Work. Is it something you enjoy? Or is it something you dread? Is it something which excites you to get out of bed each day? Or does it make you want to stay in bed all day? Do you work because it brings you a sense of fulfilment? Or is it something you have to do so that you have something to do? On the one hand, we may look at work as something which gives us our identity, and on the other hand, we tend to view work as a burden which we should try to escape. How should we, as Christians, view work? There are several passages of Scripture that we can turn to as we seek to have a biblical framework for work, but in this article, I would like to focus on what I think is a very helpful starting point for us: the first three chapters of Genesis. These are foundational chapters to think through a whole host of topics, and it is certainly true when it comes to work. As we briefly consider these chapters, we will encounter three truths about work.
We are to use our creativity and power to rule over creation—not as masters, but as dependent servants.
1. We are Created in the Image of a God Who WorksIn Genesis 1, we encounter a God who is shown to be at work. He creates, he speaks things into existence, and he names the things that he creates. The God of the Bible God is a working God. His power and creativity are on full display as he does the work of creating the universe. He creates with order (for example, water before fish), he creates with a purpose (for example “the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night”), and the result of his creative work is very good. And at the conclusion of the creation week, we are told that God rested from all his work. As we live in this universe created by God, we should certainly be full of praise for the Almighty Creator.
But we should also be filled with a sense of responsibility. God chose to make us in his image. This not only means that we are like him in some ways, but it especially means that we are created to be God’s vice-regents who display his image to the whole of creation. This means we are to use our creativity and power to rule over creation—not as masters, but as dependent servants. Just like God’s work produced good in the world, as creatures created in his image, our work is to bring about good in the world. This may look different for different people, but ultimately, this is our purpose in working: bringing about good in the world.
2. God Created Man to WorkWhen we zoom in on God’s interaction with Adam in the garden of Eden in Genesis 2, we read that “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (2:15, emphasis added). It is interesting that in the original Hebrew, the verbs “to work and to keep” are the same verbs which are later used to describe the role of priests (Num. 3:7-8), and this certainly has implications as we think about the priesthood of all believers. However, staying at a more textual level, it is clear that part of the purpose of man being created is so that man would work and maintain creation to be the way God intended it to be.
This is helpful for us as we think about our relationship to work. Far from being a result of the Fall or something to be resented, work is actually what we were created to do. God desires for us to be hard-working and productive. For Adam, this meant being a diligent gardener, and for most of us, it probably means other things—being diligent nurses and architects and teachers and coders and mothers and students and pastors. So, just like it would have been wise for Adam to embrace his work, it would be wise for us to embrace our work and to be diligent in whatever profession God has called us to.
God’s power and creativity are on full display as he does the work of creating the universe.
3. Sin has Made Work DifficultThe Fall recounted for us in Genesis 3 has had a catastrophic impact on God’s good creation. All the suffering, pain and death that we read about each day, traces its roots back to the day when Adam and Eve took and ate the fruit which they had been commanded not to. We have inherited the sinful nature and guilty status from Adam, and also share the same work environment. As part of the punishment for disobeying the Almighty Creator, Adam was told that his work would now be marked with futility and hardship. Thorns and thistles would now hinder his gardening (Gen. 3:18), and he would have to sweat for the sake of his sustenance (3:19).
And so, it should not be surprising for us when our work is difficult or when it seems like we keep running into problems as we seek to do our work. The sin in our own hearts, the sin in others, and the impact of sin over all of the creation combine to make our work seem futile. This can be very frustrating, and could cause us to despair. However, instead of leading us to despair, in a strange way, remembering the Fall gives us comfort in the sense that it gives us an explanation for why we so often face discouragement.
But praise God that the Bible does not end in Genesis 3! As Christians, we are descendants of Adam, but we are also in Christ, the last and better Adam. On the cross, Jesus defeated sin and became cursed so that we are no longer cursed, but blessed. It is true that because we are still in a world marred by the Fall, we continue to encounter hardship in our work, but we know that in Him, all our hard work brings glory to God. And we look forward to the great garden-city of Revelation 21 and 22 where we will be in God’s presence, and where our work will never again be faced with futility.
So, in whatever profession God has called us to, let us work, let us work well, let us work hard, and let us work with hope. And may God get all the glory for the work he enables us to do!