• Proverbs 6:1-15
Our identity is defined by a wide range of sources, but most commonly by our vocation. What we do for a living is perhaps the greatest source of self-esteem, feelings of accomplishment and dignity. Work also provides purpose and meaning to life, helping people to sense their usefulness in life—and for the greater good of humankind. But work also can be a source of stress:
• As young people, we worry about what we’re going to do with our lives in the future.
• As middle-agers, we wonder “what am I going to do when I grow up?” and consider unrealized goals and dreams.
• Senior adults ponder retirement and what our purpose will be after our career.
Wherever your learners may be on the spectrum of their career/vocation, they will have some touch points in this week’s lesson. This passage from Proverbs will encourage your learners that God wants them to have a fulfilling work life and will provide them with a model to faithfully pursue pleasing God through their work. Use this week’s study time to explore some of these principles given to help your learners have a better work life.
This passage teaches general life principles rather than specific commands about work and work relationships. The ideas in this week’s passage apply to the question “Ho can I have a better work life?” Biblical wisdom teaches God’s people to be wary of foolish entanglements, to work diligently and to avoid dealing wickedly with others.
Be wary of foolish entanglements (Proverbs 6:1-5)
While this passage does not provide exemption from making commitments to help the poor or support the church, this passage does caution against getting involved in shady business deals or foolish financial entanglements. The wise father is urging his son to free himself quickly and honestly through humility from agreements that put the son’s assets at risk.
This passage also speaks to the foolish entanglements that come from bad vocational decisions. Encourage your learners to consider this passage before accepting an offer from a potential employer. Challenge your learners to consider the ethical implications of their employment.
If your learners already are in an employment or business ownership position that compromises their values and beliefs as a Christian, offer prayer and counsel about how they might discern God’s leadership in making professional changes. These verses warn against putting business or financial well-being at risk to people or circumstances beyond your control.
This is a good passage to explore how bad/unwise debt such as credit cards can be a bad financial decision that gives away control of your learner’s finances. It is likely that 50 percent or more of your learners will have burdensome credit card debt, so this passage should be an encouragement to discharge that debt as quickly and honestly as possible. Offer a few resources that can offer positive support to Christians dealing with this very real burden. Good Cents group study, Financial Peace University and other such programs offer Christian concepts of money management that will help families struggling with debt.
Be wise in your work ethic (Proverbs 6:6-11)
This passage warns slackers to adopt the ant’s diligent work habits lest they fall into poverty as a result of laziness. Not all who are unemployed are lazy. And not all who work hard are paid fairly. But diligence—or a lack thereof—is tied to poverty and want in many situations. The ant saves food in preparation for the coming winter, and by example teaches us that diligence in work now prepares for hard seasons of life to come.
Scripture also teaches the wisdom and command of God to rest from work regularly for renewal— physical, spiritual and emotional—by way of Sabbath keeping. But rest is to be a part of the rhythm of life that includes regular work. Work—tending creation—was given to humans before the fall of Adam and Eve, and it is a part of the created order of God. God’s people are to take seriously their work responsibilities, laboring diligently to provide life’s necessities and pleasures.
Work also is God’s way of blessing the future. Like the ant which saves food for winter, we are called to apply a diligent work ethic to save up for seasons of scarcity. We are wise to lay in store for future needs even as we provide for present needs. Work provides meaning and purpose in human existence.
Talk with your students about the difference between meaningful work versus working to get a paycheck or working simply for the acquisition of things.
You may find a helpful alternative teaching tool in the contemporary song “Ants Go Marching” by Dave Matthews Band. It offers a negative example of people who spend life working without meaning, simply going through motions out of routine, rather than working with purpose for God. It is a “G-rated” song with a poetic structure that is Dylan-esque, so if you choose to play this song for your learners, be sure to provide printed lyrics.
Be warned about wicked dealings (Proverbs 6:12-15)
Of the behaviors most frequently condemned by Israel’s prophets, evil dealings—especially at cost to the poor—are considered among the sins most despised. And in the last third of this week’s passage, the troublemakers are warned they eventually bring calamity on themselves as a result of their wickedness, dishonesty and evil plots.
The Bible teaches that dealing wickedly and dishonestly with others invites judgment and disaster on the one who does such things. This passage may have been present in Paul’s mind when he penned: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8).
Whether in business dealings or at home, Christian people are called to act honestly and avoid plots that aim at stealing or taking advantage of others. In addition, God’s people are to avoid things that stir up trouble. In a precautious mode, believers also should be alert to the possibility that some business people or coworkers may not be honest.
Point to some contemporary businesses that have behave illegally or unethically for financial gain. Enron and Martha Stewart are a few of the most recent and public examples. You also might share a personal story of how wicked dealings affected you negatively in the work place. Ask your learners to cite examples of their own.