A Theology of Work

By Daniel Emma


1. God commands us to work and earn our own living – 2 Thess. 3:6-12: For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. (vs 10-12)

2. God commands us to provide for our households – 1 Tim. 5:8: But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (It should be noted that this text is specifically referring to providing for a Christian’s widowed, Christian, mother or grandmother)

3. Man was created to work/labor – Gen. 2:15: The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. (It should be noted that this purpose of God for man to work was in place before the Fall. Thus, in God’s perfect design, man was created to work and should not resent it.)

4. God would have us be dependent upon no one – 1 Thess. 4:11–12: Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

5. God commands us to do honest work with our own hands – Eph. 4:28: Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.


1. Phi. 4:19 – And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

2. Matt. 6:25-34 – But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (vs 33).

3. Ps. 37:25-26 – I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing.

4. Luke 12:22-34 – But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! (vs 28)

5. Heb. 13:5-6 – Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”


The dangers of wealth

1. 1 Tim. 6:9-10 – But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (It should be noted that Paul says “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” Some have taken this to mean that money itself is not evil or dangerous but only the love of it. Others have interpreted this by saying things like, “if even the love of money causes this great destruction, how much more will actual riches!”)

2. Heb. 13:5 – Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

3. Judas Iscariot. John 12:4-6, Matt. 26:14-16.

4. Matt. 6:24 – No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

5. Luke 12:13-21 – Jesus said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

6. Prov. 30:8-9 – “Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.

7. Jam. 5:1-6 – “Come now you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you…You have laid up treasure in the last days…You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. (vs 1, 3b, 5)

8. Mark 10:17-31 – And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (vs 23)

The “benefits” of wealth

1. Prov. 10:15 – A rich man’s wealth is his strong city; the poverty of the poor is their ruin.

2. Prov. 18:11 – A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his imagination.

3. Prov. 18:16 – A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before the great.

4. Prov. 19:4 – Wealth brings many new friends, but a poor man is deserted by his friend.

Warnings against acquiring great wealth

1. Matt. 6:19-24 – Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal (vs 19)

2. Prov. 23:4 – Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist.

3. Matt. 6:25-34 – Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (vs 34)

4. Ecc. 5:10-11 – He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to seem them with his eyes?

Positive aspects of wealth

1. Greater opportunity to give – see texts like Acts 20:35 and 1 Tim. 6:18-19

2. Greater opportunity to thank God for His blessings – see texts like 2 Cor. 9:10-15

3. Greater ability to obey God’s commands to provide for family – see texts like 1 Tim. 5:3-8

Warnings against trusting in wealth

1. 1 Tim. 6:17 – As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.

2. Prov. 11:4 – Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.

3. Prov. 11:28 – Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.


1. Matt. 10:9-10 – Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.

2. 1 Cor. 9:3-18 – In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. (vs 14)

3. Gal. 6:6 – Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.

4. 1 Tim. 5:17-18 – Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”


1. To avoid laziness, fruitlessness, and various other sins – 2 Thess. 3:11, 1 Tim. 5:13-14, Tit. 3:14, 2 Sam. 11:1ff etc.

2. To provide for your household – 1 Tim. 5:8, 2 Thess. 3:12, 1 Thess. 4:12

3. To give to those in need – 1 Tim. 6:18, Acts 20:35, Tit. 3:14, Eph. 4:28, Matt. 5:42 etc. (see also the many Proverbs on giving)

4. To display the glory of Christ to more unbelievers – Tit. 2:10, Matt. 5:16, Luke 16:9, 1 Tim. 6:1-2


1. Prov. 3:9-10 – Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then 1. your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.

2. Prov. 6:6-11 – Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.

3. Prov. 10:4-5 – A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. He who gathers in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame.

4. Prov. 10:22 – The blessing of the LORD makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.

5. Prov. 11:18 – The wicked earns deceptive wages, but one who sows righteousness gets a sure reward.

6. Prov. 11:24 – One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.

7. Prov. 12:11 – Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.

8. Prov. 12:24 – The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor.

9. Prov. 12:27 – Whoever is slothful will not roast his game, but the diligent man will get precious wealth.

10. Prov. 13:11 – Wealth gained hastily [NASB “by fraud”] will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it

11. Prov. 13:22 – A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, but the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous.

12. Prov. 13:25 – The righteous has enough to satisfy his appetite, but the belly of the wicked suffers want.

13. Prov. 14:4 – Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.

14. Prov. 14:21 – Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.

15. Prov. 14:23 – In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.

16. Prov. 14:31 – Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.

17. Prov. 15:6 – In the house of the righteous there is much treasure, but trouble befalls the income of the wicked.

18. Prov. 15:16-17 – Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.

19. Prov. 15:27 – Whoever is greedy for unjust gain troubles his own household, but he who hates bribes will live.

20. Prov. 16:8 – Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice.

21. Prov. 16:16 – How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.

22. Prov. 16:19 – It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud.

23. Prov. 16:26 – A worker’s appetite works for him; his mouth urges him on.

24. Prov. 17:18 – One who lacks sense gives a pledge and puts up security in the presence of his neighbor.

25. Prov. 18:9 – Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys

26. Prov. 19:4 – Wealth brings many new friends, but a poor man is deserted by his friend.

27. Prov. 19:15 – Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger.

28. Prov. 19:17 – Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.

29. Prov. 20:4 – The sluggard does not plow in autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing.

30. Prov. 20:13 – Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread.

31. Prov. 20:17 – Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth will be full of gravel.

32. Prov. 20:21 – An inheritance gained hastily in the beginning will not be blessed in the end.

33. Prov. 21:5-6 – The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty. The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death.

34. Prov. 21:13 – Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.

35. Prov. 21:17 – Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich.

36. Prov. 21:20 – Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling, but a foolish man devours it.

37. Prov. 21:25-26 – The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor. All day long he craves and craves, but the righteous gives and does not hold back.

38. Prov. 22:2 – The rich and the poor meet together; the LORD is the maker of them all.

39. Prov. 22:7 – The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.

40. Prov. 22:9 – Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.

41. Prov. 22:16 – Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.

42. Prov. 22:26-27 – Be not one of those who gives pledges, who put up security for debts. If you have nothing with which to pay, why should your bed be taken from under you?

43. Prov. 23:4-5 – Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.

44. Prov. 24:27 – Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house.

45. Prov. 24:30-34 – I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense, and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles and its stone wall was broken down. Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.

46. Prov. 27:23-27 – Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds, for riches do not last forever; and does a crown endure to all generations? When the grass is gone and the new growth appears and the vegetation of the mountains is gathered, the lambs will provide your clothing, and the goats the price of a field. There will be enough goats’ milk for your food, for the food of your household and the maintenance for your girls.

47. Prov. 28:19-20 – Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty. A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.

48. Prov. 30:7-9 – Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.

Specific Questions & Personal Opinions

Q: What is the difference between working hard and overworking?

On working hard:

We are commanded to “labor” and “be busy at work”. Numerous proverbs show us the wisdom in “diligent” work and toil. Numerous proverbs equate laziness, slothfulness etc. as foolish. (It should be noted that in the book of Proverbs “foolish” is more than simply “unintelligence” but also, and even more closely related to, the idea of “wicked”). The clear teaching of Scripture, therefore, is that we ought to work hard.

On overworking:

Overworking, in my opinion, would be when we prioritize work (especially, making money) over our many other God-given responsibilities.

Overworking would be “toiling to acquire wealth.”

We are overworking when we are no longer “seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.”

We overwork when we work beyond providing for necessities (food and clothing, 1 Tim. 6:8) to the neglect of duties such as loving your wife, training your children, praying, frequently assembling with other believers, etc.

Q: How do we balance working hard and providing for a family with making sacrifices for the kingdom?

Principle #1. “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.” To prioritize man or earthly things above God and his Kingdom is sin.

Principle #2. The will of God is “good and acceptable and perfect.” God’s will is perfect and therefore it will never contradict itself. God’s will for you to provide for your family is never in contradiction to his will for you to seek first his kingdom. In any situation where both commands are applicable to you, God’s will is never going to be to suspend one so that you can obey the other. Both will be doable, for God’s will is perfect.

Therefore the balance, I believe, is to simply not “overwork” (see above).

Q: Is it right to make sacrifices for the kingdom with a family?

Yes. “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.” God will not, however, call us to make sacrifices to such an extent that we must disobey His clearly revealed will. That is, to make sacrifices for the kingdom to such a degree that you no longer are able to provide food and clothing, would be sin.

Scriptures on sacrificing for the Kingdom:

Mark 10:28-31 – It should especially be noted here that Peter was married, and he had a job that he abandoned to follow Christ.

Matt. 10:37 – If we love our families more than Christ and are not willing to sacrifice some of their temporal pleasures for the sake of Christ, we can’t call ourselves Christians.

Heb. 10:34 – I think we’d be foolish to assume that every single person who “joyfully accepted the plundering of their property” was single. These Christians, evidently, thought it better to suffer material loss for the sake of obedience to Christ to “remember those who are in prison” and “I was in prison and you came to me.” It’s inconceivable to think that the children of these families made the final decision to “show compassion to those in prison”. Therefore, the fathers, or parents, made decisions that required their families to sacrifice material things for Christ.

Q: What is our theology of health insurance?

A: My personal opinion is that this isn’t necessary, but in many American situations would be wise to obtain.

Q: What is our theology of life insurance?

A: My personal opinion is that this isn’t necessary, but it would not be a sin to obtain in most cases. In some situations, it may even be wise. I personally tend to lean away from it though, due to my belief that Scripture teaches that the church is responsible to provide for widows and orphans, and younger widows are instructed to remarry. (1 Tim. 5:3-16). Therefore, if I were to die tomorrow, I believe it is my family’s responsibility first and foremost to care for Bethany, and Bethany’s Scriptural instruction would be to get re-married in due time. Additional reasoning for this position is that I believe the Bible, and in particular the New Testament, instructs us not to worry about tomorrow’s needs, but rather simply today’s (Matt. 6:34). In my opinion, life insurance usually (but not necessarily always) falls under the category of “being anxious about tomorrow.”

Q: What is our theology of retirement & 401k?

A: My opinion is that this isn’t necessary and in most cases isn’t wise. The simplest reasoning for this is Jesus’ teaching to “not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth.” The second great reason for this is that I see no biblical instruction that would lead us to believe it’s ok for us to stop working. While the quantity of time devoted to our work may decrease in old age, and while the type of work we participate in will likely significantly change, it seems to me to be anti-biblical to spend “retirement” in self-indulgence. If the purpose of storing up a 401k is so that you can spend your last 20 years or so of life in luxury, or even simply so that you don’t have to work to make a living, that would seem to me to be an ungodly motivation for laying up those treasures for the future. (Luke 12:13-21 also would be biblical precedence to hold this position). The only biblical motivation I can see that would make such a plan wise would be to allow yourself to wholly give yourself to the kingdom in your latter years. However, my opinion is that the wiser thing to do would be to simply live less luxuriously for your entire life and give yourself to “kingdom work” for your entire life. In this way you do not presume upon the riches of God’s kindness to give you a long life, but rather are making the best use of the time today.

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