The Most Important Reason We Work
Whether it’s repeated runs for fast food (because you don’t feel like cooking or grocery shopping), streaming TV shows for hours on end, strolling through social media feeds while putting off necessary work, or however else you procrastinate — we all know what it’s like to be lazy in our own way.
If you’re married or a parent, you may be neglecting basic responsibilities — cleaning, cooking, and nurturing. If you’re a student or employee, perhaps you do the bare minimum just to get by. To make matters worst, lazy people consistently neglect the most important task of the day — reading the Scriptures and prayer while consistently telling themselves and others that they have a hard time finding the time.
Scripture has a name for the lazy: sluggard. A sluggard is a habitually inactive person, caricatured as someone who wants to sleep all day. The sluggard lacks motivation to work hard and sees little need, or has little ability, to put forth his best effort. And as long as the sluggard lacks this motivation, he is a mere shadow of what he was meant to be. The sluggard is a poor parent, spouse, student, employee, and neighbor.
For some, it can stem from embracing the lie that work is a means of survival. Ask the average person on the street what the meaning of work is, and they will answer in some form that it is a means of survival and provision. It’s how you get a comfortable house, a nice car, and daily essentials like food and clothing. When we view work this way, our motivation to work is misguided, and everything that we do suffers because of it. In order to shift our misplaced motivation, we need a theology of work.
Designed to Work
Many lack a basic theology of work and, therefore, assume that work is a product of the fall. But God designed humanity to work from the beginning. We work because our Creator works, and we’re made in his image, to reflect him. According to one Bible dictionary, God has infused “the act of work with meaning and divine significance, enjoining upon humans an obligation to engage in work even as God works.”
In Genesis 2:15, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” This was prior to the fall, before the entrance of human sin, and shows us that in a perfect world, man would still work. Work is a gift from God, not a curse. Yet our attitude toward work can be a product of the fall. Sin has stained how we view work. So instead of viewing it as a gift, we may see it as a punishment that is an unfortunate requirement for survival.
If work is viewed as a curse, the goal becomes to create a world where we can survive and thrive without working. Work, however, is not simply a means to provide food, clothing, and shelter. It’s so much more. Ken Mathews comments on Genesis 2:15,
Mesopotamian accounts of human creation typically show how human beings were created for the purpose of work, but there human beings work to supply food for the selfish, lazy gods. Divine travail over their incessant labors is relieved by the creation of a human workforce. In contrast the biblical account portrays God as Provider for man’s needs, a part of which is the honorable, meaningful labor of tilling the soil. Life without work would not be worthy of human beings. (209)
Since God is ultimately our provider, our motivation and understanding of work must change. This honorable, meaningful labor is done as an act of worship, not unto man, but unto the Lord.
Working unto the Lord
The apostle Paul writes in Colossians 3:23–24, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Here Paul is writing to slaves (or bondservants), but this applies to all Christians in our various callings.
We are commanded not to work for “eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord” (Colossians 3:22). Why is it insincere to work for man?
Man is finite, and a finite being can only observe so much. If we only work when others are watching, our work becomes insincere because we will cut corners and slack off when people aren’t watching. More importantly, working in order to please man reveals a self-serving pursuit of glory that belongs to God. Our work should point men to our Father, not us. Any time we attempt to rob God of his glory, we consequently rob ourselves of joy because we make ourselves slaves to the opinions of men.
Paul, therefore, encourages us to work “for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23). This means that our motivation to work is driven by our Father’s character and his commands. As bearers of his image, we work because our Creator works. We want to be like our Father. At the same time, he also commands us to work. As our Father, we trust that his commands are good for us, and as his servants we work to please our true and gracious Master. How? We don’t work for his acceptance or to meet his needs (which would be blasphemy); we work because we’re already accepted, to meet the needs of others.
This mindset improves the quality of our work regardless of our earthly boss’s character. Whether we have an unjust boss or not, we work hard and joyfully to please the Father, our good heavenly Master.
Such an understanding radically changes how we work when we don’t have earthly overseers. At home, we work hard as we wash dishes, vacuum the floor, cook the meals, cut the lawn, and shovel the snow — because we’re working in light of our Creator’s character and command. We’re working for an audience of one.