Why Work?

man working with a wrench on a ship deck

I used to think that work was a necessary evil—something that I had to do, instead of something that I got to do. I thought that there wouldn’t have been any need to labor and toil, if it hadn't been for humanity’s fall into sin. I imagined that if one were wealthy, then he wouldn’t have to work. Imagine my surprise as I sat under Bible teaching that pointed to work even before sin had entered into the world.

A couple of observations from the Creation narrative in Genesis 1-3 can help us think more clearly about work.

God works, and He is the excellent worker.

God’s handiwork is seen in His creation of the material universe. The Lord gave shape, formed, and fashioned all that there is—the heavens and the earth, light and darkness, day and night, the sea and the dry land, vegetation, plants yielding seed, stars, birds and sea creatures, cattle, creeping things and beasts, man and woman. He formed and filled the world with its resulting variety of plants and animals, sunrises and sunsets, cloud formations and seasons, stars and constellations.

God’s work was good. In fact, it was excellent! So that “by the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done” (Gen. 2:2).

God’s world was amazing and glorious,
but God intended it to be most fruitful and fulfilling through the work of His image-bearers.

God created image-bearers to work and to do excellent work.

The Lord God placed the man and the woman in the middle of His wonderful creation, where they could behold His glory in all of it (Num. 14:21; Is. 6:3). God’s world was amazing and glorious, but God intended it to be most fruitful and fulfilling through the work of His image-bearers. Adam and Eve were to rule and subdue the earth to bring about its fruitfulness, to cause life to abound and increase. One way that this was to be done was by cultivating the ground (Gen. 2:5). This was part of the work they were called to accomplish.

God’s world was good. But it was meant to be so much more under the dominion and rule of humanity.

Humanity’s fall into sin resulted in bitter and painful work.

Genesis 3 tells us that Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command and fell into sin. Sin not only brought death but separation from the life of God (Rom. 5:12-14). Because of sin, God told Adam that the bitter curse would come upon the ground. From then on, humanity would eat fruit gained only by painful toil, hardship, and labor. God said thorns, thistles, and sweat would characterize human work. Sin spoiled the wonderful blessing of the world that God had made. Paul actually writes of creation’s futility, its slavery to corruption, its anxious longing, its groaning, and suffering pain, in anticipation of freedom in a time to come (Rom. 8:19-22).

But the cursed ground and painful toil of labor did not take away God’s original design for work.

God still calls people to glorify Him through their work.

Work is not simply intended to provide for our needs. Work is fulfilling God’s command to take dominion and subdue the earth. We are to be fruitful in spite of the thorns and thistles and sweat. To labor through this difficulty is to humbly live with the consequence of sin, and work with faith in what God has called us to do. Exodus shows us that even those that were called to work on the tabernacle were to be the product of the work of skillful workmen (Ex. 26:1, 31; 28:8, 15). Note that it was God Himself who gifted them with skills to perform the task (Ex. 35:35).

God’s work and our work did not end because of the Fall. If sin made things more difficult, then believers look to God to give their work meaning.

Questions to Ponder

  1. How do you observe the difficulty of working in a fallen world?
  2. How are you facing the challenges of working, with faith in God?

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