Does The Bible Really Say Much About Work?
Will Messenger, Editor in Chief of The Theology of Work Project, was surprised to learn how much of the Bible applied to work. You can explore what the Bible has to say about work in the Theology of Work Bible Commentary.
The biggest surprise for me being editor of the Theology of Work Project has been realizing how much the Bible says about work. When we started I thought there might be 30 passages, or 60, or maybe 100 passages that said something important about work. But in the end we commented on 859 passages of Scripture. There were more we could have chosen, but those 859 said so much that was important we didn't want to ignore them.
I think the change was: before I thought the Bible was a book about religion, and that might have some applications to work. But it's not; the Bible is a book about God. And it turns out, God shows up where God's people are, which is mostly at work.
We found three ways that we kept thinking of passages in the Scripture that apply to work. One is: some passages that are directly about work, like Genesis 2:15, "The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden to work it and care for it." The rest of the chapter talks about the work of caring for the garden. That's a pretty direct passage about work. Or another famous one is Colossians 3:23, "Whatever your task, do it as unto the Lord."
We also discovered many passages that have clear applications to work even if they're not about work. For instance: the list of gifts that are found in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, 1 Peter 4, and some other places. About half of those gifts are clearly applicable to the workplace, like teacher, giver, helper, or administrator. Even though Paul talks about them in a church setting, they have clear applications to workplaces we've found. Another example would be the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the meek." We wondered, "Does that has application to work? And if so, would that be a problem?" In the end, we discovered it does have applications to work and they're probably helpful to a worker, not detrimental.
A third category would be passages that are about life, but in a way that can be applied to work. For instance, the ten commandments, "Honor your mother and your father." That's clearly not about work, but that kind of character formation, that respect and love to those whom love and respect are due, is clearly applicable about work. If you learn to honor your mother and father, you're probably pretty good at honoring your coworkers also. Another really intriguing one is 2 John 12, a very short book of the Bible that I never guessed we'd read anything about. At the very end he says, "I have more that I'd like to talk to you about, but I don't want to put it in a letter. I want to discuss this with you face to face." Clearly that has applications to how we work too. With all the modern ways we have of communicating, Facebook, email, texting, phone calls, face to face teleconferences, recognizing that some conversations are best carried out face to face is very applicable.
It really was a surprise to see how much is genuinely in the Bible about work.