The Beauty of Manual Labor
by David Murray
We have a tendency to put asunder what God has joined together. Afterward, we often devalue one part of what we’ve divided. For example, though God has joined human beings in a union of body and soul, we sometimes divide the soul and body, then attribute huge value to the soul and little to the body.
Similarly, we do this with labor when we divide headwork from handwork and then attribute huge value to headwork and little or nothing to handwork. Sometimes we use economic criteria (which job earns the most), and sometimes we use spiritual criteria (ministry is spiritual; everything else is secular).
Using biblical criteria, I want to show why this divide-and-devalue assessment of work is wrong, and I also want to demonstrate the beauty and dignity of manual labor.
The Source of Manual Labor
God was the first manual laborer. He created all the materials in the world and worked them into shape. He made Adam from dust and Eve from a male rib. He made things out of things.
Also, the first job God created was gardening, into which He called His first “employees.” Later, He called Bezalel and gifted him with all the necessary manual skills to build the tabernacle. Indeed, Bezalel is the first person Scripture records as being filled with the Spirit, and this filling was to help him build the tabernacle (Ex. 31:3). God called and equipped Bezalel no less than He called and equipped Moses.
The Son of God was probably a carpenter for most of His earthly life, a job to which He was divinely called and for which He was divinely gifted. Matthew Henry said, “Skill in common arts and employments is the gift of God; from him are derived both the faculty and the improvement of the faculty.”
The Range of Manual Labor
We find a variety of God-given gifts at the tabernacle building site: woodworking, stonecutting, jewel-setting, needleworking, and so on. Do we not see God’s amazing creativity in the vast range of creative gifts He has distributed throughout the world? When we watch a farmer plow his fields, a builder erect a wall, a homemaker arrange and adorn her house, we see the vast range of God’s creative abilities scattered throughout His creation. John Calvin said, “All the arts come from God and are to be respected as divine inventions.”
The Necessity of Manual Labor
Moses was a knowledge worker, not a manual laborer. God gave him the ability to teach and write, but he needed help with practical matters of construction. For God’s purposes to be accomplished, for His character to be revealed through the tabernacle, He also needed those who could work with their hands (which, as Exodus 35:31 makes clear, also involved a lot of headwork).
If God has gifted you, it’s because He has ordained needs for you to meet with your gifts. If He’s given you Bezalel-type gifts, don’t try to be a Moses. And if you have Moses-type gifts, encourage and value the Bezalels. The church and the world both need all of God’s gifts.
The Beauty of Manual Labor
In the tabernacle, we see God’s concern for beauty. We see it in the design, the fascinating furniture and ornaments, and the value and variety of the materials. Although a large part of the tabernacle’s design was about daily practicalities, some of the design choices were simply about beauty.
Let’s image our God by cultivating an appreciation for beauty and by displaying it in our daily lives and callings. Ask: “How can I make this home or yard more beautiful, this factory more beautiful, this product more beautiful? How can I reveal and display the beauty of God in my daily life and calling?” Our beautiful God loves beauty.
The Aim of Manual Labor
The aim of handwork and headwork alike is the glory of God. Moses’ preaching and Bezalel’s cutting, nailing, and lifting resulted in God being better known.
But, you may ask, “How do I glorify God in a factory, in a building site, in the kitchen?” We do so by mirroring God through diligence, integrity, honesty, and, above all, by aiming at excellence in all that we do.
That’s why, like Bezalel, we all need the filling of the Holy Spirit in whatever we do. Work is difficult, excellent work is even more difficult, and doing God-glorifying excellent work is most difficult of all. But if we do our God-given work with God’s help and for God’s glory, we are worshiping Him in, through, and with our work.
And that’s beautiful.