Whatever Happened to the Work Ethic?
Bible Text: 2 Thessalonians 3:10, KJV | Speaker: Dr. Harold J. Sala | Series: Guidelines For Living | For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. 2 Thessalonians 3:10, KJV
Do attitudes ever change with the passing of time! I thought of that recently as I read through a pocket-sized anthology of sayings and wisdom. The little book, about a hundred years old, contains the reflections of educators and world leaders between – say, 1850 and 1900. This, you must remember, was before the automobile, the radio, the computer and two world wars that thrust the world into the Atomic Age.
As I read the quotations of famous people, there was a theme that kept repeating itself, namely that work is not only a good thing but is endowed with honor and decency. Teddy Roosevelt is quoted as saying, “I pity no man because he has no work. If he is worth his salt, he will work. I envy the man who has a work worth doing, and does it well.”
John Ruskin, the English writer and reformer, died in the year 1900. He wrote, “If you want knowledge, you must toil for it; if food, you must toil for it; and if pleasure, you must toil for it. Toil is the law. Pleasure comes through toil, and not by self-indulgence and indolence. When one gets to love work, his life is a happy one.” Ruskin, who taught at Oxford, would have a tough time selling that philosophy to college students today.
Historians have called it “The Protestant Work Ethic,” a code of morals based on the principles of thrift, discipline, individualism and–yes, hard work. It had its roots in Calvinistic Protestantism, which moved from Switzerland to England, then to the U.S. It was the fuel that drove the industrial revolution and the taming of the West in the U.S.
Among the pile of booklets collected during my father-in-law’s lifetime of ministry is a 1947 publication, “The Constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.” Article 12 says, “Work in the U.S.S.R. is a duty and a matter of honor for every able-bodied citizen, in accordance with the principle: ‘He who does not work, neither shall he eat.”
I wondered if the Communists who framed that document knew they were lifting a quote from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians where he wrote, “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10, KJV).
There’s one thing for sure. Today we need to rediscover the dignity of what we have grown to disdain–work. Sweat and calluses have gone the way of the horse and buggy and with the changing culture we’ve lost something, something important–the feeling of accomplishment, the pride of seeing your labors produce a harvest, and the good feeling that you put in a full day’s work for a day’s wage.
When Bob Vernon was an undercover agent, he sat down on a curb one day beside a young man who looked as if he was part of the drug culture. “What does pot sell for where you came from?” he asked. The young man answered, “I dunno; don’t use it any more. I’ve become a Christian and stopped doing drugs.” They chatted for a few minutes and Vernon asked, “Where you going to work?” “I’m not; work’s not for me,” he told him. So the undercover policeman took out his New Testament and showed him 2 Thessalonians 3:10, which says that if we don’t work, we have no right to eat. The young man thought for a few moments, then with resignation said, “Well, if that’s in the Bible, it’s for me.” And Bob Vernon helped him find work.
With all our achievements, may we rediscover the dignity and honor of honest, old-fashioned work. Indeed!
Resource reading: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13