At the age of 16, Herbert Armstrong began a summer job waiting tables at a hotel in a little town called Altoona, Iowa. He really poured his heart into the opportunity—and it made a difference. His boss noticed his work ethic and complimented him highly for it. Mr. Armstrong wrote, “Soon he began to tell me that he could see qualities in me that were destined to carry me to large success in life. He constantly expressed great confidence in me, and what I would be able to accomplish, if I were willing to put forth the effort” (Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong, Volume 1).
Prior to this time, Mr. Armstrong had viewed himself as nothing more than average. He never really applied himself at school. He wasn’t a leader; he mostly just followed the older boys around. But during that summer job, the hotel manager had aroused in Mr. Armstrong something new—ambition!
He continued, “It is impossible to estimate the importance of this sudden arousal of ambition—this injection of an intense desire for success—this igniting of the spark of determined energy to achieve worthy accomplishment. This was the turning point of my life. Suddenly life became a whole new ‘ball game.’ There had awakened within a totally new outlook on the future.
“This, I believe, is the vital ingredient that has been missing in most human lives. Most continue through life as I was prior to this arousal of ambition. … The idea of looking forward to achieving success, or an accomplishment of any note never intruded itself into my mind. Nor does it, probably, in the average mind. And it was like an intrusion, for my mind was uninterruptedly occupied only with the interests, pleasures and enjoyments of the moment” (ibid., emphasis mine throughout).
Mr. Armstrong said this wasn’t just the turning point of his youth—or even his teen years before conversion. This was the turning point of his entire life!
A sudden, abrupt change had occurred in his thinking. A spark of ambition had ignited to do something with his life! From that point forward, Herbert Armstrong never stopped driving himself forward with diligent, earnest effort in working hard to achieve success.
It was the beginning of an illustrious working career that would continue without interruption for the next 77 years! Now, of course, prior to his conversion, much of that ambitious desire to work hard for success and accomplishment was motivated by vanity.
But if vanity served as the primary motivator behind Mr. Armstrong’s work ethic early on, it was love for God and obedience to His commands that fueled his working career after conversion.
One of the reasons Mr. Armstrong continued to work hard throughout his life was because he obeyed God’s command to work.
God Commands Us to Work
The Fourth Commandment says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). We keep this commandment by resting on the seventh day of the week. But what are we resting from? Examine the other side of this commandment: “Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work” (verse 9).
The harder you work, the more you will get out of your Sabbath. God commands that we labor and do all our work in six days! This is not a suggestion, it is a command—and it’s just as important as the Sabbath half of the command.
In Hebrew, “shalt thou labour” means “to work; to serve, till, enslave.” If we don’t do this, then we are breaking the Fourth Commandment just as surely as if we went off and started working on the Sabbath.
God gave this command in order to keep us in a right relationship with our Maker and to point us back to creation (verse 11). God is a creator who works for a living, and His purpose is to reproduce Himself through man. As God’s children, we must be willing to labor and work like the Father does.
Lesson 55 of the Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course says, “The spirit or intent of this law shows that a man is normally expected to keep busily engaged in gainful work during the first six days of the week. God produced His wealth—His creation—through labor during the first six days of the week. We are to do likewise.”
When Adam was first created, God placed him in the Garden of Eden and commanded him “to dress it and to keep it” (Genesis 2:15). “Dress it” here also means to labor, to work—hard.
God created Adam’s environment so that he had to work for his sustenance.
God could have arranged some other, less labor-intensive way—where we were designed to live on air only or by eating the soil, like an earthworm. But He wanted us to work for our food!
We must always remember that there is nothing negative about God’s instruction. God commands men to work, and to work hard—but that is not some kind of punishment.
In fact, submitting to this command is what actually makes you truly happy and contented. The reason for that is that it keeps us in a right relationship with God—it keeps us active and busy, working and producing, just like God!
Even when God rained manna down from heaven right into the Israelites’ camp, it wasn’t as easy as picking up bread off the ground and eating it. The Bible says it came in the form of tiny seeds, and they had to go out and gather it up every day, grind it in mills, beat it into a dough, and bake it in pans to make cakes (Exodus 16).
The Israelites weren’t allowed to store up large quantities and make a bunch of bread all at once. God specifically commanded that they were to go out and gather a certain amount every day except on Friday, when God allowed them to gather enough for the Sabbath day as well (verses 16-19). If they tried to keep it overnight on any other day, the manna would spoil.
It was a test commandment, God said, and notice what part of the test they failed: “Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank: and Moses was wroth with them” (Exodus 16:20).
They wanted to make extra so that they wouldn’t have to work the next day! Failing the test involved their refusal to work on the other six days!
The Work Ethic of a Christian
The Bible contains about 900 references to employment and work habits. The reason for this is that it is in God’s nature to work diligently. And He wants us to be just like Him. God is a workman who is always on the job. And that’s the way He wants us to be—man or woman, adult or child.
Did you know that 30 percent of your adult life will be spent working? If God specifically created us to do so much of it, why does work seem boring and difficult for so many people? We have to grasp the spiritual principle behind it.
Man was created for a purpose. God is reproducing Himself—His character and nature, His drive and resourcefulness, and His diligent work ethic. Human nature wants to be lazy, but a member of God’s Church ought to be a diligent, hard worker (1 Timothy 5:8). In fact, hard work is one of the signs of a true Christian! In John 5:17, Christ said, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.”
In 2 Thessalonians 3:10 we find another command that anyone who does not work should not eat. Under the inspiration of God, Paul forbids Christians to be slothful (Romans 12:11). Paul also said that hard work is the only sure—and godly—way to avoid poverty (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12).
We must work hard, just as God does. Colossians 3:22 says, “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God” (see also Ephesians 6:5-6).
“Not with eyeservice” means we can’t just look busy when the boss comes around. This is “sight labor.” What are you doing when he is away?
We are responsible to God to work hard, not just our physical boss. A good employee constantly feels pressure from Christ (Colossians 3:23). Verse 24 indicates even the service we give our physical bosses is to be considered as service rendered to God.
Matthew 5:48 reminds us of our end goal in all of this: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
We are going to become God! Gods are productive—they have a big impact in what they do. We can’t be lazy or careless in our work and expect to become like God.
In a Plain Truth personal from April 1965, Mr. Armstrong wrote: “God is not going to settle for a cheap, sloppy, careless, inferior bit of workmanship. He commands that we shall be ‘perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.’ A careless workman once complained to me, ‘The trouble with you, Mr. Armstrong, is that you are a perfectionist!’ I guess he was right. He should tell God, ‘The trouble with you, God, is that you are a perfectionist!’ God is a perfectionist. And so am I. How about you?”
As adults, you will be expected to work in order to provide for your family, and to support the Work. But even if you are still in school and do not yet have a job, you can still apply this lesson of diligence in all aspects of your life.
Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.”
Notice it doesn’t say “whatsoever you are good at” or “whatsoever you like to do, do with all your might.” It says “whatsoever your hand finds to do ….”
Shall Find So Doing
In John 9:4, Christ says, “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.” We know time is short before Christ returns. But instead of that being a hindrance to our work, it ought to serve as a prod to work harder!
Some people criticized Mr. Armstrong for continuing to expand the Work and build new buildings when they thought there was not much time left, but he was committed to working right up until the end.
In a co-worker letter, Mr. Armstrong described his conviction to continue working always: “If we knew Christ should come tomorrow, and we needed a new building for His Work, and today was the day to start building it, I would break ground and start that new building on its way today! And I would be busy building it tomorrow as I would be caught up to meet Him!” (August 28, 1967).
In Matthew 24:46, Christ says His faithful servants will be the ones who are found working and building right up until His arrival! God doesn’t want us to just sit around and wait for His return. He wants us to continue working and building—both physically and spiritually.
Imagine builders on top of their ladders, hammering away, working on a new building, and all of a sudden, Christ returns. Then they all just set down their tools and rise to meet Christ in the air. That’s the vision Matthew describes, and that’s the vision Mr. Armstrong had. He wanted to be found doing when Christ returned. And so should we.
Sidebar: But I’m Too Young to Get a Job!
Even if you are young, you can still apply God’s command to work six days a week. Consider the jobs given you by your parents. How do you react when your parents tell you to clean your room or mow the lawn? Do you dig into these work assignments with energy, or do you delay, make excuses and make yourself scarce?
Then there’s schoolwork: how much energy and enthusiasm do you put into your homework? Are you giving it your best effort—or just racing through so you can move on to something more fun?
Another way you can apply this command is by looking for work to do for your neighbors. Many teens earn extra money through lawn work, gardening or baby-sitting, for example.
The turning point in Mr. Armstrong’s life came when he was working at age 16. Who knows what might happen to you if you get out and work!