BALANCING BETWEEN WORK AND FAMILY
Living the Christian life in a fast-paced society such as modern Singapore is an
art rather than a science. If it were a science, we would simply need to follow
some fixed procedures and all will be well. But the reality is that it is never
so straightforward. Although the Word of God does give us numerous instructions
and principles on how we ought to conduct ourselves, most of us still struggle
constantly with our duties. Yes, if the Law of God were merely negative, and
sin is only the transgression of the Law of God, many of us may be tempted to
think, at the end of the day, that we have not sinned. But the Law of God is
also positive, and sin is both a transgression of the Law and a want of
conformity unto the Law of God. It is in the arena of positive duty that most
of us fail miserably. It is in this aspect of our Christian life that most of
us struggle most intensely. For sure, this struggle will remain while we live
in this world. It is a sign of spiritual life, that there is any struggle at
all; and it is a biblical fact that we will never be perfect in this life (1 Jn
1:8). Only Christ our Mediator and Substitute was able to live perfectly, and
it is by His perfection that we are saved.
Notwithstanding, God does call us to perfection (see Matthew 5:48; 2
Corinthians 7:1; 13:11; Colossians 4:12), and gives us the means towards that
end, namely His Word (2 Tim 3:17). Theoretically, if we are able to obey the
Word of God perfectly, in every sphere of our lives, we will be perfect. But in
reality, just to obey the Word of God outwardly can be a struggle even for the
most godly saint living under the present circumstances because his time,
energy and resources are limited. This being so, there is often a competition
of interests among the different spheres of his life, so that he cannot be
perfect in any sphere. This is why we talk about balancing.
The typical Singaporean Christian man spends most of his time at home and at
work, and so it is crucial, as we walk our pilgrim journey, to seek the balance
between family and work.
This balance is obviously difficult to find. But unless we seek to find it with
some biblical principles, we will constantly be groping around, stumbling and
wondering why our lives seem so disorganised, full of frustrations and failed
expectations. This is what this article is about. We want to discover some
principles for finding the balance between work and family.
Principle #1: Biblical
Balance is Indefinite
This is a fundamental point. If we are looking for a mathematical or biblical
statement on what is the proper balance between work and family, we will not
find it. Indeed, it is also practically impossible for any family to claim that
they have achieved a biblical balance, because in some sense it is impossible
to define what is the balance: at least, not measurably nor objectively.
We may say that the balance between family and work is found when we are fully
satisfied that we can answer with a clear conscience to the Lord concerning our
responsibilities as they pertain to our role in society (or of making a living)
and our role at home. As you can imagine, this balance will differ from person
to person, and family to family. But as a rough indicator, we would know that
we are far from a proper balance if we are properly instructed concerning our
roles in the two spheres and yet feel that we are neglecting one at the expense
of the other.
If things are so fuzzy and subjective, why do we talk about a balance? We talk
about a balance not only because we can see and experience the effect of
imbalance in our lives, and also because God has given us a conscience by which
we know whether we have fallen short. And the conscience of the Christian,
having been enlightened by the Holy Spirit and being instructed by the Word of
God, is especially acute to see his failures. Thus, a Spirit-filled believer
who is constantly aware of his union to Christ and the Lordship of Christ will
ever desire after a Christian walk that is in-step with the Spirit of Christ.
Principle #2: Biblical
Duties are Absolutes
While the biblical balance may appear to be subjective and elusive, the duties
that are required of us are in no way uncertain.
When the Word of God prescribes duties, they are prescribed unconditionally and
without regards to situation. Unless there is a physical disability to do what
is commanded, to fail to do is to sin against God.
This is one point we must bear in mind at the onset if we are ever going to
find the biblical balance between work and family. If we do not remind
ourselves that God’s demands are absolute, we will be tempted to justify our
fault and think that the imbalance in our lives is not that bad after all. And
so we will be less inclined to take positive steps to correcting the situation
in our lives, even when we detect an obvious imbalance.
On the other hand, knowing that God’s requirements are absolute, and that the
balance between family and work involves loving obedience to God’s commands in
respect to these spheres, will cause the child of God to seek to know these
commands and to do them.
Principle #3: Husbands
and Wives have Different Biblical Roles
The Word of God is very clear when it comes to the duties that are required of
husbands and wives, or fathers and mothers, in the Christian home. The husband
or father is the pilot, policeman, provider and pastor in the home. As the
pilot, he steers the family ship and is responsible for all the major decisions
of the family and the welfare of every member in the home. He must take the
lead in maintaining the balance in the home. He must make the decisions. As the
policeman, he is ultimately responsible for the discipline in the home. As the
provider, he must bring in the daily sustenance necessary for the family. As
the pastor, he is responsible for the spiritual welfare of his family through
the maintenance of religion at home. He must call the family to worship and
instruct the family on the Word of God. A very heavy responsibility is placed
on the husband and father. He is the one who must take responsibility if the
balance between work and family is not right.
What about the wife? The wife is to be an help-meet. She is to support her
husband. According to the Scripture (e.g., Tit 2:4–5), she should be a
homemaker, or at least be giving a lot of priority to looking after the home,
her children and her husband. Now, although she is not the leader in the home,
she has a crucial contribution to the degree of balance between work and family
in her home. Remember that marriage is a partnership, indeed more than a
One of the fundamental biblical concepts concerning marriage is that the
husband and wife are to cleave together and be one flesh (Gen 2:24). In some
sense, they are regarded by God no longer as two individuals, but as one. They
are heirs together of the grace of life (1 Pet 3:7). The balance between family
and work must therefore be found in the teamwork between husband and wife,
according to their different roles.
When we bear this in mind, we will realise that it is hardly possible for a
family to walk along the balance of work and family when both are working to
support the family.
It is the duty of the father to train the children and to bring them up in the
nurture and admonition of the Lord. But if the father fails, it does not only
reflect upon him, neither is he guilty alone. Remember that the father is also
responsible for being the provider of the home, so his time is limited. If the
wife is not supporting her husband, it would be near impossible for him to
fulfil his role.
Principle #4: Time is
It is always useful to rethink how we use our time. God has given us six days
to do our work (Ex 20:9). This does not mean that we must engage in
money-making activities for six solid days in the week, else we all sin if we
work five days a week! What it means is that one day in seven is the Lord’s
Day: the day belonging to the Lord (Ex 20:8). This day must be reserved for
corporate worship and all things that pertain to our eternal life, except for
acts of necessity, mercy and emergency. Six days are appointed for our own use.
Six days means 144 hours. These 144 hours are for us to manage. We may use them
to work to make a living (i.e., we sell our time away), to sleep, to rest, to
engage in recreation, to worship privately and as families, to instruct the
All things being equal, the use of these 144 hours may be seen as a measurable,
though rough, indicator of the balance between work and family. This is not an
ideal indicator as there are such things as quality time and time wasted. But a
purposeful use of our time will certainly form the basis of returning to a
proper balance between work and family.
Is it not true that so often, we feel guilty that we have not spent enough time
at home or at work because we have squandered our time away? Because time is
limited, some things must be forgone.
One of the great scourges of the church in our generation is the Television.
Televisions are great time wasters. Someone called it the devil’s schoolbox.
Well, I do not think it is always bad. It is a useful tool for documentaries
and news. But I do think there is a lot of truth in the assertion that the TV
is the devil’s schoolbox, for it steals our time from laying up treasures in
heaven and teaches our children to be evil, by evil examples paraded as good.
If we are serious about striking a biblical balance in the use of our time, we
will not want to remain ignorant of the fact that the TV is often a foothold
for Satan to destroy our homes. Taking a positive step towards building a godly
family may mean for some of us, more discipline in the use of the TV, so that
when there is a choice between family worship or some meaningful activity, and
the TV, that we will choose the former. For others, it may mean getting rid of
the TV altogether.
Beyond that, it is wise to manage the limited time that the family can have
together prudently. Activities which interfere with the growth of the family
should be reduced. For example, many young families would go back to their
parents’ homes for meals. This will drastically reduce the time that the family
have alone: You cannot just eat and then leave! Time together must be highly
valued so that as far as possible, the extra-familial commitments of the family
should be planned not to coincide with the time when other members of the
family are likely to be at home. A father who regularly goes out to play golf
on Saturday when the rest of the family is available is not using his time
responsibly. The same may be said of a mother who does her laundry and ironing
when everyone in the family is available for family building activities.
Principle #5: It is
Helpful to Demarcate our Time between Family and Work
It is a biblical principle to do well in all that the Lord calls us to do.
Solomon, writing under inspiration, puts it this way: “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” (Ecc 9:10). The
Apostle Paul gives this injunction a Christological significance: “And
whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing
that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve
the Lord Christ” (Col 3:23–24).
But our time is limited, and so sometimes when we perceive that we did not have
enough time to do our work well in the office, we will be tempted to bring work
home to do. Now, when that happens, it will be extremely difficult to work on
any balance between work and family at all. It is like someone trying to sort
out a crate that contains oranges and apples, but as he does so, he
occasionally cast the apples to the box containing oranges and vice versa.
Fundamental to working on a balance between family and work, therefore, is an
attempt not to allow work to intrude into your family hours. We do not say, not
to allow family matters to intrude into working hours simply because most of us
simply do not have the problem, whereas many of us take our family for granted
and so bring our work home to do or we work longer hours than necessary.
Principle #6: The Family
Must be Given Priority
When we talk about the balance between family and work, it may be tempting to
think that we should give equal time and priority to both. Well, I do not think
so. I believe the family should be given priority so that if there is a
conflict of interest between the family and work, the family must come first.
I say this: Firstly, because the family is for life while work
serves mainly as the means of sustenance for the family for a period of
time. Secondly, while work forms a contrasting backdrop for the
concept of salvific and eternal rest in Christ, the family is God’s appointed
illustration of the relationship between Christ and His Church. In some sense,
work is to the Law as the family is to the Gospel. Both are necessary, but the
latter is the goal. Thirdly, while work often provides the
opportunity for Christian witness, the family is one of the most important of
God’s appointed means for enlarging the Church. Experience shows us that it is
in the Christian home that the most faithful and fruitful of Christ’s sheep are
Now we say all these not to implicate that work is not important. Rather, we
are saying that contrary to our cultural expectation, career must not take
priority over the family. You can rebuild your career if for some reason it
crumbles, but it is far, far more difficult to restore your family to a
Christ-honouring one if it crumbles. If you fail in your career, you will
likely be the only one directly affected for a time; if you fail in your
family, every member in your family will be affected for life and perhaps for
eternity. Yes, the temptation will be great to give priority to your career
because it is visible to the world, and there are immediate returns to enjoy,
but would you not do what is right in the sight of God?
Principle #7: Godliness
and Contentment are Indispensable
The Apostle Paul teaches us: “But godliness with contentment is great gain” (1
Tim 6:6). This principle is known by every Christian. But unfortunately, it is
not easily held to in reality in competitive Singapore.
Is it really of necessity to keep the job to work very long hours every day, or
is it because a failure to work long hours may mean lower promotion prospect?
Is it really necessary for the wife to work, or is it because our personal
standard of living and expenses are simply too high? Is it simply prudence and
planning to relocate and live near a good school so that our children may have
a higher chance of being granted a place in the school? Is it for the good of
our children and the church that we allow them to take this or that CCA, or
force them to learn music and dances?
Some of these things may not be wrong, but I am afraid that many of our
decisions are made on the basis of covetousness and ‘kiasuism’ rather
than godliness and contentment. I am afraid that many of us are not only in the
world, but of the world, when it comes to the way we use our
time and manage our families.
How to walk along the tight rope of balance between work and family? I believe
we must first begin by taking a hard look at our lives to see if we are truly
content, and whether our decisions are made on godly principles or are we
drifting with the tide and expectations of the world. How can we possibly have
a biblical balance between work and family, if we are living according to the
principles of the world?
God has only given us a limited amount of time, energy and resources, to live
our pilgrim lives until we enter heaven’s portals to begin a new life
altogether. We do not have the time, energy and resources to live two lives.
Often it is between having a very successful career and a godly family. I pray
you choose a godly family. If you are a five-talent man, yes, you may have a
very successful career and a godly family at the same time. But most of us are
two-talent men. We must not compare ourselves with others. Now, if we can only
do very well in one, I pray it is going to be our family and church, rather
than money and enjoyment. Yes, in regards to our work, we must perform heartily
as unto the Lord; but can we say,—with a clear conscience,—that we are working
heartily unto the Lord when we are neglecting the family that Christ has given
us? Let none of us hide our covetousness under the guise of bearing a good
testimony for Christ at work. We will either love the world and hate Christ, or
love Christ and hate the world. I trust that every true child of God will know
the mind of Christ and so gravitate to the biblical balance between work and
The biblical balance between work and family is not easily expressed in words,
not to mention in actual practice. Each one of us must seek the Lord’s wisdom
and the illumination of the Holy Spirit in order to put the biblical principles
we know into practice. When we do so, we will realise that the balance that the
world talks about is quite different from what the Word of God teaches us. The
world speaks about achievement in the world and about good feelings in this
life; but the Word of God speaks about laying up treasures in heaven and
manifesting and cultivating the love of Christ. The world tends to give
priority to career, but the Word urges us to give priority to family. But then,
the world walks in bondage to Satan, along the broad road; while the obedient
child of God walks with Christ along the narrow road of freedom that leads to
May the Lord grant us help and strength to so walk that we may best glorify His
Name and in the process, prepare ourselves and our families for our eternal