Earn Your KeepBy Nathan Mates
While on this earth, humans are still under the laws of the countries they inhabit, subject to their rulers, and forced to interact with others. This is not necessarily a bad thing-- many other people could stand to hear the gospel. But, there are concerns as to food, clothing, and other temporal needs we have. These are somewhat legitimate concerns, but they are not to be the focus of our lives.
Jesus had several things to say about this subject in the Sermon on the Mount: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." [Matthew 6:25-34]
Strong words, there. Worrying about such needs is definitely out, but there's part of the flipside to faith that God will take care of you: you need actions to match your faith, or it's dead. [James 2:17 paraphrase.] And, the Bible has many things to say along those lines, that should not be neglected either. Proverbs says this most succinctly: "All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty." [Proverbs 14:23] and "One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys." [Proverbs 18:9]
While being one of the most effective early evangelists of the Church, the Apostle Paul didn't neglect this. Luke records his occupation in Acts: "After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them." [Acts 18:1-3] Paul's worldly skills in working with his hands were not neglected once he came to know Christ; on the contrary, he used those skills to support evangelism.
Paul would later recount this time in his own words: "We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world." [1 Corinthians 4:10-13]
The Thessalonian churches appeared to have problems with working to support themselves, as Paul had to mention this issue in two letters to them: "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody." [1 Thessalonians 4:11-12]
Paul's words later were even stronger: "For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat." [2 Thessalonians 3:7-12]
The only one that we should be dependent on is God for our daily strength, but in the affairs of this world, adults should strive to not be dependent on anything or anyone else. There are obviously exceptions, metered out by grace, to the rule above, such as the sick. But, the guiding principle should still be followed: if you can work, do so. Ministries, such as one's family, must come first, and overwork can be just as dangerous as underwork, but being a freeloader is not a good testimony as to the gifts God's given you. There are some side benefits of good skills as well: "Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men." [Proverbs 22:29]
Even Jesus had words to say about putting money and skills to work in the world. His proverbs on the ten minas in Luke 19:11-27 starts off as follows: "While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. He said: "A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. 'Put this money to work,' he said, 'until I come back.'" [Luke 19:11-13]. The good servants in this parable put their skills to use, earning more. But, the wicked servant hid the mina [Luke 19:20], afraid of losing it. Jesus's retort was that even investing that with bankers would have been a better use of that money than doing nothing with it. Once again, doing even minimal work is better than no work at all.
God's given us all many skills, talents, and abilities. Many are spiritual in nature, such as the spiritual gifts listed in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. But, there are also skills that help in worldly aspects as well. David was a great shot with a sling, used at first to protect his flocks from lions. Paul, as noted above, made tents. Several of the original 12 disciples were fishermen. These gifts, while not overtly spiritual, still came from God. And, as such, we are to recognize that even our daily work is using God's gifts, but laziness is refusing God's gifts.