Rajan J. Asher Thiruvananthapuram Bible Teacher Writer
Productive human endeavour is commonly said as work or labour. That may be physical, intellectual or both put together. Work is usually rewarded with wages in money or material. But the ultimate and most sublime reward for any labour is self satisfaction. Apostle Paul who believed that whatever one does here now, will be properly rewarded THERE, laboured and toiled day and night (1 Thes. 2:9) hoping to have a share in the blessings of the Gospel (1 Cor. 9:23).
Anything and everything that is done expecting a reward is work. It is quite natural that the worker is rewarded according to the quantity and quality of work done. More opportunities will become availbale to that worker as well. The knowledge, experience and commitment in the work are very important.
In the past workers who had to endeavour for a livelihood were considered as machines or instruments with life or as a two legged animal without any emotion. But the modern economic and management principles had elevated labour to the level of human resource. Now a labourer is accepted as a human with emotions, creativity, imaginaton, other dexterities and a desire to be accepted and appreciated. The changes in the socio, economic, cultural outlook are the major causes for this change. And it is possitively a good change. And it is due to the influence of Bible.
Bible and Work
It is God’s plan from the beginning that man must work and earn a living. God put the first man in the Garden of Eden to dress (till, work) it and keep it (Gen. 2:15). It is not Scriptural to think as some do and propogate that man was made to work after he sinned. The first instruction man was given was to work. The first blessing and commission man was given to have dominion over every created being (Gen. 1:28) also involved hardwork. And man performed them gladly.
The Hebrew word used for having dominion Radah means to tread down ( a winepress with the feet). In Joel 3:13 the same Hebrew word is used. Exercising authority involves hard physical work as well. That does not mean that God gave man authority to attack and destroy animals, wildlife, plants, trees and even the very nature, as some are doing today. Man was not given authority to threaten, bully, enslave and suppress human beings in the name of dominion. But the process of protecting life and nature, involves intellectual and physical systematic work.
In Gen. 2:15, the words used to dress and keep are Abad and Shamar. Here the word Abad means to work, labour, toil, till, plough, serve etc. and the word Shamar means to hedge around (as with thorns), keep, guard etc. The modern thought that God created man to clap, dance shout etc. does not have Scriptural support. Work is the accomplishment of man who can think, plan, prepare, evaluate and make.
No Work, No Food
Anyone unwilling to work should not eat (2 Thes. 3:10b). Here the word Paul uses for work is Ergon which means work, accumulated labour, continued work etc. Paul calls those who do not work as ‘disorderly who walk as though they are busy bodies, but live in idleness’. He is not writing about the weak, sick or handicapped. It is the responsibility of those who are able to sustain such ones (Js. 2:14-17, 1 Jn. 3:16-18).
Nobility of Work, Paul’s Model
By profession Paul was a tent maker. He worked with Aquilla and his wife Priscilla who were of the same profession (Acts 18:1-3). In the meeting of Ephesian Elders at Miletus, he called together (probably the first Pastor’s Seminar ever) Paul said, “I have covetted no one’s silver, gold or clothes. You yourselves know that with these hands (probably stretching both his hands), I have laboured for my needs and the needs of men with me. In this manner you must also help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:17, 33-35). Paul is a typical example for all Christian of all times everywhere to imitiate.
Paul is writing the same words to Thesselonians, “You yourselves know our labour and hardship, working night and day so as not to be a burden to you (1 Thes. 2:9). We did not act in an indisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat any one’s bread without paying for it, but with labour and hardship we kept working night and day, so that we will not be a burden to you, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate” (2 Thes. 3:7-9). To those who doubted his ministry Paul asserts that he laboured even more than all of them (2 Cor. 11:23). That was his honour
Attitude to Work
Work is the blessing, commission and honour of man who bears the image and likeness of God. We can understand that the first family enjoyed working, was amply rewarded and fully satisfied. But when they disobeyed God and permitted sin to enter into their lives, everything shattered. Instead of producing fruit to the proportion of their toil, the land produced more thorns and thistles. Human labour became hard and fruitless (Gen. 3:17-19).
It is only natural that people lose their enthusiasm and become disinterested when their efforts become fruitless. That made them exploit the underprevileged and make them work longer hours paying lesser wages. Labour lost its dignity and labourers began to be treated like machines or animals.
And in the world which is under the power of the evil one (1 Jn. 5:19) the labourers became slaves. Struggles in the labour front became common and the labourers were more and more tortured physically and mentally. Even in the modern sophisticated civilized economies this slavery is present in different forms and dimensions. Bond of any kind is bondage, that is slavery.
Instruction to Workers
The instructions Paul gives to servants (the word Paul uses, doulos, means slave, who is in permanent servitude to his master, his will totaly consumed in the will of the master) are note worthy. The servants are to count their masters worthy of all honour that the name of our God is not blasphemed (1 Tim. 6:1). They are to obey their masters in singleness of heart as unto Christ, not with eye service as men pleasers; but in singleness of heart fearing God. Whatever they do they are to do heartily as to the Lord, and not unto men (Eph.6:5, Col. 3:22,23). If the master is a Christian, the labourer should not disrespect him because he is a brother, but the servant should serve them more sincerely (1 Tim. 6:2).
The servants should please their master well in all matters, not to talk back, not to pilfer, but show complete and perfect fidelity so that in everything they may be an ornament, they may adorn (make attrative) the Gospel they believe and practice (Tit. 2:9,10). Peter goes one step further; he tells servants to be subject to their masters with all fear not only to the gentle, but also to the froward (harsh, crooked) (1 Pet. 2:18).
God with the Worker
We see in the Scriptures that all men God used to do marvellous things were energetic hard workers. Moses was an active shepherd. Joshua was a hardworking assistant to Moses. Gideon was threshing wheat by the wine press in a very dangerous situation when the Angel of God came to him. David was a responsible shepherd. Peter and friends were active fisherman. God honours work. Jesus Christ as a man was probably a carpenter with Joseph (Mark 6:3). Also we know that God instituted a weekly day off from work (Sabath) to every labourer.
God saw the affliction of Israel due to hardwork enforced by their cruel task masters and heard their cry of agony. He came down to deliver them out of that sad plight (Ex. 3:7,8). They were forced to do hard work without wages of any kind. Later God reminding them of their sad plight, commanded them that the wages of hired servants should not be held back even till the next day (Lv. 19:13). God also commanded them not to oppress or torment the poor and needy servants. They should not be made to cry against their masters (Dt. 24:14-15). God is against those who oppress the hirelings in their wages (Mal. 3:5, Jer. 22:13). Apostle James also warns of the same (Js. 5:4).
When Jesus Christ sent the seventy men with the Gospel, He assured them that the labourer is worthy of his hire (Lk. 10:7). Paul writes to Timothy the same, “The labourer is worthy of Hs reward” (1 Tim. 5:18). Yes, the Gospel workers are also eligible for their wages or reward.
But, none should work in the name of the Lord, anticipating reward, hire or money from people (Mic. 3:11) here. We see warnings against greed and awarice in the New Testament as well (Tit.1:7, 1 Pet. 5:2). Paul worked with his hands and did the Gospel Ministry with great satisfaction.
Work and Worship
Workers are usually not satisfied, neither are they obedient. They are mostly impudent, rash and not yielding. Most of them waste things or pilfer. But a servant who is a Christian must “walk the extra mile” to be obediant to the master. The master must be convinced that they are trust worthy. They shuld serve the employer as unto the Lord.Whatever they do must be done in sincerity of their heart.
The picture Paul is presenting is one that elevates work to the level of worship. If what is done to the Lord, done in the name of the Lord is worship, a servant’s wholehearted work honouring her/his master, with an attitude of serving God, is also worship. Making God and the Gospel attractive, ornamenting and decorating with sincere hardwork is also worship.
We saw earlier that the Hebrew word to dress the garden (Gen. 2:15) is Abad meaning to work, labour, till etc. Abad is also used for worship, to cause to worship, serving God (Ex. 3:12, 4:23 etc.) and for Levitical work in the Temple (Num. 3:7,8). See, how the labour in the soil, the Levitical work and work of the New Testament believers are beautifully inter related. Every born again Christian is required to present her/his body as a living sacrifies … which is her/his reasonable service (Rom.12:1).
John heard a voice from Heaven saying “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, they shall rest from their labours, for their deeds shall follow them” (Rev. 14:13). Till then we need to work, sincerely as for the Lord. Our Lord is coming soon. He will repay according to each one’s work. That is the promise God gives us through Paul. We shall receive the inheritance as our reward for our work here (Col. 3:24).