Wrong Attitudes toward Work
All men regardless of their cultural perspective have a sense, perhaps even a belief, that they ought to work. But not all men and cultures have the right view and/or attitude toward work. There are those who will not work because they have placed their hope in magic to do the work for them. Then there are those who are held back from working effectively by a culture of laziness and the lack of discipline. There are also those who define work in terms of work rate-that is to say the amount of time and energy they expend on a given job but without any reference to productivity. Before I entered the vocational pastoral ministry, I worked for a mining company in which several of my work mates spent a lot of time at work (many of them even worked overtime) but they all had very little or nothing to show for their labours. Although they were interested in the final pay, they were clearly not interested in contributing to bringing about the products that would guarantee their pay. There are also those who have selective respect for work. High level jobs are often more respected than lowly ones. As a matter of fact they don't consider the low paying, physical jobs as work. Finally, there are also those whose view of work amounts to workaholism, which places a high premium on acceptance of responsibility, hard work, commitment to duty and productivity, and which also places work above where God would have it-essentially turning it into an idol, and defining their identity by it. Workaholics would see work and productivity as ends in themselves. The first four outlooks so often find parallels in much of what we know as the African work ethic. The fifth one resonates with much in the Western and (some) Asian work ethics.
The Protestant and Biblical Work Ethic
All of the above mentioned attitudes to work are wrong. A more balanced view of work lies in what has sometimes been referred to as a Protestant and biblical work ethic. As a matter of fact the extent to which this ethic has been imbibed or rejected has been the extent to which a given cultural outlook on work has yielded economic and other dividends. But what is a biblical work ethic? There are four basic characteristics ingrained in it:
a) It is an ethic that is rooted in and was modeled by God himself. God reveals himself to be a worker from the moment He reveals himself in history. The act of creating was work (Genesis 2:2), and so are the acts of providence and redemption. The Lord Jesus Christ who was also man, demonstrated a commitment to work too.
b) It is the ethic God instituted along with the creation of Adam prior to the Fall. Work itself is included in the "very good" part of creation (Genesis 1:31). Adam as God's image was created to work. And so accordingly, in Genesis 2:15, "The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." At this point in time, work must have been something Adam really enjoyed. And the challenge of subduing the earth and having dominion over it is something he would have relished. It is interesting to note that work was created before money was of any significance or satisfying to human life; a number of Adam's tasks were of a type that would have been non-remunerative in an economic society (i.e. naming the animals, subduing the earth and companionship for his wife).
c) It is the ethic that was compromised when sin entered the world. After Adam sinned, his ability to work to his full potential was curtailed, work became toil (Genesis 3:17-19) and a means man could sometimes utilise to promote his own selfish interests. The toilsome nature of work began to breed sluggards, while the potential for material gain led to the breeding of many a workaholic and a greedy man.
d) It is the ethic that God has restored through the redemptive work of his dear Son and our Saviour Jesus Christ. The work of Christ in our souls, reignites the capacity and desire in our hearts to glorify God in whatever they do, whether in eating or drinking (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Implications of Holding to a Biblical
Work Ethic on the African Work Ethic
The foregoing outlook on work provides the lens through which we can critique the above mentioned views on work as well as provide a basis upon which we can, even here in Africa, erect a new and progressive and God-honouring work culture. But what are the implications of holding to such a work ethic?
To start with, we will be driven by a passion to glorify God through imaging something of his nature as a worker. Furthermore, an understanding of the fact that the image of God in us, that was vitiated by the fall, and that has contributed to the entrenchment of sluggardness, a lack of self-belief and mediocrity in the African work culture, has been restored in Christ, should spur us to strive to rise above these vices in our endeavour, according to Henry Van Til (Hageman 1997:15), to superimpose upon nature, a secondary environment which at once serves the needs of man and also brings glory to God.
The other implication is that as African Christians we should work hard. Due to God's curse on the world because of human sin, it became necessary for man not merely to work but to work hard. Work is integral to life and has a way of giving us a sense of purpose, productivity, and dignity. Nobody respects a man who does not work. Hard work, under God, is the only chance we have in Africa to rid ourselves of poverty and shame. The books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes contain some wise sayings regarding work. Proverbs 14:23 says, "All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty." Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might." Proverbs 6:6-11 says, "Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest - and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man." These texts confirm a strong work ethic, while warnings are issued concerning slackness.
Talking about hard work, it is also important to note that the Bible does not condone workaholism. We do not work merely to amass worldly wealth (Matthew 6:19-34 warns about this). We work to bring glory to God. We also do not work ourselves into the ground or to the extent that our health is damaged or our families suffer. Another implication arising from imbibing a biblical work ethic is how it helps us approach work as God-given and therefore something we can take pleasure in. We can work cheerfully and without complaint because we are working for the Lord who loves us and has redeemed us.
The Place of Rest
Finally, God instituted the Sabbath at the beginning of creation. He did the work of creation for six days and then ceased. God is omnipotent; He did not need rest; He was setting an example for us. In the Ten Commandments, God confirmed both the importance of work and rest. "Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work" (Exodus 20:9-10a). Rest is a gift that we are wise to accept. So, while Christians are called to have a strong work ethic and to work hard at all that they do, they are also called to take times of rest.
1.David Bruce Hegeman, Plowing in Hope, Toward a Biblical Theology of Culture (Moscow ID: Cannon Press, 1999)
2.Henry R.Van Til, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic,1972)
3. Anthony A. Hoekema, Created in God's Image (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986)