[forthright] Work, Responsibility not Right

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From: "Forthright Magazine" <forthrightmag@...>
Date: Mon, 15 Oct 2007 09:21:40 -0300
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Work, Responsibility not Right
by J. Randal Matheny

We continue to treat the questions of a popular compendium of a
catechism. Question no. 415, "Right to Work," asks, "To what
type of work does every person have a right?" 

The question presupposes a limited view of work as a right which
must be guaranteed by governments, religions and world
organizations. It assumes that a worker must be cared for and
provided with opportunities. It implicitly denigrates a market
economy and encourages a dependence upon others (especially
powerful groups) which is contrary to the economic self-
sufficiency put forward by Scripture. The question also suggests
subtly that work and jobs are a limited quantity and thereby
undercuts the entrepreneurial spirit.

As a fallen creature, man was cursed with greater effort and
lesser success in his work (Genesis 3:17-19), but from the
beginning work was considered a worthy activity of man, since
his was the task in Eden "to care for it and to maintain it"
(Genesis 2:15), literally, "to work it and to keep it." The God
who works, creating (Genesis 2:2; Ephesians 2:10) and
maintaining his creation, clearly made work an integral part of
the dignity of human existence.

As Paul expressed it, "The one who steals must steal no longer;
rather he must labor, doing good with his own hands, so that he
may have something to share with the one who has need"
(Ephesians 4:28).

1. Honest work.

Honest work is that by which the worker is able to maintain his
ethical integrity and contribute to society's good. It includes
not only activity that is legal according to law (not criminal),
but morally good. It is certainly outside the Christian's sphere
of consideration to peddle drugs, promote prostitution or work
in the gambling or liquor industries.

Hence, John spelled out what repentance for notoriously crooked
tax collectors meant: "Collect no more than you are required to"
(Luke 3:13). And soldiers were told, "Take money from no one by violence
or by false accusation, and be content with your pay"
(v. 14). John's requirements meant working in an honest manner.

Honest work also involves proper observance of a country's laws.
An illegal alien cannot under any circumstance do honest work
because of his status. Some countries also create an
overwhelming bureaucracy, making it impossible in practical
terms to obey every governmental ruling. In this, governments
have the responsibility to reward those who do good (Romans
13:1-7), including the honest worker, but in Scripture the
onus for one's relation to government lies upon the Christian
worker and not upon the government. Again, from this standpoint,
the question above, rather than referring to rights, would have
been better expressed as the responsibilities of work.

Work must be done for a higher supervisor than the one who
oversees the job (Ephesians 6:5-7). The first-century slave's
motivation must also be that of the twenty-first century
employee. All work is done for God and not merely to please
others or to gain promotions or raises. The key to working with
enthusiasm is doing it for the Lord's sake, with an eye to the
reward which he gives (Colossians 3.22-25).

2. Honorable work.

To the Thessalonian Christians, among whom some refused to work,
Paul instructed them "to aspire to lead a quiet life, to attend
to your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we
commanded you. In this way you will live a decent life before
outsiders and not be in need" (1 Thessalonians 4:12).

When Paul urges them to work with their own hands, he is not
commanding that they all become manual laborers, but to be
responsible for providing for their own needs, as v. 12
indicates. As in some societies today, work was not a social
value. But it is a Christian value, for Jesus himself was a
carpenter before he began full-time ministry supported by others
(Mark 6:3; Luke 8:1-4). By the lack of mention of Joseph during
Jesus' adulthood, it is widely assumed that he by this time was
dead, so as oldest son, Jesus would have been responsible for
not only himself but for the sustenance of his mother's house.

In the midst of describing the marvelous creation of God, the
psalmist praises the Lord by mentioning his care of men. "Men
then go out to do their work, labor away until evening" (Psalm
104:23). This regular discipline to provide for one's own needs
is such a serious matter in the church so as to constitute an
issue of exclusion (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15). Help for the poor
is a Christian principle, but not for the lazy.

While Scripture praises hard work (Proverbs 14:23) and skill in
work (Proverbs 22:29), ultimately, it is the Lord who makes
one's work prosper (Psalm 127:1), as he did Joseph's (Genesis
39:2-6; 21-23; 41:37-45). Neither should work cause one to miss
opportunities to serve the Lord (Luke 10:40; John 6:27).

3. Helpful work.

Work is often presented in Scripture as one's opportunity to
help the less fortunate (Ephesians 4:28). This voluntary
sharing is especially evident in the church (Acts 2:44-46;
4:32-37; 20:33-35; Romans 15:25-29; 2 Corinthians 8:1-15ff;
James 2:15-16; 1 John 3:16-18).

Doing good to all people, "and especially to those who belong to
the family of faith" (Galatians 6:10), includes financial
support of those who teach in the church (v. 6). Only here does
Scripture speak of rights in regard to work; in this context,
however, of the right not to work, but as a servant of God to
be supported by the church (1 Corinthians 9:4-15; also 2
Thessalonians 3:9; 1 Timothy 5:17-18).

As long as a Christian may do honest, honorable and helpful
work, there is no single type of work that is to be preferred
above others. Individual talents, preferences and opportunities
will all influence a person's choice, as well as social,
national and international conditions.

Wives and mothers should consider their first responsibility to
be "workers at home" (Titus 2:4-5 NASV). Any work that hinders
her "fulfilling her duties at home" (NET) would not be approved
of God.

Work, then, is another blessing from God which allows the
worker to bless others and by his work to glorify the one who
works still, and whose "work is perfect" (1 Peter 3:9; John
5:17; Deuteronomy 32:4).

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