Do You Live To Work or Work To Live?

Do You Live To Work or Work To Live?

Hi, Family and Friends.  Do you live to work or work to live?  This is a loaded question and depending upon how either aspect is characterized or featured may be either a positive, negative, or neutral aspect upon one’s values and priorities.  Albeit, I do think there is a godly choice and a humanly choice depending upon which is chosen.


Today I was looking back through old emails with a Subject Line I use to capture either quotes of others I find interesting, spiritual concepts I want to share with my family, or philosophical thoughts that come to me.  For the last 20 or so years I have kept sayings or quotes with the intention of passing them along to my grandchildren, the oldest of which will turn 21 this year, Lord willing he lives until his birthday September 14th.  In the email I found, there was only one line, “Either you live to work, or you work to live.”  However, I remember well the context of the statement.  It was nestled in the tension between working to provide the necessities to do whatever one wanted to do and the understanding of one’s purpose in life dictating what they would choose to do.  But I did not remember exactly the circumstances that inspired the statement.


So, I looked online to see if I might have been reading something from which I could have taken the thought with those exact words.  However, when quoting someone else’s work, for years I have included the byline or resource line, and there was nothing else with the statement.  And this was in an email only a little over a year old.  Therefore, I am expecting it came while reading scriptures.  However, I did find other blogs on that thought and similar statements.  Albeit, all I found were from a more humanistic point of view or a commercial advertisement or a promotional solicitation for life, leadership, or business coaching offers.


Most often the other blogs and promotions decries the notion anyone should live to work or find their work to be fulfilling of their life-purpose, and hence made attempts to turn the reader’s attention to a better balance between their work and the other aspects of their life, such as family and self-fulfillment.  In most cases the person who “lives to work” is caricatured, and usually rightly so, as someone who puts their work in such high esteem it might be considered equivalent with a god and is justified because it provides the achievement of success in their life they think they need.  So, the articles found typically offered the opposing view of that as the best choice.  While one sees their work as the crowning glory of their existence, the ends for their existence, others view their jobs or careers largely as toil—something that stands in the way of what they want to do. Their singular purpose is to earn the money necessary to support themselves and their families. Their real interests lie elsewhere.  Their jobs or careers are a means to an end.  This is most common in the USA where the focus is on providing the very best for a person’s personal enjoyment, or as described in the founding documents of this country, “all are entitled to…the pursuit of happiness.”


“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Thomas Jefferson
The Declaration of Independence
Second Continental Congress
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


As noble and beautiful as that statement sounds, as high a human ideal as it portrays, it is problematic for the disciple of Jesus Christ.  The true believer sees the Creator as having created them for his honor and glory not for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for themselves”, or “life, liberty, and the right to own land” as it seemed to have first expressed.  The true believer’s position is higher and more noble indeed, seeing it also carries with it a personal relationship and marriage bond between God and the person, with an inheritance that can be shared for eternity.


Yes, I remember why I wrote those words just over a year ago.  I wrote those words with the statement in mind about the sovereignty of God to provide by his grace a choice to people.  A choice for each one to choose how he or she would live and why he or she would work.  In as much as he desires willing hearts to serve him, it seems God has provided, in ways only he can do and truly understand, a provision for a person to make a conscious decision regarding accepting him as Savior, Lord, and Master of their life or  insisting upon giving their eternal life to Satan and death so they can control the enjoyment they hope to find and at what level they will pursue it for a season, this lifetime.  But it is written into the DNA, deep within the unexplainable nature of humans, to know they will someday face a final judgment.  Therein they decide if they will work to live or live to work.


Hebrews 11:24-27, MSG

  1. By faith, Moses, when grown, refused the privileges of the Egyptian royal house. 
  2. He chose a hard life with God’s people rather than an opportunistic soft life of sin with the oppressors. 
  3. He valued suffering in the Messiah’s camp far greater than Egyptian wealth because he was looking ahead, anticipating the payoff. 
  4. By an act of faith, he turned his heel on Egypt, indifferent to the king’s blind rage. He had his eye on the One no eye can see, and kept right on going. 


I suggest social norms and secular humanism advocate “working to live”.  That is, the work is performed so one may have a “better” time later in life.  It is heralded as noble when one defers gratification for the moment to prepare for something later.  There are partial truths in that concept.  On the one hand it is noble, when it relates to suffering with Christ now for the joys of eternity.  However, it is devilish to understand it as a means to an end for the pursuit of personal happiness, whether for the individual or by deferment for others dear to the individual.  Be careful with this because it contains enough truth to be easily misconstrued by others.


If one is a disciple of Jesus Christ, that person is “living to work.”  Life in this age only has purpose for the true believer when what one does glorifies God, edifies the Church or serves the gospel.  The disciple of Jesus Christ “lives to work.”  Incidentally, it does make sense to work to eat.  That is biblical.  But it doesn’t make sense for the disciple of Jesus Christ to “work to live”, because the believer knows the work for anyone’s life was completed by God in Christ Jesus.  “Working to live” ends in death whether done for personal enjoyment / gratification or as an attempt to earn one’s right to life by the works being done.  The Lord supplies all his servants needs.  The treasures one accumulates in this age on this earth will be left behind as one enters his or her rest to await the Lord’s return and then those treasures are consumed in a consuming fire upon his return.  Only treasures stored in heaven are transferable from this age into the next.


As you read this excerpt from one of Jesus’ most famous sermons look for clues about God’s provisions for us versus our provisions for ourselves, or “living to work” versus “working to live.”  Now, you know I am transparent with you.  I make no pretense of having completely mastered this concept.  But I confess honestly before you, this is my goal, to discover more and more what God would have me to do and to submit myself as a proper slave of my Lord.  I am both humbled and strengthened to know God forgives my failures, my sins, and renews me with his Holy Spirit every time it is needed.


Matthew 6:1-34, MSG

  1. “Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. 
  2. “When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure–‘playactors’ I call them–treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. 
  3. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. 
  4. Just do it–quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out. 
  5. “And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat? 
  6. “Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace. 
  7. “The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. 
  8. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. 
  9. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this: Our Father in heaven, Reveal who you are. 
  10. Set the world right; Do what’s best– as above, so below. 
  11. Keep us alive with three square meals. 
  12. Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. 
  13. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You’re in charge! You can do anything you want! You’re ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes. 
  14. “In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. 
  15. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part. 
  16. “When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don’t make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won’t make you a saint. 
  17. If you ‘go into training’ inwardly, act normal outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. 
  18. God doesn’t require attention-getting devices. He won’t overlook what you are doing; he’ll reward you well. 
  19. “Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or–worse!–stolen by burglars. 
  20. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. 
  21. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being. 
  22. “Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. 
  23. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have! 
  24. “You can’t worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can’t worship God and Money both. 
  25. “If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. 
  26. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds. 
  27. “Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? 
  28. All this time and money wasted on fashion–do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, 
  29. but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. 
  30. “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers–most of which are never even seen–don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? 
  31. What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. 
  32. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. 
  33. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. 
  34. “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. 


If you have read this far, please forgive my meanderings and allow the Holy Spirit to render the thoughts that are true to the Word of God for your edification.  My hope is to see you becoming greater and greater leaders in the service of our Lord.  My confidence is that you will become those prosperous servant-leaders whether I see it or not.  While I care about you and your feelings, I love you and long for your highest good in achieving what God desires from your life in this age and an eternal life in intimate relationship with him forever and ever.  I trust God to handle your feelings and put my focus on love.


Joshua challenged the Children of Israel, “choose you this day…”.  We are challenged in much the same way to make a choice regarding our decisions based upon our priorities.  For myself, I am choosing to live so I can work for my Lord and Master.  I do not work to live.  My King provides my needs both now and for eternity.  Beyond that he provides knowledge and wisdom to be a steward of those things he provides.  The Lord knows we have needs for personal and family welfare, just as a bird needs food and feathers and a fish needs food and water, so do we need things unique to our nature.  On the outside, while a few are unmistakably marked, most appear much the same.  But in the heart, where the Judge will look to rule for eternal consequence, there is the difference and God knows.

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