Jesus, Paul and Beyond: Work Is Everywhere in the Bible

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Work: Few of us are fond of the concept. The terms “work” and “labor” don’t usually prompt us to smile. Conversely, everyone likes the weekend. TGIF, right? So why do we like the weekend? Because we don’t have to go to work! And when the alarm goes off on Monday morning, we wish it were still the weekend. But is this perspective biblical? Is it inherently satisfying? Might there be some redeeming quality to work? Let’s take a closer look.

Bible scholars tell us the concept of work is mentioned, explicitly or implicitly, more than 800 times in Scripture. I have not attempted to track down and catalog all of these references, but this statistic seems reasonable to me. Consider just a few of the examples and general teachings on work that stand out as you read through the Bible.

For example, as I explain in my new book Every Good Thing, Jesus was the son of a carpenter—a blue-collar tradesman—and Jesus eventually became a tradesman himself (see Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3). For some people, this can be a challenging characterization of Christ. Many prefer to think of Jesus with a halo, like in a medieval painting. Indeed, to some people it seems irreligious to think of Jesus covered in sweat and sawdust, dealing with demanding customers, exhausted at the end of a day’s labor. Yet this is the Jesus of the Bible.

The Bible is full of illustrations, examples and positive teachings about work.

Paul, too, was a manual laborer—a tentmaker (see Acts 18:3; 20:34). Not only was Paul a tradesman, but also he appealed to his own labor as an example for the church, writing,

For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. (1 Thessalonians 2:9)

Of course, Paul was not trying to elevate working with one’s hands above working with one’s mind or vice versa. Rather, he was teaching that those who are able to labor, no matter the type of work, should labor to provide for themselves and for their families and not unnecessarily burden others. This was Paul’s example for the people of God as he preached the gospel.

The Bible is full of illustrations, examples and positive teachings about work. Consider that Jesus’ parables often appeal to and include general examples of work: sowing, reaping, buying, selling, fishing, shepherding, investing, etc. Some familiar biblical passages with teachings about work include:

  • “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” (Colossians 3:23)
  • “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10)
  • “The laborer deserves his wages” (1 Timothy 5:18).

Clearly, then, both in example and in teaching, the Bible addresses the topic of work, oftentimes in a commending manner and always with a positive outlook.

This post is a modified excerpt from Dr. Jones’ new book, Every Good Thing.

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David W. Jones

Dr. Jones is a Professor of Christian Ethics and serves as the Associate Dean of Theological Studies and Director of the Th.M. Program at Southeastern Seminary. He is the author of many books, including Every Good Thing, An Introduction to Biblical Ethics and is the co-author of Health, Wealth, and Happiness. He comments on the Bible over at redeemedmind.com.

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