Previous article in this series: September 15, 2016, p. 493.
One of the most important areas of instruction that we must give to our children in our covenant home is that of their future daily occupation. To neglect this subject in the instruction of our children would be serious. Attitude and behavior in this sphere of life will have a dramatic impact on the future of our children. Years ago, sons were usually trained in the trade and occupation of their fathers. Daughters were taught by their mothers to be good homemakers. Things have obviously changed in major ways in our modern world. Most jobs today involve complex training. Opportunities for good jobs usually require extensive study and preparation. Many will have to do their work as part of large corporations. There will be great need for being able to work together with many others in the workplace. Many women now have careers outside of the home, whatever we may say about this.
The Bible speaks often about the calling to work. Adam and Eve in the state of righteousness were given the calling to dress and keep the garden of Eden. Central to God’s command to Adam and Eve to exercise dominion over the earth was their calling to work at a daily occupation. After the Fall, God said to Adam that because of the curse of sin man would have to struggle greatly and with much sorrow in his daily labors to sustain himself in the earth. Man’s work after his fall and disobedience to God would become much more difficult and exhausting. The fourth commandment teaches us about the blessed rest of the sabbath that God provided for man. This blessing of the sabbath comes after six days of diligent labor.
In spite of the Fall, work is a great blessing of God to man. This is true, of course, in the end only for the Christian. God blesses the labors of our hands. By His sovereignty over His creation He causes the seasons to follow regularly in the earth for seedtime and harvest. When man’s life has increased in the earth and he becomes rich, he must not glory in himself and say in his heart that by his own power and might he has become rich. We must always remember with profound thankfulness that the Lord alone is the One who gives us power and wisdom to work and get wealth in the earth.
The book of Proverbs gives much wise instruction concerning the blessing of working. “Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house” (; see also ). Proverbs 31, which highly praises the virtuous woman, portrays her as a woman of many highly developed gifts, one who has learned to be tireless in her diligence in her work in the home. Being such a woman, she brings great blessing to her husband and her children. A slothful, undisciplined woman whose home is normally in the state of chaos and virtual disaster will do great harm to her family, and be the cause of great strain between herself and her husband.
The book of Proverbs has many warnings regarding the sin of laziness and its shameful consequences (; ; ). There are many more verses indicating how urgent these warnings are. In most cases this instruction and these warnings are given to sons of the inspired father who is the human author of the book of Proverbs. It is evident from the book of Proverbs that working hard with our hands, diligently laboring, is so much more than just a natural and earthly concern. Working diligently is our moral, spiritual calling before God. Slothfulness is regarded and judged by God as a great sin, which God in His providence will severely chasten. Often slothfulness of sons and daughters is the result of poor parenting. The mothers in these homes are going from house to house as talebearers rather than being serious in their calling to keep their homes in good order. Fathers are hardly ever home and make little effort to interact with their children in a meaningful way.
The New Testament also has much to say about work. Through the blessing of God’s providences He enables us to care for ourselves and for our families. On the other hand, when a man does not work and, as a result, is unable to provide for his own household, he is said to have “denied the faith and is worse than an infidel” ().
In their inspired letters to the churches, the apostles of the Lord address both servants and masters. Servants are called to be obedient to their masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling in singleness of heart as unto the Lord (see). Masters are to forebear the threatening of their servants, knowing that they have a Master in heaven who is their Judge. It is evident that the instruction given in the New Testament both to servants and masters must in our modern times be applied to employees and their employers. This instruction makes plain that how Christians behave in their daily work has spiritual, moral dimensions. Members of the church must be instructed in the preaching regarding working. The perspective we have on how we behave at work must be motivated by the fact that we have been redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ and that therefore we must serve Him and glorify Him in this.
We all have the responsibility to maintain ourselves in the world. The Christian in normal situations should not depend on benevolence from the church or charity from fellow Christians when he or she is able-bodied, strong, and healthy. The Bible instructs those who do not work that they ought not eat (). That is strong language! The man who is not diligent in his daily occupation to provide for himself and his family should not be made the object of charity by the deacons of the church.
Not only is every Christian who is able to be diligent in his earthly labor to support himself, but he is also to do this for the support of the poor, and in order to be able to contribute to the church and to the cause of the kingdom of Christ, for the maintaining of the church in the world. Paul addresses a pointed word to those who have put off the old man and put on the new man by the grace of Christ. If our sinful nature controls us, it will make us lazy, careless, and irresponsible. According to the new man in us, we must think not only of ourselves but also of the needs of others: “Let him that stole steal no more: but let him labour working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth” ().
The Word of God instructs each member of the church to labor in order to support the cause of Christ’s church and kingdom. Reformed people, in harmony with their covenant calling, if possible, support Christian schools together. We as parents must be willing to work diligently to support these schools for our own children as well as for others who are poor and unable to bear this burden on their own. Christian schools are expensive to maintain. Christian schools are greatly aided by those who have financial potential to give and are ready and willing to do so with liberality and cheerfulness. To whom much is given much is also required.
At the same time, the Bible reminds us that the love of money is the root of all evil. None of us should set our hearts on being rich. “They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare and into foolish hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” (). These are strong warnings. It is not wrong to be rich, but riches have a powerful temptation to make one covetous and materialistic. In our homes our children must be trained to understand that our daily occupation has a higher purpose than just enriching ourselves, building castles for our homes, driving expensive cars, and going on luxurious vacations. Instruction in this area for our children is urgent because the temptations of having riches are very great (see I Tim. 6).
Our children must be trained in our covenant homes to conduct their occupation in honesty and uprightness, and in care and concern for the neighbor, especially our brethren, if they, in God’s providence, should be in our employment. Our world is a dreadfully corrupt, deceitful, and covetous place. Because we are Christians, we must be distinctive and different in this sphere of our life. Our children need to be trained to be different, distinctively Christian.
One of the most beautiful passages in all of the Scriptures on the subject under our consideration is found in: “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eye service, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.” This passage has many practical implications concerning the proper Christian attitude toward and perspective on work.
Many of our daily labors involve a measure of drudgery, some even more than others. Most of us have to work so hard to support ourselves, our churches, and our Christian schools that we are reduced at times to utter exhaustion. The passage quoted above gives the Christian a sense of the right purpose, meaning, and joyful thankfulness to God in the performing of our daily occupation. All of this must be taught to our covenant children.
I have sought to lay out some of the main principles in this article. In my next article I want to outline some practical implications that follow from these principles for the instruction of our children.