He that laboureth laboureth for himself; for his mouth craveth it of him.
Why do men work a job or business? Because they enjoy it? Because others expect them to? Out of love for society? They want to help an enterprise succeed? Because they are bored? Men work because they have to, and this basic fact of life teaches sound wisdom.
A life sentence of hard labor was Adam’s curse for listening to his wife rather than God (Gen 3:17-19). Instead of leisurely dressing a garden and enjoying a great variety of easy food, men must scratch in the ground to survive. But whether a man knows about Eden or not, there is a powerful necessity that drives him to hard labor – he must work or starve.
Solomon’s observation teaches wisdom, if you will think upon it. Men work hard by a selfish necessity – for themselves. If they do not work, they will starve. This is man’s condition in the world, whether he wears a white or blue collar; he must labor to eat. If he does not work, he will not eat; the fear of hunger forces him to work every day (Eccl 6:7).
Survival is a strong motivator that will produce good results, such as a hardworking society, when selfishness is allowed to satisfy itself by diligent labor. Even God’s laws through Moses included divine reasoning about man’s selfishness to govern his conduct (Ex 21:20-21; Pr 27:18). Rightly understood, selfishness is a rule of ethics and wisdom.
A perverse society resents this wonderful motive for labor. Children are given everything, for doing nothing. Parents say, “Let him be a child; there will be plenty of time for work later,” meaning he should play all day. They legislate welfare, which mysteriously multiplies those needing handouts. Others provide meals for men too lazy to work. A government could quickly reduce welfare, increase national productivity, and raise tax revenues by simply punishing any citizens harboring or feeding slothful persons.
Here is the cure for sluggards – no work, no food. This rule is inspired wisdom. Solomon knew laziness was a problem (Pr 6:6-11; 10:26; 12:27; 13:4; 15:19; 19:24; 21:25; 22:13; 24:30-34; 26:13-15). It is difficult to teach or force foolish young men to work hard. But just a few days without food will produce a laborer. Both Solomon and Paul endorsed and taught this wise rule of God that leads to a good work ethic (Pr 20:4; II Thess 3:8-12).
From that rule comes the profit motive in the Bible. Contrary to experience and wisdom, communism hallucinates, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Yet that dream has never worked. A man will never apply himself diligently for an idiotic theory that gives the lazy as much as the diligent, but he will apply himself diligently for a proportionate reward. Let him see the endless possibilities in a free market system, and he will very gladly do his job well and look for extra work. Wise employers use incentive compensation to raise employee productivity even higher.
The wisdom here can be enhanced or leveraged. Give a man a loving wife and dependent children, and he will work even harder. Two are better than one, because they have a reward for their labor, among other benefits (Eccl 4:9-12). But the extra mouths to feed of those he loves above all others on earth will further motivate him. How does a boy become a man? Right training; no allowance; early job; early marriage; and early baby!
Parent, are you using this proverb with your children? Eating is not a right, except for helpless infants. Even young children can do chores, and they should be required to do them before eating. Many parents have an open-refrigerator policy, which fosters laziness and self-indulgence that leads to an undisciplined life. When most grew up on farms, this proverb was generally practiced, for everyone had to help with the chores in order to eat.
Christianity teaches a great work ethic. It is a shame some Christians are slothful at work. Whatever you find to do professionally, do it with your might (Eccl 9:10; Col 3:23). Diligent labor at your own business is part of sanctification for a believer (I Thess 4:11-12). And those disliking hard work are to be starved into enjoying it (Pr 20:4; II Thess 3:8-12), or they are to be excluded from the churches of Jesus Christ (II Thess 3:6,14).
This proverb also rebukes greed and covetousness. The ambitious man, obsessed with the reward of hard work, forgets he will die and leave his wealth to another (Eccl 2:17-24; Luke 12:16-21). He heaps up riches, not knowing who will spend them (Ps 39:6). Therefore, wisdom and true success are learning godly contentment with essentials, not seeking wealth (Pr 12:9; I Tim 6:6-10). Convenient food is the wise choice (Pr 30:7-9).
Pastor, do you labor diligently in your holy calling? The Lord Christ chose you to endure hardness as a good soldier (II Tim 2:3-4). Paul worked night and day to be the greatest apostle (I Cor 15:10; I Thess 2:9). Does your soul crave laboring in order to hear your Captain say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant”? Let Paul’s inspired example and instruction invigorate your soul for Christ’s kingdom (I Cor 9:16; I Tim 4:13-16).
Reader, does your soul crave God and His word? It never will without God’s sovereign grace. Have you checked your hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt 5:6)? Does it drive you to separate yourself from foolish, worldly pursuits to learn wisdom (Pr 18:1)? You must stimulate your appetite and desire for the sincere milk of the word (I Pet 2:1-3).
Jesus met a great crowd, five thousand men plus women and children, who wanted to make Him king, so He could fill their bellies with free bread and fish (John 6:15,26). He told them to labor rather for the food that endures unto eternal life (John 6:27). Are you laboring for yourself in this crucial matter, reader? This is labor with a fantastic reward.
How much does your soul crave the kingdom of heaven? Jesus described it as a man finding a treasure in a field and joyfully selling all that he had in order to buy the field for its treasure (Matt 13:44). You should pray, “Lord, increase the craving of my soul for Thee and the things of Thy kingdom, and direct my labor fervently toward them. Amen.”