In his recent Channel 4 documentary on UK television, Niall Ferguson suggested that the “killer app”, the main contributor to the economic and material success of certain Western nations, particularly Germany, the UK and USA, has been the Protestant work ethic. Today however, we see the UK losing its place as a major player in the world at the same time as its population has become increasingly secular.
This success has not been shared to the same extent by predominantly Roman Catholic countries; take for instance the way the USA has outshone the South American nations. You may argue that Asian nations like China are now coming to the fore, but did you know that the Chinese church is growing rapidly? There are estimated to be 50 – 100 million Christians in China today. So why have the Protestant nations been prone to hard work? What has made the difference? I suggest that there is a direct correlation between hard work and a personal knowledge of the Bible. So what is the Bible’s attitude to work?
“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” (1 Thess. 4:11-12)
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” (Colossians 3:23)
It may be called the “Protestant” work ethic, but the Jewish scriptures have the same emphasis:
“You people who don’t want to work, think about the ant! Consider its ways and be wise!” (Proverbs 6:6)
Given the Bible’s emphasis on hard work, it is strange to note that its main message, i.e. how we find peace with our Creator, is not based on work at all, but simply on faith. Paul writes to the believers in Ephesus:
“You have been saved by faith in God, who treats us much better than we deserve. You did not save yourselves; it was a gift from God. It was not the result of your own efforts, so you cannot boast about it.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
How many of us make the mistake of trying to impress God with our own efforts, rather than choosing God’s way, that of receiving His gift of love and forgiveness simply by trust?