As we have been considering what it means to be a true man of God, we have examined different relationships and circumstances in which God calls Christian men to live. We have looked at sexuality and single life, dating, marriage, and family. In this article we take up a different sphere of life in which men must be men: the workplace.
This is an important subject for men to consider. Women also are called to work, but typically that work is done in the sphere of the home and family. The sphere of the man is the workplace and providing for the material and financial needs of his family, if God gives him one. Generally, most men will spend their days earning a living outside the home. At minimum, you will spend 40 of the 168 hours in a week at your job. In many ways your daily and weekly schedule will be dictated by work. And if you begin working full time when you are 18 years old and retire when you are 65, you will have devoted more than half of your fourscore years to the workforce. For men, work dominates our lives.
The subject of work is an important truth addressed by the Scriptures. Without giving it much thought, we might imagine that such things as money and work are subjects too earthy for God to address in the Bible. But the Word of God has a great deal to say about these subjects. And it is necessary that young men learn from the Word how to be men at work.
Work and creation
As we examine what the Bible says to men about work, we begin with creation. On the sixth day of creation week, God made man out of the dust of the ground and in His image. God then placed Adam in the Garden of Eden and gave him work to do. Genesis 2:15 says, “And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” God said to Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Gen. 1:28). Adam and Eve were not idle in paradise, but were called to be busy dressing and keeping the garden and exercising dominion over the creation.
God’s creation of man to work teaches us two important truths. First, it teaches us that God Himself is a God of work. God commanded Adam to work because, having been created in God’s image, he was to be a dim, creaturely reflection of God. Adam’s working reveals that God is a working God. We must not imagine that prior to creating all things, God was listless and idle. Eternally He was working in His own triune life and in His eternal decrees. He showed Himself to be a working God in His creation of the world, and He continues to do so by upholding and governing all things in His providence. Especially do we see God as a working God in His great work of saving His elect church in Jesus Christ. Jesus said in John 5:17: “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.”
The second thing we learn about work from creation is that man’s calling to work is good. As God called Adam to work from the moment of his creation, so God calls men today to be busy working. And this is not evil. Work cannot be inherently evil, because God works and He is only good. Work cannot be inherently evil, because after God created Adam and commanded him to work, God declared, “It is very good.” Work is a good thing; even if we do not enjoy our job, it is a privilege to spend our days busy in the labors God has given us to carry out.
Work and the fall
But more must be said about work. We must reckon with man’s fall into sin and the effects that this has for our work. Work is a good creation of God and is not inherently evil, but now it is affected by our sin and the consequences of the Fall.
When Adam fell into sin, his sin had consequences not just for himself individually. Since he stood as head of the creation and the human race, his fall had far-reaching consequences for the world broadly. The curse of God came to rest upon the earth. One aspect of the curse had to do with man’s work. God said to Adam, “…cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground…” (Gen. 3:17-19).
The chastisement upon man is the sorrow he experiences in his work. Before the Fall, the earth gave of its fruit willingly to man, so that his work was not strenuous exertion. But now after the Fall, man has to scratch and claw in order to get his bread. He rises early in the morning, labors under the heat of the hot sun all day so that he sweats and his back aches, and only returns home when the sun sets. The farmer battles the Roundup- resistant thorns and thistles, the heat and the cold, the drought and the flood, to eke out a living. The manager at his desk in an air-conditioned building battles workplace politics, the struggle of hiring and firing, the pressure of the bottom-line, the crush of deadlines, the weight of responsibilities. Every job has its difficulties and struggles that cause us to earn our bread by the sweat of our face.
Not only is it the case that after the Fall man’s work is difficult, but it is also the case that the sphere of work is corrupted by our sins. Spiritual dangers lurk everywhere. Consider the following:
1. Laziness. The Bible warns repeatedly against the sin of laziness or sloth (for example, Prov. 6:6-11; 13:4; 20:4; Eph. 4:28; II Thess. 3:10-12). The sluggard is someone who does not use the time God has given well. He is always procrastinating or putting off responsibilities. He never finishes what he starts. He makes all kinds of excuses for why he doesn’t work. This is stealing. He is stealing from his employer because, while the employer is paying him for a full-day’s work, he is giving less than that. The sluggard may also be guilty of stealing from his family by asking them for financial assistance when the issue is that he is not working hard. He might even be guilty of stealing from the church, because his need is not the need of one who can’t make ends meet but is due to laziness.
2. Materialism. It might be the case that we work hard and avoid laziness, but we do so for all the wrong reasons. We pour ourselves into our job to earn, to have, to spend, to indulge. Our work is motivated by materialism and earthly-mindedness. A job becomes a means to accumulate money and earthly possessions and to live life to the fullest. Rather than seeking first the kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33), we seek first the things of this earth and of our own personal kingdom. Rather than setting our affections on things above (Col. 3:2), our desires are toward the things of this earth.
3. Employer/employee sins. In a number of places, the Word of God gives instruction to both masters/employers and servants/employees (Eph. 5:5-9; Col. 3:22- 4:1; James 5:1-11; I Pet. 2:18-25). The great danger for employers is that they mistreat and take advantage of their employees. They do not care for them, do not pay them adequately, and do not protect them. The danger for employees is that they do not respect their employer. They badmouth the boss behind his back, take advantage of his generosity, and carry out their tasks with a lick-and-a-promise.
4. Escapism. Sometimes we can look at work wrongly as a way to escape the responsibilities or troubles of life. There has to be a balance here: certainly it is healthy for us to stay busy, in part so that we do not endlessly dwell on our problems. But there can be a wrong attempt to escape the responsibilities of marriage and home by burying oneself in work. Or there can be a wrong attempt to escape the troubles of life not by rolling the burden upon the Lord but by finding escape in work.
5. Idolatry. This is probably the greatest danger we face in our work, and one that underlies all the other dangers. Too easily we make an idol of our work. We make an idol of our career advancement, of the money we make at our job, of the praise of men for our gifts, of the power that comes with our position. This might show itself in being a workaholic, someone who works too many hours because he is endlessly pursuing an idol. This also shows itself in our finding our identity in our work rather than in Christ. This is a great danger for men in particular. We so quickly identify ourselves with our work. If someone asks us who we are, our answer is often, “I’m a builder, a doctor, an engineer, a farmer, a mechanic, a pastor.”
Work and redemption
Thankfully, as Christians we have hope in the face of sin and the curse. That hope is in Jesus Christ and His work. He took upon Himself the likeness of sinful flesh, condescended to dwell in this world under the curse, and came to work. His work was to do the will of His Father and redeem His elect people. His earthly ministry was one of constant work: preaching and teaching and performing countless miracles. In reading the gospel accounts one gets the sense of constant activity and busyness with very little opportunity for rest. Especially did Jesus spend Himself in His work at the end of His life as He suffered the wrath of God at the cross and gave His life to atone for our sins.
As men, our confidence may never be in our own working and busyness. Rather, we trust alone in Christ and His perfect work. On the basis of His finished work, we are forgiven of our sins with respect to our work. And by the power of His work in us, we are strengthened to fight against our sins and to work out of thanksgiving for His work. And we look forward in hope to the removal of the curse, when in perfected bodies and souls we will serve God forever in the new heavens and earth.
Keeping this always in mind, we seek to determine what work the Lord would have us to do. We take stock of the unique gifts and opportunities God gives us (cf. Rom. 12:3-8). We seek out the wise counsel of parents, friends, teachers, and fellow saints. And through prayer we fill out that job application and strike out on that career path. As Christians we have a vocation, a unique calling from God. The idea of a calling is not just for pastors and teachers, but for electricians and salesmen as well.
In the work we are given to do, we strive to work hard. There are few things worse than a man who will not work hard. It ought to be the case as Christians that we are the best, most-desired employees. We respect our employer, give an honest day’s labor, make the best use of our abilities, are faithful and trustworthy, seek the good of the company, and refuse to cheat and cut corners.
In working hard, we seek to do so with the right motive in our hearts. We are not laboring to be rich. We are not seeking greatness as the world counts it. We labor as grateful servants in God’s heavenly kingdom. God does not need us, but He is pleased to use us as instruments in His hand for the advancement of His kingdom.
That means that our labor is not empty and meaningless, as I Corinthians 15:58 reminds us: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” Even the lowliest ditch-digger has an honorable, necessary place of service in the kingdom.
The way this kingdom-focus often comes to expression is in our giving. We work hard not for materialistic purposes, but so that we might use the money God gives to support our family, send our children to a Christian school, feed the poor, provide for the ministry of the Word, and promote the various labors of the church (evangelism, missions, seminary instruction, for example).
Finally, we work not for our own glory and the praise of men, but for the glory of God. “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Col. 3:23).
Let this prayer be yours as you leave for work in the morning, and as you lay your weary body to rest at night:
So let there be on us bestowed
The beauty of the Lord our God;
The work accomplished by our hand
Establish Thou, and make it stand;
Yea, let our hopeful labor be
Established evermore by Thee,
Established evermore by Thee (Psalter #246:3).