Monday 19 September 2016

The Dignity of Hard Work

"Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. 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 ...".(Deuteronomy 5:12–14).

"Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man".
(Proverbs 6:6–11).

This may seem like an unusual blog post, but I believe that it is an important one. Within Protestant Christianity there has been historically what was known as the "Protestant work ethic" and it is shaped by such verses as I have cited. There is dignity in work and especially in hard work. The small creature the ant is esteemed in Scripture as a noble part of Creation, due to its diligence, hard work, orderliness and preparation. We are to learn from this example and we as Christian people are to shun laziness.

The working week is shaped by Scripture in that we are to rest one day and worship the Lord and the other six days are for work. Therefore, in the sight of God, work is esteemed as a dignified task. Work is not to be shunned and indeed if we do all things to the glory of God, then our working life should reflect this. Our contemporary Western society rarely esteems the work that we do, unless it provides large amounts of income, so that we can spend it on ourselves for leisure and pleasure.

Another point to be considered is that in many Christian circles today, the idea of vocation has been virtually lost. What do I mean by this? Our vocation is our job or career and sadly many talk today about "our secular job" which then inserts an unnatural sacred-secular divide. Some professing Christians wrongly think that Christian activities are more holy than our vocation. I learned a number of years ago to drop the phrase "what is your secular job?". I did this deliberately to shun the idea that a Christian's job is somehow lacking in nobility, it is not. For example if a Christian does a mission trip, this is commonly seen as more holy, than someone working hard in their regular job. Another example is among Christian university students who may be exhorted to forsake studying hard, to give all of their time to the Christian society on the campus.

As Christians who are committed to the Bible and shaped by it, we should seek a biblical model of hard work. I do not say that we should not have work-life balance which is indeed very important. However, our approach to work and indeed hard work, should be shaped by Scripture and this may require our minds to be renewed, our attitudes to be changed and our life-patterns to be changed.

For those who know what "hipsters" are, there are many in Berlin. A German friend said to me recently that the "hipsters wear their grand-dad's clothes, but they do not have grand-dad's work ethic". The idea of hanging out endlessly in coffee shops, drinking real coffee and playing on your Apple with social media, may be trendy, but in the end is this life-pattern going to produce satisfaction? A Biblical model to life should include hard work as well as rest as a God-given means of satisfaction and in living our life for the glory of God.

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