Point of Reference
by Fred Price
Has anyone ever commented on your work ethic, your desire and ability to work hard and well? (Or not.) Did you know that tendency is often referred to as the Protestant work ethic? It is only one of the subtle yet far-reaching ways Christianity has impacted this country and the world; having its origin in scripture, influencing our expectations of personal opportunity and responsibility. Puritan believers exemplified this concept in that they taught that a man had a sacred responsibility to do his best, working hard in all he did; not just for profit, although there was no shame in prospering from hard work – but to please God and set an example of Christian stewardship in all areas of life. They took seriously the scriptural admonitions to, “…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16; and “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:58
Many settlers immigrating to America did so to escape a political system called feudalism, which was similar to socialism in that it destroyed the incentive for people to work hard. But rather than attempting to provide all their “employees” needs, the ruling class took much of what was already theirs. Providing them with a hut on a small parcel of land, they were then expected to pay their feudal lord for the privilege of living there – working in his fields, tending to his domestic needs and fighting his wars. (Even later, when feudalism was no longer strictly practiced, many of its principles were still applied.) Changing occupations was out of the question, permission to move or even get married was mandatory; all opportunity for personal accomplishment was strictly regulated, all personal responsibility (except to avoid punishment and starvation) was removed; all incentive to excel destroyed.
The revolutionary idea ingrained in the Protestant work ethic was embodied in the possibilities of the individual, who was expected to work hard but who was then allowed to retain possession of what he earned, deciding for himself how to spend, invest, or squander his resources as he saw fit. The belief that each individual deserved an opportunity to better himself and to provide for his family as a result of personal profit was central to the concept later expressed as “all men are created equal” in their attempt at “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” And yet there was a need to, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Luke 12:15 Some, however, became really good at working hard and reaping the benefits thereof; becoming wealthy and self-sufficiently arrogant. After becoming almost totally dependent on money and the material things money allowed them to accumulate, some began to rediscover that happiness and security are not wholly dependent on financial prowess. As in most things, a balance was needed between opportunities for personal gratification and personal responsibility to God, country, family and those less fortunate in society. The admonitions, “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.” Proverbs 23:4; and “Do not work (only) for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life,…” John 6:27; being as valid today as at any other time in our history.
There is nothing wrong in bettering our circumstances when possible as long as we understand better circumstances won’t automatically solve all our problems or make life more rewarding. In realizing, “…godliness and contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” 1 Timothy 6:6; we develop a God-ordained sense of peace and direction for our lives. In fact, more possessions may just make you busier and less content, having fewer opportunities for things that really matter. As, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” 1 Timothy 6:9,10 Prompting Jesus to ask, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16:26 Prompting the Hebrew writer to advise, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have,…” Hebrews 13:5 There is a biblical principle calling for a just wage, a fair return on the investment of a person’s time and effort ( Luke 10:7 & 1 Timothy 5:18), while holding believers responsible for providing for their families; failure to do so compared to faithlessness and unbelief. ( 1 Timothy 5:8) But the accumulation of money must not become the primary motivation behind how we live our lives.
Paul established a rule in the early church which some today find harsh, but when applied without favoritism inspires the most slothful among us. “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” 1 Thessalonians 3:10 However, the Old Testament is replete with directives concerning relief for the poor, release of slaves and servants, and the canceling of debt ( Deuteronomy 15:1-18; Psalm 82:3; Proverbs 14:31); while the New Testament equates true religion with caring for the needy and those suffering loss. ( James 1:27, Matthew 25:31-45) The real poor were not to be ridiculed or taken advantage of but were to be cared for and assisted in getting back on their own two feet; which was seen not only as beneficial to the individual but to the whole community. Nevertheless, laziness was never rewarded, its results easily recognized and prudently avoided. ( Proverbs 10:4,20:4 & 18:9; Ecclesiastes 10:18; Jeremiah 48:10)
A common theme found in both Testaments of the Bible is one of taking full advantage of the opportunities that come our way; the idea that anything worth doing is worth doing well. (Including such mundane things as housework, homework, and our daily witness.) “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might,…” Ecclesiastes 9:10 Christianity elevating this Old Testament admonition to, “Whatever you do – whether in word or deed – do it all for the glory of God, in the name of the Lord Jesus,…” 1 Corinthians 10:31 & Colossians 3:17 Paul, addressing himself to slaves but certainly applicable to those who voluntarily work for a living further instructs, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” Colossians 3:23 This reflected the social goals of the early church which mirrored Jewish teaching on self-reliance and dependability by, “Mak(ing) it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your hands,… so that your daily life will win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” 1 Thessalonians 4:11 (See also 1 Thessalonians 5:12)
Paul calls us God’s “fellow workers.” ( 1 Corinthians 3:9) As such, we need to present ourselves to Him and those about us as workmen and women properly prepared and thoroughly equipped for the job at hand; unashamed of who we are and bringing no shame to Whom we serve. ( 2 Timothy 2:15 & 3:17)
"God's Words For US" from
Jesus' NamesRead Article »
Fred Price - married (49 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
Receive the newest devotional each week in your inbox by joining the "Point of Reference" subscription list. Enter your email address below, click "Go!" and we will send you a confirmation email. Follow the instructions in the email to confirm your addition to this list.