Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Leisure: The Basis of Culture, chapter 1

Randoms thoughts on the first chapter of Josef Pieper's book, which I'm reading along with Cindy's Book Club this fall.

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Pieper says that in our "world of planned diligence and 'total labour'" we have trouble understanding the concept of leisure because we overvalue the sphere of work. Contra the modern idea that one lives to work, Aristotle says that "We work in order to have leisure." Literally it is, "We are unleisurely in order to have leisure," as Pieper points out that "Greek only has the negative, a-scolia."

I realize the New Testament Greek isn't quite the same as the classical, but still I thought it would be instructive to look up the words that get translated as work, toil, and labour in the Bible. Here's what I found from Strong's online concordance:

Strong's G2038 - ergazomai
1) to work, labour, do work
2) to trade, to make gains by trading, "do business"
3) to do, work out
    a) exercise, perform, commit
    b) to cause to exist, produce
4) to work for, earn by working, to acquire

Strong's G2041 - ergon
1) business, employment, that which any one is occupied
    a) that which one undertakes to do, enterprise, undertaking
2) any product whatever, any thing accomplished by hand, art, industry, or mind
3) an act, deed, thing done: the idea of working is emphasised in opp. to that which is less than work

Strong's G2872 - kopiaō
1) to grow weary, tired, exhausted (with toil or burdens or grief)
2) to labour with wearisome effort, to toil
    a) of bodily labour

That was a worthwhile study because I'm the kind of person who's inclined to quote from what I've been reading, and it would have been embarrassing to quote this passage to a Bible scholar who is familiar with the three words above. I suppose the disparity is because Koine is different from the classical Greek.

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A passage that gave pleasure to my sorta-Sabbatarian eyes: "We still speak of 'servile work' as unsuitable on Sundays and holidays."

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On the theme of Sabbath-keeping: It is often pointed out to us that before the Resurrection, the sabbath came at the end of the work week, showing that we work in order to rest, but now it's at the beginning, signifying the reverse -- we rest and worship in order to work.

At the end of the chapter, Pieper says that we must "base our conclusions on a philosophical and theological conception of man," so it will be interesting to see where he goes with this.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Ephesians 2:8-10:
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

The word works in "good works" is ergazomai, and I like to remind myself that not only the traditional "good works" of evangelism, charity, et al, but all my labour at home is "good work" for which Christ saved me.

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But here's something beautiful I didn't know before -- the word "workmanship" is the word poiēma. We are his poem. :-)

That word is used only one other time, the phrase "the things that are made" in Romans 1:20, "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse."


  1. Beautifully done, Kelly. This also made me wonder if our tendency towards works righteousness is the same tendency that causes us to think of work as an end rather than a means. Thank-you for taking time to look up the Greek in Strong's. Very helpful.

  2. Yes, indeed! Very Well done, Kelly.

    I thought about referring to Strong's, too. But the word I'm interested in (albeit Hebrew) would be *work* from in six days thou shalt do all thy *work*

    I probably wont, because I dont want to get into that type of discussion, i.e. what is lawful and what is not.

    I do get the distinct feeling that Pieper is reeling against the overstated socialistic, proletarian mindset, complete with pogroms and the like.

    Nevertheless, there is much we can use even in this day and age.

  3. Kelly,

    I appreciate your post very much! The sense of the Greek words helped me think through some things.

    I especially liked this: It is often pointed out to us that before the Resurrection, the sabbath came at the end of the work week, showing that we work in order to rest, but now it's at the beginning, signifying the reverse -- we rest and worship in order to work.

    It may be "often pointed out," but I had never thought about it like that, so you gave me something to chew on. I come from a non-Sabbath-keeping tradition, but I live in tension with that because the Sabbath is obviously built into the created order.

    In general, I think I connected with this because I see this in my day. I take about one hour each afternoon, during the children's naptime, to study and think. I really do feel like everything in my life flows from that hour, even though it is in the middle of the day. So the imagery of all of our work flowing from the Sabbath day is powerful to me.

  4. Thanks for the Greek lesson! This was a very helpful post on the chapter. It seemed like this first chapter needed a lot read into it to get something out of it.

    I'm still not very clear on what exactly he meant by a culture of "total work." Certainly we have many work-a-holics, and those who are defined by their jobs. Yet, we are also a culture of entertainment -- everyone rejoices on Friday because Saturday is coming and then Monday is culturally understood to be a "bad day" because it's back to the daily grind.

    I like the thought that our labors flow out of our rest and contemplation. That's a great Lord's-Day-rest connection. That reminded me of the reason I really need to return to starting the day with Bible reading and prayer (but I'm so pregnant and tired!).

  5. Mystie, when he spoke of a culture of "total work" and "workers" I immediately thought of the Soviet Union and the proletariat. Remember that he wrote after the war, from Germany, when many Germans were captured by the communists and forced into a life of endless toil. The ugly, drab, gray cities of that era are the result of that thinking, along with a dreary life of slavery.

    Leisure implies beauty and joy, as well as rest. It also means a kind of freedom.

    Kelly, I am taking Koine Greek with a couple of my children, and we just translated the verse about being God's workmanship. I am so glad you thought to look up those words!

  6. Thank you, ladies -- I'm glad it was helpful. I'm thinking about posting on work and sabbath because it's something that I've been able to think more deeply about since we've started keeping farm animals.


What are your thoughts? I love to hear from you!