Hard Work or Anxious Toil? — A Christian Understanding of Labor

Hard Work or Anxious Toil? — A Christian Understanding of Labor

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, for he gives to his beloved in his sleep. (Psalm 127:1-2)

Pastor John from 1980:

I think the main point of these three verses is: "Don't eat the bread of anxious toil." It means just the same thing Jesus meant when he said, "Don't be anxious about what you shall eat."

When we grow up we must all work for our bread. And we can either work nervously, worrying about what men will think of us — and so eat the bread of anxious toil. Or we can work with serenity in our hearts, as serving Christ and not men — and so eat the bread of peace. God's will for his children, indeed the sign of whether we are children or not, is that we not eat the bread of anxious toil.

God does not lay down specific rules for how early we rise for work and how late we knock off at night. But he does lay down this principle for his beloved: Don't rise early and go late to rest out of anxiety, out of fear and fretfulness. If the joy of fruitful labor lures you to work 12 hours a day, so be it. But take heed lest you are really deceiving yourself, and in fact are being driven by anxiety, or by her twin sister, selfish-ambition.

Christians will work hard, but they will work more for the joy of all the good their work can bring to others than they will out of fear at what men will think if they fail. So,

Be diligent as God may lead
And eat the bread you earn,
But fret not over what you need
And let not worry burn.

Excerpted from Don't Eat the Bread of Anxious Toil.

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Jonathan Parnell (@jonathanparnell) is a writer and content strategist at Desiring God. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Melissa, and their four children, and is the co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary .