• The Explore the Bible lesson for March 30 focuses on Proverbs 13:4; 14:23; 20:4; 24:30-34; 26:13-14; 28:19; 6:6-8; 10:5; 14:4; 21:20; 24:27; 11:24-25; 19:17; 22:9; 28:27.
As a hospice chaplain, I recently had the privilege of meeting an elderly African-American woman whose diagnosis gives her less than six months to live. In a matter of moments, I discovered whatever I had gone to give her in ministry she was giving back tenfold.
Among the wonderful witnesses of faith she shared, this one struck me most: “I am so full. No one owes me anything.” Even as she faces the end of her earthly existence, she bares no grudges, no anger and no unresolved debts others left her unpaid. Indeed, she sees it as her obligation, even now, to give what she has to those who need it most, especially her overflowing love, which she has in abundance.
Value of a good work ethic
In this selection of passages from the book of wisdom, we are given instructions about the value of a good work ethic, promises of its value and warnings about the failure to attain one. Behind them all is the dying lady’s viewpoint of life. God has been so good to her; no one owes her anything. All she has or ever had was the gift of God, some of it attained by God’s gift to give her the desire to work hard so she could share with those who needed it most.
More than one parent is concerned we have raised a generation too accustomed to a sense of entitlement. These ancient words serve us all well in counteracting that way of looking at life.
At the core of this lesson is the core of Christian truth. We are not here for ourselves. Although we must work to provide for our basic needs and of those who are dependent on us, we also are to work hard so we might have something to give to those in need (Ephesians 4:28).
A good work ethic is a key to a deeply satisfying life. “A sluggard’s appetite is never filled, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied” (Proverbs 13:4). Those who only survive by taking from others never know the joy of having earned what is theirs. That joy is one of God’s greatest gifts.
“All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23). There is no greater poverty than the sense of incompleteness that comes when we have not contributed something good to this world through our own hard work. Hard work not only provides for our basic necessities; it also provides us with the sense that we are capable of making a good difference.
Bridges to good relationships
The danger of not having a good work ethic and being dependent on others for what we need lies in the bridges to good relationships we burn by always expecting others to care for us. In time, if we burn enough bridges, we may find ourselves in a place where no one will be willing to help. “Sluggards do not plow in season; so at harvest time they look but find nothing” (Proverbs 20:4).
The word “sluggard” is a hard word, and we should use great caution in applying it to anyone carelessly. Some people don’t work hard to care for themselves for all kinds of reasons. Some people struggle with mental illness that keeps them from being productive members of society. The better part of caution demands we work with those who are not reliable workers until we can know more of what causes them to slack off.
A minister who worked with the homeless helped me understand this truth when I was a pastor in the inner city. Most of the people who stand at street corners holding up signs asking for help are mentally ill, he told me. More than a handout, those people need the church to respond with programs that will get them off of the street, get them connected to mental health care professionals and into programs that can teach basic life skills.
First extend compassion
I personally witnessed some of those people leave the street corner and become productive members of society and also active in the ministry of the church. We never should presume to know why some people don’t work harder. We should first extend compassion, just as Jesus did.
If anything irritates me, it is getting stuck in line behind someone buying a lottery ticket. “Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty” (Proverbs 28:19). None of us, even the most hard-working among us, is free from the temptation of thinking we can get something valuable for nothing. Remembering that will help us extend compassion to those who never knew another way of life and motivate us to agitate for laws against such worthless gambling.
As far back as Eden, we were given God’s creation to care for. There is no greater joy than laying our head on our pillow at night knowing that, although we didn’t get everything done, we did our best to make a good difference in this world God gave us to nurture through hard work.