"For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light..."

The Role of Work

by David J. Cherrington

The role of work, as it has been consistently explained in the scriptures and taught by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, involves four principles: Work is a universal obligation; work enhances the quality of life on earth; daily work has eternal consequences; and work will continue in the eternities.

A UNIVERSAL AND LIFELONG OBLIGATION. In the Church no individual who is able to work is excused from working. This principle refers to more than paid employment; it also means worthwhile activities that provide useful products or services for one's family and others.

The obligation to work was stated when the Lord commanded Adam and Eve to dress the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15) and was reemphasized later, when they were driven out. The ground was cursed for their ultimate benefit (Gen. 3:17-19), and work is viewed as a blessing and an opportunity: "God has blessed us with the privilege of working. When he said, "Earn thy bread by the sweat of thy brow,' he gave [us] a blessing. Men and women have so accepted it. Too much leisure is dangerous. Work is a divine gift" (McKay, p. 4).

The Ten Commandments instruct, "Six days shalt thou labour" (Ex. 20:9). Other scriptures explain that life is to be a rhythm of work and worship (Ex. 31:15; Neh. 13:15-22).

Latter-day Saints do not view work as drudgery, as though its only purpose is to sustain life. Although the use of technological equipment and labor-saving devices is encouraged, their value lies in making work more efficient, not in eliminating it. Work is the natural lot of all people, and they are enjoined to be diligent in their labors (Prov. 6:6-8; 1 Thes. 4:11; 2 Thes. 3:10-15).

THE QUALITY OF LIFE. Work is necessary for personal development and represents a major source of happiness and fulfillment. "Our Heavenly Father loves us so completely that he has given us a commandment to work. This is one of the keys to eternal life. He knows that we will learn more, grow more, achieve more, serve more, and benefit more from a life of industry than from a life of ease" (Hunter, p. 122).

Individuals are encouraged to work with a happy, cheerful attitude. "Learn to like your work. Learn to say, "This is my work, my glory, not my doom' " (McKay, p. 4). Enthusiasm for labor is especially extolled in such LDS hymns as "Today, While the Sun Shines," "Improve the Shining Moments," "Let Us All Press On," "I Have Work Enough to Do," and "Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel."

Work can also serve as a rehabilitative or therapeutic activity. The apostle Paul directed, "Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands" (Eph. 4:28). This application of work is consistent with modern work-therapy programs that have helped ex-convicts return to society, mental patients function more effectively, students improve their academic performance, the disabled obtain greater self-esteem, and drug abusers conquer their chemical dependencies.

ETERNAL CONSEQUENCES. Work has lasting implications beyond the temporary reimbursement received in this life. Dedicated work helps to develop attributes of godliness: self-discipline, perseverance, accountability, and integrity (see Grace). Idleness is condemned in the scriptures: "Cease to be idle" (D&C 88:124; 1 Tim. 5:8, 13; D&C 42:42; 60:13). The curse of idleness is not an arbitrary penalty imposed on those who use their time unproductively but a natural consequence of acting contrary to humanity's divine nature (Maxwell, p. 26). The final judgment, we are assured and warned, will be unto every one according to his work (e.g., Rev. 22:12; see also Works).

WORK IN THE HEREAFTER. Work will not cease with death. "Work with faith is a cardinal point of our theological doctrine and our future state—our heaven, is envisioned in terms of eternal progression through constant labor" (Richards, pp. 10-11; cf. Rev. 13:14; D&C 59:2). Detailed information about the nature of work in the hereafter has not been revealed. However, "what little information we have of a tactical nature suggests that we will be intelligently involved doing specific things which are tied to the eternal purposes of our Father in heaven" (Maxwell, p. 26; cf. Sill, p. 7).

The Latter-day Saint work ethic is similar to the Protestant work ethic regarding the central role of work in a devout life; however, the Latter-day Saint view maintains a strict distinction between work and worship. Although dedicated work builds character and is a form of service to God, it alone is not sufficient to express worship for God. No matter how much service humans render, they still remain "unprofitable servants" overwhelmingly blessed by God (Mosiah 2:21). Other sacred activities such as prayer; attending meetings; making and renewing covenants through baptism, the Sacrament, and temple ordinances; and serving the needy are more direct and explicit forms of worship and are a ritual dimension of the LDS pattern of life.

Some measures in the Church are taken to keep the commandment to work from being misconstrued to encourage "workaholism," or a frantic compulsion to be constantly busy. Church members are encouraged to use judgment in how much they undertake and are counseled not to run faster than they have the strength (Eccl. 9:11; Mosiah 4:27; D&C 10:4).

The importance of work is to be balanced with other worthwhile pursuits. Members are exhorted to be anxiously engaged in a good cause (D&C 58:26-28), including the fine arts, music, dance, and literature (D&C 88:118; 136:28). Brigham Young taught the need for a balance between physical and mental labor: "Some think too much, and should labor more, others labor too much, and should think more, and thus maintain an equilibrium between the mental and physical members of the individual; then you will enjoy health and vigor, will be active, and ready to discern truly, and judge quickly" (JD 3:248).

The Latter-day Saint work ethic was clearly evident during the settlement of the western United States. After the Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley, they immediately began turning the desert into fertile farms and thriving cities. Their motto became "Industry," and their symbol, the beehive. During the first decade there, the Mormons colonized approximately ninety-six communities, and before the end of the century at least 500 more (see Colonization). Opinion surveys indicate that Latter-day Saints continue to accept the moral importance of work and take pride in craftsmanship.

[See also Occupational Status; Daily Living home page; Education and Work home page.]


Arrington, Leonard J. Great Basin Kingdom. Lincoln, Neb., 1958.

Cherrington, David J. The Work Ethic: Working Values and Values That Work. New York, 1980.

Hunter, Howard W. "Prepare for Honorable Employment." Ensign 5 (Nov. 1975):122-24.

Maxwell, Neal A. "I Have a Question." Ensign 6 (Aug. 1976):26.

McKay, David O. "Man Is That He Might Have Joy." Church News (Aug. 8, 1951):2, 4.

Nibley, Hugh W. "Work We Must, But the Lunch Is Free." In CWHN 9:202-251.

Richards, Stephen L. "The Gospel of Work." IE 43 (Jan. 1940):10-11, 60-61, 63.

Sill, Sterling W. "In the Sweat of Thy Face." Church News (May 8, 1965):7.



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