The Christian Doctrine
Of Work

Dateline: 17 September 2014

In This Recent Broadcast from Generations Radio, Kevin Swanson says that when the Pilgrims came to America there were no jobs. But there was a lot of work to be done. That's something to think about.

There is always work to be done, and the Bible makes it abundantly clear that God's people should be workers. The doctrine of work is clearly expressed throughout scripture.

Some Christians think that work is a curse God put on mankind in Genesis 3. That's where Adam ate the forbidden fruit. In response to Adam's sin, God declared, "By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread."  But a full reading of the passage where this happens does not indicate in any way that having to work is a curse from God...

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…

Clearly, Adam was not cursed (and all mankind after Adam was not cursed) with work itself. The ground was cursed and, as a result, the work of growing food became hard (painful toil). 

Evidently, when God originally put Adam in the garden "to tend and keep it" (Genesis 2:15), the work of tending and keeping was not toilsome. The soil produced food without weeds. I assume there were also no plant diseases, and bugs were not a problem. Imagine for a moment how wonderful that must have been!

The work of tending and keeping the garden in Genesis 2 existed before Adam's disobedience. In fact, God Himself planted the first garden in Genesis 2:8. God is a worker. We are created in His image. We are to be workers. Work is not a bad thing. Work is good.

The Christian doctrine of work is most clearly expressed in Exodus 20:9, where God says to His people: "Six days shall you labor and do all your work." 

That admonition is part of what is commonly known as the Fourth Commandment. But few people realize it is part of the 4th Commandment (if they even know what the 4th Commandment is).

The 4th Commandment is more commonly expressed as, "Remember The sabbath, to keep it holy." While it is, of course, important to remember the sabbath and keep it holy, it is equally important to work six days. Why is the six days of work part of the Commandment left out? 

The commandment to work six days and observe the sabbath on the seventh was modeled by God Himself when he created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh. 

Here are a couple New Testament Bible verses that speak of the doctrine of work:

For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If any one will not work, let him not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work in quietness and to earn their own living. (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12)

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)

You will be hard pressed to find a Christian doctrine of sports, or entertainment, or amusement. And the whole modern concept of retirement is also not found in the Bible. But the doctrine of work is there. Six days of it. 

Six days of work, a day of rest. Six days of work, a day of rest. Six days of work, a day of rest. That's the biblical doctrine of work.

Also, notice that in the verse above, the apostle Paul says that Christians should work with their hands. This implies physical work and creative, productive work. Of course, in that agrarian age (before electricity and the internal combustion engine) most work was physical. And gardening— the fundamental calling of all mankind—is certainly physical. But I'm sure there were some jobs in that day that did not require manual work. Paul advised against such jobs.

Now, I'm sure that there are some people reading this who are thinking that a person can go overboard with work. I mean, too much work isn't good, right? There has to be a balance, right?

Well, working six days out of seven is not balanced. But that's what God says in the 4th Commandment, right?

That said, Christians are certainly not called to be working machines, toiling at physically hard work from sunup to sundown. We obviously have other responsibilities besides working six days of the week. For example, we have responsibilities within our families—to raise our children and teach them. 

But can this be done within the paradigm of work? Sure it can. In fact, that's the way God designed families to operate… with mothers and fathers teaching their children while involving them in the daily routines of work. The work of the home (a home economy) was, after all, the cultural norm in an agrarian culture.

This way of life is, however, not the cultural norm now. These days, for a great many people, work is a job away from their families, doing things that are not creative, not truly productive, not satisfying, and barely physical. Working many hours a day in a sedentary office-job comes to mind. 

Speaking of which, I left my job as NY state employee 19 months ago. Many of my co-workers were confused about me leaving. They wondered aloud why I would want to leave a job that paid so well for doing so little. They questioned my sanity for leaving a job that offered so much security and so many benefits. Hardly anyone leaves a state job until they've put in at least 20 years (so they can get a good pension). "You gotta be crazy to leave this job," one person said to me. And I listened to stories about a couple of crazy people like me who, in years past, left the job early, then later regretted it.

If not following the industrial-world expectations about having a job is crazy, then call me crazy. I now work a whole lot harder than I ever did when I had a job. But I'm home, around my family. I'm feeling healthier than I did when I sat at a desk all day (or paced the floor like a caged animal to try and get my blood circulating). I'm far more satisfied. My garden is right next to my workshop, which is a few steps from the door of my house. It is, for me, a dream come true to live this way. To be able to work and not have a job. It is a blessing that I am so thankful for.

I hope never to retire in the modern sense of the word. I would like to grow to be a weathered and bowed old man, working with my hands, in my garden, at my home business… six days a week, until the day I die. 

I've rambled on enough here. There is much more that I could write about work, but I have work to do. I welcome your comments on this subject.


Cynthia (C.L) Lewis said...

Well said. I am in total agreement with you!

wildbillb said...

as always, great food for thought.

years ago while i was in high school i read of the small Oregon towns along the coast that were struggling with unemployment. the jist of the article was that video rentals were booming because of all the layed off loggers and mill workers (big transition in the logging/lumber mill industry). With lots of time on someones hands, why waste it watching entertainment? why not learn a new language, educate yourself with useful skills, garden? these are the things i thought of then.

your recent posting on robots is right in line with this. i can see UPS, FedEX, or even the USPS replacing 100s or 1000s of workers with self-driving cars and small drones working from those cars to deliver snail-mail. much cheaper, and addresses the huge pension expense that is bankrupting the USPS. but it puts fellow beings out of work.

as a Christian, i am looking forward to the Millenium - when Christ returns, reigns on the earth, and we have 1000 years of peace and prosperity. i believe we will all be much more back-to-the-land during this time. what will we do with 1000 years of peace? will we watch videos, or sports, or take cruises all our lives? NO! we will work at bettering ourselves, and work hard at it! to this end i'm in training while still in this life. sure, more weeds and bugs, but it is valuable (and educational). and won't it be grand when Adam's bane is lifted!

sorry so lengthy... but i like the mental exercise ;-)

Ben Richard said...

Excellent article.... Relates to things going on in my life. I to have been blessed with a great federal job. It bankrolls our modest five acre farm. I have often pondered what we could accomplish if i did not spend the majority of my time at work or driving the one hour one way commute. I have recently asked myself if god put it in my heart to quit and be full time at home would i have the faith and courage to trust that he would provide. I'd like to think so. Would i be able to give up the material things i sometimes cling to and surrender myself to him. I would hope so. I the only thing to do now is c continue to strengthen my faith and relationship with him and keep my heart and eyes open to his calling

Everett said...

Hi Herrick, This is an absolutely great post. I have been actually 'working' since I was eight years old. It was on a fishing boat and started every day about 0500. I cannot imagine a life of indolence where I sit around all day every day doing nothing to further the welfare of my family. Even at this late stage of my life 76, I have to be out of the house and doing something at least eight to ten hours a day. To sit on your butt all day playing games, imbibing in deleterious items and actions goes against everything I was taught growing up about morality,responsibility for oneself and your family.

Again Herrick a really great post. Time to get back to cleaning up the garden and getting stuff harvested.

Anonymous said...

It isn't just "work" but what kind of work we do that is important also. If our "work" is producing something which is unnecessary unless we artificially create a demand for it - by appealing to lust, greed, snobbishness, or sex - then we are not doing the kind of "work" which we should do as Christians. This philosophy is spelled out quite clearly (as usual!) by C.S. Lewis in his short essay, "Good Work and Good Works". In his mind, we as Christians should be producing something which is worthy of doing even if we were not being paid to do it, something which meets a true need or provides a worthy service, and of course doing it with excellence.

I found the essay in a book of collected essays titled
"The World's Last Night" but it may be available in other collections, or possibly online. Well worth reading.

Great essay, Herrick. I have had my two sons read it and will have their father do the same, so that we can discuss these concepts. As usual, you present it well. Very timely topic.

Anonymous said...

Sure, we all have to work, but what are we working at? That's one of the big questions I continue asking myself as a result of this article and my reading of Berry, Salatin, et al. We are all owned, ultimately, by the "law" of supply and demand and those in the corporatocracy at all levels, who dictate, through myriad ways, including taxation/zoning, immigration policies, etc., what we "own" and the rhythym of our lives. Sure, Sabbath is a good idea, but, really, I have to be realistic, so they'll say, and do what it takes to serve the economy and the "free" market! If I make a decent living on my subsistence farm of 100 acres, but I can't pay them what they think they should have from revenue or through my participation in their "free" market - likely driven by the production of ultimately subsidized products that may be nice, but we don't really need (e.g. computer/video games, cupcakes, etc.) - then my property will be forfeit. I am then "free" to participate in their rat race in order to ensure everybody's profit (mainly theirs), their lifestyles, and continued power.

I wonder, incidentally, if the idea of Sabbath for so many Christians is less about the avoidance of legalism and more about their participation in the "free" market economy.

I hope this is coherent. Describing and unraveling the process by which we are all ensnared can be a complex undertaking!

David Smith

Anonymous said...

Retirement is a modern day scam for the wage slave. Benefits are a scam also in the long run. I still remember my grandfather working his home business back in the 60's. He worked it till the day he died at the age of 70. His shop was next door to the house where my grandmother would prepare his lunch at noon, he would come over, eat it, watch the noon news and go back to work. This was before social security was considered the sole support income and no one from my grandfather's generation would ever rely on that or a corporation, or the state pensions to support them for the rest of their life. My grandmother kept the house spotless, canned, gardened, raised chickens etc. I know this sounds like a peasants life compared to today, but not once did I see the frustration that I see today with both the young and the elderly coping with just the simple task of daily the dailey balone just to get to work and comply with thousands of rules etc..

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said, "Retirement is a modern day scam for the wage slave. Benefits are a scam also in the long run."

I think you're right! Benefits' packages, begun as incentives by PRIVATELY OWNED businesses, have now become government mandated "rights". Retirement falls into the same category! Of course what happens when the government gets involved? Prices soar! Now, if you wish to simply make a living honestly and pay for these services yourself out-of-pocket, cash-on-the-barrel-head, you likely can't afford it!

Our only hope is to see the collapse of this system; the problem there of course is that there will be a great deal of pain.

God help us!

David Smith

Anonymous said...

I appreciate this excellent article very much. The comments also were great.

Patrick Roehrman said...

Great article, I couldn't agree more. I left an excellent career a year ago to work from home and be with my family. I don't regret one minute of it!

Herrick Kimball said...

Thanks everyone.

I agree with Anonymous above….. The comments here are excellent.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much Mr. Kimball for writing this helpful article.
I too have often noted the tendency of many to neglect the first part of the Fourth Commandment.
Another excellent article on this subject may be found at the following link.

tannachtonfarm said...

Just stumbled upon this blog - though sundown is already past on this seventh day, Shabbat Shalom to you!
After a day of rest, I am ready to get back to work on Sunday, the first day of the week.

Anonymous said...

Great article. I too noticed the neglect of the part of the fourth commandment that tells us to work 6 days. But I have also learned that this commandment tells us to rest on the seventh day, not the first. So, like so many others around the world, I do as God commands and rest on the seventh day which is Saturday. What a blessing it is!

Anonymous said...

I work in high tech and I love my work. Mostly my job IS sitting on my "butt" typing on a keyboard. I think you are missing something in your post here. The issue isn't "work" The issue is "being productive" I do not believe the message in the Bible is to toil away foolishly, like the guy who insists on cutting his yard with a push mower when a gas powered lawnmower would do it in a tenth of the time. I believe the message in the Bible is to be "productive".

You can go buy a lawnmower and take an all day chore of grass cutting and turn it into an hour chore. I don't think God has a problem with you doing that. What I think God has a problem with is if you take the remaining 7 hours and throw them away playing video games or watching TV. I think God is perfectly fine with you cutting the lawn in an hour then spending the rest of the 7 hours doing other "work"

I know when I'm sitting behind a keyboard putting in real work. I also know when I'm frittering away time behind the keyboard NOT working - like I'm doing right now posting to this blog, by the way - and I do what I can to keep the frittering time to a minimum.

After 8 hours of solid keyboard pounding on fixing a customers problem, or building a server, or doing something productive, I feel like I had a fulfilling day. After 8 hours of solid keyboard pounding playing video games, I feel like I wasted an entire day. That's why I quit playing computer games entirely after finishing Doom level 1 back in 1994 and I've never gone back. And I don't miss them. I think the ancients understood this concept which is what the Bible is getting at. I think if they had computers back when Exodus was written they would have made it a lot plainer, then.

Nathan said...

Someone Anonymous said "...toil away foolishly, like the guy who insists on cutting his yard with a push mower when a gas powered lawnmower would do it in a tenth of the time. I believe the message in the Bible is to be "productive"."

Hmmm. A couple of assumptions there. Many people actually think it is foolish to burn valuable fossil fuel on something you can't eat, like lawn. Some people might consider HAVING a lawn at all to be a waste of time and resources. Some of us probably look at the total money spent every year by US citizens tending their lawn (about 40 Billion dollars) and think they could feed a lot of starving people with that money. The Bible teaches us that to whom much is given, much is expected. The Bible teaches us that if we have two shirts, we are to share with anyone who has none. We agree that being productive is better work than not being productive. I just wanted to highlight the cultural pitfalls we often succumb to. I wonder if God would consider cutting lawn to be productive, or if it is a western boondoggle of epic proportions.

Nathan said...

Wildbillb said:
"as a Christian, i am looking forward to the Millenium - when Christ returns, reigns on the earth, and we have 1000 years of peace and prosperity. i believe we will all be much more back-to-the-land during this time. what will we do with 1000 years of peace? will we watch videos, or sports, or take cruises all our lives? NO! we will work at bettering ourselves, and work hard at it! to this end i'm in training while still in this life. sure, more weeds and bugs, but it is valuable (and educational). and won't it be grand when Adam's bane is lifted!"

WildBillB, since you enjoy the mental exercise, I thought I'd challenge your pre-millennial view. I also am a Christian, but one who believes the Millennium is that period of time we are now living in, between the first and second Advents of Christ. You can call my view Amillennial, because I don't believe it's a literal 1000 years. If you believe in a literal 1000 year reign after Christ's second advent, then you must necessarily believe a few things about that period that don't line up with your stated expectation of that future time.
You must necessarily believe that the natural creation will continue, beyond the time of Christ’s second coming, to be subjected to the curse imposed by the fall of man. The reason for this is that all Premillennialists must concede that unbelievers will continue to populate and infect the earth during the millennial reign of Christ. Notwithstanding the presence of Christ himself, as Premillennialists argue, the earth will continue to be ravaged by war and sin and death, even if only at the millennium’s end (Revelation 20:7-10). As a Premillennialist, you must necessarily believe that the redemption of the natural creation and its being set free from bondage to corruption does not occur, at least in its consummate expression, until 1,000 years subsequent to Christ’s return.
So, do you believe in the glorification of our bodies at Christ's return, or after the end of the 1000 year millennium? If you think our bodies will be glorified at Christ's return, then this is of course part of our being perfected in the twinkling of an eye, and then of course we won't be working hard at bettering ourselves at all, contrary to your stated belief.

I believe that when Christ returns, we will then enter our eternal Sabbath rest with Him. The rest that still remains for us in this age.

Anonymous said...

Wildbills said:

"as a Christian, i am looking forward to the Millenium - when Christ returns, reigns on the earth, and we have 1000 years of peace and prosperity. i believe we will all be much more back-to-the-land during this time. what will we do with 1000 years of peace?"


"Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years." Rev. 20:6

As a Christian you'll be ruling with Christ over what's left of humanity here on the Earth, until the Millennium concludes. Guess you could farm if you want to, but I suspect that we'll be quite busy with other matters.