Is Work a Blessing or a Curse?

As another Labor Day approaches, how are we doing when it comes to work?

Millions of Americans are perpetually unemployed.

Writing for Pew Reports (11/14/14), Drew DeSilver notes, “…more than 92 million Americans —37% of the civilian population aged 16 and over—are neither employed nor unemployed, but fall in the category of ‘not in the labor force.’ That means they aren’t working now but haven’t looked for work recently enough to be counted as unemployed…the share of folks not in the labor force remains near all-time highs.”

Today, 46 million Americans are living on food stamps. That’s almost one out of six of us subsisting on something initially designed as a stop-gap measure for the truly down and out.

This is quite tragic when you think about it. I think part of this is the result of the nanny state. Big government tries to solve problems and ends up creating more problems.

As Ronald Reagan said in his First Inaugural Address (1/20/1981), “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

He added, “From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people.” Thus, we have replaced “we the people” with “we the elite,” and we’re paying a price for it.

But all politics aside, is work part of God’s design or is it a curse?

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.

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.

We don’t necessarily think of ancient man as being lazy. But I think it’s fair to say that ancient wealthy man was. The Greeks and the Romans used their slaves to do their hard work.

The late Larry Burkett points out: “The Greeks degraded into a nation of idle talkers who were easily overrun by the Romans.”

D. James Kennedy and I pointed out in our best-selling book, What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?: “Prior to Christ, the nations of antiquity despised honest work and consigned it to slaves…three-quarters of Athens and half of the Roman empire were made up of slaves. We get a taste of how ‘gentlemen’ did no labor in ancient Greece in Acts 17, when Paul visited the Athenians to spread the gospel there. ‘For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear something new’ (Acts 17:21).”

We go on to observe, “But Jesus revolutionized labor. By picking up the saw, the hammer and the plane, he imbued labor with a new dignity. Over the centuries, where the Gospel worked its way into and through­out a land, it translated the slaves and serfs into people of the working classes. Without work, it is impossible for any human being to fulfill the probation that God has given him in this life.”

I believe in the sanctity of work—all work is good if done unto God. Unless it’s directly contrary to the law of God (like producing pornography) work that is well done is a service to God and our fellow citizens—even if it is not necessarily work of direct “ministry.”

Part of the Christian tradition has been the notion of calling—that God has called different people to different functions—perhaps at even different sequences in our lives. The main point is that we do whatever our function well.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

So this Labor Day, we do well to remember that work is a blessing. For those temporarily out of work, there are plenty of opportunities to make oneself useful. Even volunteering can help one transition back to work. But the key is that each of us, to the extent we are physically able, are to be doing some kind of work—and will lack a sense of fulfillment and purpose without it.

As the Bible says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”