Work Ethic

This document reflects commonly held beliefs based on scripture which have been endorsed by the church's Commission on Doctrinal Purity and the Executive Presbytery.

Why are personal initiative and a strong work ethic so important for Christians and for society in general?

Some people feel that work is the punishment God placed on Adam and Eve because they sinned by disobeying Him. Adam was to labor to provide food "by the sweat of [his] brow" (Gen. 3:19) until the day he died. But the Bible portrays work as something beneficial and productive, even creative. God himself creates, forms, builds, and plants (Gen. 1:1, 2:7,19; Psa 127:1; Amos 9:15). "On the seventh day [God] rested from all his work" (Gen. 2:2). And the result of His work was very good! Paul charged the Thessalonian Christians, "Respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work" (1 Thess. 5:12,13). Several times Paul warned them not to be idle (1 Thess. 5:14; 2 Thess. 3:6,11).

However, work is never described in the Bible as a cherished activity for all humans. Work has been spoiled as an enjoyable activity because it exists in a fallen world system. It is viewed generally as an attempt to increase wealth in order to achieve more leisure, or to have a better standard of living. So work, in this sense, is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

The Bible cautions the one who seeks to avoid work. Paul told the Thessalonians, "If a man will not work, he shall not eat" (2 Thess. 3:10). For one who is physically able to work to choose to accept welfare handouts rather than to work seems contrary to the spirit of Scripture.

The Bible has some very positive statements about work, although not directly concerning the contemporary work forms we know today. Yet from those references applications can be drawn for today’s workplace. Adam was given specific work assignments of ruling over the animals and tending the Garden. The Israelites tithed on the produce of their farming and husbandry. Jesus’ parables contain many references to everyday work. Paul condemned idleness and thievery and encouraged useful work activity (Eph. 4:28). He told the Thessalonians to keep working even though they expected Christ to return at any time (1 Thess. 5:1-14).

There is no indication in Scripture of any hierarchy of work. All honest labor is to be commended. Intellectual and skill occupations are work just as much as manual and physical labor. But higher paying occupations are no better in God’s sight than lesser paying opportunities. Whatever the vocation, the Christian worker should view the job as a means of using special gifts in service to others.

Christian parents should conscientiously teach children a strong work ethic, both by instruction and by example. Giving simple "work" assignments to younger children and more responsible tasks to older children is a good way to begin. Paying an appropriate allowance for good work will help build a strong work ethic. Some parents may feel this is bribery and that the children should learn to work without feeling they have to be paid for everything they do. But even a small payment for good work adds incentive and enjoyment to the "work" experience.


The world’s attitude toward work should not be the Christian’s attitude. Instead of viewing work as an unavoidable necessity to be fulfilled with minimal effort, the Christian duty is expressed by Ecclesiastes 9:10: "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might." And the Christian must never forget that he or she represents Christ in the workplace. Not only is work noble and God-ordained, it is also a vehicle for reaching the world for Christ, as commanded in the Great Commission.

A positive attitude can make the most dreary job less of a burden. It can bring cheer to fellow workers who detest their workplace assignment. An attitude of gratitude for the opportunity to work and for the strength to do the work is contagious. Never fall into the negativity of the world concerning work.

A positive attitude is more than just positive thinking. We can do the work as unto the Lord, not just for the supervisor or boss, even when it is not the most satisfying or fulfilling. The Christian should take Christ with him into every area of his life, and the work area that consumes nearly 25 percent of a usual week should be no exception.

The above statement is based upon our common understanding of scriptural teaching.

All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise specified.