What does the Bible teach about work?We see right from the beginning of the Bible that God is a worker and created humans in His image (Genesis 1:26–31)—also to be workers. God worked at creation (Genesis 2:1–3). His work lasted six days and on the seventh, He rested. He stepped back from His work and declared it "very good" (Genesis 1:31). Because God is good, what He does is good as well (Psalm 25:8). Working, at least in the way God works, is good.
We know that when humans disobeyed God and introduced sin into the world, one of the curses included toil. However, notice that God placed Adam into the garden to care for it—to tend it—before the Fall (Genesis 2:8, 15). It isn't labor or work that is part of the curse, but the toil.
We are created in God's image, with characteristics like His (Genesis 1:26–31). Our work is a ministry, as church fathers have said for centuries. However, the Fall made work difficult—turned labor into toil, added thorns and thistles to the good fruit, and took away the continually expected reward for work (Genesis 3:17–19). When Adam and Eve were in the garden of Eden, they were to tend it, but it produced fruit. When they were escorted out of the garden, it was "in pain you shall eat of [the ground] … By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread" (Genesis 3:17–19). Having dominion over the earth was no longer the good work God had first gifted Adam and Eve; it was tarnished by sin and turned into a toilsome feat. They were removed from the garden, symbolic of purity and innocence, and told to work the earth or field, an unprotected space. The very environment went from harmonious to hostile.
We know, though, that God will someday restore work to its rightful place in our lives, unencumbered by sin (Isaiah 65:17–25; Revelation 15:1–4; 22:1–11). We also know that, even sullied by sin, work is still a good thing. God tells us that work is His gift and that we will be blessed through our work (Psalm 104:1–35; Ecclesiastes 3:12–13; 5:18–20; Proverbs 14:23).
The Bible tells us that our work is to benefit others as well as ourselves (Exodus 23:10–11; Deuteronomy 15:7–11; Ephesians 4:28). Additionally, God's people are specially equipped for work (Exodus 31:2–11).
The Bible condemns laziness (Proverbs 6:6–11; 13:4; 18:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:6–12). In 1 Timothy 5:8 we read, "But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."
In regards to unemployment, welfare in the Bible is closely tied to work (Leviticus 19:10; 23:22). When Paul wrote the church in Thessalonica, he said those who were living in idleness should not have fellowship with the church and that people who were unwilling to work don't get to eat (2 Thessalonians 3:6–12). Biblically, we are to help those in need. Often this means providing them with work, which helps not only meet the physical need, but provides a sense of dignity and purpose.
Those who are unable to work to earn money should not feel ashamed at this, but should joyfully accept God's provision of resources while also seeking the work He has for them. Ephesians 2:10 tells us that God has prepared good works in advance for His children. Our "work" is not always employment that results in a paycheck, but includes much more. For example, parents work in raising their children. Many times the work of the disabled is to be a light and encouragement to medical professionals, to offer a listening ear, and to pray. Similarly, the elderly might be able to share the wisdom of their age with those who are younger or perhaps volunteer somewhere.
It is a mistake to put so much emphasis on our work, even good work, that it becomes an idol (Ecclesiastes 2:4–11). Our worth is not in what we do, but in who we are in Jesus Christ. It is also a mistake to place so much emphasis on rest that it becomes an idol. God created humans with a rhythm of work and rest—too much of either has negative results.
Colossians 3:23–24 gives us a godly perspective on work: "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ." We do not work to gain God's favor; we work because it is part of His good design of us.
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