Sunday, 29 May, 2022

Biblical theology of work

Reverend Martin Adhikary

Biblical theology of work

In view of the fact that many countries in the world are now preparing for the observance of International Workers’ Day this year on 1 May let us have some reflection on what the Bible says about work or labour. This day is observed as a holiday in many countries with different activities, highlighting the dignity of labour and also giving priority to workers’ rights that are often denied. This particular day has its peculiarly humiliating history. This article is not for attempting to give any account of that history.

Work or labour is a popular theme in the Bible. God created man for work. Work was ordained for man right after man’s creation. It came before man’s fall in God’s perfect world. So God gave man work as a part of his good creation. It can be noted that sin or fall of man made work harder! God gave man work or job to do. In some instances work is regarded as worship. Noah believed in God and worked for years to build the ark before the deluge. He trusted in God and His words that rain would come. Moses, Nehemiah and many other Biblical heroes prayed to God for strength for the work that they did at God’s words and continued doing the will of God in practical terms for a purpose to achieve. Jesus’ himself prayed to God and did his work for accomplishing God’s mission in his life for the salvation of mankind from the bondage of sin.

From the book of Genesis (Chapter 1-2) in the Bible, we learn that God worked for five consecutive days for creating everything that are there in the universe. On the 6th day, he created man and gave him the stewardship responsibility for the world. On the 7th day God rested from his work. God does not need rest! But man needs it and indeed any living being, apart from God, needs rest. There is a rhyme in Bangla saying: ‘Bishram kajer aungo ek sathey gatha, Nayoner aungsho jamon nayoner pata’. Rest is a vital part of work. This is because rest, physical, mental and intellectual or the like, recreates energy and strength for work. God gave a model before man for this for man’s benefit. This rest is also for enjoying and having satisfaction from the work done so far and as such praising God for the holistic refreshment of the human body, mind and soul. Later on in the other books the Bible enjoined people for having rest for land, animal and freedom from slavery of slaves as Jubilees, etc. God commanded Adam for doing his work: tilling the land and keeping or harnessing it for fruitfulness and productivity for the good of man. All human progress, innovation, discoveries, art, culture, health and happiness result from man’s work and love for work.

Entire human civilisation rests on work and labour in whatever form and category. God has given man physical strength, mental power, intellect, imagination, spiritual gifts and so on and so forth. Man is likened to God as his “co-worker” (1Corinthians 3:9). The Psalmist sang, like in other places in the Bible, about God’s creative activities in the universe in Psalm 104: 10-3: “He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains... When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth. May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works”. Psalm 19 speaks of God’s work in and throughout the entire creation. God continues his work as he sustains his creation. Jesus made a remarkable statement when he said in John 5:17, “My father is working and I am also working.”

Proverbs 6:6 admonishes the lazy while praising diligence even in an ant, “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise. It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.” The same book (19:24) has this sarcasm about the lazy people, “The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he will not even bring it back to his mouth!” Again the wise say, “All hard work bring a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” The value of labour is expressed in very clear terms also in these adages— 10:4; 12:11, 24; 13: 4.

Ecclesiastes has also given great emphasis on diligent labour as a divine gift to man. He said, “Then I realised that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labour under the sun during the few days of life God has given him – for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possession, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work – this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.” (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20). In the New Testament Paul spoke highly about the honest labour. He said, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). There is a worth-quoting English saying, “An idle brain is a devil’s workshop.” I will not be surprised if similar saying in found not only in my mother-tongue, Bangla (Alosh mostishko sataner karkhana), in some other languages.


The writer is a Christian Theology teacher and Church leader