In this article we are going to look at the doctrine of work. It’s another cog in the Biblical economics wheel. It is important. But unfortunately the doctrine of work has been lost among the Protestant church in the last 50 years. We tend to become all clammy when we hear something about work as we falsely associate work in general and the doctrine of salvation by works. Nothing in this talk implies a theology of salvation by works. We were once dead in our sins and transgressions, not sick. We were once a field or sack of lifeless bones. Then Christ died for us. He redeemed us through His blood. Friends we could not even see the kingdom of heaven before being born again. The Holy Spirit removes our hearts of stone and gives us a new one of flesh whereupon the Law of God is written. As a new creation we repent and seek to faithfully obey our new King in every area of life. This talk deals with how we are to live as Christians.
Don't work, don't eat
God has a high view of work. A hard, diligent work ethic is a very important component of the essence of man, vital to family life and a major building block for civilisations. There is a text known as the most feared passage for any and every liberal, socialist Christian. That text is 2 Thessalonians 3:10-11. “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.” I want this text to be anchored in your minds as we go through the gospel and work. This passage surmises the Biblical, Protestant work ethic. Work ladies and gentlemen is fundamental to economics. Remember what the term economics means? It is the household law or management. Who does what, how wealth is accumulated, saved and spent is important. All of this is tied up in work or labor. Thus work is integral to every household. It is the bedrock of of stewardship.
The goodness of work
A false view of work has crept into Protestant circles. Latte Christianity is prevalent in my part of the world. A type of Christianity that is all about conversation with next to no view of working hard to pass on an inheritance and disciple the nations to obey all of Christ’s commands. This view is neither Biblical nor helpful for our selves, families, churches, communities, nations or civilisations. It is anaemic view of work that has arisen from a hyper-sensitivity towards man centred, works based, salvation; and perhaps a forgetting of the creation/fall order in Genesis.
There are four essential aspects to work that are crucial in any discussion of Christian family economics:
- We work to fulfil our human purpose before God;
- We work to advance the kingdom of God in the world, the cultural mandate;
- We work so that we and our families will lack nothing for living;
- We work so that we can support others who are unable to support themselves - acts 20:35. We labour so that we can give rather than receive.
Fulfilling our human purpose
When trying to understand theology or a Biblical concept it is important to go back to the beginning. The book of Genesis lays down the foundations or framework for the Christian work ethic. The doctrine of work is very important and we need to recapture it. Firstly, work was not the result of sin. Genesis 1:26-28; “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that crept upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”
You will notice that God did not create Adam and Eve to sit on their angelic proverbials all day sucking juice from low lying fruit and frolicking with the animals…all the while worshipping God in some ethereal gnostic manner. No, they were not the first socialists living entirely off someone else’s wealth and labor. As you know Adam and Eve were to tend, protect and extend the Garden. They were to be fruitful, multiply and take dominion over the entire earth. They were to go out and work hard in the garden and throughout the world that God had created. In other words man, as God’s image, was to imitate or image Him. God was the first or ultimate creator or worker or labourer. In His work God first created the framework or the major infrastructure. In the first three days He created and divided the light from the darkness, the firmaments to separate the waters above from those below, He then separated the waters and earth, the grasses and seed bearing plants. In those first three days God created ex-nihilo and then in the pursuing three days further ordered and filled the framework. He filled it with beauty and diversity. Man, the image of God was to copy this process. Man as the image bearer of God was given distinct roles and responsibilities. He was created male and female with diverse roles and associated responsibilities. The man was to go out and subdue the wild creation. He was to use the machete and explore the ends of the earth, subduing it to the glory of his Creator King. Adam was to chop his way through the wild unexplored jungles. His wife, the woman was there specifically to be his helper. She was to tend the garden. In other words she was to beautify or fill the framework that the man created.
Thus work is good. It was certainly present prior to the fall. Man was to copy God. He was to work as God worked and the work was to be extensive and intricate. He was to conquer the jungle and she was turn the conquered land into a beautiful garden. We work to fulfil our human purpose before God. Paul highlights this in Ephesians 2. We know verses 8-9 pretty well, but we often forget verse 10. As Paul says; “8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
Advancing the Kingdom of God (taking dominion)
As a man good stewardship is not doing all of the work yourself. Even if you think you can do a better job or get it done quicker. You cannot and will not. The woman was created to be the man’s helper. In other words men, we are incapable being fruitful, multiplying and taking dominion all by ourselves. Just think about that for a sec!
Let’s quickly jump to Genesis 1 and 2 to draw out some crucial facts about how the Kingdom is advanced. Every time God creates He pronounces a benediction, a blessing. God creates and then pronounces what He has created good. Then at the end of His week’s work He pronounces a final double benediction, a double blessing, on all things He created. Everything is very good. In Genesis 2 we get to go over the creation account and fill in some detail. It is not a second account but rather and filling in some detail of the creation account in Genesis 1. We read of 7 blessings or benedictions in Genesis 1. But in Genesis 2 and verse 18 we read the first malediction in the entire Bible. There is one thing that is not good in the process of creation. God identifies one thing as not good. There is one thing that is in need of modification. Genesis 2:18 says; “And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.” The word meet ought to me translated comparable. God makes the heavens and the earth, He then fills them up with good things. And His creational apex is the making of man in His own image and likeness. But when God makes Adam, which means earth, He takes Him to study and name all the animals. This process was not simply look there’s a thing with a large neck, let me call it giraffe. Naming the creatures was an act of dominion. Adam was being shown how to take dominion over the earth by God. He was to work hard to subdue all to God’s glory. Within in this dominion task Adam was seeking a companion comparable to himself. A companion who will help him in his work. One who would be able to multiply with him and shape creation through creativity, hard work and ingenuity unto the glory of the King. However, not one of the animals were suitable for the position of vice regent to the first man. Thus God pronounced the first malediction. It is not good for man to be alone.
Again, for all you men: God says that you are incapable of fulfilling the dominion mandate without a companion to help you. No matter how manly you are you cannot be fruitful, multiply and subdue the earth without woman. God knew Adam needed a helper before the naming event. Why? God knows all things and He has made man in His image and likeness. God is triune, He is the three in one. Thus God has always been in community. There has never been a time in all eternity wherein God was bored or lonely. The other aspect that we must pick up here is that when we look back through the creation of man through the lens of the gospel we are seeing part the first glimpses of the relationship between Christ and His church. God has determined that His Son needs a helper, a bride who can go out into the nations of the world, His inheritance, and disciple them in all the commandments of God. So, creation is important. The first malediction is important. It shows us that woman, the fire, is made for man. She is made to be his helper in the dominion mandate. Man is made to go out into the jungle and conquer it. His desire is to take the creation head on and subdue it. The woman has the glorious role of helping the man in doing this. Her emphasis is on tending the garden. She is the one who turns his subdued raw earth into a beautiful, fruitful garden. The roles and associated responsibilities are different but complimentary. Both are vital in fulfilling the dominion mandate, which is restated in the Great Commission and in Jesus’ words “seek first the kingdom of heaven.” Work plays a central role in all of this. We are created to work. Man and woman are workers by design. It is absurd to think that there is something wrong with work, even hard work.
The Kingdom of God has been established. I discussed and established that fact in talk one. Our works do not save us nor do they establish the Kingdom. But because the Kingdom was established and Jesus is the new High King over all of the world we are commissioned to go out and disciple the nations. Because Jesus conquered Satan, sin and death His bride can transform the nations into obedient, God honouring countries. And the normal discipleship pattern throughout the Scriptures is none other than household by household, with all the households getting together as a big household each Lords Day to worship the new and reigning King together as one body.
Texts in Acts that establishes the household discipleship model
Lydia and her household are evangelised, discipled and baptised. Everything that the household does is to further the kingdom of God. Acts 16:12-15; “12 And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony: and we were in that city abiding certain days. 13 And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither. 14 And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. 15 And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.”
The Phillipian jailer went through the same process; Acts 16:25-34; “25 And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. 26 And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed. 27 And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. 29 Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, 30 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? 31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. 32 And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. 34 And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.”
Friends, God ordinarily works via households. Yes, individuals come to salvation through God sovereignly raising them from the dead and giving them a new heart. And a major pattern we read in Scripture is household discipleship. God uses households to advance His kingdom through the world. And all households are to be part of local churches, which are essentially local multiple households gathering for worship, sacraments and the exercise of discipline. Thus, households are important. Remember that economics is household rule. The rule or household economics is very important in faithfully and successfully advancing the kingdom of God. This is the essence of the dominion mandate: seek first the kingdom of heaven and disciple all the nations to obey everything Jesus has commanded. We primarily do this in our homes, around our dining tables and in our lounges.
The third thing to consider under the gospel and work is that we work so that we and our families will lack nothing for living. Men, this is particularly relevant to us. One of our purposes in working is to provide all of the physical needs of our families. We cannot claim to be Christians and then not provide for our household. Not providing our family needs on any theological or philosophical grounds is simply sinful. God commands us to work, work hard so that we can provide what our family needs.
In 1 Timothy 5:8 Paul says it this way; “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.” Men, if you do not provide your family’s needs you are behaving worse than an unbeliever. If you are a man and you have a household, a family. You need to work in order to provide for them. Note that Paul assigns this responsibility to the husband, to the man in the house. It is his responsibility to ensure that the household needs are met. And if the household needs are not met Paul tells us that that man “hath denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.” A husband’s primary responsibility of providing for his family is interlinked with his work. You do not provide for your family through slothfulness or simply not working and waiting for manner from the social security system. In fact, Paul says that such a life philosophy is akin to denying the faith. Work friends is serious, it is a central part to ordinary Christian lives. It is so important that refusing to provide for your household is like living or behaving as an unbeliever. Friends, Paul destroys the Gnostic heresy. He does not allow the false dichotomy between spiritual and physical things.
We need to consider slothfulness for a minute. There are so many places in the Bible that deals with work and slothfulness; I clearly won’t have time to conduct an extensive study for you.
It is always important to go back to the beginning when considering an area of study. Genesis is vital to our understanding of work. I have already spoken about how work was not a result of the fall. Work was not a result of the fall, but neither was hard work. The sweat of the brow as part of the curse in Genesis 3 tells us that our work will be frustrating and even harder. God is not saying that Adam had it easy before and extremely difficult after the fall. Adam would have worked hard in the Garden, he would have raised a sweat. The fall brings more toil and hardship. Yes, the earth became even more difficult to work with. Thorns and thistles make for frustration and hardship in growing what we need to eat. But let’s be clear, God has always intended man to work hard and long. Our work is to pattern the work of the Creator. He worked 6 days and rested on the 7th day; we are to imitate this godly work ethic. Note there is no indication of an 8 hour day or a 40 hour week. God worked 6 and rested 1 day. We are to do the same. This does not mean that our employment is our only work. We work with our families, discipling our children is part of our work. But we are work 6 and rest 1. The 7th is a day of restful worship and works of mercy and charity. And friends, it is this diligent, hard work ethic that has built western civilisation. Failing to work 6 days and rest 1 is simply slothfulness.
Next, lets do a very quick overview to see the link between slothfulness or poverty and not being able to provide for one’s own family. Remember God works covenantally. In Deuteronomy 28-29 the Scriptures declare that He blesses obedience and curses disobedience. Our actions have consequences. Now, slothfulness in the book of Proverbs: Proverbs 10:4-5, 22 & 26; ”4 He who has a slack hand becomes poor, But the hand of the diligent makes rich. 5 He who gathers in summer is a wise son; He who sleeps in harvest is a son who causes shame...22 The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, And He adds no sorrow with it...26 As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, So is the lazy man to those who send him." Proverbs 13:4; “4 The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat.” Proverbs 14:23-24; ”23 In all labor there is profit, But idle chatter leads only to poverty. 24 The crown of the wise is their riches, But the foolishness of fools is folly." Proverbs 18:9-12; ”9 He who is slothful in his work Is a brother to him who is a great destroyer. 10 The name of the Lord is a strong tower; The righteous run to it and are safe. 11 The rich man’s wealth is his strong city, And like a high wall in his own esteem. 12 Before destruction the heart of a man is haughty, And before honor is humility." Proverbs 22:13; “13 The slothful man saith, There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets.” The sloth lies and shouts there is a lion outside, there is great danger outside. Therefore, I will not work!
Proverbs 24:33-34; “33 Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: 34 So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man.” This is a repeat of Proverbs 6:10-11. When God repeats something it is important. Note that just a little sleep in, just a little more rest and slumber and your poverty will come like an armed man robbing you; unexpectantly and quickly. Slothfulness is directly linked with God’s judgment. God is not slothful. He worked 6 days and rested 1 and expects His image bearers to imitate this pattern. There is no room for slothfulness in God’s economy or household rule.
We also find many lessons on slothfulness in the Gospels too. Here is one example. Matthew 25:24-30; “24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: 25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. 26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: 27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. 28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. 29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. 30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The unfaithful servant is the one who fails to work diligently with what His master has given him. We are to work hard for increase and profitability.
Then of course the text that I asked to be front of your minds, 2 Thessalonians 3:10; “10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.”
Thus we have seen that work was not a result of the fall. The curse brought sweat not work. We are created to work, indeed we are commanded to work to provide for ourselves and our families. If we will not work we should suffer the consequences of that sinful decision. Work is part of the essence of being man and is fundamental to our living within the economy of God. Slothfulness is not permitted and is counted as unbelief and unfaithfulness.
You may be sitting there and thinking that this all sounds so self and family centred. Where is the charity towards others that Christians are so well known for. We work to fulfil our human purpose, to further the kingdom of God, to provide for our and our families needs. And we work so that we can support others who are unable to support themselves (Acts 20:35). We labour so that we can give rather than simply receive. As it says in Acts 20:35; “35 I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
This concept of charity and giving rather than receiving comes from the very beginning. God is the creator who freely shares the fruit of His labor with us. He is the one who makes us stewards or managers of His creation. All good things come from Him. He is the ultimate giver and supporter. So we get the idea from creation. We also clearly see the concept of giving to others in redemption accomplished. God did not have to redeem anyone. He did not need to pay the price for His people. Sin separates us from communion with God and He could have simply sent judgment. But He did not. God incarnated Himself and Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for our sins. This is the ultimate and highest act of giving. God paid dearly for our salvation and He gives it to us freely. There is nothing we can do to accomplish salvation. All of our works are as filthy rags before Him without the redemption accomplished by Christ being applied to us. We were dead in our sins and trespasses; lying in self made graves. Jesus brought resurrection from the dead to us through the Holy Spirit giving us a new heart. So, we see the ultimate act of giving in the death of Jesus to redeem His people.
There are a three categories of giving relevant to family economics that I want to touch on briefly: (1) giving to the church; (2) giving in taxes; (3) giving to the those who can’t provide for themselves. I will not cover these extensively; but they are crucial areas under the heading of supporting others.
Giving to the church The tithe is a dirty word in many churches across the world. I’m sure it’s the same here in New Zealand. We have studied the importance of private property and free markets. We have even said these are bedrocks for thriving, Christian households. What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours. These are important principles to bring into the whole discussion on giving. Firstly, the tithe is not something that disappears in the New Testament. In Matthew 23:23-24 Jesus says this; “23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. 24 Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” Note that Jesus’ criticism is not of the tithe per se, it’s that the Pharisees neglected the weighted matters of the law. Jesus says they should be tithing and they should not be neglecting justice, mercy and faith. Likewise we are pay a tithe to our local church. This tithe is to pay the minister and fund the kingdom advancing activities associated with the church. Our giving to the church is to be a minimum of 10% of our increase. It is a giving. We are to freely give of the increase that God has given us. All things belong to God and we are give to the building of His church through giving back to Him 10% of our increase. I believe the increase referred to in Deuteronomy 14 is that which you get to take home after tax. It is your increase, your net gain so to speak. Deuteronomy 14:22; ““You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year.” This tithe giving is mandated by God. It is an important consideration in your family’s economy.
Taxation is a prolonged discussion that really deserves an entire paper. Taxes are not in and of themselves evil. God has installed governors or governments over us to rule in their sphere of sovereignty. It is important to make a few cursory observations here. Governments are to be discipled just like all other vocations. We are thus to disciple our governments, at every level, to obey everything that Jesus commanded. This is important. We live in times wherein socialism is the political ideology of choice. This political philosophy gives unbridled power and authority to governments. They own the land, means of production and everything in between. This is simply ungodly. Scripture limits the civil government’s authority and power. God’s Word gives the civil government sovereignty over areas like defending the borders from invasion, defending the weak through Biblical judicial process, systems and structures and a few other areas. The civil government has been limited by God to these areas. What we have seen over the course of a number of decades is the rise of the messianic state; who feeds, clothes and redistributes vast sums of wealth to all her loyal subjects. This not what Biblical taxation is about. I don't have the time to give you an in-depth study. But will make these remarks: the civil magistrate must have the funds to fulfil her Biblical duties and the tax ought not to exceed the tithe given to God. Finally, tax should never ever take so much away from a family that it drives that family into poverty. The right to civil disobedience comes when the civil magistrate denies my God given right to work and provide for my family.
Giving to the poor
So what about the poor? This is another enormous study.
Please have this article's base text in the back of your minds. If someone doesn’t work he shouldn’t eat. This is for able bodied people. The physical needs of those who cannot work due to illness and disability are to be taken care of by their families or if the family cannot, the church. There are legitimate widows who are fully funded by the church when they meet the criteria laid out in 1 Timothy 3:3-16. Now, let’s have a quick discussion on the poor. Should we simply throw money at the poor through giving via a children’s ministry type arrangement. I think we ought to every careful and consider things before just sending money to a child in Africa. Firstly, we have spoken about how work is an integral part of fulfilling our human purpose. God’s Law had provisions for the poor in the agrarian society into which those Laws were spoken. Every farmer had to allow the poor to glean their fields after harvest. No one was permitted to totally harvest their crops. The poor came behind the harvesters and worked hard in gleaning the fields to provide for themselves and families. This is important. Our giving to the poor must not feed the beast. It must not feed a socialist government or slothfulness. It must be done in such a way to uphold the dignity of the poor. This does not mean we ignore the poor. We give and we disciple people out of their poverty. Also, we must consider that provision within a household is the responsibility of the head of that household. We ought not bi-pass the head of the household to give to those under his or her care. This attacks the very heart of family structure and order. Part of our family economics is to give to the poor and our giving should honour the parents of the receiving household.
As Christians we must recognise that every type of work or vocation is a calling by God. Vocation’s root word is the latin “voco,” to call. Therefore every vocation is the calling of God and is gospel ministry in and of itself. Your work, whether it’s a home mother, businessman, plumber, farmer or anything else, is the divine calling of God and you are called to be faithful as a royal priest and king in that calling. Next time some one ask if you are in full time ministry you ought to answer, yes, I’m a father or mother or farmer.
Let’s apply this a little more to the family. Our families need vision. Proverbs 29:18; “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” Our families need strong economists or managers/stewards. Fathers and mothers make work fun with and for your children and follow God’s pattern that hard, diligent and productive work produces a blessing, a reward. Whereas slothfulness produces poverty and want. This doesn’t mean all work around the home is to be paid. Some tasks are part of the division of labor to ensure the efficient and godly management of the household and others are over and above that. The over and above chores should come with associated rewards for timely, accurate and good work completed. Every family needs to work through how the principles we have studies apply in their particular situation. The important instil in your children the goodness and necessity of work; and that all vocations are important to God.
Leadership is vital to setting the family direction. At its core our family vision must be about making manifest the reign and rule of Christ in our homes and all spheres that we have influence in. The Garden was on a mountain, a place of worship. Adam & Eve were to obey God and go out to subdue the whole earth to the glory of God. Two people and the whole world. Wow, what a vision. But it started in the home, the place of worship. In the NT this shifts, our taking dominion starts on the first day of the week at corporate worship, in church. If you want productive, world conquering children instil in them a love to worship the Living God on the Lord’s Day with their extended family. Instil in them the importance of how the war waged from Monday through Saturday is won by faithful worship on Sunday.
Find the whole series of articles here: http://www.reformedresources.com.au/index.php/component/tags/tag/55-biblicaleconomics-101
Trevlyn McCallum presented this mini-series on Biblical Family Economics at a home education conference in Palmerston North New Zealand, 6-7 November 2015.
- The gospel of the kingdom
- The gospel and wealth
- The gospel and work
- The gospel and family economics
The audio for this mini series is available for free below. It is an introduction to Biblical Economics that gives you the Biblical worldview framework to examine your household rule or stewardship.