The Work Ethic

By Robert C. Welch

“A treatise on Morals,” is the first definition of the word ethics, in my dictionary. Honesty, virtue and self-control are excellent moral principles. But they are no more excellent than the moral precept that we engage in profitable labor. That labor may be with the hands, on the assembly line or on the farm. It may be utilizing our mind for bringing about profit for ourselves and for the community. It may be the use of our voices in dealing with others as a way of productive life. It may be working under others, working for self, or in managing the work of others. The work must be good (Eph. 4:28) and must be honorable (Rom. 12:17). But since the beginning of man’s history God has made it a moral or ethical requirement that he work. Before his sin he, with his bride, was told that the garden was to be dressed (Gen. 2:15). After the sin he was told that by the sweat of his face would he eat bread as he toiled (Gen. 3:17-19). The book of Proverbs contains many maxims on the subject. Some of these will be taken as a basis of this study.

Proper Training

“Train up a child in the way he should go. And even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). This is not a treatise on whether or not it is impossible for a child to stray from his training in later years. But it is a maxim to be considered in the training of children. Children must be taught honesty or they should not be expected, by those responsible, to be honest. Children who are not taught that it is morally right and essential that they work, will not understand the reason why they should. And if they are not trained to work, it will be no surprise that they live in idleness.

Home Tasks

Children should be given tasks at home. “Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep; so shall thy poverty come as a robber, and they want as an armed man” (Prov. 6:10,11). They should be taught early that lying in bed half the morning is not an honorable way of life.

The hue and cry of youth is that there is nothing for them to do. They need to go home: wash the dishes, vacuum the floor, pick up the clothes, put in the washing, mow the lawn, clean up the garage, learn to cook and sew, held tend the younger children, rake the leaves; and dozens of things the parents are doing after hard work in the plant or office or school room. Getting into trouble on the street, parking lots, slot machine game places, and such like, can be avoided by being actively engaged in doing the chores which are available at home. Parents are failing, partially at least, in their obligations of training their children when they allow them to be idle gadabouts over town; instead of training them from early childhood that they are expected to work, and giving them household chores to occupy their time and energy.


Children and youth, surely, are not to be deprived of engagement in recreation and pleasures. But they must be made to understand that these are not the basics and goals in life. “He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man” (Prov. 21:17).

Give the youth the chance and he will always have something of pleasure to do rather than do the chores. Youth need to learn that the time for pleasure is after the chores have been completed. Unless the parents see that this is stressed, children will develop idle and prodigal habits.

These are times that try youth’s souls. There was a time when the boy or girl could come home from school and have their mother to help them direct their afternoon. That day is gone. They come home to an empty house; for the mother is at work. If their friends are not beckoning them to some activity elsewhere, they settle back to TV. The work ethic is a forgotten element in their lives. They go into adulthood, where work is a necessity, and they hate it. They shirk in their jobs, start late without cause, do shoddy work, and use every excuse that comes to mind for taking off. Paul’s admonition is meaningless to them: “Whatsoever ye do, work heartily, as unto the Lord, and not unto men” (Col. 3:23). How has this come about? They were not trained in the work ethic from their childhood. The husband comes home and lies around in idleness till bedtime, doing nothing about helping to keep the home in proper condition. He may, in fact, lie around at home or idle his way at the pool hall, expecting his wife to support him. If the wife is not working away from home she lies around all day without even getting dressed or cleaning up the place, watching soaps or gossiping on the phone. They have not learned the value of the work ethic: “Study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your hands, even as we charge you” (1 Thess. 3:11).

Study Habits

Have you ever seen the child who would become angry about something and begin to destroy everything around? Anything in his path meets the same fate, be it furniture, your private possessions, or his own things. But the person who does not produce is little, or no, better. “He also that is slack in his work is brother to him that is a destroyer” (Prov. 18:9).This principle will apply to study habits. When the father and mother hate their work, showing it by talk and action, they may expect their children to hate their studies. It is an obligation to study, and school is an obligation; and by example they come to hate it. They will do anything they can to skip school, even to the point of dropping out. When they come home, homework is forgotten by the time the books are thrown on the bed or floor. The boy who does not do his homework is brother to him who destroys his lesson. The girl who plays the music box or watches TV instead of getting her homework is sister to the one who tears up her paper.

He who has not developed good study habits will have difficulty settling down to study out his programs and problems with his business or financial matters. The girl who has not developed good study habits will find it hard to be confined to her secretarial duties.

Trained In Skills

History of the Jewish economy informs us that each boy was trained in some skilled trade. Though he may have gone into some other profession in life, or have been so financially secure that he had no particular job; yet he was trained and skilled so that should the need arise he would be able to sustain himself. He was being prepared for uncertain eventualities. This was true of the apostle Paul, so that when the need arose he engaged in tent making (Acts 18:3). He could have been so prepared by the application of a maxim of the wise man: “The sluggard will not plow by reason of the winter; Therefore he shall beg in harvest, and have nothing” (Prov. 20:4).

Young people have gone through high school and college with nothing in mind except to go through school. No occupation, profession or skill has been learned. To a great degree the time, money and effort were wasted. We have grown into a nation of workers with no pride in their work, with no sense of responsibility to work.

Earning Their Way

Young people need to be trained in the importance of earning their way. There is work which they can do, even though not old enough to have regular full-time work. Instead of sitting around,or playing around at nothing on Saturday, he can find a,neighbor’s yard to be mowed or driveway to be cleared of snow. Get him a paper route. A baby sitting job is better than sitting bleary-eyed before the TV with nothing worthwhile to see. The wise man observed:

I went by the rield of the sluggard; And by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; And lo, it was all grown over with thorns, The face thereof was covered with nettles, And the stone wall thereof was broken down. Then I beheld, and considered well; I saw, and received instruction: Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to sleep; So shall thy poverty come as a robber, And thy want as an armed man (Prov. 24:30-34).

Work and Worship

Let neither the youth nor the parents forget that there is something which is of greater importance than work. The church and the gathering for worship and study of the Bible must not be forgotten or neglected as the youth is going about his part-time job. Nor is it to be neglected by the older in order to bring in more substance. We must understand that, I “There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against Jehovah” (Prov. 21:30). This will demand our regular attendance with the saints for worship and study. The man of understanding will not sell truth and wisdom from God’s will and way for the few extra dollar he gets for working when the church is meeting. “Buy the truth, and sell it not; Yea, wisdom and instruction, and understanding” (Prov. 23:23).

A trend is seen of parents encouraging their youngsters to get part-time jobs which bring conflict between work and church or Bible class meetings. When that youth is encouraged to miss Bible study on Wednesday, because his part-time job is in conflict, has that parent thought that it will be easy for the youth to think as an adult when full-time work comes that it will be all right to miss the first day of the week assembly? Yes, teach them to work, but also teach them the importance of their spiritual needs and duties.

The material things which work provides are not to take precedence over the spiritual. Jesus was speaking of such material provisions when he said, “But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33). We need to have proper order of our priorities. The Lord’s church and righteousness comes before these material things such as food, clothing, houses.

In the midst of our working for these material things we seem to forget another principle. God is to be honored with the fruit of our labor. This principle is beautifully and vividly portrayed in another Proverb: “Honor Jehovah with thy substance, And with the first fruits of all thine increase: So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, And thy vats shall overflow with new wine” (Prov. 3:9,10). The youth is likely to think of an the things he wants to use the wages for in his part-time job, so that he forgets that it is now his duty to make contribution out of that with which he is prospered.

A rhetorical question will help us to put our priorities in their proper perspective and sequence: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mk. 8:36) Learn the work ethic well, and put it into practice; but do not permit it to interfere with spiritual things.

Become a Worthy Woman

The majority of the proverbs were addressed especially to men. But the principles apply equally well to the women. The young lady needs to be trained to become the “worthy woman” of Proverbs 31:10-31. There are many other features of this worthiness mentioned in the chapter; but the work ethic stands out. “She worketh willingly with her hands” (v. 13). This Work is not out of poverty or necessity, but is done willingly. She is not forced by slavery to it. She rises early to the management and provision for her household (v. 15). She has not been out partying so late that she has to get up with helter-skelter rush to get to work. Her management is orderly. She is not a lady of leisure, with no business sense. She even deals in real estate to her profit (v. 16). She is not a waster of time and energy; she sees to it that her “merchandise is profitable” (v. 18). She sees that her family is cared for (v. 21). She provides for the rainy day, for the times when circumstances are not good: “She laugheth at the time to come” (v. 25). “She eateth not the bread of idleness” (v. 27).

The young lady who is taught the work ethic, and applies it in her life, is worthy of the acclaim: “Give her of the fruit of her hands; And let her works praise her in the gates” (v. 31).

One major feature in saving our children is teaching and training them in the work ethic. It is a major moral principle.

Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 12, pp. 360-361
June 15, 1989