Working Hard, Hardly Working

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Ephesians 4:28

Hard Work, Good Work: Part 2

Years ago, my wife and I lived next door to her father. Because he was retired, he spent quite a bit of time working in his yard. When I saw him doing something like mowing the lawn, I'd shout over the fence, "How's it going over there?" Inevitably, he'd respond, "Working hard; hardly working." I think he meant something like, "Yes, I'm working hard in a way. But I'm also enjoying the freedom in my retirement to putter around in my yard, to work whenever I want to, and to be my own boss. This feels more like play than work."

Ephesians 4:28 prefers "working hard" to "hardly working." This verse says that thieves—and, by implication, all of us—should work hard. You don't see this in our translation, but it is clear in the original language. The NIV says that people "must work, doing something useful with their own hands." The Greek verb translated here as "must work" suggests not just any quality of work, but hard work in particular. If you were to look up this verb, kopiao, in a Greek-English dictionary, you'd find translations such as, "become weary, become tired, exert oneself, work hard, toil, struggle." Paul often uses kopiao in reference to his demanding work as an apostle (see 1 Cor. 15:10; Phil. 2:16). Work, whether labor to earn an income or church planting work or you name it, is often hard. It can be exhausting. It can demand mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical investment and leave us worn out.

Our passage doesn't explain why we should work hard. But this imperative grows out of a biblical understanding of work. You and I, as human beings, were created to work, to use our full capacities in order to ensure that God's creation functions as it is supposed to, leading to fruitful living for all creatures. Of course, when sin entered in, work became more difficult and painful. Yet, this does not mean that all hard work is wrong or to be avoided. In fact, some of the most rewarding experiences of life come as we invest our full energies in a worthwhile project.

Moreover, the context of Ephesians 4:28 reminds us that working hard is part and parcel of putting on the new self in Christ (4:24). God, who has created us anew in Christ for good works (2:10), expects us to do these with energy. Through our hard work, not only do we find fulfillment, but also we do that which God has ordained for us, thus offering our whole lives to him in worship (see Romans 12:1-2).

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Can you think of times in your life when you have worked especially hard, and when your hard work was especially meaningful? When might hard work not be honoring to God? Are you able to offer your work to God today, whatever that work might be?

PRAYER: Gracious God, thank you for creating me with the capacity to work. Thank you for inviting me to participate in your work in this world. Thank you for reminding me today that I can honor you by working hard. Help me to offer to you all that I do today. May I work hard, using well the gifts, talents, and opportunities you have given me. May it all be for your glory. Amen.


Pencils Down

Quitting time would be easier if deadlines, insecurity, perfectionism, and expectations disappeared. We could simply lay our pencils down and walk away from the task in peace. Unfortunately, this is not our experience. The urgent trumps the important. The urgent trumps the clock, too. “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for God grants sleep to those he loves.” Conceptually appealing, yet realistically challenging when pressure knocks on the door, the wisdom of the Psalmist often fails to change our ways.

This article is part of a series at The High Calling called Pencils Down. Our hope is that in everything, from to-do lists to identity, we will be encouraged to make small advances toward stopping when it’s time to stop.

Image courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in The H. E. Butt Family Foundation.