Why Work Matters

Adapted from Practicing the King’s Economy

God’s passion for work is a theme found throughout Scripture. One example found in the Old Testament is gleaning laws, which we explored in previous posts (HERE and HERE). In addition, Scripture also has a lot to say about why work matters, why justice for workers matters, and why we should care for those who are vulnerable.

Why Work Matters

Work allows us to fulfill our God-given vocation of creatively unpacking creation’s potential. This happens in all God-honoring work, from designing hospitals to sweeping hospital floors, from marine biology to building bridges, from writing a song to working on a car engine. But doing good work well isn’t just part of the cultural mandate given to us in the Garden; it’s also part of what it means for us to participate with Jesus in His reconciliation of all things.

In addition to work being good, it is also the ordinary means which God has given people to provide for themselves. The Bible recognizes the dignity of all kinds of work, including types of work that many cultures, including our own, often deem “undignified.” For example, God described the craftsmen who worked on the Tabernacle as Spirit-filled (see Exod. 31:1–11), and Paul’s apostleship never led him to abandon his tent-making trade (see Acts 18:3). Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to aspire to live quiet lives, working with their hands (see 1 Thess. 4:10–12) and declared that anybody who refused to work shouldn’t be given access to the shared resources of the church (see 2 Thess. 3:10). In short, work is good. People ought to work if they can, and to refuse to work to provide for oneself is sin.

Condemnation of Abusing Workers

The Bible testifies that injustice often corrupts work by oppressing workers. We see this in the laws of the Pentateuch designed to protect workers by requiring employers to pay fair wages in a timely manner (see Deut. 24:14–15) and in the damning critique of the prophets who declared that Israel failed miserably to treat their workers justly. God declared through the prophets that he would “draw near” in judgment “against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner and do not fear me” (Mal. 3:5 ESV). In this passage, God puts those who oppress workers in the same category as adulterers and sorcerers, both of whom were subject to the death penalty in the Old Testament. Mistreating employees is serious business.

Similarly, Jeremiah railed against those who built their houses “by unrighteousness” and their “upper rooms by injustice, who makes his neighbors serve him for nothing and does not give him his wages” (Jer. 22:13 ESV). In the New Testament, James picks up this prophetic critique, declaring that the unpaid wages of the poor are crying out against the rich. Their oppression has allowed them to live “on the earth in luxury and self-indulgence” (James 5:5), but their rotten mammon will “eat [their] flesh like fire” (v. 3).

We cannot be certain exactly how James or Jeremiah would have defined “just wages,” so we will not try to offer a precise definition of what a just wage is in our own day either. What’s abundantly clear, however, is that wage injustice perpetrated on the poor by the community of God’s people is a serious offense. If we care about the relationship between faith and work, then we have to care about the ways that injustice deforms work for many of the world’s workers.

Caring for the Vulnerable

God’s people are called to intentionally create opportunities for work for the marginalized. In the release of slaves in Israel every seventh year (see Deut. 15) and the return to the family farm every fifty years at the Year of Jubilee (see Lev. 2), God created laws that, if followed, would eliminate multi-generational poverty by ensuring opportunity for work. Jesus’s miraculous healings of the lame, the leper, and the blind offered not only physical healing from disability but also economic restoration to the community.

What sometimes gets lost in translation when we read 2 Thessalonians 3:10—“If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (ESV)—is that Paul was criticizing people who do not want to work (the Greek word translated “willing” normally includes the idea of desiring). The idea isn’t that people who can’t find work should be allowed to starve but, rather, that people who do not desire to work ought not to be allowed to eat from the community’s common table.

In a world where work is good but injustice and oppression often render work ineffective or unjust, God calls his people to create opportunities for the marginalized to provide for themselves through their own work. When we think of our own context, Scripture’s teaching on work ought to call us to deep repentance that leads to obedience in light of God’s kingdom economy.

Redeeming Work in Your Community

One way you can contribute to restoring people in your community to work is by starting a work readiness ministry to help people overcome barriers to finding and keeping sustaining work. The Chalmers Center’s Work Life program will walk you step-by-step through the process of launching your ministry. You can book a call with us to learn if this is a good fit for your church or ministry.

The Chalmers Center

The Chalmers Center

The Chalmers Center helps God’s people rethink poverty and respond with practical biblical principles so that all are restored to flourishing.

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