From the Pastor’s Study (5/16/2021)
Right after graduating from college I enrolled in seminary to pursue a master’s degree. At the time I also became engaged to the young lady I would marry. I needed an increase in income to match my increasing financial obligations, so I applied for a job at a textile mill not far from my school. Working at this mill was hot, noisy, and exhausting, but it paid the bills and the second shift hours they offered fit my class schedule.
One evening there was a brief pause in work in my department. A man was retiring after forty years at the mill. There was a cake, the presentation of a wrist watch, brief comments made by the plant manager, then rather unenthusiastic applause from the other workers. In less than five minutes everyone was back to work. I recall thinking at the time that five minutes of recognition and an inexpensive watch were small compensation for decades at the plant. I felt sorry for this man who had spent so much of a lifetime in this dirty factory. And I also thought how determined I was not to waste my life in a similar manner.
Looking back from the perspective of decades, I realize that I was wrong. My thoughts about this man and his work are now entirely different. His life was not wasted at all. I have great respect for what this man did. He demonstrated integrity in laboring to meet his own needs. He worked hard to support those who were dependent upon him. He showed discipline in coming to work every day to do a difficult and often tedious job. His labor exhibited honesty, effort, and productivity, all of which are commendable virtues. He earned, he purchased, he invested, he paid taxes, perhaps he gave, all of which contributes to the local economy and the well-being of society. In performing his job every day he strengthened the community. He made himself an asset and not a liability.
When God made the first man, He placed him in the Garden of Eden and gave him a job. Adam was to dress the garden and keep it. (Gen. 2:15) God designed man to have both activity and responsibility. Sometimes we imagine that Adam lived a life of leisure in Eden. But that is not the case. God’s design for man’s health and happiness involved work.
Across our country “help wanted” signs are now a common sight. In our own community it seems as if nearly every business is looking to hire. Some are cutting back hours and a few have even closed because of a lack of employees. Not coincidentally an interesting phenomenon took place this past week in our country. The unemployment rate went up. It may seem strange that unemployment is rising while countless job opportunities go unfulfilled. However, there is a reason for this. In recent months the government has been handing out what they call “stimulus checks” to citizens. This is unearned money distributed regardless of a person’s employment status. In other words, free money. This leads some people to feel, at least for the present, that they don’t have to work. As well, the government raised the unemployment compensation rate so high that a quarter of those who receive this benefit are getting more money now than they did when they were working. Right now, being unemployed is profitable.
Incentivizing unemployment is not a matter of left and right politics. It is a matter of right and wrong. Those who are unable to work ought to receive help and encouragement. Those who will not work ought to receive nothing. The apostle Paul wrote, “if any would not work, neither should he eat.” (II Thes. 3:10) The Bible describes those who refuse to work as “walking disorderly.” (II Thes. 3:11) When a man refuses to work, he is out of order.
Of course, the government should not enact policies that violate God’s design for man, and damage the character of the citizenry. And the Christian, regardless of what the government is doing, ought to conduct himself in a way that is dignified, consistent with the created order, and honors the Lord. “Let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good.” (Eph. 4:26)