Two years ago, I wrote a post called “Why Work?” While the post considers several different passages of Scripture, it primarily focuses on one passage. And, as an interesting twist, this passage was written about elders/pastors. That’s right, Paul wrote this passage to church leaders to exhort them to work with their hands… but why?
Sometimes, when I’m sitting at my desk or coding late at night, I wonder why I work? Yes, I know that I need to provide for myself and my family. We like to eat, and we like to have a place to sleep, and we like other things that are not necessities.
So, certainly I should work in order to support myself and my family. But, did you know there is another scriptural reason to work as well?
Scripture has alot to say about work. In fact, Paul warns the Thessalonians not to associate with a brother or sister who refuses to work. (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12) But, Scripture also gives us several reasons for working. Besides supporting ourselves and our families, Scripture also says that we should work in order to have something to give to others in need.
For example, consider Paul’s admonition to the elders from Ephesus:
I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Acts 20:33-35 ESV)
Paul provides his own example of working with his hands in order to provide for himself and for those who are with him. He then commands (using the verb for “it is necessary”, translated as “must” in the ESV) the elders to follow his example. He says they are to work with their hands so that they can help the weak (or “in need” according to the Greek lexicon BDAG).
In another passage in Ephesians, Paul instructs those who have been guilty of stealing in the past. He says:
Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. (Ephesians 4:28 ESV)
The thief has not “put on the new man” (Eph 4:24) simply by ceasing to steal and beginning to work for his own support. Instead, Paul expects a complete reversal in his thinking. No long is the thief to take from others; as a new man in Christ he is now to work in order to give to others who are in need.
Apparently, the idea of working for others and supporting those who are in need was active in the earliest days of the church. As Luke records in two passages:
And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. (Acts 2:45 ESV)
There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:34-35 ESV)
Perhaps this also explains part of the reasoning behind John’s instructions concerning caring for a brother or sister who is in need:
But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (1 John 3:17 ESV)
Thus, according to John, when we work to “have the world’s goods” in order to help others who are in need, we are demonstrating that God’s love abides in us.
We should work in order to provide for ourselves, and we should work in order to provide for our families. However, according to Scripture, we should also work in order to provide for others who are in need.
During these tough economic times, we should especially be looking around for those who are in need, and we should be working in order to help these people.