The Sanctity of Labor

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ… rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man” (Eph. 6:5–7).

- Ephesians 6:5–9

It is impossible to drive an automobile for too long in the United States without seeing a bumper sticker on a car in front of you. Whether it advertises a person’s politics, sense of humor, or religious affiliation, it seems just about everyone has one of these stickers on the fender of his car. One of the more common of these reads something like “a bad day fishing is better than a good day working.”

Whether or not we happen to be fishing aficionados, everyone can identify with this sentiment, at least on occasion. The daily pressures of getting up and serving an employer can be tremendously demanding. Most jobs can become monotonous, and countless laborers hate what they do for a living. Moreover, some people at times try to get the most they can from the least amount of effort.

This view of employment is far different from the one taught in Scripture. As we saw a few months ago, labor is a gift from God, given to man before the fall (Gen. 2:15). Sin brought a curse to our labor, and so we occasionally find it dreary. However, work itself is not the punishment for sin. It is a source of blessed purpose in our lives.

Our conversation implicitly reveals this. Labor is so vital to our identity that we usually ask new acquaintances what they do for a living within the first conversation. Yes, work can become an idol, but even this distortion of our vocation shows how labor defines our sense of worth. Servitude as practiced in the ancient world is the closest parallel we can find to employment in modern society, and thus today’s passage bears upon our work ethic. Paul tells us to serve our supervisors industriously, as if we are serving the Lord (Eph. 6:5–8). But managers should note that they are not to take advantage of their employees; instead they must treat them with respect (v. 9).

All of us are to seek to fulfill our callings for God’s kingdom. We serve our Lord by working hard to feed our families, support His church, and transform the world. From the president of a multi-million dollar corporation to the janitor of the same, all of us must honor our Creator and be as productive as we can (Matt. 24:45–51).

Coram Deo

How do you feel about your line of work? Are you counting the days till retirement? Do you hate getting up every morning and doing the same task you did the day before? Do you look forward to serving your boss and accomplishing your work quickly and efficiently? If you do not enjoy your job, consider whether you have found your life’s calling. But whether or not you enjoy your work, strive to be as industrious as possible for God’s glory.

Passages for Further Study

Gen. 39:1–6a
Prov. 10:4–5
2 Thess. 3:6–12
1 Tim. 5:8

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.