Work: Not a Four-Letter Word

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You have often heard me talk about “performance ethic”: study, learn, work, produce. A continuous cycle is needed for career success. In this article we examine the fundamental encouragement for this ethic. As you read on you will see that work alone is not sufficient. As a Jesuit priest once said, “It is necessary to have good intentions AND good results.” Our work has to lead to something worthwhile. It is a fallacy that “the ends justify the means.” It is woefully insufficient for us to use harmful means thinking that a good end will result. Such is never the case, although it may seem so in the short term. Do not fall for this lie. It will catch up with you in the end. “Every work that is corruptible shall fail in the end; and the worker thereof shall go with it. And every excellent work shall be justified: and the worker thereof shall be honored therein.” (Ecclesiastics 14:20-21)

There is no more fundamental advice on the value of work than found in the Christian Bible, some parts of which are derived from the Jewish Tanakh. The Bible is the Book of Life. It teaches the way of love and effective living. God said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) And, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

The Bible’s basic premise is that our foundation is built by love of God and love of neighbor (Mark 12:29-31). Our efforts to serve God and neighbor lead to success in this life and the next. God’s law is written in our hearts. It is part of our basic nature. So, it is normal to observe its affect in our secular lives. For instance, think on advice to “find out what they want and sell it to them.” This means that you forget yourself and serve the needs of another. This is not to say that one should sell something harmful, even if someone wants it. Rather, it is a secular recognition that the needs of our neighbor must come before our own. An emphasis on the needs of our neighbor is given in Matthew 23:11, “The greatest among you must be your servant.” It is our service to others that leads to success.

Departing from this basic lesson are the lazy or slothful. Such people demonstrate the opposite of a good performance ethic. They have to live with the consequences. For instance: (In using words like “man, he, him, his, …”, the Bible refers to all people, regardless of gender.)

“Fear casteth down the slothful…” (Proverbs 15:8)

“Desires kill the slothful: for his hands have refused to work at all. He longeth and desireth all the day…” (Proverbs 21:25-26)

“… want shall come upon thee, as a traveler, and poverty as a man armed.” (Proverbs 6: 9-11)

“Because of the cold the sluggard would not plough; he shall beg therefore in the summer, and it shall not be given him.” (Proverbs 20:4)

“…. when we were with you we used to lay down the rule that anyone who would not work should not eat.”   (2 Thessalonians 3:10)

“By slothfulness a building shall be brought down, and through the weakness of hands, the house shall drop through.” (Ecclesiastics 10:18).

“He that observeth the wind, shall not sow: and he that considereth the clouds, shall never reap.” (Ecclesiastics 11:4)

“… the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” (Luke 6:38)

“Be not hasty in your tongue; and slack and remiss in thy works.” (Sirach 4:34)

“The slothful hideth his hand under his armpit, and will not so much as bring it to his mouth.” (Proverbs 19:24)  

So is the way of things. Even though this type of person may try to look busy, their activity is aimless and without benefit. They busy themselves with nothing, particularly avoiding accountability for anything. If nothing worthwhile is getting accomplished then no work is being done. One might consider how this applies not only to individuals but also to groups and societies. One of the central lessons of the Bible is that as people depart from God they forsake their source of strength. Entire nations fall thereby.

Holding fast to our source of strength, we are inspired to do what is necessary to meet our present and future needs. Planting seeds, laying the groundwork for the future, is very important. One should not expect immediate payback from every effort. Rather, one has to prepare the ground, sow, monitor, and care for the crop, adjusting as events evolve. Such perseverance and persistence is essential. “… everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:8)   “… if thou be diligent, thy harvest shall come as a fountain, and want shall flee far from thee.” (Proverbs 12:24)

Perseverance and persistence are driven by determination. A point of observation during my own career is that the successful succeed in spite of the circumstances. They are not deterred by difficulty. Rather, they keep their faith and proceed forthrightly, thinking, planning, and acting with clarity. Like Job, they are not persuaded by a crowd of naysayers or by those who would encourage them down an “easier” path that does not lead to success in the chosen endeavor. Unafraid of standing alone, when the crowd stares, successful people let them burn their eyes. The Bible has good words on this topic:

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast and unmovable; always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vein in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:15)

“And in doing good, let us not fail. For in due time we shall reap, not failing.” (Galatians 6:9)

Beware of wrong paths and false data. “… prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” (Thessalonians 3:13)  “Try your own selves if you be in the faith; prove yourselves.” (2 Corinthians 13:5)

Persevering in the way of a good career is difficult. The Bible offers a way for us to pray, “Command thy strength, O God: Confirm, O God, what thou has wrought in us.” (Psalms 68:28)

It is written that “man is born to labor” (Job 5:7). We are called to work, “Hate not laborious work” (Sirach 7:16). Yet, the Bible insists that it is not wrong to enjoy the result of our work. “This therefore hath seemed good to me, that a man should eat and drink, and enjoy the fruit of his labor, wherewith he hath labored under the sun, all the days of his life which God hath given him, and this is his portion (Sirach 5:17). God blesses human labor. In the very first words spoken in the Bible He says, “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.” (Genesis 1:2) From the situation at hand, God created something worthwhile. He labored six days to bring this about and rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:1). In this story we read that God saw how good the results of His labor were. Clearly, we emulate and follow His way when we ourselves labor so that good may be done and His people served.

The central reality of our existence is God and His word. Seeking happiness apart from God leads to a barren life. During the past generation, Philip K. Dick (1928-1982) said, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, does not go away.” Let us keep that in mind as we move along the path of our lives. Recognize the reality of God’s existence and the words He has spoken to us. Hold fast to your anchor in life’s stormy seas. Achieve the good God has prepared for you.


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