10:4 A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.
14:23 In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.
Proverbs 10:4; 14:23 (ESV)
The biblical work ethic encourages hard work, long hours, dedication, punctuality, and a willingness to defer gratification for the sake of long-term gain. It is no coincidence that nations, companies, and individuals shaped by such an ethic have tended to prosper. That is how God has ordered His creation.
Laziness leads to ruin (10:4). In a society with no social security, where people relied on what they provided for themselves, loiterers with lazy hands had no safety net to support them. Their unwillingness to countenance a hard day’s labor left them destitute.
Others, however, seem more than willing to put their hands to good use. They have great ambitions and an insatiable desire for money. They are always talking about what they will do if they win the lottery. But they are all mouth. Their talk is not backed up by toil. Inevitably, this too leads to poverty (14:23).
Diligence requires a discipline, and a willingness to sacrifice, that the slacker and the chatterbox do not possess. Yet, such dedication is the way to prosperity and riches, for all toil is profitable. Hardworking hands make men rich.
Men and women with a godly work ethic can generally expect to enjoy the fruit of their hands. However, Proverbs should not be applied mechanistically. Poverty is not a sure sign of laziness: other socio-economic factors may be involved. Scripture does not teach a prosperity gospel, whereby hardworking or faithful believers have a right to material riches from the Lord. Sometimes godly believers will experience poverty (Rom. 15:26; 2 Cor. 8:2). The Apostle Paul knew what it was to go without (e.g., Phil. 4:12), and the Lord Jesus had no place to lay His head (Matt. 8:20). Paul’s contentment even in poverty indicates that believers find true prosperity in serving the Lord wholeheartedly and being content with what He provides. Nevertheless, Scripture does make it clear that actions have consequences, and, as a general rule, hard work ensures prosperity, while laziness leads to poverty.
Pastors who rightly oppose a “name it and claim it” prosperity gospel face the temptation of glorifying poverty by downplaying the Bible’s teachings on wealth and prosperity. In so doing, they shortchange their congregations. By exhorting Christians to diligent toil, pastors point the way to financial security. Over time, they will also have an impact on the wider prosperity of their nation. Productive, prudent Christians both support their country’s economy themselves and demonstrate that, while the biblical work ethic demands discipline and determination, it also leads to long-term gain.