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What Does The Bible Say About Work?

What Does The Bible Say About Work?

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There is a debate in intellectual circles about whether or how much people should work. The debate isn’t new.

Nearly a century ago the famous progressive economist John Maynard Keynes argued that we shouldn’t work so much, believing that eventually (by 2030 in his estimation) we would get to what he believed was the perfect work schedule of 15 hours per week.

Before him, Karl Marx explained how not working was a key element to achieving a perfect communist society. Keynes and Marx aren’t exactly the two influencers most of us would want to listen to, but they’re not alone.


The top three countries ranked for best work-life balance are Denmark, Spain and Belgium, according to a 2011 report. In Denmark, workers spend five to six hours per day on leisure alone. You may remember the reported French ban on work-related emails and phone calls during non-working hours (a report that wasn’t quite accurate). France’s labor unions also instituted a 35-hour work week, with a waiver being needed to exceed that.

We often think of these countries as lazy, but that’s not entirely true. They do, however, lean toward the Keynes-Marx ideal of “less work, more play.” At the same time, here in the US we have a dichotomy: a large portion of the population works 50-plus hours each week, and a large portion of the population doesn’t work at all – and lives off the government dole.

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But what does the Bible say about work?

The Original Work Week

God set the example for us to follow “in the beginning” by working for six days and resting for one. Then, “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). Like so many “good” things that He gave us and showed us, we’ve altered this to our liking and decided on our own that He didn’t rest enough.

We like to think that Adam and Eve had nothing to do all day but stroll through the garden and look at the pretty flowers, but since God made man “in our image, after our likeness” (Gen 1:26), it’s safe to assume that they were responsible for taking care of the garden, or working it. That’s what Genesis 2:15 says: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Work, you see, existed before the fall. Of course after the apple incident, work became much harder and man was to “toil” and work to feed himself “by the sweat of his brow.”

Work Hard and Enjoy It

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The Bible is clear on the fact that man was meant to work hard. The word “toil” is used repeatedly, and that doesn’t mean casually doing something. “Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot” (Eccl 15:18).

Not only are we to work hard, but we’re supposed to enjoy it and put our hearts into it, as Colossians 3:23 tells us: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” That’s a hard one for most of us, because the clear implication is that if we grumble about our work, we’re grumbling about what the Lord wants us to do.

Consequences of Laziness

If we can live off handouts, why would we work? Paul tells us in no uncertain terms that “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim 5:8). He also admonished laziness in a letter to the Thessalonians, saying, “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess 3:10).

Slacking off at work is frowned upon pretty seriously as well, according to Proverbs 18:9: “Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys.” What about people who really need welfare? They’re provided for in God’s plan, too. Several verses in Leviticus tell workers not to harvest their entire vineyard or gather the grapes that drop so that the poor can have them when they come around.

The more advanced we become technologically, the more work gets done for us by technology. In the world’s view, that’s an invitation to leisure and amusement. But always remember that the word “amusement” historically means “divert the attention, beguile, delude.” Don’t be deluded into too much leisure.

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