In my little support group for recovering Charismatics something that deeply affected my thinking came up.
Stories came up of people, men mostly, but some women too, who had come to think of work as carnal or worldly and let their professional skills languish, or quit their careers for lower paying "more spiritual" jobs.
There were stories of people apologizing for getting advanced degrees as something they did before they were Christians. There was a touching story of a single woman with a masters who refused to work "outside the home" on the advice of the church elders, and started a babysitting service in her home.
She struggled financially working as a full-time babysitter, when she could have made more money working part time in her profession. Her children got less time with her in that house full of kids than they would have had she worked part time.
Others told stories of people who worked half-heartedly and did sloppy work or started their own businesses and used poor management practices and expected God to bless it anyway because they were Christians. Those people ended up losing their jobs, and having their companies go broke. Stories of people spending years to pay off debts were common.
Stories were told of people who believed that aggresively searching for a job was unspiritual, with a fatalistic "it is in God's hands" attitude.
One of the women in the group is an HR director at a company. She said it was routine at her company for Charismatic men to let their professional skills languish. They refused to work overtime, or travel to educational conferences, or come in after hours during crunch times at the company.
And guess who were first in line for layoffs? Those Charismatic men. And guess who were last in line for promotions? Those same men.
There was a story of a CFO who struggled with depression because he believed his job was evil and unspiritual because it involved money. He got turned around when he realized he had been given a great and wonderful responsibility and that his duty before God as to discharge that responsibility to the best of his ability.
I have been an outspoken critic of the anti-intellectualism that permates the charismatic movement, but had missed how this evil teaching had crossed from merely an anti-theology slant to impacting people's careers and lives by being generally anti-education and anti-career.
It became personal for me too.
You see I was also caught by it, I failed to get a job I really wanted because I had let my professional skills get years behind. I too had begun to see work and career as carnal and worldly and a thing to be minimized and even shunned in favor of things that advanced the "Kingdom". I had even thought of this website in those terms, as one of the only things I was "doing for God" in my life.
I also expected God to magically bless me just because, in spite of my lack of diligence. It was a real wake-up call for me when He didn't.
I have reassessed my thinking and am now in school to get an MS in my professional field. I am faced with a few years of catch up work to modernize my skills.
So the purpose of this little article is to show biblically the spiritual value of work and career.
The sad thing is I once held the correct viewpoint, and knew that working hard glorified God and was one of my primary ways of serving Him. In fact our hard-earned success, if done with integrity, is one of our primary witnesses! But I was slowly led away by the waves of false teachings.
First let me present some of the misconceptions (before I proceed to shred them).
There is so much fearmongering about the above points it is hard to know even where to begin.
The first point, seperating our "spiritual" persuits from "worldly" persuits is actually a form of the ancient heresy of Gnosticism. Gnosticism also seperated spiritual from physical persuits and labelled all physical persuits as evil. It is also a form of Asceticism, a philosophy of the ancient Greeks that taught that denying the body of all forms of pleasure (read abstinance, no alcohol, and a restrictive diet), combined with a rigorous program of excercise, was a way of obtaining spiritual purity.
This thinking is based on a false dualism between spiritual things and physical things. The Bible does tell us to avoid "worldly" things, but it means things that God explicitly calls sins. But confusing all physical things with the "world" allows people to graft in many things as prohibited by God when in fact they are not. It also de-emphasizes our participation in the material world in the ways we are clearly supposed to participate, which includes work.
This form of thinking also leads to monasticism, celibacy, self-mutilation, and other extreme forms of self-denial during the middle ages, all of which were thought to be spiritual.
I once heard this testimony: A man claiming to have had a near death experience meeting with Jesus recounted how Jesus asked the man what he had done for him (Jesus). The man listed his work accomplishments, his family, children, and a few other things. Jesus' response: "You did those things for you, what did you do for me?"
In retrospect it is a completely unbiblical testimony, as virtually all testimonies recounting special revelation by angelic beings are. In this case, an apparition of "Jesus" is teaching ascetic neo-Gnosticism.
All kinds of excuses and even scientific studies are given to justify "seperating" ourselves from "worldly" persuits. The Bible clearly does call us to seperate from the world, that is to avoid sinful indulgences, and seeking after the things the world loves (money, power, self), but it is wrong to include work in this category.
John MacArthur writes:
"The ascetic viewed the natural world as sinful, a sphere to be avoided as much as possible, developed a contempt for things of the world, and went into off into these places. You can read the stories about these people. They went into these kind of places and sat there, and just were tormented by the fires of temptation. Read a Heloise and Abelard story; horrific to try to live like that. And that's where the priests and the nuns, you know, as these celibate ascetics, came from. But for Protestants, the Reformation came along and just demolished all of that, and it did it with, first of all, one very important theological fact, and that was this: That in God's eyes, there's no difference between the sacred and spiritual, and the secular, because in whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, you do it -- what? "To the glory of God." God can be glorified in the way you eat your dinner. The Protestant understood, the Reformation understood: You serve God not by withdrawing from the world. Jesus even prayed: Father, I'm not asking you to keep them out of the world, but to keep them while they're in the world from the evil one. We believe the world has fallen. But it's our Father's world, isn't it? And I can look at everything in this world, except the sin, and I can see a way in it to glorify God. The Reformation spread a sacredness over everything."
Have you heard studies quoted where children who are in childcare more than eight hours a week suffer psychologically? I have heard them routinely on Christian radio. What do you think public school is anyway? Yes those same people detract from public school and advocate home-schooling. I am not against home-schooling, but I am against the implications of this advocacy, the complete escapist mentality, and avoidance of the world.
We are in the world but not of it. I understand the benefits of Christian schooling, but when it is not possible, I am convinced that teaching Children the truth does enable them (by God's grace) to overcome the world, and that includes public school in my mind. In some ways I think there are benefits to them being in the world.
I can't tell you how many parents I have talked to who tell the following testimony (paraphrased): "I suffered so much as a child, and I tried to shield my children from those things, and now as adults those are the very things they are least able to cope with".
Overprotectiveness of ourselves and our children runs the risk of backfiring and accomplishing the very thing we seek to avoid.
We are in the world, and our duty is to go out into it and be witnesses and glorify God by our righteous and holy living. And one of our greatest witnesses is our work ethic, integrity, and professionalism on the job.
As men, we are made to feel guilty when we do one of the primary things God put us on this earth to do, that is to provide for our families:
ti1 5:8 But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.
Those who advocate balance, not sacrificing our families for our careers are right on. But the advocacy in many cases has shifted to a very imbalanced position that detracts from those very careers that are necessary.
And women have it worse, they are made to feel guilty for working at all. And working "outside the home" is taught against in some circles. I have decided to stay out of the debate on the role of women in this article, suffice it to say that women are to have their focus on the home, and their primary fulfillment is as wives and mothers.
It was also pointed out in our forum that the husband has the call on whether his wife works (in the Biblical authority structure) and church elders are overstepping their bounds if they interfere in such matters. I don't want to go too far however, the Bible does teach that a woman's focus should be on the home, and no husband has the authority to overrule God.
The classic scripture used to justify women not working outside the home is:
tit 2:5 To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.
And the classic scriptures to refute them are:
pro 31:13 She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.
pro 31:14 She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth her food from afar.
pro 31:15 She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.
pro 31:16 She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.
Those are the primary Biblical references to woman's work. And they are interpreted two ways that I have found so far, one is to interpret them as a complete prohibition of women working outside the home, and the other is that a woman's focus should be on the home.
I am solidly in the second camp, and believe, that especially when children are not present, that it is perfectly acceptable for a woman to work outside the home. When children are present, you should do what is best for the children, certainly if your husband makes enough that you can stay at home, then a part time job, or a stay at home mom is preferable. But I not convinced that it is mandatory Biblically. I think I should avoid getting deeper into this argument as others have done much better jobs of articulating these positions.
Returning to the subject of work in general, Let us consider the parable of the talents (mat 25:14-30). In it the good stewards were given rulership over cities and the bad one was cast into hell.
Now, there is no hint in those verses that the "talents" are church only things, especially given that Gnosticism was considered heresy only a few years after that verse was penned. Therefore, especially us men are on the hook to use our professional talents to the best of our ability, that is to glorify God by our hard work. I urge you not to confuse this with greed however. if love of money is your primary motivation then you have a problem. Put another way, if you are working for yourself, it is meaningless as Eccliastes points out, but if you are doing it to glorify God, then it is a sacred holy activity. And we glorify God by our excellence in what we do.
One of the greatest teachings on work-ethics in the Bible (and it applies to more than just work) is the principle of the extra mile. While it was primily aimed at those who spitefully use us, it gives us a general attitude that we are to apply to whatever we do. And even in our post-Christian society it is an idiom that is commonly applied to work, and rightfully so in my opinion.
Moving in to debunking the myth of unconditional blessing for work, the Bible clearly teaches that what you sow is what you will reap. There is no unconditional blessing for work in the Bible. God promises to bless the work of our hands, but the key word is work, and shoddy workmanship will not be blessed. But those who strive for excellence can expect God's blessing on such activities.
In proverbs (the greatest book of wisdom ever written), God gives us direct advice on our work habits:
pro 22:29 Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men. (NAS)
Does it seem to you in the above verse that God is somehow criticizing the skilled worker? Does it seem He is unhappy the worker dedicated so much effort to developing his skill that could have been spent doing more "churchy" things? Does he seem to consider the worker "unspiritual" for doing that? I don't think that is communicated here, rather it seems like a commendation and an encouragement to all of us to seek excellence in our work.
The Bible gives us further support for the spiritual value of hard work n the many verses in the Bible condemning idleness. We were made to work, it is a holy and righteous activity and it glorifies God.
col 3:23 And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;
The above verse is commonly paraphrased as "Do all things as unto the lord", which simply means that when we work, we work as if God was our employer, and thus we glorify Him by our efforts. Notice it encourages us to persue our work and careers with heartiness (gusto in the modern vernacular).
Notice also that it is a freedom producing verse. It does not restrict us to things that appear churchy or spiritual. Rather it means the reverse, it transforms every thing we do into a spiritual activity, thus preserves our liberty in Christ by allowing God to be glorified by whatever we do.
In summary: Work is holy, righteous, and it glorifies God and serves His purposes. You are duty bound to make the most of what God has given you. Those so-called worldy talents are not worldly, they are gifts given to you to be used to glorify Him. Chasing after false spirituality only detracts from your witness and from God's purposes. So go the extra mile, update your education, work honestly with integrity, and with all the excellence you can muster, and most of all do it to glorify Him.
And then will you be able to enjoy the fruits of your labors:
psa 128:2 You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.
psa 128:3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table.
psa 128:4 Thus is the man blessed who fears the LORD.
Now there is a prosperity teaching for you: If you want prosperity, go out and work for it with all the heartiness (gusto) you can muster, and understand you are glorifying God by doing so.