God has several purposes for work. The first purpose is to order creation. Man, created in God’s image, has been tasked with bringing order to creation. Back in Gen. 1:28 we read: “God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion"”. Gen. 2:15 then explains: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Both these verses indicate that God subjected creation to man and instructed man to subdue and keep it. This is often called the cultural mandate: bringing order, stability and prosperity to creation.
The second purpose is to provide for our needs. The Lord is the One who ultimately provides all we need, but God uses means to achieve his ends. Salvation, while an act of God, happens by means of the proclamation of the gospel (1 Cor. 1:21). In the same way, the regular means by which God provides for his people is work. Gen. 3:19 states: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground”. It is true that work is cursed because of the fall (described in Genesis 3), but note that the curse makes work harder – it did not change its purpose. It is still God’s appointed means by which people should provide for themselves. And not just for themselves, but for their families as well. In 1 Tim. 5:8 Paul explains: “But 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.”
This brings us to the third purpose: providing for others. Scripture says a lot about caring for others. Rom. 12:13 says: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Where do we get the means to care for others? Eph. 4:28 ties our care to our work: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” We not only work for ourselves, but also for those in need.
The fourth purpose of work is to glorify God. Everything that the Christian does should be done with God’s glory in mind. 1 Cor. 10:31 makes this clear: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” The apostle Peter adds: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (1 Pet. 2:12). Even when our circumstances at work are terrible, Col. 3:22-24 shows us how our work can glorify God: by working “not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
Work serves a purpose. As long as your work does not involve you in sin, God can use it to bless your community, provide for your family and magnify his Name.
Because of Christ,
The Human Sciences Research Council of S.A. did a study in 2005 that indicated that only 21% of South African employees were satisfied with their jobs. What does this tell us? It tells us that if we actually enjoy our jobs, we’re very fortunate and should be grateful. It also tells us that if we don’t particularly enjoy our jobs we are not alone. Most importantly, however, it tells us that people have a very low view of work. What should a Christian’s attitude be towards work?
First, we should remember that God instituted work. Genesis 1:26-28 tells us that God commanded man to, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion”. This was “very good” according to v. 31. Work isn’t explicitly mentioned in these verses, but it is implied. It is mentioned in the next chapter: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15). If we want to cultivate a Christian attitude towards work, we need to understand that work was instituted by God before the fall. This means that work is a gift, not a punishment.
If work is so good, why is it so hard? This brings us to our second point: work has been affected by the fall. Genesis 3:17-19 explains: “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' 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; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread”.
The fall marred our enjoyment of work, but that does not mean work should be abandoned altogether. Marriage is another gift that was instituted before the fall, but affected by it. We don’t abandon marriage; we work at it. By God’s grace work, like marriage, can be redeemed, restored and enjoyed. Work is not our enemy – sin is. There is dignity in work, regardless of how menial that work might seem. Work, done right, brings God glory.
Because of Christ,