Working Hard . . . Hardly Working

By Mark D. Roberts

August 9, 2021

Scripture – Ephesians 4:28 (NRSV)

Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.


Ephesians 4:28 teaches us to work hard. We were created for work, after all. And working hard not only brings productive results, but it also fulfills our created need to use our bodies and minds for good. To be sure, we also need to rest. But working hard in the right time and the right way is one way we present bodies to God as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).


Years ago, my wife and I lived next door to her father. Because he was retired, he spent quite a bit of time working in his yard. When I saw him doing something like mowing the lawn, I’d shout over the fence, “What are you doing over there?” Inevitably he’d respond, “Working hard; hardly working.” My father-in-law enjoyed the play on words, where “hard” and “hardly” have almost opposite meanings. But I think he wanted to convey something like, “Yes, I’m working hard in a way. But I’m also enjoying the freedom in my retirement to putter around in my yard, to work whenever I want to, and to be my own boss. This feels more like play than work.”

Ephesians 4:28 affirms the value of working hard. This verse says that thieves – and, by implication, all of us – should labor. The Greek verb translated as “labor” referred not to any kind of work, but especially to work that took real effort. If you were to look up this verb, kopiao, in a Greek-English dictionary, you’d find translations such as, “become weary, become tired, exert oneself, work hard, toil, struggle.” Paul often uses kopiao in reference to his demanding work as an apostle (1 Corinthians 15:10; Philippians 2:16). Work is often hard—whether you’re mowing the lawn, making dinner for your family, teaching a class, closing a deal, or planting a church. Work can be downright exhausting. It can demand mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical investment and leave us tired in body, mind, and soul.

Ephesians 4:28 doesn’t explain why we should work hard. But its imperative grows out of the broader biblical understanding of work. You and I, as human beings, were created to work, to use our full capacities in order to ensure that God’s creation functions as it is supposed to, leading to fruitful living for all creatures (Genesis 1:27-28).  Of course when sin entered in, work became more difficult and painful. Yet this does not mean that all hard work is wrong or to be avoided. In fact, some of the most rewarding experiences of life come as we invest our full energies in a worthwhile project.

Moreover, the context of Ephesians 4:28 reminds us that working hard is part and parcel of putting on the new self in Christ (Ephesians 4:24). God, who has created us anew in Christ for good works (Ephesians 2:10), expects us to do these with energy. Through our hard work not only do we find fulfillment but we also do that which God has ordained for us, offering our whole lives to him in worship (Romans 12:1-2).

Now, you may be wondering if hard work is always good. Is it possible to work too hard? I’ll share some thoughts on this tomorrow. For now, however, let me encourage you to reflect on the following questions.


Can you think of times in your life when you have worked especially hard and when your hard work was especially meaningful?

When might hard work not be honoring to God?

Are you able to offer your work to God today, whatever that work might be?


The next you find yourself working hard, either at your paid job or in some other context, offer your work to God. See if you can pray, “Lord, I’m working hard for you right now.”


Gracious God, thank you for creating me with the capacity to work. Thank you for inviting me to participate in your work in this world. Thank you for reminding me today that I can honor you by working hard. Help me to offer to you all that I do today. May I work hard, using energetically the gifts, talents, and opportunities you have given me. May it all be for your glory. Amen.

Sign up to receive a Life for Leaders devotional each day in your inbox. It’s free to subscribe and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Relationships and Work (Genesis 1:27; 2:18, 21-25)

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

More on Mark

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Learn Learn Learn Learn

the Life for Leaders newsletter

Learn Learn Learn Learn