A Meditation on Work—for Labor Day 2023
With another Labor Day upon us, sadly we have to admit that America’s work ethic appears to be in decline today.
The work ethic has deteriorated in part because of the decline of Christianity in our culture and the push for socialism. Socialism constantly undermines the work ethic by rewarding inactivity and failing to reward those who work particularly hard or well.
Our Nation’s Founders and Work
The founders of America did not agree with socialist principles, and they laid the framework for a country with unparalleled prosperity.
Part of the way they did this was by stressing smaller government. In his first inaugural address, President Thomas Jefferson said, “a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.”
The government has no money of its own. So whatever money the government spends for Citizen A, it has to appropriate from Citizen B.
There is no such thing as a free lunch – someone has to pay for that lunch.
God has given each of us a unique set of talents and skill sets. What a joy it is to put those into practice as a vocation or as an avocation for His glory and others’ good. And He will hold us accountable for our putting these things into practice.
Through the ages, the words of Paul the Apostle have inspired millions to work hard “as unto the Lord,” knowing that He will reward us. He also said that if someone refuses to work “neither shall he eat.”
An anonymous saying adds insight here: “Some people fail to recognize opportunity because it so often comes to them in overalls and looks like work.”
Author Hugh Whelchel says that many would quit their jobs if they received a large fortune, enabling them to not have to work. He also cites a Gallup poll, which “found that 77 percent of Americans hate their jobs.” Because of these sentiments, Whelchel is dedicated to helping Christians find and pursue their calling, and he has served as the founder and director of the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, in the greater D.C. area. Whelchel has some great insights on all this in a radio interview we did together.
God’s Design for Work
Work is good. Work was designed by God, says the Bible: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to care for it.” We are designed to work and labor gives meaning and purpose to everyday lives. We are commanded to work. We glorify God by work well done (unless, of course, it is work that harms others, e.g., pornography).
Work came before the fall of man. It’s made harder by the fall, but work itself is not a curse. It’s just that everything, including work, is under a curse.
I believe in the Puritan notion of “calling.” As Dr. Os Guinness, author of The Call, points out: If there is a calling—there is a Caller, i.e., God. Yes, our work does matter to God. And different people are equipped with different skills and different temperaments.
I love this definition of success that comes from columnist Whit Hobbs: “Success is waking up in the morning, whoever you are, wherever you are, however old or young, and bounding out of bed because there’s something out there that you love to do, that you believe in, that you’re good at—something that’s bigger than you are, and you can hardly wait to get at it again today.” (Source: Richard Edler’s 1995 book, If I Knew Then What I Know Now.)
Dr. D. James Kennedy said, “God has declared that life is simply a proving ground, a testing ground for eternity. How we live our lives here—including fulfilling the Cultural Mandate of God to till the earth, to work, and do the things that God has given us to do as His stewards, and for which we will be responsible—will greatly affect how we are seen in the eyes of God. The Bible clearly says that if any will not work, then let him not eat, because God has created us for the purpose of working.”
Christians Should Strive for Excellence in Work
In her essay, “Why Work?” (from the 1949 book, Creed or Chaos?), British Christian writer Dorothy L. Sayers makes some great points:
- “…work is the natural exercise and function of man—the creature who is made in the image of his Creator.”
- “…a man will put loving labour into some hobby which can never bring him in any economically adequate return. His satisfaction comes, in the godlike manner, from looking upon what he has made and finding it very good.”
- “No crooked table-legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth.”
- “The only Christian work is good work well done.”
Sayers also notes, “[W]ork is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do.”
Work, paid or otherwise, is a privilege. Our work matters to God, and we should strive to do it well. D. James Kennedy had a motto that we aim for at D. James Kennedy Ministries, i.e., Coral Ridge Ministries (including Providence Forum): “Excellence in all things—and all things to God’s glory.”
Dr. Jerry Newcombe is the executive director of Providence Forum, a division of D. James Kennedy Ministries, where Jerry also serves as senior producer and an on-air contributor. He has written/co-written 33 books, including (with D. James Kennedy), What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? and (with Dr. Peter Lillback), George Washington’s Sacred Fire.