October 17, 2017

Labor and Its Rewards

Norman Pyle

“WORK” is a four-letter word which — unlike some less respectable four-letter words — seems to be falling into disrepute. In spite of the fact that individual enterprise and the will to work made America great, nowadays most folks want to work as little as possible.

The dictionary defines the noun “labor” as: “(1) work, toil; (2) a task; (3a) a work done by skilled and unskilled workers who are not clerks, managers, professional workers, or owners; and (3b) the work of human beings that produce goods or services.” The only part of this definition that is not Biblical is the limitation of 3a, for the Bible describes labor and work also in these categories as legitimate; that is, farm workers, shepherds, cattle herders and their supervisors; military men of various ranks and duties; unskilled laborers of every description-porters and carriers, lumberjacks, Construction men and their foremen or supervisors; skilled laborers, and craftsmen-carpenters, masons, potters, weavers and other makers of cloth, metal workers, jewelers and their overseers or sub-contractors; professional men-scribes (secretaries), writers, teachers, doctors, apothecaries and druggists, lawyers and political leaders; religious workers of all kinds — pastors, Bible teachers, evangelists, missionaries, singers, and other musicians. This list is not complete, but will suffice to show that they include owners, management, and professionals.

Work in itself is not a curse, but before the Fall was ordained for man’s good (Genesis 1:28-30). After the Fall, Adam’s (and man’s) primary labor was to be a vigorous and toilsome work to wrest a living from the soil, which was under God’s curse (Genesis 3:17-19 and 5:29).

The next mention of labor is in connection with Jacob and his service with Laban in the cattle business (Genesis 31:42). Making use of mental skill and agility he achieved ultimate success in providing for himself, his wife and family. Labor for the man, then, is working with hands and brain to provide for his household. If he is diligent, he can expect to be successful with God’s blessing. Labor for the woman is connected with her children and family (Genesis 3:16; 35:16-17). As to whether or not the woman should work outside the home, the Bible does not give a clear answer.

Labor-Management Relations

The conflict between labor and management could be settled if both sides would adhere to Biblical standards and concepts. There is a need for unity of purpose and a willing heart in those concerned. In the building of the tabernacle, the workers voluntarily informed Moses that more than enough money had been given (Exodus 36:4-8). In our day, I fear that such a situation would mean fattened pocketbooks for government workers to the detriment of everyone else. Note the commotion raised by politicians when government handouts are cut back.

God desires that whatever work we do be done to the best of our ability (Ecclesiastes 9:10), in accordance with His instructions (Exodus 39:43), and with a willing heart. The rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem was accomplished quickly because “the people had a mind to work” (Nehemiah 4:6). Likewise, the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31, who seemed to accomplish so much, is described as a willing worker (verse 13).

It is natural that servants and employees should seek more money and better working conditions; this was already true in Job’s day, some 5000 years ago (Job 1:2). Benefits of profit sharing can be seen in that the worker becomes more interested and zealous to the extent that he shares in the gain as the company’s value increases.

It is not only God’s will that the laborer should be productive, but also that the employer be fair and honest in his dealings, that joy and satisfaction may be added to the sense of joint accomplishment. In Malachi 3:5 and James 5:4, the Lord warns the employer against cheating employees in refusing to pay a fair wage for labor performed, pronouncing woe unto such (Jeremiah 22:13) and listing them along with sorcerers, adulterers, and other such sinners. God expects honesty and equitable dealings not only in employer-employee relationships but also in business and commerce (Proverbs 16:11). All this relates to the eighth commandment.

Stealing by employees has become a major problem in the United States. In the May 3, 1971, U. S. News and World Report, an article revealed that employees steal an estimated 10 million dollars a day in cash and merchandise, or about three billion dollars per year. Moreover, it was predicted that this type of crime would double by 1976. This involves people at all levels of business-from the executive suite down to the warehouse loading dock. This accounts for 70 percent of all inventory losses.

Proverbs 13:11 tells us that “wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished, but he that gathereth by labor shall increase.” “Vanity” refers to such devices as gambling or appealing to people’s pride, providing goods or services that are unnecessary, and in some cases, actually harmful. We should seek an occupation which is meeting genuine needs in people’s lives, not one whose major appeal is to human vanity, fanning into flame man’s natural greed and covetousness, as many modern advertising techniques are designed to do. To sell an unneeded luxury product, it is often promoted with such appeals as “You owe it to yourself,” or “Your loved ones deserve the best.” Also, in our advertising we should not have to bolster our product with false claims (Proverbs 21:6).

Slothfulness, or laziness, is another sin we should guard against. The book of Proverbs has much to say about the slothful man. Our affluent society has produced many such parasites, whose parents’ excuse is that they want their children to have everything they didn’t have, but coveted. Not realizing that God used the difficulties of life to build character in them, which ultimately made them economically successful and secure, they deprive their children 6f the blessings that come with struggle and labor. A young person who has all his personal wants provided without any effort on his part grows up believing that others owe him a living. Not only is he averse to work, but his attitude tends toward stealing because he covets things while refusing to work diligently for them (Proverbs 21:25-26). Even when he works, his laziness causes management headaches because of poor production (Proverbs 24:30-34). He would rather look for “the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” and is a sucker for “get-rich-quick” schemes (Proverbs 28:22). God despises the way of the slothful, and warns others not to associate with such in any business venture (Proverbs 15:19).

The Time to Work

As Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, “To everything there is a season.” What about the proper time to work? Under Mosaic law, man was to work Six days and rest on the seventh; the penalty for violation was death (Exodus 31:15). This command was given as a sign between God and Israel, and is not necessarily binding on other nations; however, the Principle enunciated here goes back even to creation (Genesis 2:2-3). In the economy of God, man needs a day of rest each week. Furthermore, God said “Six days shalt thou labor,” not four or five. A lack of rest will give rise to physical problems and affect other areas of life, but a lack of work will give rise to a different set of problems as well. The doctrine of leisure is another subject, but it appears quite obvious that when man works more or less than the prescribed six days, man’s physical and spiritual problems increase.

Next, what hours of the day should man work? In Psalm 104:23 we read that “man goeth forth unto his work … until the evening.” Jesus said, “The night cometh when no man can work” (John 9:4). In general, the implication of these verses is that the daytime was made for working, and night hours for rest. Multitudes can testify that night work with daytime sleep does not provide the physical refreshment that comes from the reverse. Our bodies do have amazing recuperative powers and can make adjustments to many special circumstances, but the toll taken by unwise activity mounts up over the years.

Finally, when in our lives is the time to work? When should we establish a vocation? Proverbs 24:27 might be paraphrased to say plainly “Develop your business before you establish your home.” The tradition of a suitor giving a dowry (Genesis 24:53; 29:18; 34:12) was more than just a complimentary gift; it was also a pledge of financial ability to care for his wife. So the verse in Proverbs encourages development of a vocation through proper training and education before marriage rather than after.

Money Cannot Satisfy

If our only purpose in working is to make money and acquire things, it will never satisfy. Solomon begins Ecclesiastes: “What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun?” He proceeds to list his activities in his effort to obtain satisfaction in life. He tells of his pursuit of knowledge, pleasure, entertainment, drink, public works, and possessions. He had the money to obtain all these things; yet he came to hate life (2:17) and to despise all he had (2:18) as worthless.

It is reported that someone asked John D. Rockefeller, “How much money would it take to satisfy you?” He replied, “Just a little bit more.” That is typical of most of us. As a great writer said, “The world is too much with us,” and we have yet to learn that “godliness with contentment is great gain,” or with Paul — to be content in whatever state we find ourselves. Greed is insatiable: the world’s richest man of his day observed centuries ago that “He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver” (Ecclesiastes 5:10 and 1:8).

The Rewards of Labor

For faithful labor there is much reward, even though it may not be in the form of legal tender. The ideal woman described in Proverbs 31 is praised by the authorities for her diligence (verse 31). During the Millennium, every man shall enjoy the fruit of his own labor, but probably not until then will equity abound.

So that he couldn’t be accused of preaching for money, Paul worked with his own hands, disciplining himself as an example to others (1 Corinthians 4:12; 9:1-27; 2 Thessalonians 3:8-9). There is an element of peace, order, and satisfaction which God bestows on those who work for their own food. On the contrary, there is the tendency to disorder, disruption, and disharmony in the lives of those who refuse to work. In 2 Thessalonians 3:10·12 we are warned that if a man refuses to work, he should not be allowed to eat. When a person will not mind his own business, someone has said, it is for one of two reasons: either he has no mind or he has no business. Whatever the case, there is a tendency for the non-productive person to become a busybody.

A job well done is often its own reward. Ecclesiastes 5:12 speaks of the sleep of the laborer as being sweet. Psalm 128:2 promises happiness and satisfaction to a person who labors faithfully. The work of a righteous man — whether his own services or the giving of money he has earned (Proverbs 10:16) — is an investment for eternity. Therefore, “lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven” (Matthew 6:20). Effort invested to help produce a Christian home or a Christ-honoring church is labor well-spent.

As we mentioned, work is not a result of the curse. God had from the beginning placed man in the Garden of Eden to till it and to keep it up (Genesis 2:15) because man not only needs food, he also needs the physical exercise and mental purpose involved. The curse due to sin simply increased the effort necessary to obtain food (Genesis 3:17-19). Dr. Hans Selye, director of the University of Montreal’s Institute of Medicine and Experimental Surgery, has observed that “Man is made to work, to do something that makes demands on him. With the decline of so many other values and nothing new to replace them, work is one of the few areas where man can find a sense of worth and enjoyment.”

Besides the considerations of food, physical exercise, and the normal satisfaction or sense of worth it gives, labor has another great purpose: that of serving the Lord. David challenged his people in 1 Chronicles 29:5, “Who then is willing to consecrate his service this day unto the Lord?” Joshua (24: 15) and other Old Testament leaders did likewise. As he rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah realized he was “doing a great· work” (Nehemiah 6:3). In Ecclesiastes 4:8-9, Solomon describes the futility and emptiness of a life lived only for self, and brings out the importance of having others to serve. The husband and wife have great purpose in their work as they labor for one another and their children. Also, we should help support the weak and helpless (Acts 20:35). In Ephesians 4:28 the former thief is exhorted not only to give up stealing, but to work with those hands that once pilfered from others, in order to have something to give to those in need. As stewards of the “talents” God has given each of us, we should be faithful to Use them for Him (Matthew 25:14- 30) remembering that anything we do for His sake is done for Him (Matthew 25:34-46 and 10:39-42).

We learn, then, that our service is to be for God and others, for anything less will prove unfulfilling (Ecclesiastes 6:7). The Bible teaches that “in all labor there is profit” (Proverbs 14:23). It is true that sometimes God has to smite our labor and not allow us to profit because of disobedience (Haggai 2:17). And other times-for reasons unknown to us, yet no doubt for our instruction-our labor may yield no increase (Habakkuk 3:17). Nevertheless, our attitude is to be that of the prophet, “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord” (Habakkuk 3:18), knowing that “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28).

Let us follow Paul’s matchless exhortation in Romans 12:10-17 to “be kindly affectioned one to another … not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing … distributing to the necessity of saints … provide things honest in the sight of all men.” As we feed on His Word, seek to follow His will for our lives, enter the doors of service He opens to us, and do all things as unto Him, in His way and for His glory, we shall find that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6).


This article first appeared in Faith for the Family, July/August 1974. It is republished here by permission.


Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

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