Bob Tamasy: Since When Did the Work Ethic Become Unethical?

Monday, May 10, 2021 - by Bob Tamasy
Bob Tamasy
Bob Tamasy

Walking into a restaurant last week, my wife and I were greeted by a sign that read, “We are short staffed. Please be patient with the staff that did show up. No one wants to work anymore.” Evidently, this is not an exaggeration. A recent newspaper article quoted other restaurant owners making the same complaint. An increasing number can’t find enough workers to keep their doors open.

 

Some people attribute this to the ongoing effects of the pandemic, but in many parts of the country, life is returning to a semblance of sanity. Restaurants and other retail establishments are resuming regular hours and activities, and more and more people are venturing out from their homes.

But workers are staying away in droves. Why?

 

It appears unemployment benefits and several rounds of Covid-19 stimulus payments have convinced some folks it’s no longer necessary to work to generate income. Months ago, a friend who owns several service franchises told me it has become difficult to find workers. Often, his help-wanted ads receive little or no response. Even previous employees are reluctant to return to work, satisfied to collect government payments while not working.

 

Is this “the American dream”? As one wag has termed it, “Payday every day – and no work on payday.” Our society has come a long way; but that doesn’t mean it’s a good way.

 

In the early 1900s, German sociologist Max Weber wrote The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, which embraced values such as diligence, discipline, hard work, innovation and frugality. While his discussion encompassed theology, sociology, economics and history, this work ethic is firmly anchored in teachings from the Bible.

 

The book of Proverbs in particular affirms the virtues of enterprise, initiative, determination and the use of one’s unique skills for the benefit of others. It says things such as:


“Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth”
(Proverbs 10:4).

“He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment” (Proverbs 12:11).

“All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23).

“The laborer’s appetite works for him; his hunger drives him one” (Proverbs 16:26).

“Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men” (Proverbs 22:29).

“He who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit, and he who looks after his master will be honored” (Proverbs 27:18).

 

Granted, most of these proverbs are couched in an agricultural context, but the principles fit any field of vocational endeavor: Hard work, diligence and the proper utilization of talents and abilities usually reap a tangible reward.

 

Work obviously isn’t a concept that developed over the past few centuries. Its origin traces to the Creation account, recorded in the first chapter of Genesis. After creating humankind “in His own image,” the Lord gave Adam and Eve their job description: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it…. I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food…’” (Genesis 1:27-29).

 

For the six days of Creation, God Himself had been diligently, ambitiously and imaginatively working. And He desired for the people created in His own image to do likewise. Sadly, following the first man and woman’s sinful disobedience against God, disregarding the one taboo He had given them, one of the curses of their rebellion was that work became hard. “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you…. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food…” (Genesis 3:17-19).

 

But that doesn’t diminish the fact that work was ordained and mandated by God, a form of sacred service to Him and His creation. In fact, the apostle Paul noted this in a letter to a first-century church: For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat’" (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

 

[Interesting side note: These words had significance even for Vladimir Lenin, a founder of Communism. He referred to them in his 1917 work, “The State and Revolution,” and later they were incorporated into the Russian Constitution of 1918: “He who does not work shall not eat.” We don’t offer hear this cited by voices heralding the supposed virtues of socialism.]

 

Getting back to the claim that “no one wants to work anymore,” even if not intended, this reflects an affront to God. Because the Scriptures declare work is much more than physical and mental labor expended in return for a paycheck.

 

From the beginning, working was designed as a form of worship and reverence for the Creator. As it declares in Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

 

Some may disagree, but refusing to work simply because a check from the government will arrive without the investment of any time or effort is to say, in effect, “God, I don’t want to serve you. I have no desire to use the strength and abilities you’ve given me to honor You or to be of benefit to others.” One reason we were created is to work. To intentionally not work when we’re able to do so rejects a key part of God’s plan and purpose for us all.


* * *

Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly published, ”Marketplace Ambassadors”; “Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace”; “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” A weekly business meditation he edits, “Monday Manna,” is translated into more than 20 languages and sent via email around the world by CBMC International. The address for his blog is www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com. His email address is btamasy@comcast.net.


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