The way we often talk about work, you’d think it was a scourge. But that’s not God’s plan for work, according to Scripture. It is curious that work is one of the very first things we find in the Bible. The first chapter of Genesis is all about God’s artistic work in the six days of creation.
In the next chapter, work becomes a gift from God to man. God sets Adam in the garden to look after it and care for it. Of course, this garden happens to be paradise, and so the work is pleasant. This chapter, however, contains another important teaching on the nature and value of work. God rests on the seventh day after his work of creation is completed.
This serves as a pattern for men and women who are later commanded to follow God’s example. Work has great value, but not ultimate value.
The Sabbath is a gift to humanity — a weekly occasion to rest from work, enjoy and give thanks for the fruits of human labor and divine generosity. Throughout the Bible, we find great emphasis on observing this Sabbath with rest. We are cautioned to make sure that work does not become greedy and compulsive.
Yet if work is so good, why do so many dread it? The third chapter of Genesis supplies the answer. Sin not only spoils man’s relationship with God, it also disrupts humanity’s relationship with the earth and corrupts the vocation to work.
Jesus comes to redeem every aspect of human life, including work. He takes the most despicable task of all, the washing of another’s feet, and makes that the sign of the kind of servant leadership that is to be the hallmark of his disciples (Jn 13).
In the New Testament we also find the same balance regarding work as we see in the Old Testament: Work is a blessing, but it never should become frantic compulsion.
When Jesus comes to visit his friends in Bethany (Lk 10), he gently rebukes Martha for her frenetic fussing and praises the sister who knew enough to rest at his feet and listen to his words.
Yet the hard pastoral work of the apostles and elders is praised in the New Testament. And Matthew 10:10 reminds us that “the laborer deserves his keep.”
But St. Paul, despite his right to financial support from the church, takes pride in the fact that he voluntarily worked with his hands “night and day” so as not to be a burden on the community. In this he sets an example for us all: “If anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat” (2 Thes 3:10).
Paul’s most important advice has to do with the proper motivation for working hard. Ultimately, Christians work neither for money nor for approval: “Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others” (Col 3:23).
D’Ambrosio is co-founder of Crossroads Productions, an apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization.