The Dignity of Work

The Dignity of Work

 idlphoto under Creative Commons

The doctrine of Work (NB: not “works”!!!) is a somewhat forgotten doctrine. In his excellent Disciplines of a Godly Man, R. Kent Hughes notes the following: “[Work] was given to man before the Fall, before sin, before imperfection.”

This is a pivotal point, as it is sadly the case that in our day work is often viewed as undignified, evil, and demeaning. This is patently false! According to the Scriptures, work is inherently good. God actually withheld from growing the plants until he created Adam, for “there was no man to work the ground.” (Genesis 2:5). Once he did create Adam, the plants grew (Genesis 2:8-9). Implicit in this is the fact that God definitely wanted Adam to work, and that he wanted Adam to tend to his creation in his work. That would  be his primary vocation.

Indeed, it explicitly says, in Genesis 2:15, that God placed Adam in the garden for him to work there. God himself worked (see Genesis 1, and Genesis 2:2), and Jesus worked for 30 years before he began his gospel ministry. Work is consistently praised as a positive activity in the Old Testament (e.g. Proverbs 22:29, Proverbs 16:3, Proverbs 12:14, Proverbs 21:25, Nehemiah 2:18, Psalm 128:2). In the New Testament, this doesn’t change (1 Thessalonians 4:11, Colossians 3:23, Ephesians 4:28).

Indeed, it is important to remember that it is not that work itself is cursed; the “ground” which man is to work is cursed (Genesis 3:17). There is a big difference. If you drink curdled milk you don’t say that the act of drinking is curdled; there is a clear distinction between the action and the thing acted upon. What we do is cursed, and therefore it will be hard. Work is good, and remains so despite the curse. So, work hard! God wants you to.

3 Comments

  1. Andrew Courtis

    Excellent post Simon. This is a clear and important concept taught in Scripture and very few affirm it today. There is great dignity in working hard for the glory of God in our vocations!

  2. Don (Author)

    Simon, this is an important post. Too often I hear Christian speak of the drudgery of paid work.

    When I was a young man, my first paid employment was working in a furniture factory. It was a rather dead-end job with little or no prospects for advancement. I became bored and began to verbalise this to my fellow workers. They affirmed my discontent which made me even more unhappy.

    Then a fellow employee, a Christian friend, took me aside and told me I was displaying an attitude that was dishonouring to God. I was stunned. I had never really given much thought to work and my Christian duty.

    He turned my attention to Colossians 3:23 and suggested the verses in Ephesians 6:5-9 could be applied to working for an employer. I wasn’t just working for my earthly boss, I was working for the Lord.

    This had a big impact on me, so I began changing my attitude immediately.

    Now, I’m not suggesting that the change in me was noticeable to my employer, it may have been, but remarkably it made me much happier. It also made me realise there was not point in complaining about my employer, he was paying me what he agreed to pay, I was doing the work I had agreed to do. So if I wanted to change my circumstances – that was something I had to do.

    And I did – I quite my job – enrolled in University. After graduation, I obtained employment in an industry with all the advancement opportunities I desired. I ended my working career as a Managing Director of a international corporate subsidiary.

    I always considered my success in business commenced with that conversation with my friend those many years ago.

    • Simon (Author)

      Thanks for your testimony regarding your work life, Don. The connection between our work and our Christian life should never be divorced, and you’ve given a good example of how to think through the issues.

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