Proverbs (9). Work

The wisdom of Proverbs teaches us we are more meaningful than our work and that to do meaningful work is to do work honestly and diligently regardless of the work or even the circumstances we do our work in. To put that another way, it is wisdom to know our significance is greater than our work and we give our work meaning not the other way around. [Audio | Notes]

Michael Flynn


Proverbs 6:9-11; 12:24, 27; 13:4; 15:19; 19:24; 21: 5,25,26; 26:13 -16

For further thought

Readings: 6:9-11 (poverty & laziness) | 12:24, 27 | 13:4 | 15:19 | 19:24 | 21: 5,25,26 | 26:13 -16 |

In taking the topical approach to Proverbs that we have in this teaching series there are bound to be overlaps in wise and foolish behaviour in different parts of our lives. Much of what we have learnt already about character, emotion, addiction, beauty, wealth and words will apply to how we spend our time at work. However there are specific issues about work that Proverbs addresses. Not only is honesty in business practice important if we don’t want God to become our opponent (11:1) but the subtlety of how our foolishness disguises itself in a lazy character is paramount for Proverbs.

Diligence is generally rewarded and laziness (the way of the sluggard) is generally its own punishment in Proverbs. People are not equal when it comes to their working worth. There are different abilities, wisdom and effort and a sluggard costs those who trust or employ them dearly (10:26, 18:9).

Q: In Proverbs 6:9-11 what does a swarm of ants have that a sluggard lacks? How could this expressed in different types of work?

Q: In Proverbs 26:13-16 we get a comical/mocking description of the sluggard. What does this behaviour look like in everyday life once we have removed the comedy?

For example: verse 13 would describe someone who is amplifying the risks of a business venture or job in order to avoid having to do it.

Q: What are the dangers in 14:23?

Q: What are the advantages of hardship in 16:26? What does necessity in our work look like for us?

One theme that is overlooked in how Proverbs talks about work is its use in forming godly character in us. Often we think we are shaping our work but it is also the case that our work shapes us in ways we did not expect. It is no accident that the personification of wisdom in Proverbs 31:10f is described primarily as a diligent worker.

Q: How has your work experience shaped who are? What are the character challenges for you in work today?

A theme in recent Christian thinking about work that is ill at ease with the world of Proverbs is the search for meaning or significance in our work. By this we often mean that we’d like a different career, occupation or workplace to nurture our sense of meaning. Yet, in Proverbs to do meaningful work is to do work honestly, diligently regardless of the work or the circumstances we do our work in. To put that another way, our meaning and significance is greater than just our work. As the apostle Paul later put it: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” (his advice to slaves in Colossians 3:23)

Q: How does our quest for significance help or hinder our work or our character?