“Work Makes Free” or“Work Gives Freedom” is the intent of the German words written on a sign we walked beneath as we entered Auschwitz. It is the 67th anniversary since the camp was abandoned. We could not talk or even look at one another in that most dismal and horrific reminder of the holocaust. Our thoughts were a jumble of anger and sadness; angrythat humans coulddo such things to other humans and sadness for the lost lives and dreams of so many millions. The sign is famous (orinfamous) and was meant to offer hope to the fearful and hopeless, but it was a lie. Many who could not work well enough went to a quick death. Those who could work were forced into labor that only enslaved them all the more. Time has passed and now I’ve asked myself if the sign was of any value. Is there any truth in that saying in our everyday lives?
What does God think of work?
To work is to be industrious and productive. The Bible makes a number of very clear statements about work. Ecclesiastes 5:12-20 tells us that the sleep of a laboring man is sweet. Physical activity is indeed good for usprovided it is not overdone and abused. Being a workaholic is a form of abuse (Ecclesiastes 5:16-17). God includes the concept of laboring or doing our work for six days and resting on His Sabbath (Exodus 20:8).
Proverbs 10:4 advises us that the hand of the diligent makes rich. These days many people are looking for instant wealth when, in reality, many of those who are wealthy are those who have learned the value of work. Instant wealth is usually from a wrong source(James 5:4, Proverbs 1:19). “In all labor there is increase” (Proverbs 14:23) and Proverbs 28:19 states “He who tills his land will have plenty of bread...” In all of these verses and many more, we can clearly see that the Bible strongly teaches us to labor and work in our lives. Being lazy and unproductive is not what God intended for mankind.
Paul also makes some strong statements in the New Testament that add to God’s instructions. In Ephesians 4:28, he writes “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have to give him who has need.” Paul supports work in order to be generous and giving. In 2 Thessalonians 3:10, Paul goes on to say that if a person does not want to work, he should not eat—that is, nobody has the obligation to feed such a person.
Does work lead to freedom?
In what ways, then, does the instruction of God give a laborer or worker freedom? Several ways come to mind right away. Freedom from worry and being anxious is a result of having the basic needs filled. Freedom from self-doubt and self-criticism comes from feeling good about you as a person. That is not to saythat weare perfect, but we do need to look into the mirror each day and be content with who is looking back—knowing we plan to be even better tomorrow and satisfied with our effort today.
Jesus said to love your neighbor as you love yourself (Matthew 19:19). Freedom to express that concern for others comes once we are strong enough to be able to offer help. Freedom from want is the outcome of being in a position to earn enough income to fill our needs and to have a little left over. Work is good for our muscles and for our mind. Strong muscles and an active, educated mind allow us to do so much more. That, too, is freedom. The ability to read and digest good books, to climb mountains, and be physically active brings great joy into our lives. That is a type of freedom. Proverbs 31:21 speaks of a woman who does not fear winter for her household has been taken care of by her works. When all of these freedoms are added together, work indeed does make free, or gives us many freedoms—freedom from fear, from want, and from the cold of winter.
More than physical freedom
However, there is a much greater need for work and a much greater benefit than what we have discussed so far. Jesus Christ said that He works and His Father works (John 5:17). Furthermore, Jesus stated He did the works of the Father and those works bore witness of who He was (John 10:37-38). In John 14:12, He tells us that those who dwell in Him do Hisworks as well. Thus, we can see that being industrious is a characteristic of Jesus Christ whom we strive to follow and emulate. Our work habits in life often reflect our work habits in the spiritual side of life.
We can ask ourselves—does spiritual work make us free or give us some sort of freedom? John 6:27 explains that we are to labor for the things which endure to everlasting life. John also wrote in Revelation 22:12 that in eternity every man will be blessed according to his work. 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 contains some words of Paul on this subject. He stated that our works would be tested to see if they were good or acceptable. If they were poor in quality, we would lose some rewards. Paul showed by his life that being diligent in serving God was very important. He also said we are to be abounding in the work of the Lord and that labor is not in vain. Jesus gave us a commission (Matthew 28:19).
What sort of freedom would this type of work give? We know that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ opens up the opportunity of freedom from the penalty of death. By working to obey and submit to the righteousness of God, we have the wonderful opportunity of being granted the gift of eternal life. There can be no greater freedom possible than to have glorious bodies and brilliant minds and be involved in what our Creator is doing for all eternity. There is no fear or want. There is only the ongoing blessing of no worries, no concerns that cannot be met, no doubts about decisions we must make, and the complete confidence that we can have because of Jesus Christ. Paul states that now we see through a glass darkly, but then we shall know many things more clearly just like we are known by God now (1 Corinthians13:12). John writes a most remarkable statement in 1 John 3:2. He states “…it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” John went on to write about his reaction to the vision of seeing Christ as He is. In Revelation 1:12-17, he stated that “he fell at His feet as dead.” These wonderful words of encouragement are given to us so that we might realize the God-ordained benefits of godly works and productive lives.
The words written in German at the concentration camps were a lie. God cannot lie and He tells us that work is part of becoming free. When we accept the forgiving sacrifice of His Son, we give Him the praise by ordering our life in accordance with the guidelines He has given. We strive not to sin. We must also help to do the work of spreading the good news of Jesus’ coming. We work spiritually and we work to build character by making the right choices. Work of this kind does make us free. Free in a way that we can scarcely comprehend. With God it is true that Work gives Freedom!
For more information on God's plan request our free Bible study aid, What is Your Destiny?.