This is the second in a series of articles concerning the divine mandates, while the previous article dealt with the government mandate, and the remaining with the family and church mandates. These serve along with other considerations to provide an orderly society, where God’s righteous resolve can best be pursued. Lacking such, the situation turns from bad to worse.
Labor is the first of the mandates mentioned in Scripture. "The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it" (Gen. 2:15). This was meant not only to account for its origin, but how we experience it subsequently.
There are several initial implications, which I touched on in my most recent book: The Divine Mandates. "First, this was God’s intent from the beginning. Not an afterthought, of lesser consequence. Nor as a means for compensating for some earlier development" (p. 75).
"Second, work per se is categorically approved. ‘It should be noted that even before the fall man was expected to work, paradise was not a life of leisured unemployment. Both Enuma elish and the Atrahasis epic also speak of man being created to work to relieve the gods. But the biblical narrative gives no hint that the creator is shuffling off his load onto man: work is intrinsic to human life’" (Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1-15, p. 67).
"Third, that it should be at divine discretion. As with Adam, so with his posterity. If not in the Garden of Eden, then elsewhere. If not to tend the garden, then to be engaged in some other worthwhile activity. Meanwhile, inviting creative input."
"Fourth, Adam was given permission to eat from any tree in the garden, except that pertaining to the knowledge of good and evil. Under penalty of death, accenting the seriousness of the offense. It was both an ample provision, and a gratuitous caution."
"Finally, it was meant to solicit an appreciative response. For the opportunity of doing something of constructive nature. For the health necessary to carry out the related tasks. For the sense of accomplishment which accompanies the enterprise. Ultimately for God’s enablement and the delegation of responsibilities" (pp. 75-76).
"Accordingly, one cultivates life as a sacred canopy. As such, an occasion for persisting worship. With cognizance that we will assuredly be held accountable. Which eventuates in a life of welcomed service to others" (p. 77).
All things considered, "one should not refrain from labor. So it is that the rabbis reasoned that if one were not to work for six days, he or she could not properly observe the Sabbath. As a result, diligent labor is coupled with genuine devotion. Work and worship thus go hand in hand."
"As would be expected, wisdom literature picked up on the labor mandate. ‘Go to the ant you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise’ (Prov. 6:6). Although not aware of this exhortation as a child, I vividly recall observing the tireless activity of ants. Not only was I impressed by their industry, but their seeming ability to coordinate their activities."
"‘Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody’ (1 Thess. 4:11-12). A quiet life implies tranquility, not inactivity. Such must be pursued relentlessly" (p. 79).
"Mind your own business, and thus strive for excellence. Those who do so have little time to second guess what others do. As a result, they are not inclined to compound the problem."
"The exhortation to work with one’s hands is likely meant to repudiate the common practice of delegating responsibility to others, while enjoying a life of ease. Where one should, as in the case of the apostle, set a precedent for others to emulate. So much the more as one is given the opportunity afforded by favorable circumstances."
"‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat,’ the apostle subsequently affirms (2 Thess. 3:10). While Paul may have initiated the saying, ‘it was certainly he who made it part of the Christian view of labor. The concluding statement is not a statement of fact, ‘he shall not,’ but an imperative, ‘let him not eat.’ Paul is giving the clearest expression to the thought that the Christian cannot be a drone. It is obligatory for him to be a worker’" (Leon Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, p. 88).
"Conversely, ‘We hear that some among you are idle, They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat’ (v. 11). He thus employs a play on words to contrast earnest labor with meddling in the affairs of others. If engaged in the former, then not likely to embrace the latter."
"His command echoes the notion of labor as a mandate. Expressed in the context of pastoral concern. For the benefit of all those implicated. Since what we do or fail to do impacts others."