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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary
In the original languages of the Bible, the word ‘work’ had a broad meaning. It was often used of action or behaviour in general (Psalms 9:16; Amos 8:7; Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 1:9; see ). Its specific usages may be grouped into three main categories, namely, ordinary physical work, particular service for God, and the works of God himself.
From the beginning God intended people to work. In so doing, they would develop their physical and mental abilities and at the same time learn how to benefit from the created world that God had given them (Genesis 1:28; Genesis 2:15). It is not work that is the result of sin, but the pain and suffering that result from work in a world dominated by sin. As a result of sin, people lost the spiritual power that God originally gave, so that the physical creation, which was intended for their enjoyment, became the means of their torment. Work, instead of bringing physical pleasure, brought pain and hardship (Genesis 3:16-19; Ecclesiastes 2:22-23).
Work is part of God’s plan for the proper functioning of human life. God desires that people find dignity and enjoyment in the work they do. This applies not just to work that earns money, but to unpaid work such as household and community tasks (Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 9:10; cf. Psalms 104:19-24).
Christians have additional reasons for taking interest in whatever they do, as their aim is to please Christ, their unseen master. They will work honestly whether or not someone is watching, and will find satisfaction in doing all tasks well, whether or not those tasks are enjoyable (Colossians 3:23; Ephesians 6:6-8; 1 Peter 2:18). The Christian who works solely for the purpose of getting income is not serving Christ (Matthew 6:24).
Although diligence in work is necessary if a person is to earn a living honestly (1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8), it should not be used as an excuse for selfish ambition. Work becomes a god when a person’s chief concern is to get rich (Matthew 19:21-22; Luke 12:16-21; James 3:16; James 4:13-17; James 5:1-6; see ). It also becomes a god when a person does not know how to cease from it. Rest and recreation, both physical and mental, are part of the weekly work cycle that the Creator intended for his creatures (Genesis 2:3; Exodus 20:8-11; cf. Mark 6:31; Luke 10:38-41; see ).
God is not pleased with those who are lazy or who refuse to work (Proverbs 13:4; Proverbs 18:9; Proverbs 21:25; Ecclesiastes 10:18; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12). But he is sympathetic to people who, for various reasons, are not able to work, and he expects others to help them (Deuteronomy 15:7-11; Proverbs 17:5; Isaiah 58:7; Luke 14:12-14; Luke 16:19-26; Romans 12:13; Ephesians 4:28).
All workers, whether employers or employees, are entitled to a just reward for their work. This includes the right to honest profits and fair wages (Leviticus 19:13; Proverbs 14:23; Proverbs 31:16-24; Ecclesiastes 5:18-19; Ecclesiastes 11:1; Ecclesiastes 11:4; Ecclesiastes 11:6; Luke 10:7; Luke 19:13-17; Colossians 4:1). The Bible consistently condemns an over-concern with income, especially when it produces dishonesty, violence and exploitation (Deuteronomy 24:14-15; Proverbs 20:17; Proverbs 21:6; Jeremiah 22:13; Jeremiah 22:17; Amos 8:4-6; Luke 3:10-14; 1 Timothy 6:9; James 5:4). All Christians, employers and employees alike, are answerable to a heavenly master who favours no one on the basis of social class (Ephesians 6:5; Ephesians 6:9). He expects all his people to trust in him and to put the interests of his kingdom before their own (Matthew 6:25-33).
Particular service for God
Though God’s people must carry out all work as if it is his work, they recognize that certain activities are in a special sense God’s work. Such activities are those that concern the preaching of the gospel, the planting of churches and the building up of God’s people. All Christians are, to some extent, involved in this work, for all have been given tasks according to their God-given abilities (1 Corinthians 12:4-7; see ). Therefore, all Christians will one day have their work assessed, as a result of which they will either receive a reward or suffer loss (1 Corinthians 3:10-15; see ).
God may set apart certain people for specific kinds of work (Acts 13:2; Acts 14:26; Ephesians 4:11-13; 1 Timothy 1:18; 1 Timothy 3:1). Such people should do their work with perseverance, honesty and joy, even though the work may at times bring them suffering and distress (Romans 15:17-20; 1 Corinthians 15:58; 2 Corinthians 11:24-29; Philippians 2:30). Christians respect their fellow believers who endure faithfully for the sake of Christ (1 Corinthians 16:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:13; 1 Timothy 4:15-16).
Nevertheless, true workers for God do not seek praise for themselves. They are not like hawkers trying to sell goods for their own gain. They work from pure motives, avoid any suggestion of deceit or dishonesty, and are concerned only for the glory of God and the well-being of others (2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Corinthians 4:1-2; 2 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 4:15; Galatians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:3-8; see ; ).
If people spend their whole time in the service of the church, they have the right to be supported financially by those who benefit from their work. They might also receive support from those who receive no direct benefit from their work (1 Corinthians 9:4-7; 2 Corinthians 11:8-9; Galatians 6:6; Galatians 6:10; Philippians 4:15-16; 1 Timothy 5:17-18). Some, however, may choose at times to earn their living by doing secular work, to avoid creating misunderstanding or financial hardship in a particular church (Acts 18:3; 1 Corinthians 9:12-15; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8-9).
The works of God
The Bible speaks of the works of God as evidence of his power, love, faithfulness, righteousness, majesty and almost all other aspects of the divine character (Psalms 111:2-8). Always God’s works are a cause for people everywhere to worship and praise him (Psalms 92:5; Psalms 103:22).
Frequently the Bible refers to God’s works in relation to creation (Genesis 2:2; Psalms 8:3; Psalms 19:1; Psalms 104:24; Hebrews 1:10) and the control of history (Psalms 46:8-9; Psalms 66:3; Psalms 107:24; Psalms 111:6; Isaiah 26:11-13; Isaiah 28:21; Revelation 15:2-4). In particular, it speaks of God’s works with reference to his miracles (Deuteronomy 11:3-7; Judges 2:7; John 9:1-7; see ). But no matter in what context it speaks of the works of God, those works are usually concerned with two main themes, judgment and salvation (Psalms 77:11-15; Psalms 111:6-9; Isaiah 28:21; Acts 13:41; Philippians 1:6; see ).
With the coming of Jesus, God’s works were in a special sense done through him. Those works were clear evidence, particularly to the Jews, that Jesus had been sent by the Father (John 5:36) and that through Jesus people could come to the Father (John 14:6; John 14:10-11). But most of the Jews rejected the evidence (John 5:37-38; John 10:25-26; John 10:37-38). They were stubbornly resistant to Jesus’ claims (John 10:32-33), and his miraculous works only roused them to greater opposition (John 10:20; John 10:31; John 10:39).
Jesus, however, did not turn back from his task. He continued to do his Father’s work till that work was finished (John 4:34; John 5:17; John 9:4; John 15:24; John 17:4; John 19:30). Through faith in him and his finished work, people can have forgiveness of sins and eternal life (John 6:28-29; John 20:30-31; see ).
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Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Work'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​bbd/​w/work.html. 2004.