Types of Bible Verses About Hard Work
The Bible has a lot to say about hard work. It's mostly positive, although there are quite a few warnings too. I’ve broken down all the Bible verses about hard work into 9 categories.
Hard Work Sub-topic
Number of Passages
Working for the Lord
Working for others
God works hard Too
Fruitless types of hard work
Rest and Sabbath
Salvation: Faith and Works
This article and chart is thorough but not necessarily comprehensive. If I missed some Bible verses about hard work, please let me know in the comments below.
Bible Translations of Hard Work vs. Labor
As in other articles, I’ve used the WEB version for most quotes. However, sometimes I chose to quote the NLT instead. The WEB version sometimes uses “labor” to translate both “work” and the more specific “hard work.”
The NLT usually uses “hard work” to translate what the WEB calls “labor.” Sometimes I think that translation is not justified, and the NLT would have been better to use the broader “work” instead. But if the context made it clear that the author really meant “hard work,” I often chose to use the NLT.
The following verse is one of the most extreme examples of the NLT expanding too much on what the author (in this case Paul) actually wrote:
- …in labor and travail, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, and in cold and nakedness. (2 Corinthians 11:27)
- I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. (2 Corinthians 11:27 NLT)
Bible Verses Encouraging Hard Work
Ever since mankind was created, God has had work for us to do. Work came before sin and the fall.
The LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate and keep it. (Genesis 2:15)
Work hard to take care of ourselves and others
- Let him who stole steal no more; but rather let him labor, producing with his hands something that is good, that he may have something to give to him who has need. (Ephesians 4:28)
- 11 Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. 12 Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others. (1 Thessalonians 4:11–12 NLT)
- 6 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we give you this command in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Stay away from all believers who live idle lives and don’t follow the tradition they received from us. 7 For you know that you ought to imitate us. We were not idle when we were with you. 8 We never accepted food from anyone without paying for it. We worked hard day and night so we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 We certainly had the right to ask you to feed us, but we wanted to give you an example to follow. 10 Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.” 11 Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in other people’s business. 12 We command such people and urge them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and work to earn their own living. 13 As for the rest of you, dear brothers and sisters, never get tired of doing good. (2 Thessalonians 3:6–13 NLT)
Hard work is not always outside the home for pay. In New Testament times women almost always worked at home with the family. Here Paul discusses what kind of widows should be supported by the church: women who had worked hard for their family and the church.
Honor widows who are widows indeed. 4 But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them learn first to show piety toward their own family and to repay their parents, for this is acceptable in the sight of God. 5 Now she who is a widow indeed and desolate, has her hope set on God and continues in petitions and prayers night and day. 6 But she who gives herself to pleasure is dead while she lives. 7 Also command these things, that they may be without reproach. 8 But if anyone doesn’t provide for his own, and especially his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 9 Let no one be enrolled as a widow under sixty years old, having been the wife of one man, 10 being approved by good works, if she has brought up children, if she has been hospitable to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, and if she has diligently followed every good work. (1 Timothy 5:3–10)
Respect (and pay) spiritual leaders who work hard for us
Another kind of work in the church is caring for the spiritual needs of the community. This was often done voluntarily without guarantee of compensation. Paul exhorts us to be sure and reward the hard work of these pastors and elders. I discuss this topic in greater depth in articles on tithing and offerings.
- But we beg you, brothers, to know those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to respect and honor them in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 We exhort you, brothers: Admonish the disorderly; encourage the faint-hearted; support the weak; be patient toward all. (1 Thessalonians 5:12–14)
- Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and in teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox when it treads out the grain.” And, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:17–18)
Bible Proverbs About Hard Work
Hard Work is one of the most popular topics in Proverbs.
Stand-alone Proverbs on Hard Work
- He who tills his land shall have plenty of bread, but he who chases fantasies is void of understanding. (Proverbs 12:11)
- The hands of the diligent ones shall rule, but laziness ends in slave labor. 25 Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, but a kind word makes it glad. 26 A righteous person is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray. 27 The slothful man doesn’t roast his game, but the possessions of diligent men are prized. (Proverbs 12:24–27)
- The soul of the sluggard desires, and has nothing, but the desire of the diligent shall be fully satisfied. (Proverbs 13:4)
- Wealth gained dishonestly dwindles away, but he who gathers by hand makes it grow. 12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when longing is fulfilled, it is a tree of life. (Proverbs 13:11–12)
- Where no oxen are, the crib is clean, but much increase is by the strength of the ox. (Proverbs 14:4)
- In all hard work there is profit, but the talk of the lips leads only to poverty. 24 The crown of the wise is their riches, but the folly of fools crowns them with folly. (Proverbs 14:23–24)
- The appetite of the laboring man labors for him, for his mouth urges him on. (Proverbs 16:26)
- He who loves pleasure will be a poor man. He who loves wine and oil won’t be rich. (Proverbs 21:17)
- The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor. (Proverbs 21:25)
- The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside! I will be killed in the streets!” (Proverbs 22:13)
- Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve kings. He won’t serve obscure men. (Proverbs 22:29)
- Prepare your work outside, and get your fields ready. Afterwards, build your house. (Proverbs 24:27)
- Whoever tends the fig tree shall eat its fruit. He who looks after his master shall be honored. (Proverbs 27:18)
- One who works his land will have an abundance of food; but one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty. (Proverbs 28:19)
- He who pampers his servant from youth will have him become a son in the end. (Proverbs 29:21)
Longer Proverbs on Hard Work
- Listen, my son, and be wise, and keep your heart on the right path! 20 Don’t be among ones drinking too much wine, or those who gorge themselves on meat; 21 for the drunkard and the glutton shall become poor; and drowsiness clothes them in rags. 22 Listen to your father who gave you life, and don’t despise your mother when she is old. 23 Buy the truth, and don’t sell it. Get wisdom, discipline, and understanding. (Proverbs 23:19–23)
- Know well the state of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds, 24 for riches are not forever, nor does the crown endure to all generations. 25 The hay is removed, and the new growth appears, the grasses of the hills are gathered in. 26 The lambs are for your clothing, and the goats are the price of a field. 27 There will be plenty of goats’ milk for your food, for your family’s food, and for the nourishment of your servant girls. (Proverbs 27:23–27)
- There are four things which are little on the earth, but they are exceedingly wise: 25 The ants are not a strong people, yet they provide their food in the summer. 26 The hyraxes are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks. 27 The locusts have no king, yet they advance in ranks. 28 You can catch a lizard with your hands, yet it is in kings’ palaces. (Proverbs 30:24–28)
Do you want to hear every Proverb related to work, money, possessions, or wealth? Watch this video in which I read out loud every single verse.
Bible Verses About Working Hard for the Lord
Who is the beneficiary of our hard work? Proverbs emphasizes the benefits that come directly to us. But some of our hard work should be directed towards totally unselfish purposes: working hard for Jesus or for others.
- Even so, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
- Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. (Romans 12:11–13 NLT)
- The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:56–58)
- We proclaim him, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus; 29 for which I also labor, striving according to his working, which works in me mightily. (Colossians 1:28–29)
- Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them. 5 And athletes cannot win the prize unless they follow the rules. 6 And hardworking farmers should be the first to enjoy the fruit of their labor. (2 Timothy 2:3–6 NLT)
- Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 NLT)
Paul’s Example of Hard Work
Paul often wrote about his hard work for the gospel. The reason was not to boast, but to offer himself as an example to the churches and to his protege Timothy.
- Even to this present hour we hunger, thirst, are naked, are beaten, and have no certain dwelling place. 12 We toil, working with our own hands. When people curse us, we bless. Being persecuted, we endure. (1 Corinthians 4:11–12)
- Don’t you know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run like that, so that you may win. 25 Every man who strives in the games exercises self-control in all things. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. 26 I therefore run like that, not aimlessly. I fight like that, not beating the air, 27 but I beat my body and bring it into submission, lest by any means, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24–27)
- I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. (2 Corinthians 11:27 NLT)
- But refuse profane and old wives’ fables. Exercise yourself toward godliness. 8 For bodily exercise has some value, but godliness has value in all things, having the promise of the life which is now and of that which is to come. 9 This saying is faithful and worthy of all acceptance. 10 For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we have set our trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:7–10)
- For I am already being offered, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith. 8 From now on, the crown of righteousness is stored up for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day; and not to me only, but also to all those who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6–8)
Bible Verses About Hard Work for Others
Working hard for Jesus and for others is essentially the same thing:
- Servants, obey in all things those who are your masters according to the flesh, not just when they are looking, as men pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing God. 23 And whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:22–24)
- He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me. 41 He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. He who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. 42 Whoever gives one of these little ones just a cup of cold water to drink in the name of a disciple, most certainly I tell you, he will in no way lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:40–42)
Even when we work for others as an employee (or in other situations, such as taking care of a family) we should work as if we are working for the Lord. This means doing our best in every situation. Even when working alone, away from our boss, we work as if the results will directly benefit Jesus.
- As apostles of Christ we certainly had a right to make some demands of you, but instead we were like children among you. Or we were like a mother feeding and caring for her own children. 8 We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too. 9 Don’t you remember, dear brothers and sisters, how hard we worked among you? Night and day we toiled to earn a living so that we would not be a burden to any of you as we preached God’s Good News to you. (1 Thessalonians 2:7–9 NLT)
- For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption. But he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 Let’s not be weary in doing good, for we will reap in due season if we don’t give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let’s do what is good toward all men, and especially toward those who are of the household of the faith. (Galatians 6:8–10)
- I have never coveted anyone’s silver or gold or fine clothes. 34 You know that these hands of mine have worked to supply my own needs and even the needs of those who were with me. 35 And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:33–35 NLT)
Of course, the side benefit of working this way is that you will almost certainly be promoted. Or if you are running your own business, you will be more successful. I explain the reasons why in this video:
Bible Verses About God Working Hard
Even God works hard! He has set us an example by his work of creation and by the way Jesus worked tirelessly on earth.
- On the seventh day God finished his work which he had done; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. 3 God blessed the seventh day, and made it holy, because he rested in it from all his work of creation which he had done. (Genesis 2:2–3)
- For this cause the Jews persecuted Jesus and sought to kill him, because he did these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is still working, so I am working, too.” (John 5:16–17)
Jesus’s Hectic Day
My church recently did a lesson discussing this story from the gospel of Mark.
Look at how much Jesus did in one hectic day. He taught in the synagogue, exorcised a demon, healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, and healed a bunch of other sick and demon-possessed people.
They went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath day he entered into the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as having authority, and not as the scribes.
23 Immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, 24 saying, “Ha! What do we have to do with you, Jesus, you Nazarene? Have you come to destroy us? I know you who you are: the Holy One of God!”
25 Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!”
26 The unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching? For with authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him!” 28 The report of him went out immediately everywhere into all the region of Galilee and its surrounding area.
29 Immediately, when they had come out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. 31 He came and took her by the hand and raised her up. The fever left her immediately, and she served them.
32 At evening, when the sun had set, they brought to him all who were sick and those who were possessed by demons. 33 All the city was gathered together at the door. 34 He healed many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons. He didn’t allow the demons to speak, because they knew him.
35 Early in the morning, while it was still dark, he rose up and went out, and departed into a deserted place, and prayed there. 36 Simon and those who were with him searched for him. 37 They found him and told him, “Everyone is looking for you.”
38 He said to them, “Let’s go elsewhere into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because I came out for this reason.” 39 He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out demons. (Mark 1:21–39)
Notice the end of the passage. He did not sleep in for “self-care” the next morning. Instead, he got up early before sunrise, went to a deserted place, and prayed. Then he went into the neighboring towns and did it all again. Jesus gives us a perfect example of what hard work looks like.
Examples of Hard Work in the Bible
In addition to Jesus, the Bible shows many other examples of hard work.
To provide for herself and Naomi, Ruth worked hard gleaning in Boaz’s fields:
5 Then Boaz said to his servant who was set over the reapers, “Whose young lady is this?” 6 The servant who was set over the reapers answered, “It is the Moabite lady who came back with Naomi out of the country of Moab. 7 She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.’ So she came, and has continued even from the morning until now, except that she rested a little in the house.”
8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Don’t go to glean in another field, and don’t go from here, but stay here close to my maidens. 9 Let your eyes be on the field that they reap, and go after them. Haven’t I commanded the young men not to touch you? When you are thirsty, go to the vessels, and drink from that which the young men have drawn.”
10 Then she fell on her face and bowed herself to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take knowledge of me, since I am a foreigner?” 11 Boaz answered her, “I have been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father, your mother, and the land of your birth, and have come to a people that you didn’t know before. 12 May the LORD repay your work, and a full reward be given to you from the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (Ruth 2:5–12)
For a more complete explanation of Ruth gleaning, watch this video:
The Proverbs 31 woman, while not named, is also a great example of hard work:
10 Who can find a worthy woman? For her value is far above rubies. 11 The heart of her husband trusts in her. He shall have no lack of gain. 12 She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. 13 She seeks wool and flax, and works eagerly with her hands. 14 She is like the merchant ships. She brings her bread from afar. 15 She rises also while it is yet night, gives food to her household, and portions for her servant girls. 16 She considers a field, and buys it. With the fruit of her hands, she plants a vineyard.
17 She arms her waist with strength, and makes her arms strong. 18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp doesn’t go out by night. 19 She lays her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. 20 She opens her arms to the poor; yes, she extends her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of the snow for her household, for all her household are clothed with scarlet. 22 She makes for herself carpets of tapestry. Her clothing is fine linen and purple. 23 Her husband is respected in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land. 24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and delivers sashes to the merchant.
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing. She laughs at the time to come. 26 She opens her mouth with wisdom. Kind instruction is on her tongue. 27 She looks well to the ways of her household, and doesn’t eat the bread of idleness. 28 Her children rise up and call her blessed. Her husband also praises her: 29 “Many women do noble things, but you excel them all.” 30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. 31 Give her of the fruit of her hands! Let her works praise her in the gates! (Proverbs 31:10–31)
In Egypt, the Israelites worked very hard doing slave labor. God used this involuntary hard work to strengthen and multiply them.
8 Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who didn’t know Joseph. 9 He said to his people, “Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we. 10 Come, let’s deal wisely with them, lest they multiply, and it happen that when any war breaks out, they also join themselves to our enemies and fight against us, and escape out of the land.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with their burdens. They built storage cities for Pharaoh: Pithom and Raamses. 12 But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread out. They started to dread the children of Israel. 13 The Egyptians ruthlessly made the children of Israel serve, 14 and they made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and in brick, and in all kinds of service in the field, all their service, in which they ruthlessly made them serve. (Exodus 1:8–14)
At the end of his letters to the Romans and Colossians, Paul praised several Christians who worked hard.
- Give my greetings to Mary, who has worked so hard for your benefit. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews, who were in prison with me. They are highly respected among the apostles and became followers of Christ before I did. 8 Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, a good man whom Christ approves. And give my greetings to the believers from the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew. Greet the Lord’s people from the household of Narcissus. 12 Give my greetings to Tryphena and Tryphosa, the Lord’s workers, and to dear Persis, who has worked so hard for the Lord. (Romans 16:6–12 NLT)
- Epaphras, a member of your own fellowship and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends you his greetings. He always prays earnestly for you, asking God to make you strong and perfect, fully confident that you are following the whole will of God. 13 I can assure you that he prays hard for you and also for the believers in Laodicea and Hierapolis. (Colossians 4:12–13 NLT)
What Makes Hard Work Fruitless?
As we’ve seen, most Bible verses reflect a positive view of hard work. However, the Bible balances this view with quite a few warnings. Hard work can become a problem if we aren’t careful.
- The next section discusses the need to balance work and rest.
- The last section of this article covers hard work in the context of salvation.
But first we will consider several ways of working hard that make it useless and unproductive.
Hard work cannot replace love
Martha was a hard worker, but she didn’t know when to stop. Jesus would have chosen quality time with her over a perfectly cooked meal.
As they went on their way, he entered into a certain village, and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard his word. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she came up to him, and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister left me to serve alone? Ask her therefore to help me.”
41 Jesus answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38–42)
The Ephesians were still working hard for God, and Jesus commended them for that. But this praise was more than outweighed by their lack of love. Jesus said their love for him (and others) had grown weaker over time.
Write this letter to the angel of the church in Ephesus. This is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven gold lampstands: 2 “I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. 3 You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.
4 But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! 5 Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches. 6 But this is in your favor: You hate the evil deeds of the Nicolaitans, just as I do. 7 “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious I will give fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God. (Revelation 2:1–7 NLT)
Hard Work While Living in Sin
After giving them the Law, God warned the Israelites against disobedience. One of the consequences of disobedience would be none of their hard work would matter.
A nation which you don’t know will eat the fruit of your ground and all of your work. You will only be oppressed and crushed always, 34 so that the sights that you see with your eyes will drive you mad. (Deuteronomy 28:33–34)
As we know, Israel did not obey the Law. The prophets called them out on it, reminding them that murder, corruption, and greed had made their hard work useless.
- What sorrow awaits you who build cities with money gained through murder and corruption! 13 Has not the Lord of Heaven’s Armies promised that the wealth of nations will turn to ashes? They work so hard, but all in vain! (Habakkuk 2:12–13 NLT)
- You hoped for rich harvests, but they were poor. And when you brought your harvest home, I blew it away. Why? Because my house lies in ruins, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, while all of you are busy building your own fine houses. 10 It’s because of you that the heavens withhold the dew and the earth produces no crops. 11 I have called for a drought on your fields and hills—a drought to wither the grain and grapes and olive trees and all your other crops, a drought to starve you and your livestock and to ruin everything you have worked so hard to get. (Haggai 1:9–11 NLT)
- Look at what was happening to you before you began to lay the foundation of the Lord’s Temple. 16 When you hoped for a twenty-bushel crop, you harvested only ten. When you expected to draw fifty gallons from the winepress, you found only twenty. 17 I sent blight and mildew and hail to destroy everything you worked so hard to produce. Even so, you refused to return to me, says the Lord. 18 “Think about this eighteenth day of December, the day when the foundation of the Lord’s Temple was laid. Think carefully. 19 I am giving you a promise now while the seed is still in the barn. You have not yet harvested your grain, and your grapevines, fig trees, pomegranates, and olive trees have not yet produced their crops. But from this day onward I will bless you. (Haggai 2:15–19 NLT)
Hard Work Without God’s Blessing
Simon Peter and the other disciples worked hard all night without a catch. Then at one word from Jesus he caught several weeks worth of fish.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.” 5 “Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” 6 And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! 7 A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking. (Luke 5:4–7 NLT)
The Psalms acknowledged this need for God’s blessing on our work:
- Let the favor of the Lord our God be on us. Establish the work of our hands for us. Yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 90:17)
- A Song of Ascents. By Solomon. 1 Unless the LORD builds the house, they who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman guards it in vain. 2 It is vain for you to rise up early, to stay up late, eating the bread of toil, for he gives sleep to his loved ones. 3 Behold, children are a heritage of the LORD. The fruit of the womb is his reward. 4 As arrows in the hand of a mighty man, so are the children of youth. 5 Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them. They won’t be disappointed when they speak with their enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127)
Psalm 127 is one of only two that were written by Solomon. It’s tone is hopeful and encouraging—very different from the cynicism of Ecclesiastes, our next topic.
Labor and Hard Work in Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes can be difficult to interpret. It is full of ambiguity. Solomon makes a statement—and you think you have it figured out—but then he immediately follows up with the opposite of the original statement.
It is even more confusing when we remember that Solomon turned away from God in his latter years. The wisest of men was—morally speaking—a fool. First, he married hundreds of women. Then, as if that weren’t bad enough, many of them were not even from Israel. They worshiped false gods and Solomon went along with their idolatry.
With that context in mind, let’s see what Solomon has to say about work in Ecclesiastes.
He starts out the book by posing this question:
“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher; “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” 3 What does man gain from all his labor in which he labors under the sun? (Ecclesiastes 1:2–3)
In the next section he stumbles towards an answer to that question. This part should be read like an autobiography, or maybe even a journal entry. At the beginning he is feeling despair about the value of all his hard work. But by the end he begins to come to an answer.
I’ve attempted to make this section easier to follow by putting each question Solomon asks himself on a line by itself:
Whatever my eyes desired, I didn’t keep from them. I didn’t withhold my heart from any joy, for my heart rejoiced because of all my labor, and this was my portion from all my labor. 11 Then I looked at all the works that my hands had worked, and at the labor that I had labored to do; and behold, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was no profit under the sun. 12 I turned myself to consider wisdom, madness, and folly;
[Q1] for what can the king’s successor do?
Just that which has been done long ago. 13 Then I saw that wisdom excels folly, as far as light excels darkness. 14 The wise man’s eyes are in his head, and the fool walks in darkness—and yet I perceived that one event happens to them all. 15 Then I said in my heart,
[Q2] “As it happens to the fool, so will it happen even to me; and why was I then more wise?”
Then I said in my heart that this also is vanity. 16 For of the wise man, even as of the fool, there is no memory forever, since in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. Indeed, the wise man must die just like the fool! 17 So I hated life, because the work that is worked under the sun was grievous to me; for all is vanity and a chasing after wind. 18 I hated all my labor in which I labored under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who comes after me.
[Q3] 19 Who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool?
Yet he will have rule over all of my labor in which I have labored, and in which I have shown myself wise under the sun. This also is vanity. 20 Therefore I began to cause my heart to despair concerning all the labor in which I had labored under the sun. 21 For there is a man whose labor is with wisdom, with knowledge, and with skillfulness; yet he shall leave it for his portion to a man who has not labored for it. This also is vanity and a great evil.
[Q4] 22 For what does a man have of all his labor and of the striving of his heart, in which he labors under the sun?
23 For all his days are sorrows, and his travail is grief; yes, even in the night his heart takes no rest. This also is vanity. 24 There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw, that it is from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat, or who can have enjoyment, more than I? 26 For to the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy; but to the sinner he gives travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him who pleases God. This also is vanity and a chasing after wind. (Ecclesiastes 2:10–26)
In questions 1-3, he struggles with the question of his successor. His son who will inherit all of Solomon’s wealth didn’t work for it. Solomon seems to forget that he himself received a pretty good inheritance from his father King David. The kingship, domestic stability, rule over Israel’s enemies, and huge wealth. He came to the kingdom at Israel’s peak.
(By the way, Solomon’s worries do turn out to be valid. After his death, Israel is split into two pieces and never returns to the Golden Age of David and Solomon.)
Finally, after Question 4 he starts to reach a satisfying answer. As a man works he can “make his soul enjoy good in his labor” as well as enjoying the fruits (“eat and drink”) of his labor. He becomes increasingly confident in this answer in Chapter 3:
9 What profit has he who works in that in which he labors? 10 I have seen the burden which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in their hearts, yet so that man can’t find out the work that God has done from the beginning even to the end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice, and to do good as long as they live. 13 Also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy good in all his labor, is the gift of God. 14 I know that whatever God does, it shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; and God has done it, that men should fear before him. 15 That which is has been long ago, and that which is to be has been long ago. God seeks again that which is passed away. (Ecclesiastes 3:9–15)
In chapter 4 and 5 he points out several wrong motivations for hard work.
- Envy of a man’s neighbor (keeping up with the Joneses)
- Greed for money
This part of Ecclesiastes is similar to other books of the Bible, such as Proverbs:
- Then I saw all the labor and achievement that is the envy of a man’s neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind. 5 The fool folds his hands together and ruins himself. 6 Better is a handful, with quietness, than two handfuls with labor and chasing after wind. 7 Then I returned and saw vanity under the sun. 8 There is one who is alone, and he has neither son nor brother. There is no end to all of his labor, neither are his eyes satisfied with wealth. “For whom then do I labor and deprive my soul of enjoyment?” This also is vanity. Yes, it is a miserable business. (Ecclesiastes 4:4–8)
- He who loves silver shall not be satisfied with silver, nor he who loves abundance, with increase. This also is vanity. 11 When goods increase, those who eat them are increased; and what advantage is there to its owner, except to feast on them with his eyes? 12 The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eats little or much; but the abundance of the rich will not allow him to sleep. 13 There is a grievous evil which I have seen under the sun: wealth kept by its owner to his harm. 14 Those riches perish by misfortune, and if he has fathered a son, there is nothing in his hand. 15 As he came out of his mother’s womb, naked shall he go again as he came, and shall take nothing for his labor, which he may carry away in his hand. 16 This also is a grievous evil, that in all points as he came, so shall he go. And what profit does he have who labors for the wind? 17 All his days he also eats in darkness, he is frustrated, and has sickness and wrath. 18 Behold, that which I have seen to be good and proper is for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy good in all his labor, in which he labors under the sun, all the days of his life which God has given him; for this is his portion. (Ecclesiastes 5:10–18)
By chapters 8-10 Solomon has worked through to satisfying answers to his original despair. Well, to him they are satisfying—they are the best he is capable of—ignorant as he is about faith, hope, or love. Solomon is the perfect example of a wise, hardworking person who lacks spiritual depth.
Christians should learn from his wisdom while avoiding his cynicism and resignation. We know the tomb is empty and there is hope after (and for) this life.
- Then I commended mirth, because a man has no better thing under the sun than to eat, to drink, and to be joyful: for that will accompany him in his labor all the days of his life which God has given him under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 8:15)
- Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work, nor plan, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in Sheol, where you are going. 11 I returned and saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all. (Ecclesiastes 9:10–11)
- Woe to you, land, when your king is a child,
and your princes eat in the morning!
17 Happy are you, land, when your king is the son of nobles,
and your princes eat in due season,
for strength, and not for drunkenness!
18 By slothfulness the roof sinks in;
and through idleness of the hands the house leaks.
Want to learn more about what Ecclesiastes says about work and wealth? In this video I read out loud every single verse:
Hard Work, Rest, and Sabbath
Someone who works constantly without ever taking a day off is no better than a slave. God is much less likely to bless the hard work of workaholics. For me, taking a full day off from work has led to numerous professional breakthroughs. This is one thing I teach in this course.
Problems that seemed impossible to solve on Saturday evening suddenly became easy on Monday morning. The difference? A full day of rest on Sunday.
You shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and Yahweh your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm. Therefore Yahweh your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:15)
Jesus had a complex relationship with the Sabbath. Note how this passage begins with his famous statement about giving rest to the heavily burdened. Then it moves into a description of a Sabbath where Jesus was accused of working inappropriately.
He explained that Sabbath is not a day to go hungry, nor is it a day to ignore the needs of the people around us. It is a day to bring peace and healing. This is not in conflict with the Sabbath being a day of rest.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
1 At that time, Jesus went on the Sabbath day through the grain fields. His disciples were hungry and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 But the Pharisees, when they saw it, said to him, “Behold, your disciples do what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” 3 But he said to them, “Haven’t you read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: 4 how he entered into God’s house and ate the show bread, which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?
5 Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath day the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? 6 But I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. 7 But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you wouldn’t have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
9 He departed from there and went into their synagogue. 10 And behold, there was a man with a withered hand. They asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day?” so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if this one falls into a pit on the Sabbath day, won’t he grab on to it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath day.” 13 Then he told the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out; and it was restored whole, just like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how they might destroy him. (Matthew 11:28–12:14)
This post on hard work is not complete in itself. Ideally it should be read together with this one about rest and Sabbath.
Bible Verses About Salvation and Hard Work
While hard work does not earn us salvation, true salvation does lead to hard work.
Saved by grace
- Jesus answered them, “Most certainly I tell you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. 27 Don’t work for the food which perishes, but for the food which remains to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For God the Father has sealed him.” 28 They said therefore to him, “What must we do, that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:26–29)
- But many will be last who are first, and first who are last. 1 “For the Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who was the master of a household, who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
3 He went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace. 4 He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went their way. 5 Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise.
6 About the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle. He said to them, ‘Why do you stand here all day idle?’ 7 “They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ “He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and you will receive whatever is right.’ 8 “When evening had come, the lord of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning from the last to the first.’
9 “When those who were hired at about the eleventh hour came, they each received a denarius. 10 When the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise each received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they murmured against the master of the household, 12 saying, ‘These last have spent one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat!’ 13 “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Didn’t you agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take that which is yours, and go your way. It is my desire to give to this last just as much as to you. 15 Isn’t it lawful for me to do what I want to with what I own? Or is your eye evil, because I am good?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 19:30–20:16)
- For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, that no one would boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8–10)
Notice the end of that passage: we are created for good works. Salvation cannot be disentangled from obedience to Jesus. This includes doing the good works that God has prepared for us.
Faith without works is dead
- One said to him, “Lord, are they few who are saved?” He said to them, 24 “Strive to enter in by the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will seek to enter in and will not be able. (Luke 13:23–24)
- I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their works follow with them.” (Revelation 14:13)
- So then, my beloved, even as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 14 Do all things without complaining and arguing, 15 that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without defect in the middle of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you are seen as lights in the world, 16 holding up the word of life, that I may have something to boast in the day of Christ that I didn’t run in vain nor labor in vain. (Philippians 2:12–16)
- But, beloved, we are persuaded of better things for you, and things that accompany salvation, even though we speak like this. 10 For God is not unrighteous, so as to forget your work and the labor of love which you showed toward his name, in that you served the saints, and still do serve them. 11 We desire that each one of you may show the same diligence to the fullness of hope even to the end, 12 that you won’t be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and perseverance inherited the promises.
I think the most sobering warning comes from Peter, who said we must be diligent to make sure of our election. If, over time, we are not becoming more like Jesus, it should make us question our salvation.
5 Yes, and for this very cause adding on your part all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence; and in moral excellence, knowledge; 6 and in knowledge, self-control; and in self-control, perseverance; and in perseverance, godliness; 7 and in godliness, brotherly affection; and in brotherly affection, love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, they make you to not be idle or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these things is blind, seeing only what is near, having forgotten the cleansing from his old sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be more diligent to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never stumble. 11 For thus you will be richly supplied with the entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 12 Therefore I will not be negligent to remind you of these things, though you know them and are established in the present truth. 13 I think it right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you, 14 knowing that the putting off of my tent comes swiftly, even as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. 15 Yes, I will make every effort that you may always be able to remember these things even after my departure. (2 Peter 1:5–15)
The famous phrase “faith without works is dead” comes from James.
What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Can faith save him? 15 And if a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food, 16 and one of you tells them, “Go in peace. Be warmed and filled;” yet you didn’t give them the things the body needs, what good is it? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself. 18 Yes, a man will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
19 You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe—and shudder. 20 But do you want to know, vain man, that faith apart from works is dead? 21 Wasn’t Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith worked with his works, and by works faith was perfected. 23 So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that by works a man is justified, and not only by faith. 25 In the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, even so faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:14–26)
If you've enjoyed this article, check out our others on topics related to work, money, and wealth.
Bible version: the public domain World English Bible (WEB) has been used for most of this post. The WEB translation of "Yahweh" has been changed to "the LORD" which is more familiar to most readers.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.