Thoughts from Doug Knox.
God and the Work Ethic
Background reading: Ephesians 1
My Father’s Work Ethic
My father taught me my work ethic. He never said a word. Instead, he taught by example. During my grade school years in the 1950’s and early 60’s, Dad worked. In the mornings, he was awake before I was, and usually out the door by the time I came down from my bedroom. When the days shortened, he would come home in the dark.
He worked long hours at blue collar jobs, often piling on two or three jobs at one time. He would come home exhausted, and in the evenings fall asleep while watching television. Mom would have to wake him up to send him to bed.
I admired my father for a lot of qualities, but one of his chief sources for my admiration was his work ethic. Through his example I learned the value of work. Don’t get me wrong. I nursed a lazy streak in my younger years, but it did not come from Dad.
The Work Ethic and the Bible
Many of us have heard sermons or lessons on the work ethic. They teach—rightly—that God created work. He ordained work in the Garden of Eden at the creation. “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). From the beginning, work has been a gift from God.
Even after Adam brought a curse to the ground, the work ethic survived. Cain, Adam and Eve’s first son, became a master farmer. We know him for the first murder in world history, but we need to step back to see the bigger picture.
Both Cain and Abel offered sacrifices to the LORD, but the LORD rejected Cain’s because it missed the redemptive aspects of the sacrifice. Cain gave his best. When the LORD rejected it, he could not understand the theological reasons behind the rejection. He saw only the spurning of his work.
Work and Satisfaction
In its purest form, work brings a sense of satisfaction through the accomplishment of difficult tasks. Men who immerse themselves in their hobbies understand this. My landlord, for example, races cars. His long project involves a Mustang that he has converted into a dragster. It has a metallic charcoal gray finish that practically brought tears to my eyes the first time I saw it.
Another man I know is a master woodworker. His pride and joy is a hand-built wooden wall clock. The gears are all made from wood and are as precise as any machinist’s.
My source of pride involves fossil collecting. I have spent hours cleaning and preparing them for display, not to mention poring over books in order to identify them. Once, when I showed part of my collection to a friend at church, he said, “Wow, that looks like a lot of work.”
I said, “It is,” and let the matter be. I figured that if I had to explain that part of the process to him, he had missed the picture already.
The Deeper Origin of the Work Ethic
These examples show us what the work ethic looks like. Only recently did I discover why the work ethic is so satisfying. The insight hit me last year when I was engaged on a sermon series from Ephesians. In the first chapter, Paul writes a lengthy exposition on God the Father’s role in bringing salvation to us. We usually concentrate on Jesus’ work, but in the Scripture, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each carry on unique roles in our salvation.
Paul introduces the Father’s work in Ephesians 1:3. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places….”
In the original language, verses 3-14 form a single sentence. The section that concerns us emerges out of verses 9-10, the theme verses of the book. It goes to the heart of the work ethic. Part of the Father’s blessing comes from the fact that he has been…
…making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time to unite all things in him, things in heaven and on earth.
Ephesians 1:9-10, emphasis added
God the Father’s Work Project
God the Father lives with a purpose, which he revealed in Christ. That purpose, according to Paul, is to bring all things in heaven and on earth into unity.
Think about the magnitude of that statement. As broken as our world is, the Father’s plan is to restore it to unity.
When God created the universe, everything was good (Genesis 1:31). He had made a perfect world and took great pleasure in his work. Almost immediately, however, the man and woman brought evil into the world and shattered the balance. For a moment, the tragedy looked irreparable.
But God would not be content to leave his work project marred. His eternal purpose was to restore all things in heaven and on earth. His history-long work project takes us through the Old Testament with the redeeming of the first couple, the calling of a people for his own possession, to Jesus and his work on the cross, to the proclamation of salvation today.
It will find its culmination in Revelation, at the end of history, when God eliminates evil from the world, and goodness reign once for all. In Revelation 21-22, the last two chapters of the Bible, John describes the new heavens and the new earth. The language rings with the language of Eden—rivers emerging from the throne, fruit for the healing of the nations, and the tree of life.
God did not give us a work ethic because he thought work would keep us occupied with our time. He gave us a work ethic as a measure of his image. He is a God who loves work and finds infinite satisfaction in it. When he created us, he instilled that satisfaction in us. Therefore, when we work, we show his imprint on our hearts.