Get Renew.org Weekly Emails

Want fresh teachings and disciple making content? Sign up to receive a weekly newsletters highlighting our resources and new content to help equip you in your disciple making journey. We’ll also send you emails with other equipping resources from time to time.

What Does the Bible Say About Work? 10 Truths

What does the Bible say about work? That depends on where you flip to. The entrepreneurial and successful “Proverbs 31 woman” has a very different relationship to work than the demon-possessed, fortune-telling slave girl of Acts 16. The sluggard will need one set of verses, while the workaholic will need another. Because the question takes a multifaceted answer, here are 10 truths about work according to the Bible.

1. Work can be good.

In the Bible’s first chapter, God is at work creating and filling the heavens and the earth. After creating this or that, the refrain is always the same: “God saw that it was good” (Gen. 1:4, 9, 12, 18, 21, 25). God stepped back and “saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). God and his Son continue to work (John 5:17), and reflective people continue to marvel at their works (Psalm 8:3). After putting the finishing touches on his creation in Genesis 1, in the next chapter, God places his human image bearers into a garden he created, telling them to “work it and take care of it” (Gen. 2:15).

Even after humanity stumbled into sin, the Bible would continue to depict work as being a very good thing—and not just the spiritual kind. Jesus spent years as a Galilean carpenter. Paul regularly made tents. Peter, Andrew, James, and John were fishermen, an occupation that prepared them to “fish for people” (Luke 5:10). Many of Jesus’ parables depicted hard work in a positive light, even risk-taking entrepreneurship (see Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25).

The language of work plays a big part in the spread of the gospel. Paul was constantly commending his “co-workers” in his letters (e.g., Rom. 16:3, 6, 9, 12, 21). We too are God’s “co-workers” (1 Cor. 3:9). Part of making the gospel attractive to our nonbelieving neighbors is to “lead a quiet life . . . mind your own business and work with your hands” (1 Thess. 4:11).

In all these ways, work is a gift from God.


What does the Bible say about work? “God and his Son continue to work, and reflective people continue to marvel at their works.”


2. Work can’t be everything.

Immediately after showing us how good work is, God models that work can’t be everything. On the seventh day, God rested (Gen. 2:2-3), setting the seventh day apart as a Sabbath day on which his people would rest from their labors (Ex. 20:8-11). Other holy days of the year would also need to be set aside from work, for example, on the Festival of Weeks (Lev. 23:15-21), the Festival of Trumpets (Lev. 23:23-25), the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:26-32), the first and last day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Lev. 23:4-8), and the first and last day of the Festival of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:33-36).

Although it can feel right and look impressive to stay busy all the time, such a life becomes cluttered and unable to focus on what’s most important. The following story from Jesus’ life invites workaholics to pause and reflect on what they are missing out on in their rush to be and do everything:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)


What does the Bible say about work? “Immediately after showing us how good work is, God models that work can’t be everything.”


3. Work can be hard and feel futile.

Part of the fall of humanity into sin was that work would become much harder. God told Adam,

“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:17-19).

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon observes the “grief and pain” that can accompany work (2:23), the eventual futility of a person’s achievements as he returns to the dust from which he came (2:11; 3:22)


What does the Bible say about work? “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.”


4. Work can be corrupt and exploitive.

Before leaving Genesis, we see heartbreaking examples of work turning dark. We see prostitution becoming a cultural norm (see Gen. 38). We see a shrewd uncle taking advantage of his nephew’s work (Gen. 29-31). We see a young man sold into slavery by his jealous brothers (Gen. 37) and the slave taken advantage of through deception and neglect (Gen. 39-40). By the beginning of Exodus, an entire people group has become another people’s slaves.

Because of this tendency toward corruption and exploitation, the Jewish law puts into place various laws; for example, they were forbidden from holding back wages overnight (Lev. 19:13), taking advantage of a poor hired worker (Deut. 24:14), or keeping Israelite slaves except as hired workers (Lev. 25:39-43). Writers in both Old and New Testaments denounce the injustice they see toward the poor and needy, often in lopsided work arrangements (e.g., Malachi 3:5; James 5:4).

5. Work can be beautiful and lasting.

Two places in the Bible where work gets a lot of mention are when the Israelites are building the tabernacle (e.g., Ex. 26-40) and building the temple (e.g., 1 Kings 5-7). In both cases, skilled workers use quality materials to create structures of beauty and majesty. God’s works are glorious and lasting; as Psalm 145:4 puts it, “One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.” In the same way, good and beautiful work can endure beyond us. This matches with the psalmist’s prayer “May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands” (Ps. 90:17).

6. Work can bring purpose.

Work can make a person feel like a machine cog, especially if it’s an ill fit or an unfair arrangement. Ideally, though, work gives a person some needed purpose (without it becoming their identity). I’ve had people tell me that they’ve seen the biggest cognitive decline in elderly people when they give up meaningful work and stop contributing. In the context of our faith, we are saved in order to do good works (Eph. 2:8-10), and I am deeply grateful for the purpose God continues to give me in the form of work which glorifies him and helps people.

In the New Testament especially, we see people specially gifted for particular types of work which bless the church in some unique way (see Rom. 12:3-7; 1 Cor. 12). As Ephesians 4:16 puts it, “From him [Jesus] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Discovering and using our unique giftings helps us fine-tune our purpose. We can begin to say, “Oh, that’s why God made me good at . . . That’s why he allowed that event to happen in my life . . . That’s why he placed me here . . .”


What does the Bible say about work? “In the New Testament especially, we see people specially gifted for particular types of work which bless the church in some unique way.”


7. Work can be idolatrous.

Although we ought to do good with and be grateful for work, work can become its own pursuit, diverging away from the loop of receiving from and giving back to God. Mesmerized by our accomplishments, we easily fixate on the “work of our hands” and begin to fashion them into idols. The more we view these accomplishments as work of our hands (instead of gifts from God), the easier they meld into monuments of self-sufficiency. Listen to the language of Demetrius the silversmith, as he warned his fellow idol makers of the threat Paul posed with the gospel he had brought to Ephesus:

“He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited.” (Acts 19:26b-27a)

Wherever the gospel goes, there will be conflict between God and the gods. We are naïve if we think that work-related idolatry is a thing of the ancient past and not something the gospel challenges in our time and place today. Any occupation, secular or saintly, offers opportunities for fashioning idols from the work of our hands.


What does the Bible say about work? “Work can become its own pursuit, diverging away from the loop of receiving from and giving back to God.”


8. Work can bring blessing.

It’s easy to see laziness as doing nothing, but laziness can actually do a lot to corrupt a person, their family, and a society. As Proverbs 18:9 puts it, “One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys.” On the other hand, diligent work can be a huge blessing for a person, a family, and a society. Many proverbs tell us this, and one example is Proverbs 14:23: “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” Scripture is clear that hard work deserves compensation, whether it be jobs outside or inside the church (see 1 Tim. 5:17-18; 1 Cor. 9:6). Hard work also deserves acknowledgment (1 Thess. 5:12-13).

9. Work can be restorative.

Work is also mentioned a lot in the Old Testament books Ezra and Nehemiah, which narrate the return of Jews to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple. In a broken world, work can be a way we rebuild and bring restoration. In Acts 20:35, Paul described work as a way of helping the less fortunate: “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Useful work is also restorative for people who are accustomed to taking advantage of others: “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need” (Eph. 4:28).


What does the Bible say about work? “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”


10. Work can be worshipful.

Colossians 3:23 says it all: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”

Get Renew.org Weekly Emails

Want fresh teachings and disciple making content? Sign up to receive a weekly newsletters highlighting our resources and new content to help equip you in your disciple making journey. We’ll also send you emails with other equipping resources from time to time.

You Might Also Like

Does Science Put God out of a Job?

Does Science Put God out of a Job?

One of my favorite movies is Nacho Libre, starring Jack Black as a Mexican monk who becomes a champion wrestler. Although Nacho is a devout Catholic, his wrestling partner “Esqueleto” is a skeptic. Before a wrestling match against an intimidating duo, Nacho tells Esqueleto, “Pray to the Lord for strength,” to which Esqueleto responds, “I […]

More
Depending on Jesus

Depending on Jesus

“Man–despite his artistic pretensions, his sophistication, and his many accomplishments–owes his existence to a six- inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains.” —Paul Harvey Do you ever find yourself caught in a tug of war between dependence on God and self-sufficiency? Maybe you’re there now. You know it is God who has […]

More