Proverbs 16:26

ESV A worker’s appetite works for him; his mouth urges him on.
NIV The appetite of laborers works for them; their hunger drives them on.
NASB A worker’s appetite works for him, For his hunger urges him on.
CSB A worker's appetite works for him because his hunger urges him on.
NLT It is good for workers to have an appetite; an empty stomach drives them on.
KJV He that laboureth laboureth for himself; for his mouth craveth it of him.

What does Proverbs 16:26 mean?

Several proverbs in this book point out the dangers of laziness (Proverbs 10:4–5; 14:23). When a person has no sense of need, they can be unmotivated to work. That might not bring immediate consequences. Yet laziness can result in dire shortages later (Proverbs 6:6–11). This statement points out that felt need—literal or figurative "hunger"—can become an advantage: it inspires the person to apply more effort. The "mouth," in this case, is the part of the body that wants food, and it spurs a person to continue working when they'd rather not.

Scripture promotes a good work ethic. Even in the garden of Eden's "very good" environment (Genesis 1:31), the Lord assigned work for Adam. Genesis 2:15 informs us, "The LORD God took the man [Adam] and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it." Work tragically shifted from joy into a harsh necessity after Adam and Eve sinned. The Lord told Adam, "Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you … By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread" (Genesis 3:17–19).

The Bible tempers commands to help those who are poor and needy with warnings about enabling laziness. There are those who would work, if they could; fellow believers should try to ease their hardship (1 John 3:17). This is especially important for family members (1 Timothy 5:8). To those able to work, but unwilling to work, the apostle Paul counseled the Thessalonian believers not to contribute. He writes in 2 Thessalonians 3:6: "Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep yourselves from any brother who is walking in idleness." The same passage commands: "If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
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