Work, Worship, and Play (Part 2)

Work, Worship, and Play (Part 2)

A quotation attributed to Gordon Dahl laments: “We worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship.” What an insightful description of our present generation! God has given us all three of these activities, but He intends we understand their purpose and arrange them in a wise and balanced way. How can we keep ourselves from falling into the modern trap of mixed-up priorities? Last week we discussed the purpose of play. This week, let’s move on to discuss the purpose of work.

The Purpose of Work

Sitting around doing nothing isn’t satisfying for very long. I’m convinced that meaningful work, cultivating and keeping the Garden, was part of Adam’s life even before the fall (Genesis 2:15); it just got hotter and more frustrating after (Genesis 3:17-19).

Nature shows that creatures in God’s world are busy obtaining food and building shelter (Psalm 104:10-23). God feeds the sparrows (Matthew 6:26), but doesn’t just throw the food into their nests! Indeed, human beings have a duty to provide for themselves and their families. Thus, it’s part of every able-bodied person’s life, even Christians’ lives, to work in order to eat. Paul exhorts in at least three places:

If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12).

He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need (Ephesians 4:28).

But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8).

It is a Christ-like virtue to wake up, work diligently, and support a family (Proverbs 6:6-8, 18:9, 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). Jesus spent time as a carpenter, Peter a fisherman, Paul a tentmaker. Industrious behavior puts food on the table (Proverbs 12:1), leads to advancement (Proverbs 22:29, 28:18), allows your kids to escape immoral environments, gives you an opportunity to be generous (Romans 12:8). Idleness and boredom quickly turn to mischief. Paul warns,

They also learn to be idle, as they go around from house to house; and not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention. Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach; for some have already turned aside to follow Satan (1 Timothy 5:13-15).

Worshiping Our Work

The trouble comes when we begin to think of work as an end in itself, rather than a way to support ourselves so that we may have opportunity serve God. No doubt, it’s a blessing to live at a time when we’re not stuck doing whatever dirty drudgery our forefathers were forced to do. Mr. Farmer may become a musician, Ms. Baker a doctor. We can pursue a stimulating career that suits our interests and talents, train for it, and achieve great satisfaction.

It's almost certainly the case that striving for money is the biggest reason we put too much emphasis on work. There is no commandment to become rich. In fact, for most people, the single-minded devotion required to achieve worldly success or fame distracts from the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 6:19-20, Luke 18:24).

We should strive to remember that careers do not last forever. Many a father has lost his family by pursuing too much work; many a Christian has lost his relationship with God because work became his all-consuming idol (Matthew 6:19-24, 13:22). Let’s be honest about whether we’re burning the midnight oil because we must put food on the table, or just to afford two shiny new cars. We must find a balance. Find a career that allows you to be both a responsible breadwinner and an involved citizen of God’s kingdom. As Paul says by inspiration:

Godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs ... Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed (1 Timothy 6:7-10, 17-19).