Jobless Benefits and a Theology of Work

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hard_work_signYesterday, another bill passed in the Senate – this time to extend unemployment benefits once again, by up to an additional 47 weeks, depending on the percentage of jobless rates in a given state. The fewer working, the longer the benefits will be extended. Even from a strictly secular economical standpoint, the bill makes little sense and is shockingly near-sighted. You know the argument from fiscal conservatives, it remains the same, and it remains the same because math is always a constant.

1) The bill that passed will cost $6.4 billion, or $256 a week for an estimated 1.3 million jobless claims.

2) There is no funding in the budget to pay for the new bill. Therefore, funding must come from elswhere: i.e., those who are working and have taxable income, and businesses that provide jobs.

3) If businesses and taxpayers are paying for people to not work, they will be much less capable of providing jobs for people who are willing to work.

4) The consequences are circular, and the people out of work will not be able to find good jobs since businesses are consolidating job positions to pay for new taxes and regulations.

But as I said, those are economical arguments, but how should a Christian be thinking about all this? We live in a culture that has continuously fertilized a lazy atmosphere. We live in a society that, in many cases, treats the sloth as a victim. Now, for clarification, I am not saying that if you’ve lost your job and can’t find work, then you are a sloth. By no means! But just because you don’t have a job, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be working. Your job should be looking for a job. That’s what you should be doing, but I know far too many people who look at their jobless benefits as a three year paid vacation from work. That is the sloth! Christians must have a right understanding and theology of work.

theology_of_work

We were created to work, but our work has been frustrated by sin.

When God created man, He made him unique from all the rest of His creation. Made in His own image, man was to rule over the rest of God’s creation. He was created to work, and work was enjoyable – it was a blessing (cf. Gen. 1:26-28). From man’s first day he worked, and “the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Then the woman was also made as a helper to him, so that he might be successful in his work (2:18). In fact, the virtuous woman is described in Proverbs 31 as someone who is a hard worker.

“She looks for wool and flax and works with her hands in delight. She is like merchant ships; she brings her food from afar. She rises also while it is still night and gives food to her household and portions to her maidens. She considers a field and buys it; from her earnings she plants a vineyard. She girds herself with strength and makes her arms strong. She senses that her gain is good; her lamp does not go out at night. She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hands grasp the spindle” (Prov. 31:13-19).

Of course sin entered the world, and not only did this effect man’s ability to work (cf. 3:17-18), but since mankind is now corrupted by sin, it also effected his desire to work. Some work too hard, ignoring other God-given responsibilities, like being the spiritual leader of the family, being a support to the husband, church involvement, etc. Others work for the wrong motivation – for sordid gain and vanity. And others, which is what we’re addressing in this post, simply don’t work when they are physically capable of doing so. Instead, they depend on the generosity of others either in the church, shelters, or the government.

chickenworkThat being said though, just because you have a job, that doesn’t mean you aren’t slothful. We can very easily become lazy in the workplace when the boss isn’t looking, especially when we’re working in environments where there is little accountability. I remember countless occasions working miscellaneous jobs where the boss wasn’t around much. Guys would walk off the job sight and go who knows where. Others would take ridiculously frequent smoke breaks, or one guy I knew, would simply pull his hat over his eyes and lay down in the bed of his pickup! It’s hard sometimes dealing with that day in and day out. We can readily excuse our behavior with the ol’ “Hey! Everyone else is doing it! I’m tired too!” But we need to remember as Christians, whatever we do, we are to do heartily for God (Col. 3:23-24). That should certainly motivate us to work hard!

The Church is to help those without work, but cannot enable people not to work.

The people of God should demonstrate generosity and provide help to those in need. Remember Jesus Himself declared to His disciples, that whatever generosity they show towards those in need, is generosity given to Him (Matt. 25:31-46). It is also interesting that individual generosity of Christians is often assumed in the New Testament.

“So when you give to the poor,” do it secretly (Matt. 6:2-4).

“They only asked us to remember the poor,” which Paul himself was very eager to do (Gal. 2:10).

“But if anyone does not provide for his own… he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever!” (1 Tim. 5:8).

“If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” – and it’s time to test your faith by your works (James 2:15-26).

“But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 Jn. 3:17-18).

Those are some strong verses exhorting Christians to give to those in need. It’s interesting too that while the excellent wife I mentioned above is characterized as being a hard worker, she is also characterized by being someone who is giving (Prov. 31:20). The church is also to help those without work or those in need, but this does not mean that giving is not to be done without discernment. There are times when Scripture commands the church not to give! This is what we read in 2 Thessalonians 3. man workingThere were people in the church who were living off the generosity of others. They were capable of working, but weren’t, so Paul declared, “Even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either” (3:10). That is somewhat astounding. What Paul was saying was that even when the missionaries were visiting the church, if they weren’t working, they weren’t to eat. That is a command. So, if the church provided help to those who were practicing slothful behavior, it was wrong for them to do so. The book of Proverbs also has some strong words for the one who is not willing to work:

“A workers appetite works for him, for his hunger urges him on” (16:26).

The principle in this verse is simple. If someone gets hungry enough, he will work to get food. Other passages go on…

“Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, But the hand of the diligent makes rich. He who gathers in summer is a son who acts wisely, But he who sleeps in harvest is a son who acts shamefully” (Prov. 10:4-5).

“The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, But the soul of the diligent is made fat” (Prov. 13:4).

“The sluggard does not plow after the autumn, So he begs during the harvest and has nothing” (Prov. 20:4).

“The desire of the sluggard puts him to death, For his hands refuse to work; All day long he is craving, While the righteous gives and does not hold back” (Prov. 21:25-26).

Of course there are many other passages that speak similarly, but you get the idea. The Bible condemns the heart of the sluggard, and the church is to be careful that it practices good stewardship when providing help for its members and to those in need. They are to be generous, but discerning, giving, but never enabling.

unemployment benefits cartoonSo, what if you’re without a job? Am I saying that you shouldn’t take the unemployment benefits our government provides? No, it’s the law of the land and there is certainly nothing in Scripture that condemns you for taking financial assistance when you need it. However, just because many manipulate the system doesn’t mean you should. You should put the additional financial assistance to good use and use your time trying to find work. In a sense, that is your full-time job! Don’t wait until your benefits run out to start putting your resume together. If you are working, you should ask yourself, “Am I working for the right motivation? Do I have my priorities straight? Am I neglecting other responsibilities? Am I being generous with what God has blessed me with? And finally, do I express a thankful heart for what God has blessed me with?

Remember what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroy, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth…

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” (Matt. 6:19-34).

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  • Great post, brother. This is certainly an issue where many of us are confused. Even I feel somewhat guilty if I pass a bum on the street and don’t give him money. Just the other day, I was walking into a restaurant with my 4-year-old little girl and out of nowhere a disheveled homeless man came up to me asking for money. My instinct was to protect my daughter so I didn’t even stop to talk to him. I’ve talked to many who seem to have an over-active conscience about giving money to the guy on the street corner holding up a sign that says, “Will work for food,” or something like that. What would you say to Christians who wrestle with guilt if they don’t always give money to a homeless person when approached? Is that a case where we should always give? Sometimes give? Never give because they should be working (2 Thess 3:10), thereby enabling them to be lazy?

    • I’m glad you asked that question Karl! My questions is, “Why do you feel guilt?” You’d have to proceed from there. It might be because they have a faulty understanding of Christian ethics, and believe that the “Christian” thing to do is to give to the poor without reservation. To that end, Jesse Johnson just wrote an excellent two-part series on thecripplegate.com that helps us in our biblical understanding of helping the needy (http://thecripplegate.com/dispensationalism-keller-and-the-poor-reprise/).

      Sometimes they might also feel guilty because they lie to the beggar. Rather than saying, “I won’t give you money,” they say something like, “Sorry, I can’t. I don’t have any money,” when the truth is, they do. However, I am also inclined to think that other times, Christians feel guilty because they know what the REAL need is, and they don’t stop and take the time to share the Gospel.

      Another thought though, as just a matter of principle, when someone approaches me for money, I am a lot more inclined to help them if they are offering to provide work, even if it’s just a buck for washing my windows at the gas station. That often gives you a little more time to share the Gospel anyhow.

  • Mandolin

    Great post!