Producing true value at work (Psalms 127)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project

As Psalm 107 speaks of large-scale economic activity, so Psalms 127 and 128 speak of the household, the basic unit of economic production until the time of the Industrial Revolution. Psalm 127 begins with a reminder that all good work is grounded in God.

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved. (Psalm 127:1–2)

Both the “house” and the “city” refer to the same thing, the goal of providing goods and security for the residents. Ultimately, all economic activity is aimed at enabling households to thrive. The passage obviously asserts that diligent labor alone is not enough (compare Proverbs 26:13–16, on laziness). Beyond the obvious point, there is a deeper meaning. Hard work can produce a large and beautiful house, but it cannot create a happy home. A zealous entrepreneur can create a successful business but cannot by work alone create a good life. Only God can make it all worthwhile.

Bonnie Wurzbacher on Bringing Meaning to Work (Click to watch)

In most economies today, work other than farming is not usually performed in households, but in larger organizations. But the message of Psalm 127 applies to today’s institutionalized workplaces much as it does to ancient households. To thrive, every place of work must produce something of value. Putting in hours is not enough—the work has to result in goods or services that others need.

Believers may be able to offer something of special significance in this regard. In every workplace there is a temptation to produce items that can turn a quick buck, but don’t offer any lasting value. Businesses can increase profits—in the short term—by cutting the quality of materials. Sales people may be able to take advantage of buyers’ unfamiliarity to sell dubious products and accessories. Educational institutions can offer classes that attract students without developing lasting capabilities. And so on. The more we understand the genuine needs of the people who use our goods and services, and the more we contribute to the true value of what we produce, the more we can help our work institutions resist these temptations. Because true worth is ultimately grounded in God, we may have a unique ability to serve this role. But it must be done with humility and constant listening. It will accomplish nothing to loudly throw around our half-baked opinions until people are sick of hearing from us.