Theology 101 — Toward a Theology of Work

Theology 101 — Toward a Theology of Work

By Jerry Batson, Th.D.
Special to The Alabama Baptist

This week we are on the threshold of Labor Day, the holiday dedicated to recognizing and honoring that vast army of workers who have made and continue to help make our nation a most desirable place to live with its strength and prosperity.

So this week Theology 101 takes a look at the Bible’s take on honest work by raising the question: Why should Christians, who are given the ability and opportunity to work, aspire to be dedicated workers?

We acknowledge, of course, that some people lack the physical or mental capacity to join the work force and others who desire to work cannot find a suitable place that matches their skill or experience. But given ability and opportunity, God’s Word gives us several simple reasons for working.

A most basic reason for working is to provide for one’s own basic life needs such as lodging, clothing and food. This reason for working has special reference to a husband and father. Not only is he to be the leader and protector of his family, he is to be their provider.

The Bible is quite clear and straightforward about this for Christians: “If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).

Working day and night

The apostle Paul set an example in his time by working day and night in order not to burden others with furnishing him food. With his own practice as an example, he set forth this principle to the Thessalonians, “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thess. 3:10).

Later when he wrote them a second letter Paul called on the church to confront some who were not working but being busybodies in their idle time: “Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread” (2 Thess. 3:12). So a basic reason for working is for one to furnish food for himself and his family.

Another reason for working is to have something to give to others. Christian compassion recognizes that some are not able to work and provide for themselves or are not able to find employment. A Christian response to such a situation is to see work as enabling us to respond with generosity by sharing with them. Such is the admonition of Ephesians 4:28: “Let him who stole steal no longer but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.”

Testimony before others

Yet another reason for working at honorable occupations (that which is good) is to maintain a positive and admirable testimony before others. The apostolic urging given to the Thessalonians included this aspect of the value of being committed to work: “We urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more; that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside” (4:11–12). If unsaved outsiders see believers shunning honest work they will be turned off from coming to Christ.

On top of everything else, we might deduce that since God set the pattern for work by working at creation six days before resting that work is indeed a godly thing to do.

EDITOR’S NOTE — Jerry Batson is a retired Alabama Baptist pastor who also has served as associate dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University and professor of several schools of religion during his career.