ABC Extra – Harder Than A Hard Day’s Night

October 3, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


Christianity promotes and celebrates the value and the glory of work.  Indeed, the famed, even if sometimes maligned, “Protestant Work Ethic” has been instrumental in engendering much of the industriousness that has marked the history of this country.  From the faith’s earliest years, Christians have esteemed work and eschewed laziness.  The Didache, a manual of early Christian practice, doctrine, and discipline from the turn of the second century, lays down this rule for those who wish to join the Christian community:

Let every one that comes in the name of the Lord be received…If the comer is a traveller, assist him, so far as you are able; but he shall not stay with you more than two or three days, if it be necessary. But if he wishes to settle with you, being a craftsman, let him work for and eat his bread. But if he has no craft, according to your wisdom provide how he shall live as a Christian among you, but not in idleness. If he will not do this, he is trafficking upon Christ. Beware of such men. (Didache 12:1-5)

With these words, we hear a call to both charity and industry.  On the one hand, Christians are to receive even strangers into their midst and assist them as much as possible.  On the other hand, if Christians catch whiffs of idleness among a person who joins their ranks, he is to be disciplined.  Laziness will not be tolerated.

Certainly such a strict and demanding work ethic has raised more than a little ire among many.  Overbearing corporate policies and malfeasance among management types is the bane of many rank and file employees.  These troubles, in turn, often lead to a spirit of idleness.  After all, the reasoning goes, if a work environment is miserable and miserly, why would an employee want to give it their all?  If the powers that be won’t treat them fairly, they simply won’t offer their best.  They’ll just do what they need to do to keep their job until a better prospect comes along.  The difficulty with this kind of thinking, however, is that it is patently unbiblical.  The apostle Peter admonishes:

Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. (1 Peter 2:18-20)

A couple of words jump out at me from this passage.  First, the word for “masters” is despotes, from which we get our English word “despot.”  In our day and age, nobody likes a despot.  Dictionary.com defines a “despot” as “any tyrant or oppressor.”[1]  Peter says, despite the wickedness of some despotic superiors, we still ought to work hard.  Their vileness should not result in our laziness.  Second, the word for “harsh” in Greek is skolios, from which we get our medical term “scoliosis,” a condition which describes an abnormal lateral curvature of the spine, or, more popularly stated, a crooked back.  Peter knows full well that many managers are crooked.  Yet, he encourages us to be faithful in our work even when these managers are unfaithful in their leadership.

The sentiment put forth by Peter’s words is certainly not a popular one.  But is a Christian one.  Peter knows and admits that our work will not always be easy.  And yet, when our work is hard and the road is long, we have this promise:  God is working in us and through us amidst even the most adverse of circumstances.   As Paul reminds us, “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).  Our work, then – even our arduous work – is a place and a space for God to work.  God hides His glorious work in our sorrowful work.

Do you see your work this way?  By faith, you can.  I love the way Gene Veith puts it in his book on Christian vocation:  “It is faith that transforms suffering into a cross.”[2]  May we see the suffering we encounter in our vocations as a cross, gifted to us by Christ, redeeming our suffering for His glory.

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[1] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/despot

[2] Gene Edward Veith, Jr., God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2002) 153.

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