What Does the Bible Say about Work?

Michael Lee Stallard
What Does the Bible Say about Work?

Each week the average adult spends nearly 40% of his or her waking hours working. Given that work occupies so much of our time, it would be rational to expect that God cares about what we produce during those hours and how we go about producing it. In fact, He does. Scripture tell us God Himself worked and that He has entrusted us with important work. In this article, I explore what the Bible reveals about God’s plan for our work.

What the Bible Says about Work

The topic of work comes up at the very beginning of the Bible. In the creation account recorded in the first two chapters of Genesis, we see God at work as He separated the light from the darkness; separated the water to create ground and sky; gathered the waters into seas; created vegetation for the land; made the stars; made living creatures for the water, air and land; and, finally, made the first humans, Adam and Eve. At the end of Genesis 1, God observed the result of His work and we’re told that it was very good. 

Genesis 2 provides details of mankind’s first job. God had planted a garden and placed Adam in it “to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). We read that God said it was not good for Adam to be alone so He created Eve to help him. Adam and Eve were to work together to take care of God’s creation in the Garden of Eden. After blessing Adam and Eve, He presented this assignment: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish… the birds… and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28). How wonderful and what an honor it is that God entrusted human beings to take care of His creation.

Is Work a Good Thing in the Bible?

Work, in general, is good. After all, it was ordained by God and Scripture tells us that everything God creates is, in and of itself, good (see James 1:17). Work done well brings a sense of personal accomplishment as we put our God-given talents and abilities to use. When our work helps others, it becomes a way to serve them. God, in effect, designed work so that it might be a blessing to us and to others. The baker who makes bread is a blessing to his customers. The salesperson is a blessing to her customers by guiding them to find the best product or service that meets their needs. The teacher who educates his students is a blessing to them. In each of these examples, the worker likely experiences the joy that comes from doing work that produces something good that benefits others.

On a practical level, work is good because the wages we earn help us meet our financial responsibilities to support our family members, the Church and people God brings to our attention who are in need. Throughout the Bible, we see passages that condemn people who are capable of working and have the opportunity to work but don’t because of laziness (for example, see Proverbs 10:4; 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12). For society, work is also good in that it contributes to bringing order out of chaos so that people are more likely to experience shalom, a Hebrew word which means a state of flourishing.

When we do work that serves others, we experience joy and contentment from knowing our work matters. Work that doesn’t help others contributes to job burnout because it is a waste of the time and life God has given us. Although most goods and services help people, some are harmful and, as a result, run counter to what God intended for our work. It may be obvious, such as in the case with criminal activities including involvement with defrauding others, prostitution or selling illegal drugs. Harm can also result from legitimate products and services that have been knowingly tainted. A recent example of this is Volkswagen’s illegal emission system that was designed to evade environmental tests while still producing emissions of nitrogen-oxide—a smog-forming pollutant linked to lung cancer—that are up to 40 times higher than the federal limit.

8 Bible Verses about Work

Bible verses that are relevant to work include:

  • Everyone should work if they’re able to. — “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.’”  2 Thessalonians 3:10
  • Work for God’s glory and not for personal motivations of money, power or fame. — “...whatever you do, do it for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31
  • Work with all your heart. — “Whatever you do, work at it with all of your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” Colossians 3:23
  • Pray for wisdom and God’s guidance regarding decisions related to your work. — “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5 (also see Joshua 9:1-27 which describes the consequences when Joshua and the Israelites failed to consult the Lord and were deceived by the Gibeonites)
  • Pray for the Holy Spirit to produce spiritual fruit in you in the way you go about your work. — “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23
  • Think of your work as an expression of love for God and people.  — When asked by one of the teachers of the law which is the most important commandment, Jesus replied: “The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31
  • Pray for God’s favor and blessing on your work. — “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
  • Set aside the Sabbath to rest from your work. — “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work... For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Exodus 20:8-11

What If You Don't Like Your Job?

Work can be difficult at times because we live in a fallen world. In Genesis 3:17-19 we see that because of Adam and Eve’s sin, work is going to be hard. Even good work that we know is worthwhile will require exertion that tires us physically, mentally and/or emotionally. That’s one reason we need a Sabbath day to rest and recover from work.

Sometimes people may find their jobs are especially difficult for reasons related to the tasks to be completed. Maybe the job is not a good fit with your strengths even if you are capable of doing it. Or it might be that the work is beyond your level of competence so that it’s too stressful or so far beneath your level of competence that it’s boring. In these circumstances, it may be helpful to let your supervisor know so he or she can adjust your job responsibilities or provide needed training, mentoring or resources. One possibility is to consider moving to a different position in your organization that provides a better fit for you. If these options aren’t available, then looking outside your organization for new work may be wise.

Another reason people are dissatisfied with their work or want to leave their jobs stems from a breakdown in relationships, such as not getting along with their supervisor, being disrespected by colleagues or a lack of trust among members of a team. In these situations, try to work directly with the party you are at odds with to resolve the conflict or take intentional steps to improve how people relate with one another. If you are unable to make progress, seeking job opportunities outside your employer is reasonable and may be best for you, given the negative effects of chronic stress on your health and your ability to do your work effectively. To help you discern what to do, ask God for wisdom and guidance, and seek the advice of others who will help you determine the best decision.

Presently, Gallup research shows that approximately two-thirds of Americans are not engaged and don’t feel connected to their supervisor or colleagues at work. According to research my colleagues and I conducted, the lack of engagement and connection diminishes employee and organization performance. Before leaving for another job, try to become a positive influence on the culture in your workplace. (For insight and practical tips, see “10 Amazing Ways to Triumph Over Evil at Work” and read sample chapters of our latest book that will equip you to improve your workplace’s culture.)  

Why Christians Should Have the Right Attitude about Work

God cares about our attitudes for they shape what we say and do. If you cultivate an attitude that work is a punishment from God, then you are unlikely to have the enthusiasm and energy to do your best work. Paul was getting at this when he stated: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2).

Having attitudes that are consistent with God’s Word will help us flourish in our work. One example of a Godly attitude is to embrace humility. Paul went on to explain in Romans 12 that we each have unique gifts and roles and that we need one another. He prefaced the analogy of being individual parts of one body by exhorting Christ’s followers this way: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.” (Romans 12:3b). Humble individuals know they don’t have a monopoly on the best ideas so they are intentional about seeking and considering the ideas and opinions of others. Having multiple perspectives to draw upon, affirm or challenge your thinking improves the likelihood of making optimal decisions that have the greatest positive impact on your organization.

Is Retirement Biblical?

The only place the Bible mentions retirement is in the Lord's instructions to Moses about rules for Levite men who served in the tent of meeting. It specifies "... at the age of 50, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the tent of the meeting, but they themselves must not do the work." (Numbers 8:25-26b). The passage doesn't address individuals more broadly and, interestingly, it says there is still a role for them to play. Many of the faithful whose lives are described in the Bible worked until their final days on earth. Retirement is a relatively new practice that’s become widespread in recent history. 

It should be our mindset to serve others throughout the course of our lives, including during our twilight years. Dr. John Gration, a spiritual mentor of mine through our church at that time, continued to mentor many individuals long after he retired as a professor of missions at Wheaton College. By encouraging me and sharing wisdom, he had a profound impact on me and I have had the privilege of passing on what I learned from him to others. Through mentoring, Dr. Gration continued to serve.  

God created work for us because it blesses us and others. For inspiring stories of followers of Jesus who served others through their work, read these articles about Nick Medley, Horst Schulze, John and Nell Wooden, CNO Admiral Vern Clark, Frances Hesselbein, TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini and Bono of the band U2. Though work may be challenging, by doing work that serves others, and doing it with excellence and love, we are participating in building God’s kingdom on earth.

what-the-Bible-says-about-loneliness-and-how-to-overcome-itMichael Lee Stallard is an author, keynote speaker and seminar leader on leadership, employee engagement and organizational culture. He is a leading expert in how effective leaders boost human connection in team and organizational cultures to improve the health and performance of individuals and organizations. Michael is the primary author of Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy and Understanding at Work and primary author of Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion, Creativity and Productivity. Sign up for Michael’s monthly email newsletter on connection and free resources on connecting at work at this link.

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