A Biblical View of Work

It’s my observation that most people don’t care why they get an extra day off work, they’re just glad to get it. This was confirmed when one of my sister-in-law’s came over yesterday for Thanksgiving. I asked her how she was doing and she responded, “I’m doing pretty well today – I don’t have to go to work!”.

Many people work at jobs they don’t like and don’t enjoy. Perhaps they have tired of work they enjoyed ten or twenty years ago. Perhaps they would like to try new work, but for one reason or another, can’t afford to do so. Going back to school might not be a feasible option for them. Self-study might not be their “thing”. Perhaps the changing of careers carries enough risk that the fear of failure holds them back. For whatever reasons, many people work at jobs they don’t like and don’t enjoy.

Solomon seems to have had a cushy job. He had wisdom beyond anyone on the planet. He had an abundance of wealth and women. Yet he had this “hole” inside his heart that he couldn’t fill. He tried to use his wisdom to figure out what it was that would fill it. Several times in Ecclesiastes, he acknowledges the same basic point: “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without Him, who can eat or find enjoyment?”. [emphasis added] I would like to point out several items of note in this text (Ecclesiastes 2. 17-26).

Solomon admits that he had accomplished great things in his work. But that accomplishment was overshadowed by the realization that he would die someday and would have to leave all of his accomplishments to someone else who may or may not manage them well. He found this to be meaningless. He was also worried that they would not do as good a job as he had done in managing all that he had. Applying this to our day and age, nearly all small business owners have a tough time entrusting portions of their business to someone else. They don’t like losing the “hands-on” in the various parts of their business. And the entrustment of work to an employee often adds to their frustration as they learn to be a good manager and find that the employee might do things differently than they would have.

Solomon noted that leaving his work to others caused his despair (a strong word) because he was leaving his work to someone “who had not worked for it”. So, the first point is this: the transition of your work and your accomplishments is inevitable. You will leave your business someday. Either through death, liquidation or sale, you will leave your business. This is why good succession and “end-game” planning is so essential. If you’re running a business today and haven’t thought one whit about how you plan to exit your business, then it’s time to make that transition in your thinking. Start today on learning how to plan for your exit.

The second point follows closely to the first: there is something unfair about working hard to create a thriving business and then leaving it to someone who didn’t work for it. Those who don’t have any “skin in the game” will not fully appreciate just what you’ve done to grow and build your business.

But this is why it takes years to prepare the second generation for leadership and ownership in a business.  If they don’t go through a rigorous training time, they won’t appreciate the opportunity they have.

And, as a side note, this is one of the most infuriating parts to the Government’s redistribution of wealth. They take your wealth and give it to someone who hasn’t worked for it.  Forced charity is not charity.

Scriptures connect wealth with work. If you don’t work, then you shouldn’t eat. The Scriptures don’t tell the wealthy to hoard their wealth or to ignore the poor – on the contrary, James tells us to ensure that the wealthy don’t hoard their wealth and there are plenty of illustrations and commands to ensure that those with wealth give to those who are poor. But the Scriptures never condone the government taking your wealth and giving it to someone who doesn’t work. You might give your wealth to someone who doesn’t work, but the government should not step in and force you to do it. Boiled down, individual charity is commanded in Scripture, but forced charity is not charity at all. It is a tax-redistribution activity of a government that has over-stepped its proper role.

Lastly, note the end of this passage where Solomon writes that “to the sinner He gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God”. Look at the wealth that has been created in our culture over the last 200 years. It really is astounding. We are the richest generation to live on the face of this planet. Solomon writes this as a matter-of-fact: Do we see this happening in our culture? Yes, we do. Consider the non-believer who has worked hard to create wealth in the form of cash savings and then comes and buys a business from a believer. That cash has been transferred into the kingdom of God via the sale. Now it is true that the business ownership has changed hands, so some would see this as a wash – a break-even where the kingdom didn’t realize a gain. But we need to differentiate between the business that produces the wealth and the wealth itself. Selling a business that produces wealth to someone who will give you wealth for it is a fulfillment of this verse.

This is one of the reasons that I strongly advocate that a business owner run his or her business in such a manner that they can produce a business that can produce on-going wealth and then sell that business for cash. I also advocate that business owners form foundations, either collectively or individually, to help ensure that their wealth persists and becomes an instrument of wealth creation. Many in the Christian community shun foundations and endowments, saying that God can supply whatever monies are needed at any time to fulfill his agenda on this earth. This is true. But this doesn’t nullify a proper use of savings in the form of a foundation or endowment that can continue to generate wealth and giving for the foreseeable future. In fact, once that money has been used to give more that it’s total amounts, I would submit that foundation or endowment is fulfilling the good servant’s role in Luke 19.

So, what is a Biblical View of Work? Well, in this passage, it is the following:

  1. Realize that the results of your work will be transferred to someone else someday. Don’t despair about it. Instead, plan for it.
  2. Realize that without a connection to God (vs. 25), that your work will be nothing but meaningless toil.
  3. Find satisfaction in your work. We’re not told how to do this, but since it is a command, it must be possible.
  4. Enjoy the fruits of your work (eat and drink).

Ecclesiastes is one of the best books to read and study if you want to know how God thinks about money and wealth. Find satisfaction in your work and that will be from God. Don’t worry about the “bigness” of your business – just find satisfaction in your work and leave the rest to God.

Bill English