective of creation
Work was part of the original creation before sin and corruption entered the world. As part of the original and perfect creation, work is ‘very good’ and also part of the blessing that God pronounced on man. Work, meaningful employment, was part of man’s identity and purpose.

Genesis 1:28: God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Genesis 1:31: God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

Genesis 2:15: The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

From the perspective of creation we also learn that God works. The Bible sees the six days of creation as God working [Exodus 20:8-11] and Jesus referred to the on-going work of God [John 17].

A.2 The perspective of the fall
The entrance of sin and judgment in Genesis 3 changed the work dynamic. From this point on, work has additional descriptions:

It now includes difficulties and frustrations [Genesis 3:18].
It is painful and stressful [Genesis 3:17b, 19a].
It is accompanied by interpersonal tensions [Genesis 3:12; 4:2-9].
Its results are diminished [Genesis 4:12].

When we look at the issue of human work we are looking at something that has been impacted by sin. Not only are we and all the people involved in our ‘work’ sinners, and therefore imperfect and in need of repentance in our attitudes to work, but the physical world in which work has been impacted, so that that which was created to be a source of joy, blessing and fulfilment has also these other aspects of difficulty, frustration and even despair.

 

B. IDENTIFYING BIBLICAL WORK PERSPECTIVES

This section is a major part of this study, and it depends on your research.

Your research: Under each topic below:

[1] Study all the scriptures listed for each topic.
[2] Look for answers to the questions.
[3] You need to think deeply about the meaning, implications and application of these biblical perspectives and commands, because how we choose here does matter to God and to our ability to glorify him in our daily work.
[4] Do not give minimal answers; rather give comprehensive answers that will enable you to develop a biblical ethic in these areas.

The example of Joseph Genesis 39:1-6, 20b-23; Genesis 41:46-49

The questions:
Irrespective of my role what should be my attitude to the whole concept of having to do work? [Note: ‘work’ includes house work and work involved in raising a family.’ as well as work for financial reward.]

 

Irrespective of my role what should be my attitude to my daily work responsibilities?

 

What should be the attitude of employers to their employees and/or volunteers?

 

What should be the attitude of employees or volunteers to their employers?

 

What should be the attitude of the self-employed or home makers to the other people in their ‘work’ situation?

 

What is the biblical perspective on idleness and inactivity?

 

Identify any other significant perspective from your study of these scriptures.


The construction of tabernacle and temple Exodus 28:3; 30:25,35; 31:1-11; 35:30-36:2; 1Kings 5:6-18; 7:14

The questions:
 Irrespective of my role what should be my attitude to the whole concept of having to do work? [Note: ‘work’ includes house work and work involved in raising a family.’ as well as work for financial reward.]

 

Irrespective of my role what should be my attitude to my daily work responsibilities?

 

What should be the attitude of employers to their employees and/or volunteers?

 

What should be the attitude of employees or volunteers to their employers?

 

What should be the attitude of the self-employed or home makers to the other people in their ‘work’ situation?

 

What is the biblical perspective on idleness and inactivity?

 

Identify any other significant perspective from your study of these scriptures.

 


Old Testament Wisdom literature Job 31:13-15; Proverbs – search the whole book; Ecclesiastes 2:17-3:14

The questions:
Irrespective of my role what should be my attitude to the whole concept of having to do work? [Note: ‘work’ includes house work and work involved in raising a family.’ as well as work for financial reward.]

 

Irrespective of my role what should be my attitude to my daily work responsibilities?

 

What should be the attitude of employers to their employees and/or volunteers?

 

What should be the attitude of employees or volunteers to their employers?

 

What should be the attitude of the self-employed or home makers to the other people in their ‘work’ situation?

 

What is the biblical perspective on idleness and inactivity?

 

Identify any other significant perspective from your study of these scriptures.

 


The Teaching of the Apostles Romans 16:6; 1Corinthians 16:15-16; 1Corinthians 4:12; 9:1-18; 15:58; 1Thessalonians 2:9; 2Thessalonians 3:8; 1Corinthians 7:17-24; 10:31; Ephesians 4:28; Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:22-4:1; Colossians 3:17; 1Thessalonians 4:11-12; 2Thessalonians 3:6-15; Philemon – the whole letter

The questions:
Irrespective of my role what should be my attitude to the whole concept of having to do work? [Note: ‘work’ includes house work and work involved in raising a family.’ as well as work for financial reward.]

 

Irrespective of my role what should be my attitude to my daily work responsibilities?

 

What should be the attitude of employers to their employees and/or volunteers?

 

What should be the attitude of employees or volunteers to their employers?

 

What should be the attitude of the self-employed or home makers to the other people in their ‘work’ situation?

 

What is the biblical perspective on idleness and inactivity?

 

Identify any other significant perspective from your study of these scriptures.

 

Passages that command love, humility, respect and forgiveness Matthew 5:21-25; 6:43-48; 1Corinthians 13; Ephesians 4:17-5:2; Philippians 2:1-11; Colossians 3:12-15; 1John 2:9-11

The questions:
Irrespective of my role what should be my attitude to the whole concept of having to do work? [Note: ‘work’ includes house work and work involved in raising a family.’ as well as work for financial reward.]

 

Irrespective of my role what should be my attitude to my daily work responsibilities?

 

What should be the attitude of employers to their employees and/or volunteers?

 

What should be the attitude of employees or volunteers to their employers?

 

What should be the attitude of the self-employed or home makers to the other people in their ‘work’ situation?

 

What is the biblical perspective on idleness and inactivity?

 

Identify any other significant perspective from your study of these scriptures.

 


C. DEVELOPING YOUR PERSONAL WORK ETHIC

On the basis of the biblical perspectives identified from your study of the scriptures above formulate your personal work ethic. This should include your attitude to the whole concept of necessary work, your attitude to your work [whether paid or unpaid], and your attitude to others in your work situation, irrespective of your role and theirs.

MY PERSONAL WORK ETHIC

 

 

 

 

 


D. ADDITIONAL ISSUES FOR CHRISTIANS

While it is possible to formulate a personal work ethic from biblical values and perspectives, it is not necessarily easy or simple to live out that work ethic in the context of contemporary attitudes and values.

A number of problem issues are noted below, along with brief comment on biblical perspectives. There is space for you to insert your comments and personal responses to these issues.

The issue of slavery
While this is not an immediate issue for most Christians living in developed nations, slavery does still exist in many countries. Slavery was a normal part of life in the biblical era, and Christians who were slaves were instructed to serve their masters well. In the biblical context however, slaves did not have the same kind of raw deal that recent and contemporary slaves endure, and had more rights and expectations than recent and contemporary slaves. However, the fact that God forbade his people to make slaves of other Israelites, and set strict boundaries around the practice of slavery, indicates that slavery was not what God intended for human life.

 

 


Capitalism and Communism
‘Capitalism’ is the economic system of most developed nations – the system in which most of the business and industry is privately owned and run for profit. [Even in these countries, some operations are run by governments or their agents.] In the hands of sinners it can result in the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, if profits all end up in the pockets of the owners, and wages do not keep up with increases in the cost of living.

‘Communism’ was an attempt to change this system to one in which every business or industry was owned by the government and thus supposedly by the people, and in which the people were supposed to benefit from this common ownership and classless state. In practice it did not work out that way. In the hands of sinners what could have been a good thing produced a small rich and powerful hierarchy and poverty stricken masses.

The negative points of both of these have their origin not in the system but in the fact that humans are sinful. The Bible assumes the existence of both employers and employees, rich and poor in the world between Genesis 3 and Revelation 21, and puts boundaries in place to limit the exploitation of the poor and/or weak by the rich and/or powerful. The early church in Jerusalem practised a form of communal sharing of resources; even then the poor continued to exist in the Christian community.

 

 

 

The push for workers ‘rights’
The perceived need to agitate to the ‘rights’ of any sector of the community is also directly related to the sin factor. Either those who should have been addressing the ‘rights’ of others have failed in that responsibility, or those seeking ‘rights’ have a flawed perception of what is due to them.

The Bible does not address the issue of human rights. It does however stress the responsibilities of each human being towards all others, and, in particular, the responsibility of the privileged or powerful or people in positions of authority, to ensure that the weak and helpless, poor and needy, and all who are in their care, have the necessities of life and are treated with dignity and respect.

If everyone fulfilled their God-given responsibility of loving the other, everyone’s ‘rights’ would be fulfilled.

 

 

 

Abuse of the social security system
In Australia the Social Security system provides for the needs of the unemployed, the disabled, the aged, and a range of other people in need.  Governments also provide medical care, education, roads, airports, etc. All of this is funded by taxation paid by the working public and by businesses. Again because of our sinfulness this amazing provision is abused.

The Bible commands both honesty and industry, and condemns dishonesty and idleness. Any abuse of the Social Security system is outlawed for the Christian.