Working hard is often seen as a virtue in our society. We praise the workaholic who puts in long hours to climb the corporate ladder or build a successful business. However, does working non-stop align with Biblical principles for life and work? Let’s explore what the Bible has to say about working too much.
Working hard and providing for our families is commendable. The Bible encourages diligence, wise use of talents, and good stewardship. However, an excessive focus on work is warned against. Jesus reminds us that man does not live on bread alone (Luke 4:4). Our Creator intended for us to find purpose in relationship with Him and others, not just in our jobs.
This post will examine principles and passages related to overworking and establish some key takeaways for finding balance. Christians seeking God’s best in their lives would do well to periodically evaluate their priorities regarding career and calling.
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- God established the Sabbath rest principle at Creation for our good. Honoring Sabbath time is still important.
- Working excessively can reveal misplaced identities and trusts. Our meaning is found in Christ.
- Busyness and worries of this world can choke out spiritual fruitfulness. A slower pace helps us abide in Christ.
- Incessant work is vain, unable to satisfy the soul. Only God can provide meaning and purpose.
- God’s design for work and rest brings proper order, health, and enjoyment of life.
- What is Considered Excessive Work?
- Sabbath Rest – God's Gift for Balance
- Workaholism Reveals Misplaced Identity
- Busyness Chokes Out Spiritual Fruit
- Life's Meaning Not Found In Work Alone
- God's Design Brings Balance
- Discerning God's Calling and Balance In Our Work
What is Considered Excessive Work?
What qualifies as overworking? This differs for each person and season of life. However, there are some general signs of imbalance:
- Working significantly more than 40 hours per week on a regular basis
- Compulsively working during all free time
- Neglecting caring for self, family relationships, and community
- Physical and emotional exhaustion; lack of life-giving leisure
- Insisting on working during medical leave or disability
- Never feeling satisfied with what has been accomplished
- Sense of guilt surrounding any rest or play
Workaholism essentially replaces God with work. Our careers become idols that control us instead of healthy parts of well-rounded lives.
Warning Signs of Workaholism:
- Working when sick or injured just to stay busy
- Severe stress and anxiety when away from work
- Frequently choosing work over personal relationships
- Harboring bitterness toward family responsibilities
- Irritability when faced with non-work activities
- Using work to avoid pain, loneliness, or existential questions
- Deriving core identity and self-worth from job performance
Sabbath Rest – God’s Gift for Balance
One of the clearest principles we see in Scripture about refraining from overwork is the Sabbath command. This gift of rest was established at Creation for the benefit of all humanity.
And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:2-3)
God did not rest because He was weary. The Creator set this rhythm of work and rest to teach us the proper boundaries and order for life. Jesus affirmed the goodness of Sabbath by practicing it faithfully, despite ongoing opportunities to work miracles and draw crowds.
And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28)
Busyness does not make us more productive or pleasing to God. Setting aside a full day each week to rest, reflect, worship, and enjoy time with loved ones honors how we are created. It also strengthens our work by providing renewal.
Spurgeon speaks of the importance of Sabbath:
“The Sabbath was made for man; it is not a prison, but a privilege. Take away the Sabbath and you had little left worth living for… The Sabbath preached more sermons than ministers and dropped more pearls than the best divines. Every seventh day men were reminded…of the Creator, the Eternal, the Infinite, the Almighty… This day brought all men to consider that there was a God above them.” (Charles Spurgeon)
Do you regularly protect a full, 24-hour Sabbath each week? If not, choosing to institute this rest can be incredibly freeing. Turn off the electronics, guard the schedule, and rest in the finished work of Christ.
Workaholism Reveals Misplaced Identity
Incessant work often reveals a misplaced identity. When our core sense of purpose and worth is tied to career success, we become unable to rest. Our work becomes an idol, and our fearful striving reveals lack of trust in God’s provision.
Paul cautions slaves against obeying human masters too eagerly, as if working solely for Christ Himself. Our work ethic reflects who we truly serve:
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. (Ephesians 6:5-8)
We often feel pressure to prove our worth through tireless work. Yet only God can bestow our ultimate identity and belonging.
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)
Fulfillment is found not in accomplishments, but in understanding we are fully loved children of God. When identity issecure in Him, we are freed from drivenness and the need to prove self through work.
Busyness Chokes Out Spiritual Fruit
Do constant work demands crowd out time to sit at Jesus’ feet? When Mary set aside cooking and tasks to listen to Christ’s teaching, she chose the better part (Luke 10:38-42). Serving is good, but Jesus commends those who realize nourishment of the soul surpasses earthly pursuits.
In the Parable of the Sower, the thorny soil represents those who hear God’s Word, but spiritual growth is choked out by “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches” (Matthew 13:22). A packed schedule and focus on prosperity easily distract from the Word. Fruitfulness requires abiding in Christ:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)
Our ceaseless activity crowds out stillness of soul. Making time for prayer, Scripture, worship, and Christian community bolsters fruitfulness.
Life’s Meaning Not Found In Work Alone
secular worldview claims happiness comes through productive busyness. Yet no accomplishment or position can satisfy our soul’s longing. King Solomon, known for incredible wisdom and wealth, warns against meaningless work striving:
Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:11)
After finding success empty, Solomon concludes that fearing God and obeying His commands provides true purpose (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
We need God to make sense of life and imbue it with meaning. Workaholics believe the lie that perfection through nonstop effort will provide lasting satisfaction. But apart from God, nothing on this earth fully meets the needs of our soul.
Our work has dignity because it is done for Christ and plays a part in God’s plan. However, it alone cannot answer existential questions or give ultimate fulfillment. For that, we must look to spiritual realities.
God’s Design Brings Balance
God created work before the Fall as part of His “very good” design for human flourishing. We were made to labor, be creative, build and grow. Work will be part of the new heavens and new earth (Revelation 21:24). When kept in its proper place, our work enriches life and community.
However, the regimen God set of work and rest ensures we do not make an idol of labor. Setting work aside one full day each week serves as an act of faith – a reminder that while God desires us to work, He does not need our labor to sustain the universe.
This designated rest benefits us emotionally and physically. When we work non-stop, we cannot give our best. Regular Sabbath renewal is key to avoiding burnout and finishing well across the decades of a career.
The Preacher states beautifully the balance and design of seasons God intended:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
What blessings, renewed strength, and proper order could you experience by re-evaluating work’s place in your life? Consider: where might you declutter your schedule? How can you establish margins in your week for rest, recreation, and time with loved ones?
Discerning God’s Calling and Balance In Our Work
How do we know if our intensive work comes from God’s calling versus personal drivenness?
- Pray for discernment. Scripture tells us to take concerns to God and ask for wisdom in directing our paths (James 1:5). Ask Him to search your heart and reveal any misplaced motives or identities underpinning your exhausting workload. Pray for discernment regarding what is solely striving versus truly God-inspired passion.
- Examine fruit. Jesus says you will know true vs. false prophets by their fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). Harmful stress, broken relationships and bitterness about “having” to rest are possible signs of imbalance. On the other hand, joy in God, thriving connections with others and freedom to occasionally rest without guilt display positive fruit.
- Listen to loved ones. Ask those closest to you if they see signs of imbalance or workaholism. Gently accept their perspectives as you seek God’s best. Proverbs 11:14 reminds us there is wisdom in many counselors.
- Take a Sabbath. If rest day patterns have been lacking, try instituting a Sabbath for several weeks. Refrain from work, screens and shopping. Discover the delight of focusing fully on God and loved ones. Reflect on what balance and priorities may need realigning in this season of life.
- Study Biblical examples. Scripture offers many stories of calling that provide perspective. Moses was heavily burdened in leading Israel, yet knew when to delegate to judges (Exodus 18). Jesus modeled deep work for the Kingdom along with regular times of solitude and renewal. Paul exemplified tireless ministry balanced with Sabbath fellowship and rest during his extensive travels.
- Seek accountability. If tendencies toward overwork persist, confess this struggle to a mature believer. Ask them to speak truth and regularly check in on life rhythms and motivations. Join a small group Bible study; the fellowship and teachings can be transformational.
Fulfilling the callings God has for our life need not destroy peace, health and relationships. With wisdom and willingness to obey His Light, we can experience fruitful service aligned with His design for wholeness. He will direct those entrusted to His care.
Scripture commends diligent work and using our gifts. But an unending focus on productivity exists nowhere in God’s design. He calls us to so much more – to be still and know Him, delight in relationships, honor the Sabbath, and allow our souls to be nourished. When we cease striving, we can hear His gentle whisper and follow Christ’s yoke that is easy and light.
While this world applauds restless work for achievement and profit, our Creator offers a better way – the abundance of joy and peace only found in Him. May we steward work according to His wise boundaries, for our own good and His glory.