The Value Of Work

steamworkshop_webupload_previewfile_407091116_previewThere used to be a Ramada Inn at the intersection of Miller Lane and Little York Road. Do you remember that? The evidence of a motel is gone, but it used to be there. There is an open field in my neighborhood where there was once a house. The only thing remaining of that house is a small patch of asphalt that used to lead into the driveway.

A lot of work went into building these structures. Many years of work went into maintaining those buildings. And of course there was work that went into tearing down the buildings and removing all evidence of their existence. I’m sure that the multiplied hours of labor associated with each of these buildings would be quite large. There are probably hundreds of people who gave a significant amount of blood, sweat, and tears to these endeavors.But they have nothing to show for it. Most of the people who drive by these vacant lots today have no idea there was ever a building there at all. So was there any value in their work? Think of all the floors that were vacuumed thousands of times. Think of all the times that the bathrooms were cleaned. Think of all the meals that were prepared and the dishes that were washed. Now there is no evidence that a floor, or a sink, or a stove ever existed on those properties.

When Solomon observed these kinds of things in life, he made this comment in the book of Ecclesiastes. “All is vanity and striving after wind.” It feels that way sometimes doesn’t it? How many times have we thought about something we have given a great deal of effort toward and then thought what’s the use? What difference is this really going to make? Why do I keep on trying? It feels like, “all is vanity and striving after wind.” But this was not Solomon’s last word on the subject. As he examined the subject of work more closely he recognized, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that there was much value in work. Here are four of his thoughts on the value of work.

First, work is important because God has commanded that all who are able to work should work. In Ecclesiastes 3:10, as Solomon is speaking of the toil of the worker, he says “it is the task which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves.” Work is a task that God has given. From the beginning Adam and Eve were to tend the Garden of Eden. The fourth commandment speaks of keeping the Sabbath day holy as a day of rest and worship, but it is in the context of “six days you shall labor and do all your work.” Work is not an option. From childhood to retirement, all those who are able to work are to work. It is interesting that Solomon speaks of work as something we are to occupy ourselves with. It is very tempting to be occupied with things that are wrong and inappropriate. We have all heard that “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” Having too much leisure time can be a real source of temptation. Work is a God-given way to occupy our time and build godly character. So work has value because it is a means of honoring our Creator.

Secondly, God has given work as the appointed means for obtaining our “daily bread.” In Ecclesiastes 3:12-13, Solomon speaks of seeing good in our labor because our need of food and drink is provided through our work. Yes we are to pray that God would provide our daily bread, but God’s usual means of answering that prayer is through our work. Profiting from our work is not bad—it’s a good thing.

Third, Solomon makes it very clear that there will a level of frustration in the work we do. In Ecclesiastes 2:23 he speaks of man’s labor being “painful and grievous.” The reality is that we live and work under the curse of sin. Tires go flat, paint peels off, machinery breaks down, people can be ornery and undependable. That is part of living in a fallen world. He also acknowledges that our work can be physically and mentally draining when he says, “even at night his mind does not rest.” There is always more to do. So it is unrealistic to think that your work will always go smoothly and without a hitch. But there’s more.

We need lastly to recognize that work is one of the primary opportunities we have to glorify God. At the end of Ecclesiastes Solomon says that, “the conclusion, when all has been heard, is fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.” This applies to every person and every aspect of their lives—including their labor. We reverence God when we do our work with gratitude to God. If you are physically and mentally able to work—be grateful. If God provides for your food, clothing, and shelter—be grateful. Realize that ultimately you are not working for your boss or for a paycheck. “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.” When we do our work for the Lord, it has become a good work, a work that is honoring to God in Christ. Maybe the kitchen you toiled in has been torn down. That’s okay. Your work still has great value. And if the Lord says to you, “well done good and faithful servant”, it even has eternal value. Happy Labor Day.