Here is another great quote from Little Britches:
“Any man who says the world owes him a living is dishonest. The same God that made you and me made this earth. And He planned it so that it would yield every single thing that the people on it need. But He was careful to plan it so that it would only yield up its wealth in exchange for the labor of man. Any man who tries to share in that wealth without contributing the work of his brain or his hands is dishonest.”
Ralph Moody, Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers 177 (1950). In this passage, Father is responding to what a little girl told Ralph regarding her father not having to work hard because he knew the world owed him a living. Her father had said that “only dolts and darn fools” worked hard for a living. Father becomes angry and tells Ralph (Little Britches) that there are really only two types of men in the world–honest and dishonest. Honest men work hard and don’t expect that the world owes them a living. Dishonest men don’t want to work hard and expect that the world owes them a living.
There is a lot to unpack in this little passage. First, we can see that dishonest men are also lazy men. They don’t want to work, but they expect that they should still receive the fruit of work–a living. I wrote about the sin of laziness and what the Bible says about it in another blog post here. If you take a look at the passages cited and quoted there, you see that the Bible presents this clear connection between work and provision and prosperity (a living) and laziness or slothfulness and the absence thereof. Therefore, I think Father is on to something here. Part of being lazy is expecting that you should get a living for doing nothing, which Father says is also dishonest.
I think this also gets at what often allows lazy men, these dishonest men per Father, to remain lazy men: other people are willing to provide them a living without their having to work for it. So, the cycle of sowing and reaping (Gal. 6:7-8) is short circuited because the lazy man is protected from the consequences (reaping) of his actions (sowing). The Bible also speaks clearly about this. In Proverbs 16:26, we read that “[a] worker’s appetite works for him; his mouth urges him on.” In other words, the natural desire for food that God has given, i.e. our appetite or being hungry, makes us want to work to get food, i.e., a living. But, when a person can get that natural desire fulfilled without having to work, his mouth no longer urges him on and he becomes lazy.
Paul is even more explicit about this in 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12:
For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
See also Ephesians 4:28. Here Paul clearly says that the consequences of being unwilling to work (not having anything to eat) should not be removed from the lazy man. Rather, he should be permitted to experience that unpleasant condition so that his appetite will work for him and his mouth will urge him on.
Now, before the howls of my coldheartedness begin (or would it be God’s coldheartedness since these are his words, not mine), I am not talking about letting widows and orphans starve in the streets and I certainly do feed my children, many of which are not able to work enough as of yet to earn their own livings. And, of course, that isn’t what Paul is talking about either. The Bible is full of encouragement regarding acts of mercy and helping the poor. But, in our time, I am afraid that many people have gotten out of balance here.
One absence of balance is to deny that there is any work to be done in helping those who are less fortunate. However, another, and I would say more prevalent, imbalance is to claim that one is entitled to aid just because one is needy. In fact, that seems to be the chief criteria in our day. Accordingly, the more needy you are the more deserving of aid you are. The Bible, on the other hand, asserts that neediness alone is not the criteria for aid as one can become needy (hungry even) via one’s own laziness, i.e., unwillingness to work, and, in such an instance, Paul says make sure that you allow that needy person to experience his need so that he will be encouraged to work.
Another mistake in our time is to assume that it is the duty of the civil government to help the poor and needy. I will write more on this later, but this is not the duty that the civil government owes to the poor. The civil government owes the poor justice. That is a very different thing.
Well, here is a quick application or two of this principle, and then I am moving on. If you are a wife and you have a lazy husband who, let’s say, won’t mow the yard, what are you to do. One thing might be to mow it for him. Thereby, he won’t have to bear the shame of having a jungle for a yard when he talks with other men in the neighborhood. Or, you could let it be. Let it grow up. Now, you will of course bear some shame as well. That is a consequence of your being his wife. But, by not mowing it for him, you will allow him to reap (a jungle for a yard) what he has sown (too lazy to mow) and thereby be encouraged to work.
If you are a parent who has a child who is lazy and won’t grow up. Let’s say you have a twenty-something year-old living in your basement playing video games and not working or refusing to get real adult work. One thing you can do is try and keep them from experiencing the difficulty of this situation. You can provide food, shelter, clothing, entertainment, etc. This will make sure that being lazy is rewarded with a living, and it is very likely that your lazy child will grow hardened in his laziness.
Or, you can follow Paul’s advice and let sowing and reaping kick in. You could charge rent for room and board. (The world doesn’t owe anyone a living.) You should expect chores. (Every person should contribute to the functioning of a household of which he is a part. This is why we don’t really do allowances with our kids and we expect them to do chores and not for pay. Then, of course, we sometimes give them the opportunity to do additional work for which we do pay them.) On the whole, you should let this adult child experience the fruit of his laziness and, per Father, his dishonesty. He expects that you owe him a living, and you should make clear to him that you do not and the world does not, but that God has made a world where a living can be unlocked through labor.
Second, we see that Father feels assured that God has made the earth such that there is enough for everyone. There is a living to be had there for everyone, but it can only be unlocked through work. I think this is sometimes why the world around us can seem overwhelming. When you look around and see everything that needs to be done and can be done would be great to be done, it is almost too much to take in. It is surely too much for one person or one family to do. But, God has not given it all to any one of us to do. Rather, we must do our part and be content to leave the other parts for those whom God has put it there for. None of us can do it all because none of us are God.
Also, I think this shows the potential that is there for everyone. I think we often sell ourselves and others short. For example, we sometimes look at a person and assume that person can’t do anything productive. We assume that this person cannot labor and experience the joy of seeing God’s world yield up some of its wealth to him. In so doing, we rob from this person one of the greatest satisfactions of life, eating from your own hands’ labor. Psalm 128. We also dishonor this person and the God who made him and the world.
There are so many things wonderful things that people can do and are capable of. The potential in even a small gathering of human beings is truly breathtaking. We have seen this selling chickens on our farm. So many people have come here to buy chickens, and it is amazing all of the things that people are doing to unlock God’s wealth built into the world. We have met people who sell eggs, who give eggs away, who sell cut flowers, who are trying to live self-sufficiently, who are starting new businesses, who are retired and getting into chickens to allow their grandchildren the chance to work and see the fruit thereof, and who are doing many, many more exciting and interesting things. It is truly awesome and inspiring. It makes dishonesty and laziness seem like such a sad, unacceptable option. It makes one want to be a honest man, a man who uses his labor to unlock as many of these wonderful things that God has built into the world as possible and to train his children to do the same, all to God’s glory.