A Question I Was Asked:

"Does Hard Work ALWAYS Guarantee Success in life?

...Does the Book of Proverbs Offer Us False Promises?"

The Question:

"Many people will always tell you that hard work in life leads to success and to prosperity. And some Bible texts seem to back up this view, including these:

'Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth.' (Prov. 10:4)

'Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labour.' (Prov. 12:24)

'The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.' (Prov. 13:4)

'Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.' (Prov. 22:29).

My husband was a hard and loyal worker all his life and we always had enough to eat but we never really prospered. He was the most diligent and faithful employee in his company but he usually got passed by for promotion and less worthy people who just knew how to keep flattering the boss got the promotion. Just a year before he died he actually lost his job despite 30 years of loyal service.

I don't think my late husband is the only one like that. I remember a successful business man saying,

'For every successful man who makes a lot of money, I could show you another ten who work just as hard but who just don't get the luck or the breaks!'

Does the Book of Proverbs offer us false promises?"

My Reply:

Okay. I think this is a fair question and I want to tackle it in a fair manner. I think I will tackle your question by making a few points:

1. Those Scriptures are not "promises." They are, if you will, 'general proverbs of life' which can only be helpful to us - especially to the young. Under all normal circumstances - all other things being even - a person who works hard and is diligent and loyal will prosper more than somebody who is lazy and who avoids work and ducks responsibility.

2. The Bible may speak of "prosperity" or "wealth" but that is not necessarily prosperity in any modern western sense, you know, two cars in a home, three televisions, three foreign holidays every year. 'Prosperity' in biblical terms would be to have enough to eat and to buy nice clothes plus a little extra to share with those who are less fortunate.

3. When Proverbs 22:29 speaks of the diligent serving "before kings" it is best understood in the sense that if you find a man or woman who actually serves before a king or a ruler you will never find that such a person is lazy or somebody who avoids responsibility - he or she will be a diligent person. But to return to point one, this is obviously not a promise that every hard and diligent worker will get to work before a king or a major ruler.

In a somewhat different sense, this is a little like Psalm 103:3. That verse assures us that the Lord "Heals all your diseases." That means that when we have been ill and we get that marvellous feeling that we are well again and can go out and face the world with real zest once more, then it is God alone who healed us. God grants healing, but of course, He also decides when He is going to bring our physical lives to a close! So that Psalm is not a promise of healing "if you will just have enough faith" as some so unwisely teach.

Maybe God put Ecclesiastes straight after Proverbs in order to 'balance up' the way things often happen in this life. If you consider Proverbs, it is true to say that one could get the impression that as long as we all work hard, life cannot fail us, but - as we all know - it often just does not pan out that way. So to bring us all back to the reality that life can often seem quite unfair, we have verses like this,

'I have seen something else under the sun:

The race is not to the swift

or the battle to the strong,

nor does food come to the wise

or wealth to the brilliant

or favour to the learned;

but time and chance happen to them all.'

(Ecclesiastes 9:11).

There can be a frustrating randomness about life which we all experience at times. We might work and study long hours, going 'above and beyond' to prepare ourselves for something, then along comes sombody who has not worked so hard and who may have far less knowledge but the 'golden apple' falls to him! We could all scream with rage on such occasions!! Yet Christians, at least, still have a wonderful promise, that of Romans 8:28, which I will finish this with in a moment.

I am really sorry that your husband worked hard throughout his life but never really got the breaks, and I think that many thousands of people are just like that. Yet you ate well and probably could afford good clothes and even to share a little with others at times. That would make you prosperous in a biblical sense. If you also had a relationship with Jesus Christ for many years that is also spiritual prosperity which will ultimately be far more important than material prosperity which none of us can take with us from these brief physical lives which we all lead. It is this spiritual prosperity in Christ which leads to Life Eternal!

'And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.' (Romans 8:28, NIV throughout).

Please take the time now to read the remainder of that wonderful Scripture from Romans 8:28 until the end of that chapter, which is verse 39.

Robin A. Brace, 2006.