It was long ago that the community agreed upon a 40-hour week. The balance of work, sleep and recreation has undergone many changes since then. For some getting work itself has been the problem. For others the only work available is casual. Others have the choice of part-time work while some complain that is all that is available to them—while still others are working longer hours than ever. The increased feminisation of the workplace has been a major shift of the last half of the twentieth century. Increased mobility between jobs and careers has lead to a new way of viewing our education and training.
Industrial relations is often a heated and divisive issue. Government changes to the laws about work relations can cause considerable community and trade union concerns. Governments have even been brought down over these issues.
In the midst of this change and unrest most of us have to get on with life. We go to work and pay the bills. The Bible tells us to be people who “aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may live properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thess 4:11). Paul gives, as the reasons for our work that we are not to be idle, especially not idle busybodies. He commanded and encouraged such a person “to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (2 Thess 3:12). God does not want Christians to be a burden on other people but rather that each person provides for themselves out of their own labour.
However Christians have another motivation for work that the world in its arguments and disagreements never seems to understand. For God instructs the converted thief “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him do honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Eph 4:28). The thief is still to work with his hands but this command reverses his work practice. Instead of dishonest it is honest. Instead of taking he is giving.
It is possible to see this as an instruction just for thieves:—thieves take with dishonest hands but now they are to give with honest hands. But we should not limit this command just to thieves. Elsewhere the Bible speaks of all Christians working with our hands. We are all to be honest. The reason for having wealth is to share it with others.
That is the part the world never understands. One of the reasons for wealth is to share with others. So God says about the rich “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works and to be generous and ready to share” (1 Tim 6:17-18).
There is no way that you can legislate for godliness. It requires regeneration—being born again by the Spirit of God. But one of the Christian motivations for work is sadly needed in our community: working to be able to give to others in their need.
The needs of our world are immense, it is time we saw our abundant wealth as a resource for addressing these needs rather than to make our life increasingly enslaved to the meaninglessness of materialism.
(This is an edited version of an article published in October 2005.)