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The Wisdom of Work

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Time is short. We only have so many years, months, days, and hours in which to be productive. This is reason enough for us to work as unto the Lord during the short time God has given us in this life. This is part of the wisdom of work.

The books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes speak repeatedly about our need to pursue productive and fruitful lives. The author of Ecclesiastes explains why productivity is fundamental to what we do when he says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going” (Eccl. 9:10).

The Wisdom of Work

This takes shape and form in a variety of areas of our lives. We ought to use our time to diligently work, study, and manage our homes. We should also diligently attend our devotional lives, physical well-being, and care for others. In order for us to apply the biblical call for us to work wisely, we first need to understand the biblical teaching about vocation.

Understanding Vocation

Most people in the Western world today view a job first and foremost as a means to an end (i.e. a way to get provision for possessions and pleasures). Because the idea of vocation has been lost. People now jump from job to job throughout the course of their lives. If we viewed our work under the rubric of God’s calling, we would be more apt to settle into whatever lawful work God has gifted and called us to do—and, we would seek to do it for His glory. The garbage man—who picks up trash to better the community and to bear witness to the goodness and greatness of God—is fulfilling his vocation as unto the Lord. Fulfilling the creation mandate to be fruitful for God’s glory must be the ultimate goal of our labors rather than merely seeking after a fruitful retirement. This was a vital principle reclaimed by the Reformers in their polemics with the Roman Catholic Church. As Gene Edward Veith explains,

The Reformers formulated the doctrine of vocation in response to the Roman Catholic insistence that ‘vocation’ or ‘calling’ was reserved for those entering the service of the church through the priesthood or a monastic order. Those doing so would renounce marriage, secular work, and economic advancement through taking vows of celibacy, obedience, and poverty. In response, the Reformers argued that all Christians are called by God to live faithfully in the three arenas of life: the household, the church, and the state.

John Calvin summarized the Reformed reclamation of the concept of vocation, when he wrote,

We know that men were created for the express purpose of being employed in labor of various kinds, and that no sacrifice is more pleasing to God than when every man applies himself diligently to his own calling, and endeavors to live in such a manner as to contribute to the general advantage.

In reflecting on the wisdom of work John Murray noted that the concept of a person’s vocation is rooted in the creation ordinance of labor. He wrote,

The institution of labor underlines the whole question of vocation. What path of life each individual is to follow in respect to this basic interest of life is to be determined by the proper gift which God has bestowed, and this is the index to the divine will and therefore to the divine call. In connection with the specific kind of labor in which each person is to engage we find this same kind of sanction. Each person’s labor is a kind of divine vocation…It is the consciousness of divine vocation in the particular task assigned to us that will imbue us with the proper sense of responsibility in the discharge of it.

After we have come to understand the doctrine of vocation and embraced our particular callings, we must understand the way in which those vocations are to be carried out with divine wisdom.

Preparation

When I was young, my father gave me a simple key to leading a productive life. He would remind me to “pray, plan, and do.” Over the decades, I have come to realize the importance of this counsel for every aspect of life. Proverbs 24:27 says, “Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house.” The significance of planning comes from the triune God Himself. In His eternal counsel, the Lord planned the world and all the events of human history. Everything that happens in time and space occurs according to the eternal wisdom of God. The Apostle Paul speaks of the work of Christ in reconciling all things in heaven and earth as being God’s “plan for the fullness of time” (Eph. 1:10) and “the plan of the mystery hidden for ages” (Eph. 3:9). Every aspect of creation, providence, and redemption has been carefully planned out by God and executed in time, and this includes the wisdom of work. Since we are vulnerable to fall out of routine, we should strategically plan out our days and hours during this season of isolating pandemic.