Question: "What does the Bible say about work ethic? What is a Christian work ethic?"
Answer: Colossians 3:23-25 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Another translation says to “work heartily” (ESV). Yet another says to “work willingly” (NLT). The Amplified Bible adds “from the soul.” Ephesians 6:7-8 shares a similar concept: “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.” In essence, this is the Christian work ethic. We are commanded to put forth our best efforts, to work from our heart and soul at whatever we do. We are accountable to God and stewards of the gifts He has given us. Our work flows out of our gratefulness to Him.
God instituted work with creation, prior to the Fall. Genesis 2:15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” After Adam and Eve sinned, work became toil (Genesis 3:17-19), but work itself is included in the “very good” part of creation (Genesis 1:31).
Throughout the Old Testament, God gave the Israelites specific instructions about how to do their work. He also gave instructions about providing for those who had less: “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 23:22). This command confirms the importance of work. God does not tell the people to harvest everything and then simply give food to the poor. Instead, He tells them to leave enough of the grain to allow the poor to work for themselves. Work has a way of giving us a sense of purpose, productivity, and dignity.
The Proverbs and Ecclesiastes contain some wise sayings regarding work. Proverbs 14:23 says, “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” Proverbs 6:6-11 says, “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.” Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” A strong work ethic is confirmed, with warnings concerning slackness.
The New Testament contains another important principle regarding work: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10); that is, the refusal of an able-bodied man to work should have the consequence that he lacks food. Paul also says that an “idle” man who refuses to work should not be part of the church (verse 6). Paul and his companions set a good example of hard work: “We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you” (verses 7-8).
Christians should work hard. Work is integral to life, and approaching work as God-given will give us more pleasure in it. We can work cheerfully and without complaint because we are working for the Lord who loves us and has redeemed us. A good work ethic can also be a witness to others (Matthew 5:16). The world takes notice of our efforts and wonders why we do what we do.
It is important to note that the Bible does not condone workaholism. We do not work merely to amass worldly wealth (in fact, Matthew 6:19-34 warns about this). We work to bring glory to God. We also do not work ourselves into the ground or to the extent that our health is damaged or our families suffer.
God is more interested in relationship with us than He is in what we do. God instituted the Sabbath at the beginning of creation. He did the work of creation for six days and then ceased. God is omnipotent; He did not need rest; He was setting an example for us. In the Ten Commandments, God confirmed both the importance of work and rest. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work” (Exodus 20:9-10a). Later, we see that God even required a Sabbath for the fields (see Leviticus 27). Though the specific laws regarding the Sabbath no longer apply to believers, we are told that “the Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27). It is a gift that we are wise to accept. So, while Christians are called to have a strong work ethic and to work hard at all that they do, they are also called to take times of rest.