These Apocrypha Readings about Work are part of "Work in Worship," a collection of material for work-themed services compiled by David Welbourn. For more prayers, songs, readings and sermons, click on the table of contents to the right.
Wisdom of Solomon 6:1-11
(Revised English Bible)
Hear then, you kings, take this to heart; lords of the wide world, learn this lesson; give ear you rulers of the multitude, who take pride in the myriads of your people. Your authority was bestowed on you by the Lord, your power comes from the Most High. He will probe your actions and scrutinize your intentions. Though you are servants appointed by the King, you have not been upright judges; you have not maintained the law or guided your steps by the will of God. Swiftly and terribly he will descend on you, for judgement falls relentlessly on those in high places. The lowest may find pity and forgiveness, but those in power will be called powerfully to account; for he who is Master of all is obsequious to none, and shows no deference to greatness. Small and great alike are of his making, and all are under his providence equally; but it is for those who wield authority that he reserves the sternest inquisition. To you, then, who have absolute power I speak, in hope that you will learn wisdom and not go astray; those who in holiness have kept a holy course will be accounted holy, and those who have learnt that lesson will be able to make their defence. Therefore be eager to hear me; long for my teaching, and you will learn.
Ecclesiasticus 38: 24-end
(Revised English Bible)
A scholar's wisdom comes of ample leisure; to be wise he must be relieved of other tasks. How can one become wise who follows the plough, whose pride is in wielding the goad, who is absorbed in the task of driving oxen, whose talk is all about cattle? He concentrates on ploughing his furrows, and toils late to give the heifers their fodder. So it is with every craftsman and designer working both day and night. Such are those who make engravings on signets and patiently vary the design; they concentrate on making an exact likeness and stay up to all hours to finish their task. So it is with the smith, sitting by his anvil, intent on his ironwork. The fiery vapours shrivel his flesh as he wrestles in the heat of the furnace; the hammer rings in his ears again and again, and his eyes are on the pattern he is copying. He concentrates on completing the task and stays up late to give it a perfect finish. So it is with the potter, sitting at his work, turning the wheel with his feet, always engrossed in the task of making up his tally of vessels; he moulds the clay with his arm, crouching forward to exert his strength. He concentrates on finishing the glazing, and stays up to clean out the furnace.
All those rely on their hands, and each is skilful at his own craft. Without them a city would have no inhabitants; no settlers or travellers would come to it. Yet they are not in demand at public discussions, nor do they attain to high office in the assembly. They do not sit on the judge's bench or understand the decisions of the courts. They cannot expound moral or legal principles and are not ready with maxims. But they maintain the fabric of this world, and the practice of their craft is their prayer.
Of knowledge and Science
We are indeed in God's hand, we ourselves and our words,
with all our understanding, too, and technical knowledge.
It was he who gave me true knowledge of all that is,
who taught me the structure of the world and the properties of the elements,
the beginning, end and middle of the times,
the alteration of the solstices and the succession of the seasons,
the revolution of the year and the positions of the stars,
the natures of animals and the instincts of wild beasts,
the powers of spirits and the mental processes of men,
the varieties of plants, and the medical properties of roots.
All that is hidden, all that is plain, I have come to know,
instructed by Wisdom who designed them all.
(Wisdom 7:16-21 Jerusalem Bible)
Of Value and Worth
Do not try to be smart when you do your work,
do not put on airs when you are in difficulties,
Better a hardworking man who has plenty of everything
than a pretentious man at a loss for a meal.
My son, be modest in your self-esteem,
and value yourself at your proper worth.
Who can justify a man who runs himself down,
or respect a man who despises himself?
A poor man is honoured for his wits,
and a rich man for his wealth.
Honoured in poverty, how much the more in wealth!
Dishonoured in wealth, how much the more in poverty!
(Ecclesiasticus 10:26-31 Jerusalem Bible)
Of Honesty in Trade
It is difficult for a merchant to avoid doing wrong
and for a salesman not to incur sin.
Many have sinned for the sake of profit,
he who hopes to be rich must be ruthless.
A peg will stick in the joint between two stones,
and sin will wedge itself between selling and buying.
If a man does not hold earnestly to the fear of the Lord,
his house will soon be overthrown.
(Ecclesiasticus 26:29-27:3 Jerusalem Bible)
Of Counsultants, advisers etc
Any adviser will offer advice,
but some are governed by self-interest.
Beware of a man who offers advice,
first find out what he wants himself -
since his advice coincides with his self-interest -
in case he has designs on you
and tells you, 'You are on the right road',
but stands well clear to see what will happen to you.
Do not consult a man who looks at you askance,
conceal your plans from people jealous of you.
Do not consult a person about a rival,
or a coward about war,
a merchant about prices,
or a buyer about selling,
a mean man about gratitude,
or a selfish man about kindness,
a lazy fellow about any sort of work,
or a casual worker about finishing a job,
an idle servant about a major undertaking -
do not rely on these for advice.
But constantly have recourse to a devout man,
whom you know to be a keeper of the commandments,
whose soul matches your own,
and who, if you go wrong, will be sympathetic.
Finally, stick to the advice your own heart gives you,
no-one can be truer to you than that,
since a man's soul often forewarns him better
than seven watchmen perched on a watchtower.
And besides this beg the Most High
to guide your steps in the truth.
(Ecclesiasticus 37:7-15 Jerusalem Bible)
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