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Biblical worldview: work and productivity

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Biblical worldview: work and productivity |

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In previous articles on a biblical worldview of work, we covered lessons in initiative, order, and judgment, among other things. Here we will find in creation day three a lesson in productivity.

On the third day of creation, God created plants (Gen 1:11-13). Specifically, it says, he created grass bearing seed after its kind and trees bearing fruit containing its own seed after its kind. The primary lesson for us today is that work should be productive.

God did not create a system in which he had to keep laboring every day to plant new grass and trees. Instead, he created self-sustaining and self-replicating systems. These systems not only reproduce themselves, but produce beyond their original number (some 30, some 60, some 100 fold—Matt 13:8, 23; Mark 4:20). This bare increase alone speaks loudly of productivity.

God has therefore put us in a productive environment, and he expects us to be productive in our work as well. This is certainly true in a spiritual sense. That’s why he so often speaks of us bearing fruit in him (John 15:1–8) and the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23). But this carries into the practical as well. Our work as Image Bearers of God on earth should aim at increase, development, and productivity towards positive goals.

Whether from the perspective of employee or employer, work must be toward a goal to produce the most meaningful outcome possible in any given circumstance. This does not mean abusing the worker, of course. It means good leadership and management to instill the proper goals in the first place and maintain them along the way. This also means, however, that the old line, “The amount of work shall expand to fill up the amount of time allotted,” is improper as well. Slack for selfish gain is dishonest, and one could argue, theft. Instead, a discussion should be had as to how more work or greater works may be accomplished in the same time, and to the benefit of all.

Such discussion should be had regularly, because God has shown us the benefit of self-replicating systems—that is, the power of leverage. Again, God did not recreate every new tree, but created systems which can work this work for him. We should learn this lesson well, and I think we can say that mankind has learned this lesson in general. We should probably just be more mindful of it: “work smarter, not harder,” as they say. We should welcome any tool we can find or create in order to save time and become more productive toward goals. Whether a literal crowbar or elaborate software, the principle is the same. Work that leverages the power of “works that also work for you” becomes even more productive, and productivity compounds over time. The compounding effect, even if just at a couple percent per annum, builds wealth over time.

A young man once told me an unfortunate tale of how his dad had taught him to “work.” His dad owned a construction company and took him to a site one summer day. He showed the son a pile of dirt and told him to shovel it from one side of a driveway to the other. The son dutifully did. When he had finished, his dad said, “Good. Now shovel it back to the other side.” He did again, dutifully, and his father paid him just like the rest of the workers.

I suppose there may have been some character lesson in there about effort and perseverance under heat and sweat, but the overall lesson I found discouraging and demeaning. Yes, “hard work won’t kill you,” but hard work should also be as productive as possible. This boy was made to engage in drudgery for no larger purpose, or at best, very limited purpose. His work was not work in the biblical sense because it was not productive toward a goal; it was mere output following orders, with nothing to show at the end of the day.

This demeans both the person and the work. It says people exist to follow orders even if those orders are part of no larger, meaningful plan or cause. This does not image God. It is mere servitude. Likewise, this lesson suggests that work itself has value merely because labor was expended. One can work in a circle, literally undoing the progress they made earlier, and yet this still has value. But work does not have value merely because men labor. It must be toward a goal of actual righteous service toward men in some way, and preferably in the way that maximizes that service in the given circumstances.

God has shown us, among other things, that his creation ultimately is meant to bear fruit. As his Image, our work must bear fruit as well. The emphasis upon bearing spiritual fruit should underlie the practical as well, for it is its foundation. The value of work lies in its service to God and men, and God’s basis for service if love (Matt. 20:25–28; 22:37–40). The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, etc. . . . Upon this foundation, we should strive to produce goods and services—everything from raw materials to entire industries—that are productive towards the love and service of God and mankind.

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