Working with your Hands is still a Virtue

King Solomon, believed to be the wisest man who ever lived, had much to say in his proverbs about the rewards of labor and the consequences of laziness.

“He who has a slack hand becomes poor, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.”
Proverbs 10:4

“The lazy man will not plow because of winter; he will beg during harvest and have nothing.”
Proverbs 20:4

“I went by the field of the lazy man, and by the vineyard of the man devoid of understanding; and there it was, all overgrown with thorns; its surface was covered with nettles; its stone wall was broken down. When I saw it, I considered it well; I looked on it and received instruction: a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest; so shall your poverty come like a prowler…”

Proverbs 24:30-34

“She (the virtuous wife) seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands…she stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hand holds the spindle…”
Proverbs 31:13, 19

The major thrust of these 3,000 year old proverbs is that laziness, or slothfulness, leads to poverty. Several of the Apostle Paul’s teachings in the New Testament build on these basic precepts. In fact Paul states that it is an individual responsibility to earn one’s own way and not depend on the support of others, or in contemporary terms, the state. His teachings echo those of King Solomon.

“I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me.”
Acts 20:33-34

“To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labor, working with our own hands…”
I Corinthians 4:11-12

“Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good…”
Ephesians 4:28

“…but we urge you, brethren…that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands…that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing.”
I Thessalonians 4:10-12

Paul’s thoughts on the subject of working with one’s own hands are summarized in the following:

“For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day that we might not be a burden to any of you…for even when we were with you, we commanded you this: if anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now…we command…that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.”
II Thessalonians 3:7-12

In the above passage the word ‘disorderly’ is from the Greek atakteo which means in part to neglect one’s duties.

Paul makes the argument that one should not depend on someone else to provide for the daily necessities of life if he is able to work and earn his own provisions. Paul goes on to state that when one doesn’t work idle time provides the opportunity to become a busybody which is highly frowned upon in the scriptures. No where does Paul suggest that it is a ‘right’ to have such provisions, rather he states repeatedly that those who are able to work should do so in order to provide for themselves as well as assist those in need who cannot work. In other words, sharing with the needy should be acts of individual and voluntary charity.

The Apostle Paul practiced what he preached and worked with his hands as a tentmaker by trade to support himself and his ministry.

“So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers.”
Acts 18:3

During the Apostle Paul’s time his teaching on working with one’s hands was partially directed to the Greeks who thought it below one’s dignity to perform common labor. Sadly even today there are many individuals and well meaning parents who feel the same way. It is widely thought that a sign of ‘success’ is to be able to earn a good living without being involved in demeaning activities which might dirty one’s hands. It is not uncommon today to hear an unemployed person state that they would rather draw unemployment compensation than perform menial work or manual labor.

To earn a living and create wealth is an honorable endeavor, however, the desire and attempt to accumulate wealth in excess is not honored.

“And having food and clothing…we should be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation…For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…”
I Timothy 6:8-10

Also it is important to consider the means by which one attempts to accumulate wealth. Dubious means may trigger redistribution.

“One who increases his possessions by usury and extortion gathers it for him who will pity the poor.”
Proverbs 28:8

“Wealth gotten by vanity (emptiness, transitory) shall be diminished: but he that gathers by labor will increase.”
Proverbs 13:11

“A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, but the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous.”
Proverbs 13:22

Now consider how different several major fiscal policies at the macro level would look like today if these basic scriptural principles were applied. For example such contemporary issues as taxation, entitlements, redistribution of wealth, manufacturing priorities, and many others might be handled totally differently if Biblical precepts were employed than at present. These are just a few areas where progressivism has left its mark.

Perhaps the Bible still has more practical teachings than we realize.

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