In a recent post, we saw that the Bible addresses the topic of work, oftentimes in a commending manner and always with a positive outlook.
In spite of the descriptions and depictions of work in the Bible, many of us continue to hold misconceptions about it. Here are a few of the most common misconceptions.
Misconception #1: Work is bad. Leisure is good.
Many people — including Christians — default to the notion that work is bad and leisure is good. Some people view work as a necessary evil to earn income. We see this in how people talk about their employment, relish holidays and weekends and dream of retirement. From this perspective, work becomes a means to an end: We work to live, and we live to play on the weekends to the degree we can afford it.
I am not trying to deny or ignore the real difficulties work sometimes brings or the benefits of rest. Indeed, our labors can sometimes be a daily grind. Regardless of our occupations, we all have seasons when work seems to be a boring, pointless, frustrating, exhausting and thankless task. The Bible tells us that work has now become toil, the creation is cursed, and experience testifies that many of our coworkers are indifferent (or even hostile) to Christianity.
Understandably, then, many people feel a lack of purpose in their work, second-guess their job choices, are unsure about their career trajectory and often feel insecure in their employment. Sin in the workplace is real — both in ourselves and in our coworkers — and we can all attest to having experienced this in the fallen world.
Yet grappling with the inevitable effects of sin on our work is different than categorically viewing all work as bad and all leisure as good. The Bible describes work as a joyous privilege, not as a grudging necessity. God is a worker, and he made humanity to work. In fact, our daily labor is one of the most important ways in which we can functionally bear the image of God in the material world.
Misunderstanding this concept will have grave practical consequences: Rather than being masters of our work, we will become its slaves; rather than ruling over our work, our work will rule over us. This is not God’s plan or design for his children.
Misconception #2: Some jobs are better than others.
Another misconception about work in contemporary culture relates to the types of labor in which we are employed. For example, many people view service-based jobs as being inherently inferior to knowledge-based jobs. This is a wrong perspective, for while Scripture does prohibit certain types of employment — such as prostitution, assassination, or thievery — the Bible places no favor upon specific types of labor that are morally permissible. Some jobs naturally require more manual labor, while others require more mental labor. Scripture is not prejudiced, one way or the other, in regard to service-based jobs or knowledge-based jobs.
A related distortion about work is our tendency to favor higher-paying jobs (and sometimes those who hold them) over lower-paying jobs. For instance, when someone speaks of a desire to find “a good job,” more often than not they mean a highly paying job. Low-paying jobs generally are not coveted. But practically speaking, it seems the definition of a good job should be one that meets an individual’s natural abilities, educational preparation, life experience and spiritual giftedness — regardless of the salary.
This is not to say that income is an unimportant consideration. Indeed, compensation for production is not only important, but may also be a matter of justice (I revisit this in my new book, Every Good Thing). Yet to view higher-paying jobs as essentially superior to lower-paying jobs is a misconception.
Misconception #3: “Sacred” is better than “secular.”
Scripture’s objectivity toward types of work also applies to the distinction often drawn between sacred and secular employment. It’s easy to see how those who have “sacred” jobs, such as pastors and missionaries, are doing the Lord’s work. It’s much more difficult to connect secular jobs with kingdom work. Yet it’s important to understand that this division between so-called sacred and secular employment is not found in Scripture.
Certainly the work of the clergy is functionally different than the work of the laity, but the same could be said in comparing any two types or categories of work. The Bible teaches that regardless of the type(s) of work in which we are employed, all believers are a part of a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9), are engaged in kingdom work (Luke 11:2) and are to labor for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Thus, both pastor and plumber are doing the Lord’s work.
Although recognizing some of the more prevalent misconceptions about work is important, it would be impossible for us to delineate and analyze all such personal and cultural errors. But a sure way to identify and correct any distortion of Christian doctrine is to focus on what the Bible actually teaches.