Sunday, May 17, 2009

The “Christian’s” Work Ethic

What is the work ethic of the Christian person, and does this set them apart from others in any particular way? In investigating this question, I found my way to Paul’s second letter to the church in Thessalonica. There was a situation with this community, and the sharing of duties, that we find all to familiar still today.

Indeed, it seems that at many times in history, the problems highlighted in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 regarding the Christian’s work ethic have raised their ugly heads. The situation reveals itself below:

“For we hear that some are conducting themselves in a disorderly manner among you, not attending to their own business but to other people’s. We charge and exhort such people in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and eat their own bread. But for your part, brothers, do not give up doing good”
–Thessalonians 3:11-13 (Word Commentary translation).

Paul says these things:

To the busybody: stop causing mischief, settle down and truly earn the bread you eat.

To the faithful who continue to work: don’t get distracted; remain as you are i.e. never tire of doing what is right and continue focussing faithfully on the task at hand.

The cause of this situation “may have been a belief in their own superior spirituality, which exempted them from such mundane concerns as earning an honest living and entitled them to pry into other people’s personal affairs; it may have been a combination of those or other factors. But the vice to which they were prone is familiar enough for us to be thankful that it is so severely condemned in the apostolic teaching.”[1]

I try to regularly reinforce with my children that there are no free lunches (figuratively speaking) in this life, and each must earn his or her own passage through life.

Whilst we have the opportunity, we should work, and at that, we should be prepared to work hard. That is not to say we shouldn’t rest. We should. But we shouldn’t be overtly (or even covertly) slack, and particularly, we should not be ‘selectively sluggardish,’ which is a term that Bill Hybels coined for people who worked diligently in twenty or fifty or eighty percent of their lives, but negligently rob other important areas of their lives of the time and effort they’d ordinarily demand.

We should be a shining example of the work ethic required, and perhaps this work ethic is partly the manifestation of ‘wisdom’ i.e. “the art of being successful, of forming the correct plan to gain the desired results.”[2] So, who do we look to in getting direction on ‘the desired results’ for our life--and on the plans to get there?

Furthermore, can the work ethic really be separated from the broader ethics of living life?[3]

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Post Script: “[Paul and his companions’] maxim, taught by precept and by action, ‘If any one refuses to work, let him not eat,’ need not be taken as a summary of the Christian doctrine of labor, but it does teach that it is scandalous for those who profess and call themselves Christians to lead idle lives and look to others for support if they themselves have opportunity and strength for working to maintain themselves and to help others who are less fortunate.”[4]

[1] F. F. Bruce, Word Biblical Commentary: 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Dallas, Texas: Word, Incorporated, 2002 (Word Biblical Commentary 45)), S. 203

[2] James. W. Sire, Discipleship of the Mind (Downers Grover, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1990), p. 17.

[3] Sire, Ibid, p. 201. The author cites Ronald (sic) E. Murphy in “Wisdom,” Harper’s Dictionary (San Franscisco, 1985) p. 1135 as saying Hebrew thought on wisdom “involved the practical skills of coping with life (Prov. 1:5; 11:14), and the pursuit of a life of proper ethical conduct (Prov. 2:9-11 and throughout).” (I’ve added the italics.)

[4] Bruce, Ibid, S. 203.

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