Labor is an institution of God. Like marriage and government, labor is a creation ordinance. The God Who made man, made man to work. We ought to work. Work is good for us. We should be thankful that we can work. We can be sure that we will work in heaven, in the new creation of God.

God’s institution of labor is under serious attack today from many quarters. There is the pleasure-madness that has overrun our society with its inevitable disparaging of work. There is the assault of labor by the modern labor unions which violate every Biblical principle concerning labor. There is the fact that increasingly women are forsaking their God-assigned place in the home and are going outside of the home to work and pursue careers, something we hope to discuss in a future article. There is also, of course, the sinful nature within each one of us that is tempted to rebel against the will of God in the area of labor, is tempted to laziness or carelessness in regard to our work.

There is nothing we so need to be reminded of today as the teaching of God’s Word regarding labor. We can be sure that a great many of our present physical and economic problems arise from our failure to observe God’s weekly day of rest. But we can also be quite sure that a great many of our economic problems arise from our failure to honor the sanctity of six days of labor. God commands us to labor.

That God calls us to work is plain already from the account of man’s creation. Making man in His own image, God made man to work. In Genesis 2:15 we read, “And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” God gave man work to do in Paradise. He did not permit the man whom He had created to live in the Garden of Eden doing nothing. But He required of Adam that he keep and dress and care for the Garden.

The first mention of the institution of labor after the fall of man is in the curse pronounced upon Adam. “And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: 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; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Gen. 3:17-19).

The understanding of this text is important. The important thing to notice in this Word of God is that the curse pronounced upon Adam is NOT the curse of labor, as some suppose. The curse is the pain and hardship, the frustration and disappointment that will now be connected to man’s labor.

We find this echoed in the words of Lamech, the father of Noah, at the time of Noah’s birth, when he said concerning the son whom God had given him, “This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed” (Gen. 5:29).

The fourth commandment of God’s law stands as the great call of God to the thankful, redeemed Christian to labor. It is often forgotten that the fourth commandment is a command to labor as well as to rest. In fact, the command to rest is grounded in and arises out of the command first to labor. “Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work” (Ex. 20:9). The day of rest has no meaning except as rest from labor. We may be quite certain that the man who disobeys the first aspect of this commandment, who is unfaithful in his work, will never enjoy the benefits and blessedness of the day of rest.

The New Testament is equally clear on the gospel’s call to work. In the parables of the pounds (Luke 19:11-27) and of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30), the Lord calls us to faithful labor in the kingdom. We must not bury our talents or squander our gifts. The Lord’s judgment on the unprofitable servant is severe: “Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed hot, and gather where I have not strawed . . . cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 25:26, 30).

The teaching of the Apostle Paul parallels the teaching of Christ. In Ephesians 4:28 he says, “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.” In I Thessalonians 4:11, 12 he admonishes the Thessalonian Christians: “And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; that ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.”

One of the clearest passages on the Christian’s calling to work is found in II Thessalonians 3. In II Thessalonians 3:6 the Apostle admonishes the believers to “. . . withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.” We might at first suppose that the Apostle is talking here about false doctrine, and that he has in mind our calling to separate from heretics. Or we might think that Paul has in view some gross, unrepented of sin like adultery, or idolatry, or theft, or drunkenness. But the disorderliness that the Apostle has in mind here is idleness, laziness. That comes out in verse 11: “For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.” The Apostle’s judgment on this disorderliness is severe: “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (verse 10). The churches today, of course, have no use for this judgment of the Apostle. They consider it to be uncharitable and unchristian. And so they launch their massive programs to feed the derelicts and vagrants, and consider that they do a good work. Instead they ought to listen to God’s Apostle, “if any would not work, neither should he eat.” The sluggard must bear the judgment of God. Our government is guilty of the same thing when it provides welfare for those who are simply too lazy to get and to keep a job.

The positive implications of the Apostle’s instruction here are plain. It is a mark of faith in Jesus Christ, an evidence of the sincerity of faith itself, that we labor to earn our living and to provide for the needs of our family. The ethic advanced by the New Testament Scriptures is that Christians ought to work with quietness, and eat their own bread, II Thessalonians 3:12. Idleness is sin. And when that idleness is cloaked in the garb of piety which considers labor somehow incompatible with the requirements of communion with God and devotion to spiritual things, that idleness is only made a more serious sin still.

There are times, of course, when through no fault of our own we are unable to work. Perhaps that’s on account of sickness or injury. Or perhaps it is the case that although we are able to work, the work is just not available. There is nothing shameful in this. Then it is God Who prevents us from working. And in that case, God has also provided means for our support, first through the help of relatives (I Tim. 5), and then through the diaconate.

The implication of Scripture’s teaching concerning work is also that our work must be good work. The Scripture is not only concerned THAT we work, but its concern extends to HOW we work. In this area of life too, God requires our very best. Our work must not be half-baked and slipshod. Our work must not be characterized by carelessness and sloppiness, whether this is our work in school, at home, or in the office or factory. The principle that too often governs our work is not how good a job we can do, but how little we can get by with or how quickly we can get finished. If this is the case with us then the great motivation that ought to be in view in all our life is absent in our work: the glory of God.

We ought to work. In our work, every legitimate area of endeavor is open to the believer. Every legitimate form of work is work that the Christian may be engaged in. He may be farmer or factory worker, office worker or plumber, carpenter or garbage collector, policeman or doctor, lawyer or store-owner, teacher or preacher, businessman or mayor. The gospel does not forbid any area of legitimate work.

There are, of course, vocations that for one reason or another are closed to the people of God. It is not permitted the child of God to be a professional ball player, both from the point of view of the wrong of devoting oneself to a career in sports and also from the point of view of the desecration of the Sabbath Day by those who are involved in professional sports. It is not permitted God’s people to be dancers or movie stars or to pursue careers in which they deliberately and unnecessarily place their life in jeopardy.

There is also work which although in itself is not wrong becomes wrong for the child of God because of circumstances. Perhaps it’s the case that the child of God must join the union, something inconsistent with the principles of the fifth commandment. Or perhaps it’s the case that in order to have a certain job he must leave a true church for no church at all, or for a church that does not preach the truth. In these cases, the Christian is confronted squarely with his calling to seek first the kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33). He must not take the job that requires that he join the union or leave the church. It would be wrong for him to do so.

There are also those careers which, although legitimate in themselves, pose certain threats to the child of God. It is permitted the child of God to be a doctor, or a nurse, or a policeman. It is even permitted that, on account of the work required by these careers, the child of God occasionally be absent from the worship services of the church. The work of these careers is to be considered work of present necessity which is permitted on the Sabbath Day. But there are dangers involved in such careers, dangers which our young people ought not to be unaware of. It is wrong for even those who are engaged in legitimate work on the Sabbath Day on that account always to be absent from the worship services of the church. When such legitimate work becomes a frequent hindrance to worship and the use of the means of grace, the Christian and the consistory of such a Christian must draw the line. It has been said that it is legitimate to pull one’s ass out of the ditch on the Sabbath, but it would be wrong to devote one’s whole Sabbath to the pulling of asses out of ditches. It’s true that from time to time our work may justify our absence from the worship services. But the fact of the matter is that if we’re not there, we’re not hearing the preaching of the gospel and our faith is not being strengthened.

Next time we want, the Lord willing, to consider our work as a Divine vocation, and we want to discuss the purposes of our labor.