Faith and Work: Greek, Jewish and Early Christian
January 17, 2007 • By Allistair Mackenzie
In the Greek world work was considered to be a curse. Aristotle said that to be unemployed was good fortune because it allowed a person to participate in political life and contemplation. Today it is probably politics that enjoys the low reputation. But for the Greeks, society was organised so that a few could enjoy the blessing of "leisure" while work was done by slaves. Everyday work was a demeaning occupation that one should try to avoid. Certainly there was nothing spiritually meaningful or uplifting about everyday work.
The opportunity to think about issues and engage in contemplation was also valued by Jews. And when Jesus came on the scene, he was only one of many Jewish rabbis or teachers on the block. However, it is very significant to note that Jewish teachers were not expected to live off the contributions of their students, but were all expected to have a trade through which they could support themselves. Far from being avoided, as far as possible work was to be embraced as part of God's purposes in creation and theological reflection would be engaged in by people who were daily engaged in everyday life in the world.
Jesus was known as a carpenter and the son of a carpenter, although there is no example of him continuing this trade during the period of his public ministry. He called some of his inner circle of disciples to leave their fishing nets to follow him. But there are also examples of them continuing to fish at times. Certainly he gave no general call for all Christians to give up everyday work, and much of his teaching drew on themes from the world of everyday work without any self-consciousness or apologies. Paul also emphasizes a positive view of work, commending all Christians to continue in their work and to work well. And he plainly continued in his trade as a tentmaker during his church planting ministry. This would seem to be the general Christian pattern for the first century after the Apostles.
Excerpt from Faith and Work - A Thesis in Pastoral Theology, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, Dec. 1997 by Alistair Mackenzie. faithatwork.org.nz. Content distributed by HisChurchatWork.org > used for non-profit teaching purposes only.