What is Meant by the “Work Ethic”?
by Charles Simpson
MORE THAN 3,000 YEARS AGO MOSES said to Israel, “It is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers” (Deuteronomy 8:18, NAS). God gives us the ability to prosper, and that prosperity indicates that He is with us. It also supports His desire to establish His kingdom here on earth.
Work and wealth are valued by God. Increase of resources is confirmation of proper management, proper understanding, and diligent effort. The Bible, inspired by the Holy Spirit, says a great deal about work and wealth. God works (see Genesis 2:2 and Psalm 104:24); Jesus works (see John 5:17; 9:4); the Holy Spirit works (see 1 Corinthians 12:11); mankind works (see Genesis 1:28); apostles work (see 2 Thessalonians 3:8); and we are even told that we should enjoy work (see Ecclesiastes 2:24).
Work and wealth are part of God’s plan for us. By looking to the Scriptures we can regain a proper understanding and a fresh view of the work that God has called each of us to do.
The Biblical Work Ethic
The biblical work ethic is God and man laboring together to cause creation to prosper, thus returning abundance to God and man. Biblical gain comes within the framework of mutual benefit to all: God, mankind, and creation itself.
I recently heard a commercial that said, “The promise of America is opportunity, not guarantees.” Throughout its history, the United States has been a mecca for people seeking opportunity. It has been said that even those who hate it want to live here. It’s not that the country has superior resources, but that it was founded on a superior ethic – a biblical attitude toward morality, work, and wealth. Most of the early officials were managers of farms – entrepreneurs and pioneers with faith.
Whatever opportunities the United States or any other country offers, they are nothing compared to the opportunities that God offers. With Him all things are possible to those who believe. Many people, however, are not being fruitful in their labor, and I believe it is the result of a lack of vision.
Task and Vision
Julius Joske, president and founder of a chain of department stores, once said, “Vision without task is fantasy. Task without vision is drudgery. But vision with task can change the world.” People who lose their sense of purpose or vision will eventually lose their motivation to work, their resources, and their identity. How far that is from God’s purpose for man! We are created in His image to manage His creation.
Here are several biblical visions for work that will enable us to maintain our motivation and to be fruitful. One, we must see God as the fountainhead of our vocation. Apart from God, we make no sense, and our work makes no sense. We should seek God until He reveals Himself to us and gives us a higher perspective of ourselves and our work.
Two, we should see ourselves as members of the corporation that runs the whole of creation under God Himself (see Psalm 24:1 and Genesis 1:27-28). God does not want to do it all by Himself. As His servants, we are part of His management team. He created mankind to rule over the works of His hands.
Three, we should see ourselves as working with God. We can work for Him, but it’s even more wonderful to work with Him. We must see ourselves relying and depending upon the Spirit of God for strength, power, direction, wisdom, or whatever it is we need.
Four, we should see ourselves as important to, and productive in, God’s purposes. Whatever our vocation is, it is important to God, our family, our church, and society.
Five, we must believe that it is God’s will for us to enjoy the rewards of our labor. God is our master, but He is not stingy or selfish. Prosperity is not sinful, and the successful person should enjoy the fruit of his labor. If we have succeeded, by the grace of God, we should give Him the tithe (one tenth of our earnings), take care of our family, save some seed for future sowing, and enjoy some of the fruit of our labors.
Six, we should see ourselves as givers to the needy. Ephesians 4:28 says, “Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need (NAS).” This verse contains much of the biblical work ethic. Labor should result in our having something to give the needy. This is a major purpose for work and prosperity.
Seven, we should see ourselves as being prepared for an even greater opportunity. Luke 16:10-12 gives us three important principles associated with work: faithful in a little, given much; faithful in money, given spiritual riches; and faithful in another’s, given our own. In each of these principles is promotion.
The Bible communicates a message with power that changes the way people live and societies operate. Included in that message is the calling for us not only to work for God, but to work with God.
Charles Simpson is a pastor and Bible teacher based in Mobile, Alabama. He is the author of a Bible study curriculum, God and the Marketplace, which has been translated into Chinese and distributed inside China.