Wisdom in Work

Bible Book: Proverbs  27 : 23
Subject: Work; Wisdom
Series: Proverbs - Sermon Notebook

Work is both a curse and a blessing. According to Genesis 3, the Fall brought a curse and a part of that curse was that man must earn his living by the sweat of his brow. The blessing is that we have the opportunity to work in order to provide for our family, or to find fulfillment in life. I have no idea how much work Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden, but there is not doubt that there was more pleasure associated with his work than there is with many jobs today - not to speak of the work place! People should expect to work for a living, even if some have never learned that lesson. Paul instructed the Thessalonians not to let a man eat if he would not work.


“The wages of the righteous is life, The income of the wicked, punishment.”

A. Godly Wisdom Shapes Our Attitude Toward Work.

I grew up in the Green River Community, seven miles west of Sledge, Mississippi, and maybe that explains it. I really don’t know. But, I grew up hearing expressions there that I would not hear when I went off to Mississippi College, or any other place for that matter. I don’t know if what I was hearing was a generational think or if somehow it was geographical. Well, I won’t keep you in suspense. We did not speak another language, but there were farmers in our community who didn’t speak the same language my teachers spoke. For example, when George (not his real name) said, “I hope him,” he meant, “I helped him.” I’m serious.

Of course, I remember going with a friend to visit a “hillbilly” one time and I was fascinated by his tale of a bird hunt. I can still picture the hand signals as he gave an animated account of how the bird “div down in the holler and climb up the hill.” George would have said, “clum.” Let me assure you here that even though George was illiterate, he was not ignorant. For example, there was the time when he took the engine from a tractor to the John Deere place in Tunica and asked them to overhaul it. The service manager told him how much they charged per hour and George told them he thought it was way too much, but since he needed it overhauled as soon as possible so he could get back into the field, he told them to go ahead and do it. He insisted that they get started on his immediately and the agreed to do it and assigned a mechanic to the job. George found a chair and set it up in the near the mechanic’s work station and watched him.

After a little while, there was a phone call for the mechanic and he started to leave his work station to go to the office, but George stopped him and asked, “Where are you going?” The mechanic said, “I have to take that phone call.” George said, “Write your time down. I am not paying you to talk on the telephone!”

When the mechanic started to the restroom, George stopped him again: “Write your time down. I’m not paying you eighteen dollars an hour to go to the restroom.” At lunch time, the mechanic knew to write his time down. George was certainly not paying him to eat lunch. Now, when I go to a garage and see a sign informing me that their insurance will not allow any customers in the service area, I wonder if that is really the reason, or if these people may have heard about George.

There is one other thing you should know about George. He was “smart.” Now that may be telling you something significant about George. But I am not sure it is telling you what it would have told anyone in the Green River community, seven miles west of Charley Pride’s home town. You see, almost everyone in my community placed great value on being “smart.” If a child made good grades he was smart, but when a grown man was called “smart”, it mean that he was a hard worker, one worked from can to can’t - and that meant from the time he could see the sun until the time when he couldn’t see the sun - from can to can’t.

There wasn’t much to be proud of in the Green River community, but that never stopped people any where from being proud. The main road was graveled; the side roads were still dirt roads. Of course, when the county supervisor realized that a little gravel and drainage ditches were worth more than political speeches, or promises for that matter, gravel began to appear on drive ways, and some of the dirt roads. Two telephone exchanges ran their lines to a point within a mile or two of Green River and then each insisted that it was the responsibility of the other to run the line on through Green River. They got telephones after I left home.

As I mentioned, there was a lot of pride in our community. George was not the only one who took pride in a son who was “smart.” It was a high compliment when someone observed a young man at work and pronounced him as “smart.” A person who was smart was one who was a “hard worker.” He was industrious, energetic, consistent, diligent, not a slacker. He was a good provider. If “smart” was a high compliment, you can imagine what it meant to be labeled “lazy.” As a matter of fact, George would have called a lazy person worthless.

While the rest of the world may not have shared our jargon, many people of that period placed a premium on hard work. I was pastor of West Side Baptist Church, Bastrop, Louisiana for thirteen years. I often head men complain that many of the younger men hired at International Paper Company “just won’t work.” Obviously, some had never been taught to work, but some of them wanted a job which paid a salary. They didn’t want to work.

Does the Bible have anything to say about work? I mean, other than that we are to earn our living by the sweat of our brow? Well, let us see what we find in the Book of Proverbs

B. The Income of the Righteous Sustains Life, 10:16a.

1. It has been so since the Fall, Genesis 3.

2. No one should expect a free ride.

3. A strong work ethic blesses individuals.

4. A Christian work-ethic blesses families.

5. A Christian work-ethic blesses nations.

6. A Christian work-ethic blesses the church.

7. A Christina work-ethic is industrious.

8. A Christian work-ethic is not slothful.

9. A Christian work-ethic involves a will to work.

ILLUSTRATION. His name is Clyde Miller. I had heard different relatives talk about Clyde Miller

for as long as I could remember. Then I learned that he and his family were planning to visit. What did I remember about him? Depends on who was doing the talking. One relative had visited him in Oklahoma and came back talking about the ranches and chain of tire stores he and one of his brothers owned in Oklahoma. “They sold more tires in Oklahoma last year than Sears Roebuck!” I was impressed.

From another I learned that he was a member of the Church of Christ, which was announced with an emphasis a twelve years old boy didn’t quite understand. Sounded pretty good to me. Christ and church? Sounded every bit as spiritual as being both Baptist and Southern at the same time!

Another relative talked about Clyde’s wealth. It seems some were really impressed that a man with his wealth would be so down-to-earth. They emphasized this by comparing him with his brother, who apparently was a little more impressed with his success - since I never met the brother I could only draw conclusion from their comparisons. My grandfather told us about the time the brother visited him and his two elderly sisters at their home east of Water Valley, Mississippi: “He was flying so high he only hit the ground in high places!” Yet, a few years later he came to see them with a proposition: if they would move into a retirement home with his mother he would pay the bill for all four of them. I had never seen him but my opinion of him under went a change. I appreciated his offer but what I appreciated more was that they did not accept it.

When my mother talked about Clyde, I came to appreciate the man. With Clyde or anyone else, it was not wealth that mattered, but did they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The Clyde I came to appreciate was a man of faith, a man of character, a man of humility. Then we got the word. Clyde was coming for a visit. I was excited. And when I met Clyde I was just as impressed as other family members. Only as a twelve year old boy, I was a lot more impressed with the fact that Clyde was a genuine war hero. I didn’t get it all but it seems that he was commanding some kind of ship at Iwo Jima or Okinawa, or both. What I picked up was that they had to fight off kamikaze fighters. Now I was impressed! I mean, I had visions of John Wayne playing Clyde Miller in a WW II movie.

Years later I had an opportunity to ask Clyde some questions myself, that is after we got through asking questions about his brand new BMW 735i (his son convinced him it was a safe car!). They now had a chain of service stations instead of the tire stores. He still had horse ranches, and if you went to the Nations Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, one of the sculptures you couldn’t miss was his very close friend, and a world champion rodeo star.

I finally got around to a question I had wanted to ask. How did you and your family get from Yalobusha County, Mississippi to Shawnee, Oklahoma? This is when I learned that a history professor at Oklahoma State University was urging him to write his autobiography. He simply didn’t think it was that interesting. But he did answer my question. During the Great Depression, his older brother, whom I had never met, had gone west looking for work. If he found work, he would find a place and write home and the next oldest brother would join him, and then they would try to find a job for another brother.

The older brother found a job and a room five miles away from his work. He had been working for several weeks but had not yet been joined by the next brother. One morning when he went out to get into his car to drive to work, the engine wouldn’t start. He jumped out and ran five miles so he would not be late to work. If he had not been on time someone else would have gotten his job. People were standing in line every day looking for work. The family had this attitude toward work and their commitment to working hard and working wise blessed them and their families.

During the Depression, it was either find work, seek a soup line, or starve. That was a strong motivation for work. Other than the WPA (“we piddle around”, some called it) the government did not feed either those who could not work or those who would not work.

There is little wonder that those who grew up during the Depression placed such a great value on work. My father, who had spend a part of the Depression working in a CC Camp, was like so many others of his generation. He worked as hard as he could for his family so that his children would never go through what he had. I came to expect certain comments and clichés from the men and women who had shared his ordeal: the Depression era generation. “He is a hard worker.” Or, “He is a good provider.” Or maybe, “There ain’t a lazy bone in his body.” Or possibly, “That boy ain’t afraid of work. He will lie down and go to sleep right by it!

I will admit that when you are twelve years old and stuck in a cotton field those observations “lost something in the translation” (whatever that means). I was working as hard as I could to keep from working as hard as I could. We celebrated my twelfth birth day in May and then my parents announced that we would start choppin’ cotton Monday and that they expected me to “lead the hands in the field.” They meant that they wanted me out front, working as hard as I could, and not lagging back, either talking or leaning on my hoe handle. I did what was expected of me.

I was offended when I was a student at Mississippi College when a man who was trying to hire a few college students asked me if I was lazy. I was still fuming when I told my father about it the next week end. He said, “You should have told him that you have probably done more work accidentally than he has on purpose.” Why didn’t I think of that? Maybe it is just as well that I didn’t. But Daddy was offended that my work ethic would have been questioned, though I doubt that he ever actually used the term, “work ethic”, in his life.

I would learn in time that some people do not share the value the Depression era generation placed on work. Employers complain that many young people today just won’t work. As a matter of fact, I asked someone the other day if what I saw growing on the north side of an employee might have been moss. On the other side, a local Christian doctor observed that he had never seen anyone come to the end of his life and say that he wished he had worked harder.

C. That Acquired By Evil Work Leads to More Sin and Ultimately to Death, 10:16b.

“The wages of the righteous is life, The income of the wicked, punishment.”

There are many people who are engaged in ungodly work who prosper in a material in this world. As I have often said, the world is user friendly to those of the world. There people who are engaged in activities that destroy lives (alcohol, pornography, drugs, or immorality). Some of these people cross the line and pay dearly for it. Some are killed, some go to jail, and some are left broken, physically or mentally. But some of them live in luxury from the money they make from activities that destroy others. God is long suffering, and the ungodly will stand before Him in judgment. They will reap the rewards of their evil work for eternity.


“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” (Eccl. 9:10).

A. The Christian work-ethic stresses honest work.
B. The Christian must avoid dishonest business practices.
C. The Christian puts in a good day’s work for a day’s pay.
D. The Christian is loyal to his employer.
E. He does not cheat his employer.
F. He does not cheat customers.
G. He must avoid “ill-gotten gain”.

We must earn our living by the sweat of our brow, but that does not mean that we should look upon our work only as a curse. The privilege of work can be a great blessing. There is something to be said for “a job well done.” For the Christian, our work is an opportunity to bring glory and honor to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. For one thing, it puts in touch with people who need our Lord. The Great Commission and it is a commission and not a suggestion, demands that we carry the Gospel with us wherever we go. And that means the work place. It does not mean that you preach to people on the job, but you bear a witness for Jesus Christ, even in the work place. Let us not neglect the opportunity to be a witness through our work.