A century ago, at 13 years of age, in Lancashire, England, my father entered the coal mines to work alongside his father. During winter months he saw daylight only on Sundays. That was child labor.
Today in many cases the opposite extreme exists. A professional man in a highly technical position tells me that in his numerous employment interviews with well-trained candidates he all too often senses that their purpose rises no higher than an easy job, lavish lifestyle, and lots of money. He always asks candidates about their first jobs and finds that some he interviews had no work experience until college, and even then often at relatively undemanding jobs.
Avoiding both extremes, what can we glean from the Bible about work as a noble activity, belonging to mature manhood?
When Jesus returned to his home town after being away for some time, the townsmen asked, “Is not this the carpenter?” (Mk 6:3) Before leaving he had apparently identified himself by his work.
Likely somewhere between 12 and 30 years of age, under his earthly father’s tutelage, he had learned a craft (Matt 13:55). Later, he called his ministry of teaching and healing his work. He said: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working” (Jn 5:17).
The Scriptures themselves make the importance of work clear. To some Thessalonian Christians who thought that Christ’s soon appearing made the routines of this life unimportant, Paul writes, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (II Thess. 3:8). And he exhorted slackers in the church to “settle down and earn the bread they eat” (II Thess. 3:12).
We can even draw from the Scriptures a theology of work:
The first worker was God – the Creator (Gen 1:1). At the end of creation he rested from “his work” (Gen 2:2,3). The second worker was the first man, Adam, who by the Lord God himself was assigned his work as a gardener in Eden (Gen 2:15). Then Adam and Eve’s first two sons Cain and Abel had occupations – one kept flocks, the other worked the soil (Gen 4:1,2).
It’s true that the Fall of man gave work a bitter-sweet quality. Because of sin, the ground in which food was to be raised was cursed and toil took on a painful aspect. Work was no longer to be sheer pleasure. Nevertheless, in the New Testament, work is seen by the Apostle Paul, the tent maker, as a noble and deserving activity: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands …” (1Thess 4:11).
All of this could suggest that very early, children should get their first lessons in contributing to family life by chores – making their own beds, setting the table for dinner, etc. Later on they may graduate to baby sitting, shovelling snow, mowing lawns, or delivering papers, and thence on toward an adult vocation.
Such a regimen should mean four things for parents: (1) limiting the time children spend on video games, TV gazing, text messaging, etc; (2) fathers working beside their boys from time to time to teach and show camaraderie in work; (3) some tasks assigned without pay to show that their boys share responsibility in the functioning of the home; and (4) reasonable monetary rewards given for other tasks so as to give a child pleasure in receiving the rewards work brings.
Blessed is the growing boy who lives in a family where work is given its rightful place in the spectrum of daily life; and who grows up accepting the challenge of work that is sometimes pleasant sometimes tedious but always a vocation for that time of life.
(If you are friends with a young married couple or a young family, please pass this blog on to them)