Photo above: The Hertford Bridge in Oxford, England. Used by Permission. © Tom Ley 01302 782837

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Dignity of Work

Dr. Gary Roberts
Robertson School of Government

For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat (2 Thes. 3:10).
Work is central to God’s plan and purpose for humanity. From the beginning, man was given dominion over the earth with the responsibility of tending the Garden of Eden. After the fall, the scope and breadth of work expanded given God’s command that humanity must toil to produce food from the ground and craft goods to provide our basic necessities. Work assumed a redemptive

aspect as it represents a central life domain that demonstrates key character attributes including honesty, justice, conscientiousness, perseverance, and industriousness. Work becomes another window on the orientation of our hearts. A fundamental principle is that all honest labor is dignified. It is only sloth that God condemns, not the absence of a job for those who are unemployed due to economic factors, sickness or disability.

The role of work is central in the secular realm, but for different reasons. In the humanistic world view in which man is the measure of all things, work is a means for self-actualization and meeting and expressing one’s inner needs and desires. Work then becomes the primary means for realizing human potential by functioning as the central measure of success and personal self-worth. For many, work is a form of self-worship defining their purpose and identity. It is a seductive, but spiritually disastrous deception, especially when we begin to adopt worldly standards of success and prestige that equate self-worth the size of the paycheck, the educational level, or the prestige of the occupation. God is no respecter of persons, so the janitor and CEO are the same in the eyes of God.

In God's economy, it is not the education, experience, or status level of a job, but the character and level of obedience of the person that counts. We are called to work with excellence in every endeavor, to do our best and treat others with respect, as God is our ultimate employer. So irrespective of the treatment we receive by our earthly employers, or the status of our job, God will reward our obedience and hold our earthly masters accountable. The world will state that if you fail to realize your potential, you are a failure. For example, if I have a master's degree in business, but I am underemployed and work as a janitor or a day laborer to feed my family, does this reflect a fatal character flaw? Am I demeaned and humiliated given the absence of equivalency between my education and the wage level and status of the job? Is the absence of commensurate status a negative reflection on my character, ability and worth? From the Christian world view, none of these conclusions are warranted.

God loves the unemployed or underemployed person the same as the executive as our souls and spirits are equally precious. It is only willful sloth that God condemns as reflected in 2 Thessalonians 3:10. When we internalize the values and standards of our superficial success oriented society, we engage in needless self-condemnation and experience shame and guilt given our perceived failures, many of which are beyond our direct control. In essence, our agreement with worldly values results in our self-imposed alienation, a lie from the pit of hell.

If the laborer job was the best position one can attain given exogenous factors such as high unemployment and discrimination, or if we choose not to utilize our education given that God has a different plan, or factors such as mental or physical illness precluded us from an equivalent position, from a Christian world view our occupational status or salary level never equates with self-worth. In God's economy, our obedience in times of trial perfects our character. God rewards those who persevere and endure the humiliations of this world. He will perfect our character and provide opportunities to serve Him and achieve a sense of peace and purpose that far surpasses the temporary satisfaction from worldly success.

We are called to work, but only to provide for our basic needs as we meet God’s purpose for our lives. If we were unable to work another day of paid labor, God would provide means for serving His Kingdom through the church and volunteer activities. God will not let our gifts and talents be buried. When we humble ourselves, God opens door ways that we cannot dream of and down paths we never imagine.

1 comment:

  1. This was very timely and spoke much wisdom into my current situation.

    Thank you,
    Jana Gordon