The Value of Work
Warning Against Idleness
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 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.
- 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 (ESV)
At MMS, we practice daily what Paul preached long ago to the Thessalonians: “If you’re not willing to work, then you won’t eat.” That’s why all MMS Kids have jobs to perform. If we offer them food, shelter and other benefits without requiring some work in return, then what have we really taught them?
We love our kids far too much to encourage them to idleness!
Work isn’t a curse. (It preceded the fall of man.) On the contrary, each and everyone of us was designed to work – and we are happiest when we do the work God has called us to do.
As with our thoughts on charity, we teach MMS Kids to understand the value of work, in order to help them succeed in life. The following thoughts have been excerpted and updated from a 19th-Century text titled “Practical Ethics” by William DeWitt Hyde.
Work Is Good
Food, clothes, shelter, and all the necessities of life are the products of labor. Even the simplest food, such as fruit and berries, must be picked before it can be eaten: the coarsest garment of skins must be stripped from the animal before it can be worn: the rudest shelter of rock or cave must be seized and defended against intruders before it can become one’s own.
And as civilization advances, the element of labor involved in the production of goods steadily increases. The universal necessity of human labor to convert the raw materials given us by nature into articles serviceable to life and enjoyment renders work a fundamental branch of human conduct. Regular meals, comfortable homes, knowledge, civilization, all are the fruits of work. And unless we contribute our part to the production of these goods, we have no moral right to be partakers of the fruits. “If any will not work, neither let him eat.”
“All work,” says Thomas Carlyle, “is noble: work alone is noble. Blessed is he that has found his work; let him ask no other blessedness.”
Every man lives either upon the fruit of his own work, or upon the fruit of the work of others.
In childhood it is right for us to live upon the fruits of the toil of our parents and friends. But to continue this life of dependence on the work of others after one has become an able-bodied man or woman is to live the life of a perpetual baby.
No life so little justifies itself as that of the idle rich. The idle poor man suffers the penalty of idleness in his own person. He gives little to the world; and he gets little in return. The idle rich man gives nothing, and gets much in return. And while he lives, someone has to work the harder for his being in the world; and when he dies the world is left poorer than it would have been had he never been born. He has simply consumed a portion of the savings of his ancestors, and balanced the energy and honor of their lives by his own life of worthlessness and shame.
Inherited wealth should bring with it a life of greater responsibility and harder toil; for the rich man is morally bound to use his wealth for the common good. And that is a much harder task than merely to earn one’s own living. An able-bodied man who does not contribute to the world at least as much as he takes out of it is a beggar and a thief; whether he shirks the duty of work under the pretext of poverty or riches.
Every boy and girl should be taught some trade, business, art, or profession.
To neglect this duty is to run the risk of enforced dependence upon others, than which nothing can be more destructive of integrity and self-respect.
The son or daughter who is to inherit wealth should be trained in some line of political, scientific, artistic, charitable, or philanthropic work, whereby he may use his wealth and leisure in the service of the public, and justify his existence by rendering to society some equivalent for that security and enjoyment of wealth which society permits him to possess without the trouble of earning it.
All honest work, manual, mental, social, domestic, political and philanthropic, scientific and literary, is honorable.
Any form of life without hard work of either hand or brain is shameful and disgraceful. The idler is of necessity a debtor to society; though there are forms of
idleness to which, for reasons of its own, society never presents its bill.
Industry conquers the world.
Industry is a virtue, because it asserts this fundamental interest of self-support in opposition to the solicitations of idleness and ease. Industry masters the world, and makes it man’s servant and slave. The industrious man too is master of his own feelings; and compels the weaker and baser impulses of his nature to stand back and give the higher interests room. The industrious man will do thorough work, and produce a good article, cost what it may. He will not suffer his arm to rest until it has done his bidding; nor will he let nature go until her resources and forces have been made to serve his purpose. This mastery over ourselves and over nature is the mark of virtue and manliness always and everywhere.
Industry works; and the fruit of work is wealth.
The industrious man may or may not have great riches. That depends on his talents, opportunities, and character. Great riches are neither to be sought nor
shunned. With them or without them the highest life is possible; and on the whole it is easier without than with great riches. A moderate amount of wealth, however, is essential to the fullest development of one’s powers and the freest enjoyment of life. Of such a moderate competence the industrious man is assured.
Soft places and easy kinds of work to be avoided.
Work costs pain and effort. Men naturally love ease. Hence arises the temptation to put ease above self-support. This temptation in its extreme form, if yielded to, makes a man a beggar and a tramp. More frequently the temptation is to take an easy kind of work, rather than harder work; or to do our work
shiftlessly rather than thoroughly. Young men are tempted to take clerkships where they can dress well and do light work, instead of learning a trade which requires a long apprenticeship, and calls for rough, hard work. The result is that the clerk remains a clerk all his life on low wages, and open to the competition of everybody who can read and write and cipher. While the man who has taken time to learn a trade, and has taken off his coat and accustomed himself to good hard work, has an assured livelihood; and only the few who have taken the same time to learn the trade, and are as little afraid of hard work as himself, can compete with him. This temptation to seek a “soft berth,” where the only work required is sitting in an office, or talking, or writing, or riding around, is the form of sloth which is taking the strength and independence and manliness out of young men today faster than anything else. It is only
one degree above the loafer and the tramp. The young man who starts in life by seeking an easy place will never be a success either in business or in character.
The Slavery of Laziness
Laziness is a vice because it sacrifices the permanent interest of self-support to the temporary inclination to indolence and ease. The lazy man is the slave of his own feelings. His body is his master; not his servant. He is the slave of circumstances. What he does depends not on what he knows it is best to do, but on how he happens to feel.
If the work is hard; if it is cold or rainy; if something breaks; or things do not go to suit him, he gives up and leaves the work undone. He is always waiting for something to turn up; and since nothing turns up for our benefit except what we turn up ourselves, he never finds the opportunity that suits him; he fails in whatever he undertakes: and accomplishes nothing.
Laziness is weakness, submission, defeat, slavery to feeling and circumstance; and these are the universal characteristics of vice.
The Folly of Overwork
Work has for its end self-support. Work wisely directed makes leisure possible.
Overwork is work for its own sake; work for false and unreal ends; work that exhausts the physical powers.
Overwork makes a man a slave to his work, as laziness makes him a slave to his ease. The man who makes haste to be rich; who works from morning
until night; who drives his business with the fierce determination to get ahead of his competitors at all hazards, misses the quiet joys of life to which the wealth he pursues in such hot haste is merely the means, breaks down in early or middle life, and destroys the physical basis on which both work and enjoyment depend.
To undertake more than we can do without excessive wear and tear and without permanent injury to health and strength is wrong. Laziness is the more ignoble vice; but the folly of overwork is equally apparent, and its results are equally disastrous.
Laziness is a rot that consumes the base elements of society. Overwork is a tempest that strikes down the bravest and best.
Laziness leads to poverty.
The lazy man does nothing to produce wealth. The only way in which he can get it is by inheritance, or by gift, or by theft.
Money received by inheritance does not last long. The man who is too lazy to earn money, is generally too weak to use it wisely; and it soon slips through his fingers. When a man’s laziness is once found out people refuse to give to him. And the thief cannot steal many times without being caught.
Industry is the only sure and permanent title to wealth; and where industry is wanting, there, soon or late, poverty must come.