Question: "What does the Bible say about workaholism?"
Answer: The modern term workaholic is not found anywhere in the Bible. However, biblical principles can be brought to bear on the discussion of workaholics—those whose devotion to their career, job, or ministry has reached the point of obsessiveness. Any fixation, other than God, is an idol.
As Christians, we must be careful not to let the cares and allurements of the world distract us from our devotion to Christ or from our responsibilities to our families and friends. It’s impossible to always be working or thinking about work and simultaneously be developing good relationships with others. Workaholism invariably puts a strain on the family. When a pastor or worker in full-time ministry succumbs to workaholism, the damage can include the family’s negative view of who God is.
The workaholic endangers his or her physical health, as attending to one’s own body is usually not a high priority. Emotional health is also at risk, as workaholism leads to stress and anxiety. In not being able to take a break and always thinking about work, the workaholic lives with an unhealthy amount of tension and risks burnout. Anxiety may even contribute to workaholism, in some cases, as the workaholic worries about the future and strives to ensure stability and security for his or her family.
Workaholics are addicted to their work in much the same way an alcoholic is addicted to alcohol. Such a person rarely rests. He is constantly worried about the next sale, business matter, or task. A workaholic businessman often has difficulty seeing his friends as merely friends and not business prospects. A workaholic pastor runs the risk of seeing people more as aids or obstacles to a project than as individuals in need of ministry.
As Christians, our focus on life is to be less on our vocation and more on how our vocation fits into God’s plan for our life. Certainly, work is a blessed activity. The first man was given work to do by God (Genesis 2:15). Paul was a tentmaker, “laboring and toiling” so as not to burden the church (2 Thessalonians 3:8). Luke was a physician (Colossians 4:14). And, of course, there is much work to do in “full-time ministry” jobs, as well. Jesus told us to pray for “workers” to serve in God’s harvest (Luke 10:2). But both in the ministry and in secular work, we need a balance. Rest and recreation are also God’s design (Genesis 2:2). One good test to know whether we are too focused on our jobs is to ask ourselves how much time we spend thinking about our jobs when we are not actually at work. If our thoughts center more on our jobs than on God or family or other beneficial subjects, we may be in danger.
Even when involved in the seemingly mundane tasks of a job, we should glorify God. We should maintain a good work ethic in our employment by doing things as Christ would, with honor and to the best of our ability. As Paul reminded the Colossians, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17). And, as Christ did, we should intentionally take breaks, spend time with loved ones, and seek times alone to pray and meditate on the Word of God (see Mark 6:31 and Luke 5:16).
Being a workaholic isn’t directly comparable to worshipping idols; however, workaholism is often linked to sinful self-reliance, discontent, and misplaced priorities. And, if a job takes up so much energy that it distracts from one’s relationship with Jesus Christ, then it could be considered idolatry. We should view our employment as an opportunity to advance the kingdom of God through our talents and finances. We should be strategic in our approach and seek to lead a balanced life.