Seriously, Why Bother to Work Hard?

This is Part 2 of a three-part series on The Meaning of Work (and How to Make It Meaningful).

Seriously, Why Bother to Work Hard?

This is Part 2 of a three-part series on The Meaning of Work (and How to Make It Meaningful).

In a world where hard workers are rewarded with more work, does it actually make sense to work hard? What does the Bible have to say?

Leslie Koh

A friend of mine (let’s call him Jamie) is a hard worker. He’s totally committed to the projects and tasks his boss gives him. If the deadline is tight, he’ll slave away late into the night, forgo his leave, and sometimes even work through illness. He doesn’t play politics, doesn’t curry favour with the boss, and doesn’t complain against lazy colleagues.

You’d think Jamie should get the rewards he deserves, like promotions, praises, and bonuses. Except that he doesn’t. He gets taken advantage of by others and sidelined, and has seen younger (and lazier) colleagues overtake him, year after year.

Poor Jamie. Poor, naïve Jamie. Welcome to the real world, Jamie.

I can’t remember how many times I’ve tried to tell my friend that working hard these days doesn’t count for anything. One needs to work smart—to make oneself visible to the boss, play defensively, and be strategic in taking on (and fending off) work. Because, as we all know, nice guys don’t finish first. Maybe even last.

Somewhere inside me, though, I know my words and views don’t represent God well. Jamie isn’t a believer, but he’s got morals—probably more than I do. Years of seeing how the real world operates have made me cynical, but I think that in some ways, Jamie’s got the right principles (though I still think his execution could do with some work).

Also, I am reminded, no less than the Bible calls us to work hard.

Hard Workers in the Bible

God Himself is a hard worker.

Genesis 2:2–3 describes a God who did not believe in working half-heartedly. For 6 days, He was fully engaged in creative work, all of which was good enough for Him to declare as “good”, which is saying a lot by God’s perfect standards.

It was only after 6 days of work, that God rested.

When Jesus was on earth, He, too, worked hard. Even when He was tired and worn out from the teaching and caring, He did not hesitate to give time to those who came to Him for help. 

So did the prophets, apostles, and many of the spiritual leaders described in the Bible. Many of God’s chosen people were invariably dedicated and committed to their assigned tasks.

Even nature provides some interesting models of hard workers, the champion of which must surely be the humble ant.

Not Just Crumb Collectors

Ants are always scurrying about looking for—or fetching—food back to their communities. When was the last time you saw an ant lounging about next to a sugar cube? Or a bunch of them squatting around complaining about unreasonable bosses and impossible deadlines?

No wonder the wise Solomon, in Proverbs 6:6–8, calls us to model ourselves on the ant’s work ethic and work attitude.

This call may seem a little preachy and a bit of a “motherhood” statement, but the comparison is a lot more insightful if you know a little bit about how ants operate.

Ants are social insects that live in communities. They’re built with specific functions—worker ants are responsible for the construction and maintenance of their nests, soldier ants protect the colony and hunt for the food, and they all work for the queen ant and the entire colony. There’s no individualism in the ant kingdom. 

So the typical ant is self-motivated, dedicated to its allotted task, and ever mindful of the need to store up for the future. 

All this points to the truth that as far as God sees it,

work is a blessing and not a curse.

work is a blessing

and not a curse.

Work is a God-given way through which we provide a roof over our heads, clothes to wear, and food for ourselves and our loved ones. God gave us the gift of work, because we were made to be caretakers of His creation (Genesis 2:15) and providers for our families.

Not surprisingly, the apostle Paul—himself another role model of a hard worker—doesn’t mince his words in emphasising the necessity of work. In 2 Thessalonians 3:10–12, he says: “‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.’ We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat.”

Our Turn . . .

I’d be the first to confess that I am nothing like the ant.

But if I were to put aside my worldly cynicism and consider what would truly please God, then I’d need to take seriously how God takes hard work seriously.

It would mean being self-motivated, self-regulated, and self-driven in my work—doing a task well even when the boss isn’t watching, and even when there may be no immediate gratification or reward on earth.

It would mean carrying out my assigned tasks faithfully, looking for ways to do it as best as I can, with whatever resources God has given me.

It would mean surrendering the outcome to God, knowing that He is the ultimate Judge of my actions and attitude, and not always worrying about what others think and say.

This approach is probably best summed up in Colossians 3:22–24, where Paul says:

“Obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favour, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

One pastor has wittily offered a twist on the now-familiar “WFH” model of work that has emerged in the wake of Covid-19 restrictions. He asks: “Are you Working From Home . . . or Working For Him?” 

Ultimately, we are accountable not just to our supervisors and bosses, but also to God.

And He takes hard work seriously.

And He takes hard

work seriously.

Should we work smart? Of course. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with seeking efficiency and looking for creative ways to get our work done. After all, the Bible says much about sound wisdom, discernment, and the value of skills and knowledge. Ecclesiastes 10:10, for instance, notes that an axe that is sharpened and wielded with skill will bring success.

But we also need to work hard, simply because—well, that’s what we are made to do.

Adapted from a sermon by Sim Kay Tee, author of Journey Through Ruth by Our Daily Bread Ministries.

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