The Bible and the Puritans on Work

Work is hard.  This is the universal experience of every human being who works after the fall – except for those people who make a living reviewing luxury hotels.  Genesis 3:19 shows us that difficult work is the result of the fall: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” But it wasn’t always this way.  Work itself is not the result of the fall.  Before the fall, God said in Genesis 2:15, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Work is a creation ordinance like marriage that God intended for our good.  In work, we imitate God who worked for six days and rested on the seventh.

Our work is not just work for work’s sake, but a calling from God: “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (1 Cor 7:17). God calls us to be faithful in our vocation as we work for God’s glory, not just our wealth.  Even if we are a slave, our work is valuable in the sight of God: “rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free” (Eph 6:7-8).  Because work is a God-ordained means of bringing him glory and sanctifying his children, God will judge unjust employers who exploit their employees: “Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts” (Jam 5:4).

Money is not evil in and of itself.  In fact, God is the one who gives wealth: “Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all” (1 Chron 29:12).  1 Samuel 2:7 and Deuteronomy 8:18 affirm the same truth: “The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts” and “You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.”  It is the sinful craving after wealth so we can spend it on ourselves that God hates, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (Jam 4:3).  1 Timothy 6:10 says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”  Making wealth an idol misses the entire point of work since work was created for glorifying God: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).  We are to use our wealth to help others and for the advancement of God’s kingdom as Ephesians 4:28 says, “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.”

All legitimate work is good work because it is a preparation for service in heaven.  Service and work will exist in eternity future as Revelation 7:15 says, “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.”  Even what we consider to be “menial” work is honored in the sight of God because it is both a preparation for heaven and blessed by God who wants us to imitate him.  Jesus was a carpenter and so blessed hard labor by his example.  Jesus was a perfect worker who always gave God glory in his working.  Jesus, unlike Adam, was a perfect worker for God’s kingdom.  Jesus was a perfect employee who never disobeyed and so gave us a model to imitate.  He never kept back his hands from hard work or the nails of the cross.  He gave his back to hard labor and to the whip.

The Puritans had much to say on work and I will leave you with some of my favorite quotes:

Richard Baxter:

If God show you a way in which you may lawfully get more than in another way (without wrong to your soul or to any other), if you refuse this, and choose the less gainful way, you cross one of the ends of your calling, and you refuse to be God’s steward, and to accept His gifts and use them for Him, when He requireth it: you may labour to be rich for God, though not for the flesh and sin.

Poverty also hath its temptations. . . . For even the poor may be undone by the love of that wealth and plenty which they never get: and they may perish for over-loving the world, that never yet prospered in the world.

William Perkins:

The end of a man’s calling is not to gather riches for himself . . . but to serve God in the serving of man, and in the seeking the good of all men.

We must so use and possess the goods we have, that the use and possession of them may tend to God’s glory, and the salvation of our souls. . . . Our riches must be employed to necessary uses. These are first, the maintenance of our own good estate and condition. Secondly, the good of others, specially those that are of our family or kindred. . . . Thirdly, the relief of the poor. . . . Fourthly, the maintenance of the church of God, and true religion. . . . Fifth, the maintenance of the Commonwealth.

Thomas Watson:

Poverty works for good to God’s children. It starves their lusts. It increases their graces. “Poor in the world, rich in faith” (Jam 2:5). Poverty tends to prayer. When God has clipped his children’s wings by poverty, they fly swiftest to the throne of grace.

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