Entitled, lazy, obnoxious, and presumptuous — words that should only describe a cat, never a Christian.
The believer’s work ethic should be nothing short of exemplary. Yet many of the worst workers also claim to belong to Christ. They see work as a necessary evil, not a means of God’s provision. They are allergic to prolonged effort and magnetized by ease. They proclaim salvation by grace but lament that their paycheck is earned by works. The Bible calls them sluggards (Prov 6:9-11).
They lurk where Christians gather. They abscond supplies needed by the widows and orphans, siphon off the generosity intended for the disabled, and erode the fibers of strength that hold relationships together. Their parasitic hooks dig into the muscle of the church and consume its ministry capacity. Male sluggards rebel against God’s design and are worse than insurgents in their own homes (1 Tim 5:8). Female sluggards chew the cud of gossip and spew the venom of slander (1 Tim 5:13). Together they are intoxicated with leisure (Prov 26:14), envious of ease (Prov 19:24), carnivorous for comfort (Prov 13:4), and prolific with excuses (Prov 26:16). While some may find minimal employment, the vast majority of able-bodied sluggards will perpetually find their home in the comfort of the couch.
The Scripture wastes no time trying to reason with sluggards. The rule is simple: “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat” (2 Thess 3:10). But that is not the way the church often handles the lazy. If a prodigal son shows up in most churches today, he would be given a place to live, meals to eat, probably a car to drive, and never feel the full weight of his sinful heart. God’s plan is for lazy people to repent and work; then they will see how he provides.
The Apostle Paul exemplified this when serving the church at Thessalonica. He said, “For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God” (1 Thess 2:9). He refused to let his personal needs become an obstacle to others hearing the gospel. He even refused to “eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you” (2 Thess 3:8).
Hard work is nothing new to God’s people. From the Old Testament through the New, the history of God’s people is a history of hard work. Scripture gives us many examples of a hard working God follower, from Noah building the ark to Ruth gleaning diligently to provide for herself and those in her care. There are even more examples of believers known for their work in the New Testament. Imagine the discredit it would bring if Joseph was a reckless carpenter, or the damage done to the gospel if Paul made poor quality tents.
Their capability in the workplace gave them credibility in the marketplace. Recklessness in the workplace undermines any level of gospel influence we may hope to have. Our example in the workplace is critical to any gospel we proclaim. Paul said it this way: “With labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example” (2 Thess 3:8-9).
Yes, there are sluggards in society, sluggards in the church, and sluggards in the pulpit. But the sluggard of greatest concern is the one in us: the embedded tendencies that weaken our resolve and threaten our witness. The seeds of laziness grow in the fertile soil of an undisciplined heart. It’s the pastor’s duty to root out idleness, destroy lethargy, and bring every impulse under the control of the Spirit. The preacher’s credibility is at stake. Paul said, “I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:27).
The DNA of a believer’s work ethic is described in Colossians 3:22-24: “Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”
diligence – Colossians 3:22a
Obey. It’s a simple command. Do the job, right away, in the right way. In Ephesians 6:5, Paul exhorts us to immediately carrying out our responsibilities, without delay, without excuse, without debate. It does not take salvation to obey an employer; a faithful believer, however, does this work with an attention to detail where only God will see. That awareness is what drives our diligence.
Diligence does the job. Perhaps no other word summarizes the believer’s work ethic better than the word diligence. It encapsulates the obedience, discipline, endurance, and attention to detail that is critical to a job well done and a life well-lived.
Diligence is being concerned with both the quality and quantity of the work. More than just working hard, it is working smart so as to maximize both the time and resources available. Our goal is to work with sincerity of heart (Eph 6:5), doing our work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men (Col 3:23).
integrity – Colossians 3:22b-23
Spurgeon once asked a young girl who worked as a maid how she knew she was saved. She answered, “I now sweep under the mats.” Her transformed heart was concerned with honoring God where only he would see. That is what separates a believer’s work ethic from the world. We are concerned with excellence in the places that only an omniscient God will inspect. The world seeks only to gain the approval of the employer but disregards the heart visible only to God. We work for God. He expects us to have the same work ethic regardless of any human audience.
Be a faithful employee. Integrity in our work demonstrates the beauty of God’s transforming work in our lives. Whatever we do, we do it before the Lord, in his presence, in his name, and for his glory.
How does God evaluate our efforts? Is he pleased with our honesty and excellence in our work? Is our attention to detail fitting for one who has been saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Remember, it’s not what we are doing that makes the difference; it is how we do it. A dishwasher with a pure heart trumps a preacher with a putrid heart.
ETERNITY – Colossians 3:24a
The world has its eyes on the paycheck. Christians have their eyes on eternity. Yes, that paycheck is critical, but it is not satisfying. It is immediately absorbed by bills, taxes, and necessities of life. Like sand through a sieve, it slips away.
Our reward for a job well done is so much more than any monetary gain. Our reward is the eternal inheritance of a home in heaven. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve and it is he who is preparing that eternal home for us.
Work is not our enemy. It is not punitive. It existed before sin began on earth and is a perfectly balanced part of God’s design. In the perfect garden of Eden, Adam was tasked with subduing, cultivating, and caring for creation (Gen 1:28; 2:5, 15). The fall of man invoked the curse that complicated the environment in which man would work (Gen 3:17–19), showing us that work is not a result of sin, but sin will complicate our efforts to work.
Work is a means of God’s provision. It is a common grace given to humanity as the primary way the necessities of life can be afforded. With every ounce of strength, we are saying “thank you” back to God not only for the power to engage our work, but for the privilege of providing in this way. The sluggard presumes on the goodness of others while shutting down a natural conduit of God’s blessing.
Work is often where we find our mission field. It is where our transformed lives are on display so that unbelievers may “see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16). The works they see are not just done to earn a paycheck — they can be an act of spiritual service, an act of worship (Rom 12:1).
Our goal is to honor Christ until we see him face-to-face and hear the precious words of our Lord: “Well done good and faithful servant … enter into the joy of thy Lord” (Matt 25:21).
We labor with diligence, integrity, and our eyes focused on eternity so that we say along with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7).