Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.
Focus on your work. All workers are not the same. Some stay on task; others don't. Some concentrate; others daydream. There's an adage, "A professional is just an amateur who didn't get distracted."
All else being equal, our personal work ethic makes us either poor or rich.
The first and last words in the text, poor and rich, are like brackets nestling a priceless gem. The only instrument in the text is the hand plus personal attitude. Unlike the economic environment or market conditions, our decision to be negligent or diligent is under our direct control. Diligence or negligence in our duties are private, individual choices. The text contrasts two people doing similar work with their hands. The word “hand” does not necessarily imply manual labour. For example, those who work with the keyboard use their hands, yet some have better typing skills than others. The only distinction between these two workers is found in the words “negligent” and “diligent.”
Translation: negligent, diligent
The Hebrew word for negligent, רמיה (remiy•yāh, pronounced “re-mi-yah”), is used 15 times in the Old Testament. Ten times it’s translated with connotations of dishonesty, deceit, or misleading another person. The other five times it’s rendered as a form of laziness. This implies that there is a fine line between dishonesty and laziness. We may not think that by giving half effort we are stealing from our employer, but really we are failing to give fully. Negligence leaves things undone. Something is missing.
The Hebrew word for diligent, חרוץ (ḥā•rȗṣ, pronounced “khah-roots”), is used 18 times in the Old Testament. A close derivative of this word is the poetical Hebrew word for “gold.” The actual root means determined, decisive, sharp, and hard. It includes the concept of “determined,” and refers to something that cannot be changed. In its etymology, the basic idea of “cut” is evident in that once something is incised it cannot be altered. We often describe someone who is determined, clear, and decisive as being “sharp.” He is not “dull.”
Sometimes people are not diligent because of a mental or physical infirmity. For example, they cannot concentrate on a given task for more than a few moments. Usually such people are unable to earn an income. Not all negligence is voluntary, but much of it is, and stems from distractions and a wandering mind. One of the most common causes of automobile accidents is indecision. Indecision usually results from confused, clouded thinking, trying to simultaneously hold onto more than one direction. This doesn’t work. The Bible says, “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways,” James 1:8. Many people spend too much effort trying to make the “right decision,” and too little effort in making their decisions “right.” .
In his book, Life is Tremendous, Charlie Jones hammers this point. “The key to vocational success is not proper training, aptitude, or “pull” with the boss, but making the job decision, making it yours and dying by it.” 1 and also, “Don't spend your life trying to make the right decisions; invest your life in making decisions and in making them right.” 2
In his commentary on this passage, Matthew Henry wrote: “Those who deal with a deceitful hand, so it may read, those who think to enrich themselves by fraud and tricking, will, in the end, impoverish themselves, not only by bringing the curse of God on what they have, but by forfeiting their reputation with men; none will care to deal with those who deal with sleight of hand.” In Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible we read about someone who pretends to work, using trickery and deceitful ways to make a show of working. Such workers don't prosper for long.
One summer while I was working between school semesters, I got a job in a warehouse joining three other young men doing mostly paperwork and photocopying unpaid invoices. The company, Har Nal (no longer in business) was trying to collect on its receivables. It was monotonous, repetitive work. I was bored within an hour. I found that I had to play mind games, like how many copies can I make in thirty seconds? Can I beat the photocopier with an extra copy before the sound of its fan changes? I didn’t joke around too much with the others, but I sympathized with their plight.
To keep my mind from turning into “mush” and to feed my soul, I was memorizing the Sermon on the Mount. God gave me the inner strength to work well. We were not in the office, but in the warehouse where no one was watching. After two weeks the boss called us in and said the work was done. I knew it was a temporary job, but hoped it would last longer since I needed more money for school. He laid all of us off, but as we were going out the door he called me aside and asked if I would be willing to come back next week to do some extra work. In fact, I continued alone on the same task and next summer, based on my “office experience” I was able to get an interview and eventually a much better and higher paying job with Shell Canada as a summer student.
Our Maker, Saviour, and Friend
Jesus demonstrated the quality of decisive determination at a critical point of his life on earth. “When the days were approaching for His ascension (away from earth and back to heaven), He was determined to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). The original word in Greek for “determined” is also translated as “set his face.” This expression denotes intense focus and resolution toward one purpose.
Jesus knew that physical and spiritual agony awaited Him at the cross in Jerusalem, but He was unswerving. His target was being home in heaven with His Father after His work on earth was complete. Like Moses (Hebrews 11:26).
Jesus endured the unpleasant, but in Jesus' case the horror was much worse than the troubles of Moses'. Like Moses, Jesus focused on future joy and rewards for a job well done (Hebrews 12:2).
- Memorize the text in your favourite Bible translation and think about it often.
- Evaluate your work ethic. Are you diligent, focused, and concentrated on your responsibilities?
- Do you know what your job responsibilities are? If you have no business plan, or clarity of critical success factors then you will likely drift and waste time.
- Do not confuse activity with productivity. Identify activities that are neither profitable nor beneficial. Eliminate them from your work routine.
Which of these steps, if any, does Jesus want you to take now? Ask Him.