If you’re active on the internet these days, you’ve probably heard of a new group of like-minded individuals developing in various corners of the web. They call themselves “anti-work” and they believe that regular, everyday jobs in today’s America are a raw deal. Their opinions cover a wide spectrum, but it’s common to see takes like “work should be optional,” “eat the rich,” and “hunter-gatherers had more free time than we do.” If you have even a modicum of intelligence, I’m sure you can already see the problem. Over the next few posts I’ll be taking a deep dive into this strange mentality and all its colorful flaws. We’ll eventually get to the economic and philosophical arguments, but let’s begin by looking at the concept of work itself.
Work is Necessary
The first fruit I’ll pick is, admittedly, low-hanging. Work is necessary for any society to function. You can’t have food, water, shelter, or life without some effort. It takes work to farm. It takes work to build. It takes work to keep each other alive. On a very basic level, work isn’t optional and it never will be. John Smith of Jamestown, Virginia understood this. “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.” Heck, even Lenin said it, of all people. But don’t take their word for it. This phrase has its origins in the Bible.
“Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.”2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 (ESV)
The apostle Paul tells us clearly that we are all to earn our own living through work. Idleness is unacceptable. But what does Paul mean when he says he has the right to receive the church’s resources? He means that the church has an obligation to take care of fellow Christians and those who have dedicated their lives to preaching the Word of God. This is why modern churches pay their pastors. Nevertheless, Paul says the reason he did not act on this right was to lead by example in working hard.
Purpose in Work
Now that we understand the necessity of work and can see that the Bible commands us to work rather than rely on others, the next thought we might have is that we don’t really want to work. Perhaps we’ll do it because we have to, but we’ll be sure to do it begrudgingly. After all, it’s just a paycheck. What’s the point of doing anything but the bare minimum? If it’s unfulfilling and drains our time and energy, is it really worth investing more? What is the purpose of work? Well, there are a few practical reasons we can find in the Bible.
“In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.”Proverbs 14:23 (ESV)
This one is pretty obvious. Work produces profit. You reap what you sow. Mere talk is worthless without action and productivity behind it. We ought to be careful when we talk about our lofty ambitions that we don’t let our tongues outrun our feet. Sometimes the right decision is to shut up and get to work.
“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”Ephesians 4:28 (ESV)
Another reason to work is to produce wealth and resources to share with those who need them. We are called as Christians to be generous and loving, especially to our fellow brothers and sisters in the church. It’s hard to be generous and care for others when we’re barely able to care for ourselves. However, this is not to say that giving less is worth less. Our attitude towards giving is what matters. We should give in accordance with our ability. Jesus makes this clear when he speaks so highly of the poor widow who gave only two coins to the temple (Mark 12:41-44). Keeping that in mind, it becomes apparent that most of us living in America are filthy rich and could stand to give a lot more than we do. We should not invest too much in our earthly futures, but our heavenly ones.
“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.”Colossians 3:23-24 (ESV)
Paul tells us in Colossians that we are to work as if the Lord himself is our overseer. As Christians, we are not looking forward to our retirement on the beaches of Florida. We are looking forward to our eternal life with God after death. We are his creation and we are loved. It should be our utmost pleasure to serve and worship him. Part of this is obeying his command to work heartily and use the hands he gave us to create something meaningful with our short lives on this earth.
“Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”John 6:27 (ESV)
Aside from obedience and joy, it should be clear that it is in our own interest to work for that which will last after this earth is long gone. That means looking for ways to further God’s kingdom now while we still have time. Work is not just a good thing, it’s a necessary thing. But it’s critical we do the right kind of work. Laboring for that which perishes isn’t much better than doing nothing in the first place. It’s when we labor for that which endures that we will find not only practical benefits, but spiritual ones as well.
For the Christian, work is an act of worship. For everyone else, work is still extremely important. You can’t survive, much less progress towards improvement or profit, without working hard. The anti-work movement fails on both fronts. It places “self” in the seat of power, demanding to be fed and entertained for nothing in return. It blames others for matters of personal responsibility. Worst of all, it defies the almighty God and the purpose he has given us to work in his name.
Next week, we’ll take a look at how corporations take advantage of their employees and how employees can fight back with more power than they know. Enter your email below if you want to be notified when that goes live. Thanks for reading. Godspeed.