- "I am just supporting my family with this job"
- "I am obeying the Lord in not being lazy and working with my own two hands"
These are good things to be doing. God does indeed want us to work and to be productive (2 Thessalonians 3:10), but this does not mean that your work cannot be an idol. Even if we work for these reasons, our work can still become an idol. Here are some ways in which this can happen:
First, we can begin to think that being the best accountant, engineer, computer programmer, insurance salesman, social worker, the best Bible preacher/teacher, or the best “stay at home mom” (that is work too!) is what makes me successful and that it makes me who I am. It is what defines me. We can begin to think or act like whatever work I am doing is what gives me ultimate fulfillment and purpose in life. If you are looking at your work as the thing that gives you security, meaning, and purpose in life, this is a problem. God does not want our work to be what we are living for! It may be an idol if it is!
This happens a lot in our society, even amongst the people of God (especially the men). The first question that men ask one another when they meet (this drives me crazy) is what they do for a living. We act like whatever job we have is what we find our identity in. It is what we point to in order to show how successful we are. But the truth is, your job is not what defines you. It should be viewed as a gift that the Lord has given you in order to make it easier to serve Him, His people, and your family. When someone asks me what I do for a living, I usually tell them that I am a servant of God. This is what defines who I am, and it is always a good conversation starter. Being a Christian is what makes me the employee that I need to be. It is what my life is about. The fact that I help my wife with her business or am supported to preach the gospel is not where I find my purpose or identity. Work is not what drives me. Jesus does.
Second, there are many people, including Christians, who become addicted to their work. They are usually called workaholics. Work is their drug that helps them to escape the problems in their lives. It helps them get their mind off of the problems at home. Their job is what they feel they must excel in to be successful and satisfied with themselves or to get others to look at them with respect. So they work incredibly long hours, think about work even when at home and on vacation, and allow their health and their relationships to become strained. As with many things, society and medical professionals would call such a problem/addiction a disease when in reality it is sin. This is idolatry!
I appreciate the wisdom in Ecclesiastes 4 regarding the subject of work. The man described in that section was working his hands to the bone and never thought of stopping to ask himself WHY he was depriving himself of so much pleasure in life. He was alone. His work had become his life. It was all worthless/vanity. The same is true regarding anyone who has work as an idol. Work is vanity if it is not viewed through the lens of Biblical truth. You can be so driven. You can make work your life, but is it worth the sacrifices you make? Is it worth your family being without you while you neglect them to work 80 hour weeks? Is it worth neglecting your duties to train up your children and to meet the needs of your spouse? Is it worth losing the ability to serve in the church?
Whenever God says, "Do this," but we say, "I can't (or I won't) do it because I need to work, we are exchanging God and His truth for something of this world and making an idol. There is no justification for purposefully neglecting or rejecting what God says because of work. A man is not "providing for his household" if he gives them a paycheck but does not give them his time and the other more important things that God instructs him to do. The same goes for the wife and mother working outside of the home. If her career puts her family and God on the "back-burner"; if she is not loving and respecting her husband, not being a manager of the house, or bringing up and nurturing her children, then she also has exchanged God and His truth for her career/work.
We we need to examine ourselves to make sure we are indeed serving God and our families with our work. Are we glorifying the Lord in our work or has work become our idol?