Monday, January 13, 2014

Work Ethic And Idleness: An Exhortation

Fr. Dale Matson

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15)

There is something holy about work that sets it apart from other forms of activities. Not only did God create us to work. He gave us a job and this job gave us meaning and connectedness. Our bodies are made to work and become stronger in response to the work effort. Our muscles atrophy if we are not active. Humans were created as much ‘homo laborans’ as we were created ‘homo sapiens’. This part of human nature (laborans) was also corrupted in the fall. We were created for work but it has become toil.

According to article 35 of the 39 articles in the Anglican Church, the homilies were to be read by the clergy to their congregations. “…We judge them to be read in churches by the ministers, diligently and distinctly, that they may he understanded of the people.” [This Article is received in this Church, so far as it declares the Books of Homilies to be an explication of Christian doctrine, and instructive in piety and morals.]

The following is a brief excerpt from Homily 19 book II ‘Against Idleness’.

“For as much as man, being not born to ease and rest, but to labour and travail, is by corruption of nature through sin so far degenerated and grown out of kind, that he taketh idleness to be no evil at all, but rather a commendable thing, seemly for those that be wealthy; and therefore is greedily embraced of most part of men, as agreeable to their sensual affection, and all labour and travail is diligently avoided, as a thing painful and repugnant to the pleasure of the flesh; it is necessary to be declared unto you, that by the ordinance of God, which he hath set in the nature of man, every one ought, in his lawful vocation and calling, to give himself to labour; and that idleness, being repugnant to the same ordinance, is a grievous sin, and also for the great inconveniences and mischiefs which spring thereof, an intolerable evil [my emphasis] : to the intent that, when ye understand the same, ye may diligently flee from it, and on the other part earnestly apply yourselves, every man in his vocation, to honest labour and business, which as it is enjoined unto man by God's appointment, so it wanteth not his manifold blessings and sundry benefits.”

The preceding excerpt from homily 19 warns against idleness, which is the state of a fallen humanity that prefers idleness to working. Even in subsistence cultures this tendency toward idleness was evident. In 1609, John Smith exhorted the colonists of Jamestown; “You must obey this now for a law, that he that will not work shall not eat (except by sickness he be disabled). For the labors of thirty or forty honest and industrious men shall not be consumed to maintain a hundred and fifty idle loiterers.”,_neither_shall_he_eat

“A record high number of Americans — 91,541,000 — have left the U.S. labor force, making it the lowest worker participation rate since 1978. The participation rate is now at 62.8 percent. If the trend continues, the number of people not participating in the labor force will exceed the number of employed Americans in approximately four years. The Washington Post cites the government shutdown, retiring baby boomers, workers opting for school over jobs, and the number of workers increasingly going on disability insurance as opposed to unemployment as all contributing factors to the shrinking labor force. The smaller labor pool also suggests that the economy may be worse off than the official unemployment rate of 7.2 percent indicates, since unemployed figures do not include people who have left the labor market altogether.” (

The default assumption today is that those who are not working cannot find work but there is also the corrupted part of human nature favoring idleness. The churches were well aware of this and taught about the obligation to work. St. Paul stated, “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.” (2 Thessalonians 3:11-12)

This is not intended just for those able bodied folks not seeking work. There is a huge cohort of retired folks and an additional large group who are about to retire. Retirement does not grant those individuals the right to idleness. It is for their own good and the good of society that they continue to offer service as volunteers and caregivers to others. It is their responsibility to the next generation to model a work ethic.

Work is not just an obligation. Humans need to work and have productive lives. They need to feel that they are contributing to the greater good. For Christians; it is part of their reasonable service to God. “And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.” (BCP P.366)

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