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Growing up, at home and in the larger community one profession was exalted above all others. All of the children in my community were encouraged to pursue becoming a doctor. If not a doctor, then at least an engineer. Those who held jobs which required manual labour such as janitors and trash collectors were held up as examples of what happens when one fails to work hard and focus on their studies.
By honouring and esteeming those who had the right occupation and looking down upon those who held less prestigious positions, we were implicitly taught that human values and dignity are based upon our careers. This is nothing more than an echo of the caste system. One's caste and subcaste were tied to and limited one's occupation and social status. Certain lines of work were deemed to be beneath some groups of people, while prestigious occupations were reserved only for the upper caste of society. Thus, worth and dignity were tied to caste/occupation.
As Christian parents, we must be careful not to promote the idea that the basis of human dignity is found in the work that one does. The Bible clearly teaches that the basis of human dignity is that we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Furthermore, within the church, we are instructed not to show partiality to anyone (Jam. 2:2–4). In fact, Paul argues in Galatians 3:28 that "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you all are one in Christ Jesus." What occupation is lower than a slave? Yet, Paul says in Christ the slave and the master are one. We as parents must live out this truth and show our children that all people regardless of occupation should be treated respectfully and with dignity.
Furthermore, when esteeming certain occupations and careers above others, we implicitly teach children that happiness is found in those careers. Our larger culture teaches that happiness and peace are found in honour and financial security. The right occupation provides ample amounts of both. However, biblically nothing could be further than the truth. Peace and joy are not found in our circumstances, but in Christ alone. Paul, in Philippians 3 gives up every claim of honour in his culture for the sake of knowing Christ. In fact, he says, "But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:7–8a).
Much to the opposition of our culture, our primary focus as parents should not be preparing our children to have the best possible career, but to help them find their joy in Christ. After all, "For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself" (Lk. 9:25).
How can we help our children do this? I'm reminded of the words of C.J. Mahaney in his book Humility: True Greatness. Mahaney writes, "We must also clearly define true greatness for our children... You need to teach them that greatness doesn't equal success, or talent, or ability, or power, or applause. It equals servanthood. And it equals humility." What do we celebrate at home? If we want our children to value Christ more than anything else, we must celebrate Christlikeness more than anything else. We must not give in to the cultural temptation to exalt occupations and achievement more than character. But just because we don't derive our value from work, does not mean that work isn't valuable. Man was created to work. We see this clearly in Genesis 2. In verse 5 we see "there was no man to work the ground." In verse 7, God creates man at least in part in response to this problem. This is confirmed in verse 15 where it is written, "The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work and keep it." Work existed prior to the fall of man and is presumed in the 10 commandments, "Six days you shall labour, and do all your work" (Exo. 20:9).
The Bible is clear, one of the reasons God created man is to work. Therefore, we must teach our children that part of why God created us is to work. The New Testament echoes the instructions of the Old Testament for believers to work. However, the purpose of work given in the New Testament is far different than what is promoted in society today. In our modern and increasingly urban world, work is often seen as a means of fulfilment. Thus, we're encouraged to pursue our dreams and to not settle until we find that which we are passionate about.
While there's nothing inherently wrong with being passionate about one's work, when taken to heart, this seemingly innocent idea can produce within us a heart full of discontent. Again, this notion implicitly teaches that unless one does what they are passionate about, happiness cannot be achieved, and life is essentially meaningless. Once again, this cannot be further than the truth of Scripture. Nowhere in Scripture will you find it taught that we are to pursue our dreams or passions or that there are tailor-made occupations for each one of us and that happiness will not come until we find the right career path.
Rather, what we see is a call to work for the purpose of producing good in the society and to provide for ourselves and others as seen in Ephesians 4:28, "Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labour, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need."
We need to teach our children that though there are many ways by which we can provide for ourselves, God expects us to do honest work. We must therefore strive to honour God through the work that we do. This naturally precludes Christians from working in occupations that cause us to sin or encourage others to sin. For example, one could work hard cultivating harmful substances such as marijuana or poppy seeds to produce opiates. Even though one could provide quite well for himself and others, this work would not honour the Lord for it does not produce good.
In fact, it would be far better for us as believers to work that is less honourable in the eyes of society but benefits our fellow man. In fact, Paul himself did such manual labour, when he worked as a tentmaker. Paul did not see such physical labour as being beneath him. In fact, he'd rather do such work than compromise the gospel.
Thus, we need to teach our children that as they grow into adulthood, they must pursue work not primarily for their own sense of achievement, worth, or satisfaction, but they should make use of skills and opportunities God has blessed them with to produce good in the society and to provide for themselves and the needs of others.
Furthermore, we must teach them that regardless of their occupation or position, regardless of whether they work for a company or for themselves, they must ultimately work unto the Lord, as Paul encourages in Ephesians 6:5–9. This truth makes all work meaningful. The Lord himself is watching us as we work, even when we are all alone. Therefore, we must work in a way that is pleasing to the Lord and work to the glory of God. We do so with the sure hope that even if no one on earth recognises our performance and gives us accolades, that the Lord sees and will reward us accordingly.
Practically, we can help our children to value work and to work hard by assigning them age-appropriate chores. These chores can be tasks such as taking out the trash, helping set the table, sweeping, and mopping. Such chores will help children appreciate what it takes to keep the household clean and running, to contribute to the needs of the family, and to work for the glory of God rather than acclamation or payment.
Those whom the Lord has blessed with sound mind and/or able body are commanded to work. We as parents must teach our children that work is a necessary part of life. But we must make sure to teach them that there is more to life than work. Our instruction in this matter is of course helpful, but more than anything our children will learn from watching us. What do we value more, Christ or career? What do we celebrate more, character or achievement?