What Are God’s Rules? Is There a Command for Every Occasion?
Christians from most church traditions are agreed that the Bible plays an essential role in determining our understanding of such commands and principles. And it is not hard to find Bible verses that speak about work.
- In the first two chapters of the Bible, men and women are given work to do, both caring for and cultivating natural resources given by God (Gen. 1:26-29; Gen. 2:15; Gen. 2:18-20).
- God models a seven day pattern of work and rest (six days work, one day rest) that God’s people are called to emulate (Gen. 2:2; Ex. 20:9-11; Mark 2:27). There is also a daily pattern of work and rest (Psalm 104:19-23).
- Earning one’s living by honest work is commended (Psalm 128:2; 1 Thess. 2:9; 2 Thess. 3:7-10).
- The Book of Proverbs contains many exhortations to work hard and warnings against idleness (e.g., Prov. 6:6).
- Manual work is not to be despised. Even a king works with his hands (1 Samuel 11:5). Jesus did the work of an artisan (Mark 6:3).
- The prophets denounce the idle rich (e.g., Amos 6:3-6).
- Like the prophets before him (see Isa. 5:7-8; Micah 3:1-3; Amos 5:21-24), Jesus denounces those who profess faith but act unjustly (Matt. 23:23).
- The apostle Paul supported himself as a tentmaker to preserve his independence and self-respect, and to provide his converts with an example of diligence and self-reliance. Paul encouraged them to share with others in need (Eph. 4:28). He saw honest labor as a way of commending the gospel (1 Thess. 4:11). He reprimanded those enthusiasts who wanted to give up daily work to get on with what they considered more urgent gospel work, only to end up living off other people (2 Thess. 3:10 ff.).
- Work is to be approached as an act of worship (1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17, 23).
The Bible also expresses concern about employment issues.
- We don’t just work to please our human bosses. We work for God (Col. 3:23; Eph. 6:5-8). Work is to be approached wholeheartedly and done well (Eccl. 9:10; Col. 3:22-24).
- God intends that people should be adequately paid for the work they do and enjoy food, shelter and clothing as part of the fruit of that work (Luke 10:7; 2 Thess. 3:10; Psalm 128:1-2).
- Employers are told to treat their employees justly and fairly, knowing that they themselves also have a master that they will ultimately answer to (Col. 4:1).
- They are to recognize that “workers deserve their wages” (Luke 10:7; 1 Tim. 5:18).
- Employees are reminded of their responsibilities towards their employers (1 Tim. 6:1; Titus 2:9).
Beyond these injunctions, there are a multitude of other Bible verses that speak about relationship and integrity issues at work. The Businessman’s Topical Bible(and its companion Businesswoman’s version) identifies 100 common workplace problems and then uses 1550 Bible verses to point to answers. The topics include what to do when a customer is dissatisfied, when you lose a key employee, when you feel betrayed, when you feel tempted to cheat and when your employee needs motivation.
In this post from The High Calling, Ann Kroeker comments on this article here at TOW, and particularly considers Biblical principles that can be applied to our decision to take or turn down a job opportunity.
Nonetheless, the attempt to formulate a complete book of rules based on Scripture that will speak to every conceivable ethical dilemma would seem to be a hopeless quest. No set of commands can be vast enough to cover every issue that arises. And there are situations in today’s workplace that have no precedent in Biblical times. Is it ethical to award stock options based on performance? Is it ethical to advertise a product to entice people to buy more of it? Is it ethical to have hiring preferences for under-represented ethnic groups? Is it ethical to buy a competing company? None of these situations would seem to be covered by a biblical command.
Moreover, this is the problem that the scribes and Pharisees ran into as they tried to come up with a comprehensive code and ended up not only overwhelmed by trivia, but also missing the main points. Yet, at the same time, it would be foolish for us to ignore the fact that Scripture does offer clarity on many issues: stealing, lying, loving the other person including our enemies, acting justly, caring for the poor and oppressed, etc. As Chris Marshall says, “The exclusion of any normative authority for Scriptural commands, laws or principles can also threaten to undermine the distinctively Christian character of Christian ethics and allow too much place for subjective judgment.” The Bible can’t be turned into a comprehensive rule book for ethics in the modern marketplace. But that is not to say that it doesn’t contain some important and still relevant rules.
Mike Murdock, The Businessman’s Topical Bible (Tulsa: Honor Books 1992).
Mike Murdock, The Businesswoman’s Topical Bible (Tulsa: Honor Books, 1994).
Christopher Marshall, "The Use of the Bible in Ethics" in Voices for Justice, edited by Jonathon Boston and Alan Cameron (Palmerston North, N.Z.: Dunmore Press, 1994) 125.