I come from a long line of hard workers. My parents were pastors who lived out a reliable and balanced work ethic. Before them, my grandparents and their families worked as printers, engineers, secretaries, homemakers, and farmers. I grew up learning the value of work primarily by example — it was in my DNA. But I always wondered: What does the Bible say about work?
Working was a habit built into me at a young age. However, I did not learn until much later in life why work is so important. I did my chores and earned my allowance at the rate of $0.25 per task (inflation has changed things a bit since then). I tithed, saved, and collected a pile of change in my bedroom. As I got older, I took jobs before and after school. I worked full time as a young man.
I was in the habit of working early on, but the meaning of work became more apparent later in life. Without knowing what I was doing, I was going down the path God designed for each of us. God created us to work and to become a part of His bigger plan when we do.
But what does the Bible say about work? How can we teach our families that work is not just a reward system of chores and allowances? The biblical story of work is a valuable treasure chest of discipleship for every one of us, and we can, and should, teach that richness to our families.
What Is Work?
A definition rooted in the story of Scripture will go a long way toward helping us build the right understanding of work into our families. It is easy to think of work in ways that keep it from being inspirational or meaningful. If we get our concept of work wrong, we short‐change the time and effort we put into our weeks, months, and years. When we treat our work only as a means to an end — labor in exchange for money — we are not treating it with the meaning and value that God intends. When we raise our kids with this transactional vision of work, it can easily translate into a lack of satisfaction with their eventual vocation.
I believe the full vision of work given to us in Scripture is something like this: Work is anything meaningful we do that God equips us to do and can be done for His glory, for the help of our neighbor, and as part of the foreshadowing of His kingdom.
There are a few benefits to seeing work in this way. First, it says that “anything meaningful” we do can be work in the biblical sense. It rules out work that is destructive and immoral, but it opens the door to nearly everything else that has meaning. For example, childrearing, writing, art, landscaping, engineering, medical, and legal work — all of it is biblical work.
Second, it recognizes that it all begins with God’s gifts to us and that our work can be for His glory. And third, it connects work with love for our neighbor and the kingdom of God.
Let’s unpack these ideas as we continue to explore what the Bible says about work, and talk about some ways to pass this perspective along to our children.
Work Is a Gift
Because we live in the world, God created everything we have. Each opportunity is a gift from God. Every talent, skill, and interest I have is part of how God made me in body, mind, and soul. The same goes for you. God has filled this world with an astonishing array of skills and interests, and when we use each one well, it can be a kind of thanksgiving to God for the gifts He has given.
The composer J.S. Bach wrote some of the world’s most beautiful music. But it is a little‐known fact that he signed every piece of music he wrote with the three letters, “S.D.G.,” an abbreviation for the Latin phrase “Soli Deo Gloria,” which means “For the Glory of God.” And, sure enough, his music has been sung and played in worship for hundreds of years.
Gift‐giving can be full of meaning. When either parent logs in to work or leaves home for their job, a child may see that as time lost from spending time with them. It can be possible, however, to talk about “going to work” in terms of giving the gift of your talents, education, or skills to others. When a child takes time to make a craft for mom, they use their skills to give a gift. Similarly, mom takes time with her education and experience to help her business with accounting.
When studying what the Bible says about work, take notice of how people used their God-given talents to serve Him. Talking about our own work in terms of what gifts God has given us can help build a sense of God‐giftedness into our children.
Stuck at home?
We Were Created to Make Something of God’s Creation
God put Adam and Eve in the garden to work it and guard it. The biblical idea of stewardship begins with our creation and God’s mandate that we tend to the rest of the world He created. Creation was not intended to be used up through our consumption. Instead, it should be turned into something beautiful and useful by our creativity and contribution.
The language in Genesis 1:28-31 — words such as “dominion” and “subdue” — does not mean to use up and destroy. When we look at what the Bible says about work, we discover that we were made to have families, raise kids, build bridges, craft legislation, write literature, and farm the land. God created us to make something of the world He created.
A useful conversation you can have with your family is to talk about how food gets to your table. Discuss how farmers prepare their field and plant seed. Maybe you even have a home garden you can use as an illustration. Next, think about how their harvest gets sold, shipped, and stored in all the right places. People buy that food for grocery stores, and employees stock the shelves where your family shops. Once the food is home, it still needs to be prepared, cooked, and made into a meal. One simple dinner is the culmination of hundreds of people who made something of God’s green earth!
We Love Our Neighbor
When we work, we become a part of how others live their daily lives. From buying a coffee to downloading a new app on your phone, just about everything we need or do requires other people to work well. The same is true of your work.
Working well is a way in which we show our neighbors the love of God. The second great commandment Christ gave us was to love our neighbors as ourselves. Sometimes we let that idea drift into a fuzzy feeling or simple acts of kindness, but what if it is much more robust than that? What if my ability to program computer software is a necessary part of God’s whole?
Putting these thoughts together, we learn that every one of us is a valuable part of the communities where God put us. Work is far more than what we do to get a paycheck. We are learning that God created us to work so that our neighbors and communities can thrive. My job indeed provides the salary that pays for our necessities, but it also intersects with many people’s lives who benefit from the work I do.
We Are Part of God’s Grand Plan for Creation
In Jeremiah 29:5-7, God encouraged the Hebrews in exile to build families, work hard, and pray for the cities where they lived. God says, “In its welfare, you will find your welfare.” As you and your family explore what the Bible says about work, remember that it is an incredible thing that the values of the kingdom of God become the fruit of our labor. These values can be signposts to the people around us, demonstrating that there is a God and that He built us to find meaning and purpose in Him.
© 2020 Phillip Steiger. All rights reserved.