Most of us seem to have a love/hate relationship with work.
We bemoan Mondays because we have to go to work, and we love Fridays because we get off of work.
Yet, if we didn’t have a job, we’d be poor as dirt and depressed. It would be a major crisis for all of us.
I have known people who have looked forward to the day they didn’t have to work only to discover they were miserable once they were not working and they soon found themselves another job.
I have known people who were addicted to work, and I have known people who worked hard to keep from working.
Work can be virtuous, but it can also lead to a life of dysfunction. What makes the difference?
It’s important to keep work in proper perspective. One way to do that is by understanding what place God wants to play in our work.
In Genesis 2:15, we discover work was ordained by God as a good thing. We can and should embrace work because God did and does.
It’s safe to assume Adam and Eve sweated and were tired at the end of a day in the Garden of Eden and felt good about it.
The garden was not going to just take care of itself. Part of the purpose God created humans for was to take care of creation.
We were created to work, and work is part of what gave the first humans purpose and joy.
If work was a part of Eden before the fall, we should expect work to be a meaningful part of our lives. If there is any work in heaven, we will all be content with it too.
What happened that made work such an unfavored part of life for so many people?
After sin entered the world, work became unpleasant (see Genesis 16-17). It became painful.
To birth a child was work, and it was a painful experience for the mother. We even call birthing a child, “labor.” Not only was it painful to bring a child into the world, but also the experience of work became painful.
The food in the garden was easily accessible before sin entered the world. After that, the ground produced food through painful toil.
For most people, work is necessary for survival. People have no choice but to work to keep food on the table, a roof over their heads and to have the essentials of life and maybe a little bit more.
Yet, work was designed not only to meet essential needs but also to connect people to God.
So, when work becomes nothing but a burden, something is wrong. If we cannot change the work we are doing, we need to make changes regarding our actions and attitudes.
This is important because our work is not only a reflection on us, but also on the kind of faith we have in God (see Colossians 3:23-24).
If we leave a job unfinished, if we do unethical work, if we treat customers rudely or co-workers unkindly, if we say bad things about the boss, everything we do within the workplace is not just a reflection on us, it has something to say about our faith.
We cannot be known at our jobs in a very unfavorable way, with unflattering adjectives being thrown around to describe who we are and how we do our jobs, and also honor God through our work.
Christians ought to be known on the job as the fairest, most loving people in the workplace. We ought to be giving our jobs 100 percent commitment and effort so we are without reproach.
Whether we work for a paycheck or not, almost everyone still does some form of work every day. Whatever our work might be, we are doing more than just producing an income for our family and ourselves. Our work should contribute to the greater good of the community and the lives of those around us.
How does your work help people, help the environment, help make life easier, more productive, more enjoyable for others?
How does your work alleviate suffering, help people learn, solve problems, answer questions, meet needs, work for justice, create jobs or a marketable and needed product?
If we discover the work we are doing is somehow not contributing to the greater good of our world, to the betterment of humankind or is not giving us a sense of purpose, perhaps we should look for a different line of work.
Not all hard work is virtuous. We can do work that actually does damage to the environment, to our relationships and to the purpose for which God created us.
So, we must regularly consider how our labor contributes to the greater good of God’s world.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series for Labor Day 2018. Previous articles in the series are:
The End of Work: On Celebrating Labor Day Well by Myles Werntz
Teacher Uprisings Show Path Forward for Labor Movement by Chris Sanders
Report: U.S. Purchasing Power Stagnant for Decades by EthicsDaily.com Staff
Michael Helms is pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson, Georgia.