Genesis 2:5,15; 3:17-19
Work is a big part of life. Many of us spent much of this past week working – either at work, or working at home, or working at school or doing homework. Many of us will spend much of your next week working. So much of life, is work, and so it’s important that we have a biblical understanding of work – what it is, why we do it, how we do it.
Ch 2 – a zoomed in look at some of the events of the days of creation in chapter 1. We saw in ch 1, a general statement simply that God created humanity and the general charge which he gives them; then we see in chapter 2more details of not only how God makes man and woman, but more details as to how they live out that charge – how he sets them up to live their lives in God’s world for God’s glory.
Creation Ordinances (last week I talked just a bit about how Christians understand the different OT laws differently; won’t repeat, except to say that the creation ordinances are perpetual – as long as you are a human living in this world – God’s creation; and they are the seed form of the 10 commandments, which are a fuller summary of God’s moral law.
Worship, Rest, & Work – all connected, but: Work this week, worship & rest next.
v2&3 God’s creation week serves as the model for humanity’s life & existence in God’s creation. 2 main things God did during the creation week: worked, and rested. And not just that, but he worked for 6 days, and rested on 1 day.
And this becomes the model for humanity – who in the 4th commandment is commanded to rest as God did for 1 day of the week, and by implication, is commanded to work 6 days as God did.
And, after God’s example is laid out in the creation week; here in Genesis 2 Adam is specifically is commanded to work: v15 “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”
And that command addressed the problem that was present in v5.
v5 is a tricky verse both to translate and understand, but in the least, it parallels 1:2; and it describes the earth as needing two things in order for it’s fruitfulness to be brought out to sustain humanity: 1) it needed God to send rain; 2) it needed someone to work the ground.
And the problem at v 5 – that there was no one to work the ground; is addressed by God’s placing Adam in the garden to work it and take care of it.
he had an interdependent relationship with the world around him: he depended upon the fruitfulness of the earth for sustenance and survival and flourishing, and the earth depended upon him & his care-taking of it.
The same ground which he was created from, and which he will return to at his death, he is called to work during his life.
Life, and work, are inseparable.
Work is part of what it means to be human; work is central to how human beings sustain themselves in this life, find fulfillment in this life, and live out their calling before God in this life.
4 things about work: Work is good; valuable; necessary; frustrating.
We often think that work must have entered the picture after sin – as a result of sin – that work was God’s punishment against humanity for their sin and before they lived in paradise right? so it must have been at the resort on lounge-chairs sunbathing and swimming and going out to dinner and not having to wash any dishes or clean or cook;
Certainly life was different then; certainly life was better then; but life still involved and included work, then. And life was good.
Humanity, while living in paradise on earth, did not simply lounge around on a hammock plucking grapes; he had a job to do – he had a task to fill his days. He worked.
Remember: Genesis 2 is a zooming in on some of the events of Genesis 1, and as such it comes before the fall into sin in Genesis 3, and falls under God’s evaluation of creation – that it is good. That evaluation includes God’s command to humanity to work.
And so, even before sin entered the world, work was part of humanity’s calling; it didn’t enter the picture after sin did – as though it was part of the curse upon sin or the misery of sin; work became cursed (as we’ll see) but it was not, and is not, itself, a curse; rather, it is gift. It is God’s command, and God’s gift to humanity as
And, that as long as we live in this world, work is a part of our life. Now, many people say that since work was present in the garden of Eden, then it will necessarily be present in the new heavens and the new earth.
But, I’m not so sure that the bible teaches that – remember: Eden and heaven are not exact parallels; and there are things present in both that aren’t present in the other. For example: marriage (it’s a creation ordinance but Jesus says that people won’t be given in marriage in the new heavens and earth). And, especially since the new heavens and new earth corresponds to the sabbath rest of the 7th day – which is an eternal day, it seems to me that you have as much biblical reasoning to say that work isn’t present in the new heavens and the new earth, although I think we simply can’t say for sure.
We can’t say for certain, but what we can conclude from this is that work was God’s good idea and part of his very good world – his good creation unstained and uncorrupted by sin.
Work is one way we image God – God works, and so do we who are created in his image.
God created the world by his work; we make the world fruitful to human flourishing by our work – this work is certainly related to what we looked at last week and the cultural mandate as a whole – that as humanity fills the earth, they also rule over it and subdue it to make it suitable towards human flourishing – and so work involves “bringing out all the potential within the creation which might offer glory to the Creator” and be beneficial towards our fellow human beings.
And so, all work has value because it images God, it provides for one’s needs, and because it benefits humanity.
It’s sometimes thought that only ministry work is valuable while regular work is sort of just what people do, but this command for Adam to work the garden teaches us that all work has value. It may not all have equal value; but it all has value.
And that’s ok – not all work has to have equal value: after all, God gave people different gifts & callings, and he made the world such that many different types of work are necessary for humanity’s flourishing – and so all types of work – so long as they aren’t inherently sinful activities – are legitimate, valuable, good, and god-honoring, and can be done to the glory of God.
And even if your work doesn’t change the world – even if maybe you struggle to find any value in your work; it still is valuable simply because it is what God calls us to, & it provides for your needs and for your family’s needs.
What we see here in Genesis is that work is not optional to life; but rather, work is integral to life. In fact, it is so integral to life, that the pattern of Genesis is that work occupies 6 out of 7 days – the corollary to Rest on the Sabbath Day is work on the non-sabbath days – resting on 1 day presupposes working on 6 days.
Of course – even on those 6 days, there are times of resting (signified by the repetition of evening and morning on God’s creation day – which were pauses in his work of creation).
And, that doesn’t mean that those 6 days of work must be filled only with work in the narrow & modern sense of going to your job where you get your paycheck. There are many other types of work that life requires.
But nevertheless work has a necessity to it: the way that God set up life is such that we reap the necessities and blessings of life, through the efforts of our labors. And so, work is necessary. And if that was true before the fall, it is all the more true after.
In our culture, our work is not as obviously directly connected to our survival as it used to be or as it is in other cultures around the world. And, while I don’t think we need to return to that, neither should we forget the connection between labor and the necessities of life.
The way you survive – eat, clothe yourself, have shelter – the necessities of life; and thrive – the earthly goods & blessings of this life beyond necessity – in God’s world, is through work. And if you don’t work, then for you to survive, someone else needs to work for you. (that’s not always bad or wrong, it just is a fact: parents work for children, children work for elderly parents; some people can’t work because of disabilities or other aspects of life situation). things aren’t free in this world – things are worked for, and if they’re free it’s only because someone else paid for them; because work is necessary to life.
If you remember from last week, the 10 commandments republish the creation ordinances, and the creation ordinance of labor is republished in the 8th commandment – “You shall not steal”.
“You shall not steal” assumes that – it makes no sense apart from the assumption that there is such a thing as “mine”, an such a thing as “yours”, and what is yours is different than what is mine and what is mine is different than what is yours and I can’t take what is yours and you can’t take what is mine. Those things can be given, but not taken against the will or without the consent of the one to whom they are “mine”.
The creation ordinance of work, and of reaping the benefits of one’s own labor, provide the basis for the prohibition of stealing the benefits of another’s labor.
“You shall not steal” means that someone can give to you, but you can’t take from them – that you can’t deny the necessity of work – consider it optional – while at the same time considering yourself to be entitled to the benefits of another’s labor; you can’t shirk the responsibility to work and expect that someone else’s labor provides for your needs.
NT makes this connection: Ephesians 4:28 “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”.
Work turns the thief into a giver, instead of a taker: Rather than stealing what belongs to someone else, he voluntarily gives to others what is his.
Work provides 2 things: deliverance from theft; & the ability to be generous.
deliverance from theft:
This passage portrays work as the antithesis to theft – it replaces theft as a means to gaining the necessities of life.
in NT, church was radically generous; but even in the context of that radical generosity, within the covenant community, work for those who were able was insisted upon.
So much so: 2 These 3:10 – “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” – not willing assumes that this is someone who is able to work but refuses to – this person is not allowed to presume upon the generosity of fellow believers. Other places in the NT show that those who received the support of the church were those who were truly in need, not those who simply did not want to work.
and more than that, it portrays work not just as the antithesis of theft but as the source of generosity:
Ephesians 4:28 “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.
The 8th commandment then, commands generosity, and the creation ordinance of work, enables generosity.
We work then not to merely take care of ourselves and our family, but to care for others in need.
Starting to get ahead of ourselves, as certainly sin – the curse upon the ground which changed humanity’s relationship to the ground from a harmonious relationship to a hostile one – we’ll look more at that, but all to say here is that sin is the reason for shortage, lack, poverty – whether those things come from personal sins of laziness or irresponsibility or whether they simply come from living in a fallen world – where work now isn’t always possible or doesn’t always give us all what we need in life. Certainly in a perfect world it would, but we don’t live in a perfect world. And so there is un met need all around us.
The bible is very realistic about the fact that people in this world have needs – needs which they can’t meet themselves – and that the people of God should view them with compassion, and act in generosity towards them. One of the most pervasive teachings of scripture is that we should care for the poor. And it shouldn’t be assumed that the poor always or necessarily lazy or irresponsible. There will be people who legitimately can’t work or who work as much as they can and still don’t have enough of the necessities of life – and so it’s legitimate and good and necessary for those people to be shown and receive generosity – whether that comes from their own extended family; or from society – the family of Adam, or from the church – the family of Christ.
The church should care for people in the church and in society who can’t care for themselves – single mothers of young children, people with mental or physical disorders or disabilities, widows and elderly people – especially those who don’t have their own families to care for them, the church ought to act in generosity towards them.
Those of us who do have plenty of the good things of this life, need to remember that we serve the God of radical generosity – that Chirst, who was rich, gave it up – become poor for us – so that we could have his riches by becoming the children of God.
And, if we’ve received that generosity, then we must extend that generosity to others.
Every blessing of this life – even those we work for – are a gift from God. And in fact, though on the human level they are ours, and someone can’t steal them from us; on another level, everything belongs to him, and so we must use all his gifts not just for ourselves but in a way which honors him and benefits others.
Good; Valuable; Necessary; Frustrating
Work was part of God’s good creation; and so work still is good, but now work is fallen – under the curse of sin.
God’s curse – which generally: is meant to be a perpetual reminder of the judgment of God against sin, and the misery which sin brings about – misery which humanity brought upon themselves by choosing sin and rebellion against God.
Such that when humanity experiences misery in this life, they should remember that this misery came from turning towards sin, and we should be moved towards repentance, and longing for the restoration of all things in the return of Christ.
But, specifically, the way that sin affects humanity’s work is seen in 3:17-19:
17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
See, sin didn’t create or abolish work; but it transformed it – it introduced misery into humanity’s work:
v17 – Adam’s working of the ground and cultivating it, is now v17 painful toil; now it involves v19 the sweat of his brow.
Whereas previously it would have been joyful toil, not it is strained and loaded down with weight and pressure and difficulty. Work now is painful toil.
This involves the difficulty of work itself, but is increased by the fact that we now work with fallen minds & bodies which add to the difficulty and pain of work. Now, people have pain in their own selves which increases the toilsome painful nature of work in a fallen world.
v18 – Now, the ground produces not just the fruits and vegetables flowers which Adam would have intended & desired through his efforts; now, Adam’s work results in and is impeded by undesired results: thorns and thistles.
Adam wants vegetables and fruit, now he instead gets weeds – thorns and thistles.
And so he works, but doesn’t reap the intentions of his work; some of his work is now in vain and doesn’t pay out.
There is now shortage, there is no a lack of the fruits of labor. And so people work and fail at the intended results of their work; people work and still struggle to make ends meet.
His whole relationship with the earth – where previously humanity was ruler, now he is in tension: now there is famine and drought which steal his work and bring about shortage and lack.
And, certainly the bible suggests that relationship between employee and employer are strained, where injustice and sin enter the picture – where now it’s possible for employee to steal from employer, and for employer to exploit employee – to abuse that labor and steal the employee’s rightful wages.
Frustration. Have you ever worked and worked and felt that all your effort was in vain? That the intended goal of your work was never reached? That you still lacked in the end what you were working for? That day after day, week after week you still don’t have enough? That you feel that your work is draining, tiring, unrewarding, difficult, frustrating?
Welcome to a world filled with the misery of sin.
People search in vain for an easy job with no frustrations. Now, certainly there are some types of work that are easier or more or less frustrating than others, but the only type of work that has no pain or frustrations is the one you don’t have yet… the one on the greener side of the grass which when you get to, you then see the thorns and thistles and weeds.
But, despite that, there is redemption. Because that 7th day, is a day of rest. And that rest points forwards to the final day of our redemption when we enter eternal rest, and rest form our labors – the toils of living in a world filled with sin.
More next week; one last question.
How does a Christian Work?
Recognize that life is hard work. And, so, whatever job you have whether it is a job in the narrow sense of going to work and getting a paycheck; or whether it is the extraordinarily valuable work of raising children; or whether you are a student in school; our calling as Christians is to embrace work, and work hard at what God has given us to do.
But, Christians, don’t find their identity in work. Work makes life what it is and gives fulfillment to life when it’s in it’s proper place;, but it isn’t the meaning of life. And so, don’t make life all & only about work – those who love their work above all else & instead of all else, lose all else, and it’s a bad trade.
I don’t believe the bible suggests that it is necessarily an injustice that some have more than others; but theft, or oppression, are injustices that Christians should seek to avoid.
Working honestly means not cheating others, lying to or stealing from others, but being honest and fair in all your economic dealings with other people.
Work to the Glory of God:
1 Corinthians 10:31
 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
In the previous sense, a Christian’s work may look different than a non-Christian’s – although it may not. You know, just because someone says they’re a Christian, don’t assume they are honest and fair. Christians can be dishonest and non-Christians can be honest.
but even if there is no external difference between a Christian and a non-Christian, a Christian works with a different motive, goal, heart-orientation – they do all they do for the glory of God, while non-christians don’t – can’t. And, though a photograph may not capture the difference, God sees it – and it is a world of difference.
And no matter how frustrating or painful or pointless the work which God has called you to may feel or seem to you at the time, remember: it is pleasing to him when you do it to the glory of God.