The Work Ethic

By Mike Willis

When I was a lad, my parents ran a country store that sold gas, feed, groceries, and also housed the local post office. From the time I was old enough to be responsible, I worked in the store. I usually opened or help open the store about 6:00-6:30 a.m. in order that we could pick up the business of men on their way to work.

When logging was in our area, so that the workers passed by the store for gas and supplies, an older Black gentleman known to me only as “Cat Whiskers” frequently stopped in. His body was racked with arthritis. He would hobble in with a noticeable limp, buy a 6 ounce Coca-Cola and pour one or two packets of Stand-Back powder into the Coke to kill the pain from his arthritis. When he finished his Coke, he would leave for work. I have no way of knowing how effective his medical treatment was, but I am able to judge his work ethic.

Work was honorable in those days. I heard many of my elders comment about how they endured the hardships of the depression. They would relate their sufferings but would emphatically assert,

“But we never did take a government hand-out.” But things were changing, even in the isolated section of East Texas in which I was reared.

A welfare state was being created. Men learned that they could make nearly as much money through unemployment, food stamps, aid for dependent children, and other federal programs as they could working. The reasoning prevailed, “Why should I work when I can make just as much without working?” Once a generation was raised on these roles of dependency, the attitude became that of “the government owes me,” “I am entitled (government entitlement programs) to it.” Now we are several generations into a welfare state and the work ethic in our country is suffering. It has produced poor work habits and loss of self-esteem among those who have accepted government handouts rather than working for their living.

The Sinful Sloth

The book of Proverbs condemns laziness. Laziness not only makes one obnoxious (“As vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to them that send him”  Prov 10:26), it is sinful. Consider these passages:

Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. How long wilt thou sleep, 0 sluggard? When wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: so shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man (Prov. 6:6-11).

There are several consequences from laziness mentioned in the Proverbs:

1. Laziness brings poverty (Prov. 6:1 1; 24:33-34). “He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent maketh rich. He that gathereth in summer is a wise son: but he that sleepeth in harvest

2. It is a son that causeth shame” (Prov. 10:4-5). The natural result of a good work ethic is prosperity. He that is faithful in little will be made ruler over much. As a good worker is promoted, he increases his income and prospers.

3. Laziness brings one under tribute. The hand of the diligent shall bear rule: but the slothful shall be under tribute” (Prov 12:24). Lazy people are always in debt and working to pay high interest on credit cards, always trying to catch up but falling further behind.

4. Laziness leads to unfulfilled desires. “The desire of the slothful killeth him; for his hands refuse to labour. He coveteth greedily all the day long: but the righteous giveth and spareth not” (Prov. 21:25-26). In contrast, a man who is zealous in his work is motivated by his desires. He sees things that he wants and he works to obtain them. “He that laboureth for himself; for his mouth craveth it of him” (Prov. 16:26).

5. Laziness leads to shame. “He that gathereth in summer is a wise son: but he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame” (Prov. 10:5). A lazy son is an embarrassment to the family. A person increases his self-esteem, his feelings of self-worth, by being a productive member of society.

6. Laziness leads to not taking care of what you have. The wise man described the field of a lazy man: “I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down” (Prov. 24:30-31).

The New Testament Work Ethic

The New Testament continues in the same vein in its instructions about good work ethics. Consider these verses:

Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eye service, as men pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free (Eph. 6:5-8).

Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eye service, as men pleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: and whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men (Col. 3:22-23).

These and several other passages emphasize the true value of work. Work is a blessing given to us by a beneficent Creator. Remember that man worked before the fall into sin (see Gen. 2:14  Adam and Eve were put in the Garden of Eden to dress and keep the Garden).

Social scientists have long recognized the association between the so-called “Protestant work ethic” and the success of capitalism (see Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism 1958). We are the heirs of a society of abundant material prosperity primarily because our ancestors had a good work ethic. The standard of living has increased continuously for several decades. What will today’s generation pass down to its children?


When we create a circumstance in which a sizable segment of society can live from unearned income for a lifetime, we create a dependency that is passed down from generation to generation, a group without positive role models, a group without initiative, and a people believing that society owes them what they need for survival (food stamps, medicare/medicaid, housing, etc.). When the number of the unproductive leaches in society reaches higher limits than productive workers can support, the society collapses. We are dangerously close to that happening.

Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 1, p. 2
January 6, 1994