by Douglas Wilson

boy with rakeBoys, taking one thing with another, tend to be lazy. This means that one of the central duties parents have with regard to their boys is the duty of teaching and instilling what used to be called a work ethic. “He that gathereth in summer is a wise son: but he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame” (Prov. 10:5). The son who causes shame is one who causes shame to his parents. The shame is theirs because the responsibility to teach the lessons of work was theirs.

Work is not a result of the fall of Adam, but work goes the difficult way it does because of the fall. Prior to the advent of sin in the world, Adam was given the task of tending the garden, and naming the animals. We were created for work. But when sin entered, God in His wisdom saw that thorns and thistles were now needed (Gen. 3:17-19). In His grace, God cursed the ground. Just as the law is a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, so is the sweat of the brow. Sinners don’t do well living on the Big Rock Candy Mountain.
And so this is why boys need to be taught and disciplined in physical labor. Of course it is not an end in itself-the point should always be grace-but in the hands of wise parents, hard physical work is an important part of a boy’s discipleship. He needs to know what it is like to be exhausted, to have callouses on his hands, and to work when his body does not really want to anymore. He needs this; God said so. He is a son of Adam.
A boy who learns to settle into his laziness is being prepared by his parents for a life of frustration. “The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat” (Prov. 13:4). Nothing ever seems to go right for him; the breaks always go to the other guy. He is adept at making excuses, and so he continues to do so-but this does not make the frustration go away. Frustration in the hands of a spin doctor is still frustration. Why is the other guy always so “lucky”? The answer is that everything comes to the one who hustles while he waits.
A boy who is allowed to drift downward into this sin is also being prepared for a life of poverty. “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: so shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man” (Prov. 6:6-11). God does not just promise poverty to this young man; He promises that it will come upon him like a thug with a gun. In the good providence of God, the lazy man is not going to be treated with tenderness. Parents who allow this pattern to develop while their son is under their oversight are asking God to work him over with a baseball bat.
In order to work well, preparations to work well are necessary. A lazy boy promises himself that he will get to work when the time comes, at the last minute. He has great (hypothetical) plans. But when the time for work comes, he discovers that some preliminary work was apparently necessary. So now he has a new excuse, but the age of the excuse does not alter the outcome. “The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing” (Prov. 20:4). However reasonable the excuse may appear in his own eyes, he still has nothing.
In addition, parents who allow their son to neglect work are trying to arrange a rotten reputation for him. “As vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to them that send him” (Prov. 10:26). When employers are irritated to this extent, they do not keep their opinions to themselves – nor should they. When someone fills out a negative job evaluation, or tells a prospective new employer that Billy here needs to learn what “get the lead out” means, he is not gossiping. Work is a public activity and should be publicly evaluated. A boy steeped in laziness will be evaluated roughly.
In dealing with all these issues, a boy learns to distinguish between the ever popular notions of self-esteem and the biblical concept of self-respect. Self-esteem is found in Galatians 6:3. “For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.” A boy lounging on a soft couch can fancy himself quite the working man. But self-respect is found in the next verse. “But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden” (vv. 4-5). Work should not just be done, it should be proved. And when it is, a boy learns the deep and godly satisfaction that comes from a job well done.
And last, parents who rob their sons of a work ethic have taken from him one of this life’s most precious gifts-sabbath rest. The fourth commandment has two parts, and they depend upon one another. One part, of course, is the day of rest, but the other part is the six days of labor. Without the labor, the rest is nonsensical. Without the rest, the work is slavery. Learned together, a boy comes to comprehend the dignity of labor that is offered up to God in the name of Christ. He learns to rest on the first day of the week in a way that consecrates all his subsequent labors.
So much of this runs contrary to the way the carnal mind thinks, we might come to believe it is impossible. And it is impossible, apart from the gospel of Christ. This is why the discipline of work should be imparted to a boy along with careful teaching on the meaning of the cross of Jesus Christ. This is because the foundation of a biblical work ethic is a biblical grace ethic.
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