The Bible does not give us a definition of work, but we might define work as the activities that we are principally engaged in during the week, whether paid or unpaid, whether in the home or out the home.
What does the Bible say about work? God is the creator of the universe and therefore the universe belongs to him. And because God is God over everything in the universe, that must include our leisure, social life, marriage, bank account and work. There can be no hidden compartments. Moreover, because the gospel is true and we have believed the gospel, it must affect and influence how we spend our money, how we use our leisure time, how we conduct our friendships and our attitude to work.
There is no such thing as a closet Christian who nobody at work knows is a Christian. There is such a thing as a nominal Christian, that is, being a Christian in name only, but not in reality.
Work at creation
Genesis 1 tells us that the world in not the result of a Big Bang, but the creation of a powerful, creator God, who simply speaks and the universe comes into being. We also see that the universe is not chaotic and random as Darwin would have us believe, but orderly and good. The world we live in is a good world, even though it is a fallen world scarred by sin.
In Genesis 2 God creates Adam and he puts Adam in the Garden of Eden “to work it and keep it” (v15). This working and keeping the Garden is part of God’s original mandate to human beings to have dominion over the earth as God’s ambassadors and vice-regents. In other words, the world is good and work is good. Work was mandated before the fall; before sin, death and separation from God entered the world.
One commentator says it this way, “There is no magic in Eden. Gardens cannot look after themselves. Man is placed there to work it and to keep it. He is there not to be served, but to serve. The point is made clear here that physical labour is not a consequence of sin. Work enters the picture before sin does, and if man never sinned he still would be working. Eden is certainly not a paradise in which man passes his time in idyllic and uninterrupted bliss with absolutely no demands on his daily schedule.”
Is this not a good rebuke to us? The average man’s dream is to escape to a remote island, be served ice-cold beer all day, and have no responsibilities or work. Holidays are important, but for us to work is God’s intention and command. Work honours God and is for our good. To work is to be like God who worked for 6 days, rested on the 7th, and keeps working by continually sustaining the universe.
Thank God it’s Sunday
We sometimes think that what we do on Sunday’s is good, and our work is just a means to support financially what we do on Sundays. This is wrong – work in and of itself is good. It’s good that you work to earn money to give to gospel ministry in your local church, but your work is also good – that’s presuming you are not an assassin, a pornographer, a prostitute, or somehow breaking God’s law in your work.
Two extremes in work
We can think that work has either no value or work has ultimate value. If I think work has no value: I view work as bad and secular, yet I begrudgingly do work because I have to and at least I can support God’s good work that the church does. This is a wrong attitude. All of life is God’s, including my work.
Alternatively, I may think that work has ultimate value: I place all my significance, self-worth and security in my work. My work defines me. The problem with this extreme is that it will destroy you and your family. If you are good at your work, you sacrifice anything and everything to stay on top. You will justify to yourself that you are providing for your family, but you know you are really building your own kingdom and castle. When you lose your job or retire, you probably will commit suicide because your life has no more meaning. On the other hand, if you are bad at your work and work has ultimate value to you, you will think that you are a failure too and also probably commit suicide or live on anti-depressants.
Biblically, work has lots of value or great value, whether you are an accountant, a clerk, a teacher, a waiter or a garbage collector. Remember that work is paid or unpaid; housewives are often the hardest workers. Official retirement definitely does not mean the end of work. A “retired” person often has more time to spend on gospel work.
Limitations of work
However, here is the caution: work is good and has lots of value, but only the gospel can save sinners and extend God’s kingdom. There is a movement today that says that God’s kingdom grows as Christians go into the workplace and build houses, feed the hungry, make biblical laws, treat clients justly, build infrastructure and work for the good of the city. These are all good things for Christians to be involved in, but God’s kingdom only grows as people submit to the King. That is, as people hear the gospel and repent and believe the gospel.
Work in a fallen world
The good God-given work in Genesis 1-2 is severely tainted and scarred in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve, like human beings ever since, thought they could be gods unto themselves and therefore decide for themselves what is right and wrong. They wouldn’t listen to what God said is right and wrong, they themselves would be their own authority.
Adam and Eve ended up disobeying God. God’s judgement on Adam is that work will be difficult; there will be thorns and thistles, weeds, computer viruses, strikes, CCMA hearings, flat tyres, miscommunication and illness. Adam will also die physically and return to the dust. Even more drastically, Adam and Eve are put out the garden indicating that they are separated from God and also die spiritually. Since Genesis 3 all humans live outside the garden and are spiritually dead – unless we are made alive in Christ.
By the sweat of your face
Adam, not Eve, is tasked as the primary worker and he is judged in this role. Eve, Adam’s wife, can work too, but that is not her primary role. Her primary role is companion and nurturer1, and she is judged in this area. Adam is judged in the area of work, the ground is cursed, and we live in a fallen world ever since. Note that the serpent (Satan) is also judged:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15 ESV)
This is the promise of the serpent-crusher, the first hint of the gospel. One of the descendants of the woman will bruise Satan’s head and be injured in the process.
Thank God it’s Monday
So then, what does it mean to work in a fallen world, where work makes us literally and figuratively sweat? It means that you should not and cannot find your fulfilment in your work. Sometimes you may love or hate your job. It’s great that you love your job, but its ok if you don’t. We are not meant to find our significance, self-worth and security in our work, we are meant to find these things in God.
You have significance – God sent his Son to save you.
You have self-worth – God has uniquely created you as you.
You have security – God will never leave you.
You may hate your job, but you work because you know that work is good and you know that 1 Timothy 5:8 says, “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” If you refuse to work and are lazy, if you refuse to provide for your family and expect others to provide, you are behaving like someone who does not know God.
So keep working! Your work is good and it honours God.
Just in case you were wondering, gambling is not work.
1. Not all women should get married and have children, but generally speaking this is God’s intension for women. Sometimes God has other plans, the same applies for single men.