You’re probably familiar with the phrase ‘protestant work ethic’, it’s a phrase that was coined at the start of the nineteenth century by the sociologist Max Weber and it’s an idea that came to dominate our view of the relationship between productivity and Christianity. When the first English settlers began their new lives in Jamestown in the 17th century, they faced unimaginable hardship and their lives became a desperate struggle for survival. Their leader, Captain John Smith, emphasized to the settlers the importance of hard work, citing the words of Saint Paul.
‘For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.’ 2 Thessalonians 3:10
This belief, that we serve God through hard work and productivity, underpins the American Dream to this day.
The Bible is not some pretty fantasy; the words of God are rooted in the harsh realities of physical existence in a fallen world. The Bible deals with violence and suffering and it deals with the realities of making a living, of work and of money. The details from which Biblical stories are drawn are from life 2,000 years ago but the truths they reveal are eternal. It is made quite clear in the Book of Genesis that it is the responsibility of humans to look after and manage the world that God gave us.
‘The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.’ Genesis 2:15
We live in a time when it is possible for an individual to do very little, perhaps not even work at all, and still have food, clothing and shelter, but in Biblical times failure to work led to starvation and death. However, God’s instruction about the importance of work also contains an instruction about the importance of rest and reflection.
‘You shall work six days, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during ploughing time and harvest you shall rest.’ Exodus 34:21
Ploughing and harvest are crucial stages of the agricultural cycle but even though the weather conditions might be perfect, the Sabbath must remain sacred. We must be productive but we must be productive in the service of God. Perhaps you know of a workaholic who drives himself or herself to breakdown, perhaps you are one yourself. God knows that the human body and the human mind need periods of rest in order to be productive.
‘One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind.’ Ecclesiastes 9:10
The Bible tells us that whatever work we do, we should do it to the best of our ability for the glorification of God.
‘Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men.’ Colossians 3:23
‘Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys.’ Proverbs 18:9
There are two important parables in the Bible which deal with work and productivity, at first glance they may appear to contradict one another, but we have to remember that parables require us to look beyond the literal meaning, so lets take a closer look at both of them. The parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) also appears in the Gospel According to Luke (Luke 19:11-27) as the parable of the ten minas, but here we’ll consider Matthew’s version. A master has to go away on a journey and before he leaves he summons his three servants to him. To the first servant he entrusts 5 talents, to the second, 2 talents and to the third, 1 talent. A talent was an ancient unit of weight or currency, as a result of this parable, the word has now come to mean ‘a special ability’ or ‘gift’. When the master returned he found that the first and second servants had doubled the number of talents through wise investment but the third servant had merely buried his talent. The master rewarded the first two servants but the third he punished.
‘Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him that hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not, shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
We are not all given equal quantities of talent by God, but whatever we are given, it is our Christian duty to put it to productive use. Now let us consider the parable of the 11th hour laborers (Matthew 20 6-16). A group of unemployed men were waiting in a vineyard in hope of work. At the 11th hour the vineyard owner put them to work, but at the end of the day he paid them the same wages as those who had worked all day. At first reading this might strike us as unfair on the men who had worked all day, but we need to understand that this is a parable about entry into the kingdom of heaven: it tells us that we can gain admission, even at the eleventh hour. It’s also interesting to consider that those men who had just worked an hour still needed a full day’s pay to feed their families. God rewards us according to our needs.
It is then, our Christian duty to lead a productive life, whatever our calling, and a key element in leading a productive life is planning.
‘The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.’ Proverbs 21:5A Christian planner will help you maintain your spiritual discipline and make effective use of your time in the service of God, take a look at our range of products, designed to help you on your way.