Where would you look to find the origin of the concept of work? We might start in the book of Genesis. Chapter One opens with God as the primary worker. He is busy creating our world (Genesis 1:1-15). The Creation Story states that God worked for six days and rested on the seventh day. These first biblical passages reveal that God was the first to do work on earth. One then must conclude that legitimate work reflects the activity of God. Because our God is inherently good, work is also inherently good (Psalm 25:8; Ephesians 4:28). Genesis 1:31 declares that, when God viewed the fruits of His labor, He called the results of His work “very good.”
To help us zero in on a better understanding of work, several points must not be missed in our introduction to God’s work here on earth:
- God’s work was productive. In other words, there were results, tangible results that emanated from God’s work.
- God’s results were visible. People can see God’s work.
- God worked to produce the highest quality outcome.
- And when He did, God received honor and satisfaction from the results of His labors.
The concept of work was important enough to God that He chose work to reveal Himself to the world through His work.
(Psalm 19:1-14)1NIV New International Version Translations – “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens, God has pitched a tent for the sun. It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth. The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the LORD are firm, and all of them are righteous. They are more precious than gold than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb. By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward. But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.”
As humans, we observe God’s hand through natural revelation. Because all work reveals something about the one doing the work, we are exposed to the character of our God through His work creating our world. Because God created man in His image, humans share characteristics with God (Genesis 1:26-31). One of these characteristics is our necessity to work, to spread the evidence of God’s hand through our hands to those around us. Adam and Eve’s original job description was defined in (Genesis 2:8, 15). They were to cultivate and maintain the garden that God had created. Their work was to include fostering the growth of what was there already and improve upon it. As anyone who has attempted to maintain a garden, it takes work to preserve its health so that it remains fruitful.
The Fall of humankind as described in Genesis 3, did nothing to change God’s definition (job description) of work. It did, however, change the very nature of work. When God cursed the ground, He generated a change in work. In response to Adam’s sin, God pronounced several judgments in Genesis 3:17-19, the most severe of which is death. However, labor and the results of labor figure centrally in the rest of the judgments. God’s cursing of the ground made work more difficult. The word toil is used, implying challenge, difficulty, exhaustion, and struggle. Work itself would remain good, but humans would now accomplish their work by “the sweat of their brow.” Work would be hard. Fields would also produce thorns and thistles. The harvest would no longer be assured despite the labors of the workers.
We can also note that Adam and Eve could no longer eat from the garden God created. They would be forced to sustain themselves from the crops in the fields that they planted and tended. Just as Adam and Eve were now living in the world around them, we too are forced to exist outside of paradise (the garden) and work to survive in a hostile world (Genesis 39:1-23; Exodus 1:8-22; Nehemiah 4).
Summarizing Genesis, one can conclude that work is good because our wages help us meet our financial responsibilities. Through work, we support our family members, the Church, and the people God brings to our attention, the poor. Scripture consistently condemns those who can work and can work but will not work because of laziness (Proverbs 10:4; 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12). A Hebrew word, “shalom,” means a state of flourishing. That well-known blessing meant as a greeting was nothing more than reaffirming the value of work for creating order out of chaos. There is no shalom without work!
Today, we have a society struggling with unemployed, under-employed, or uneducated people. Our nation has had numerous economic downturns caused by poor leadership, pandemics, drugs, open boarders, war, etc. The Bible is clear in its condemnation of laziness (Proverbs 18:9). The Apostle Paul makes the Christian work ethic abundantly clear: “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8). But what was the biblical welfare system like?
(Leviticus 19:10; 23:22) – “Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.”
“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.”
Biblical welfare was based on gleaning. Gleaning is the gathering of grain or other harvested material left behind by reapers for those in need. The Israelites were commanded to allow the poor to follow behind reapers and pick up leftover spears of grain and fallen grapes. Yes, even welfare was work! Therefore, we are to conclude that work, in general, is good. It was ordained by God and Scripture tells us that everything God creates is good (James 1:17). When work is done well, there is personal satisfaction. When our work helps others, it becomes a service to God.
Gallup research shows that approximately one-third of Americans are not engaged in work. The current US Employment-Population of working-age population (age 16+) is 60.10%2August 2022. Yet there are currently 11+ million jobs open that cannot be filled3 https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/job-offers. These statistics are but the tip of the iceberg concerning the issues in our nation today. The trend for “quiet or silent quitting” is also on the rise all over the world. It is just one more indication of a slide that is happening when God is no longer relevant to people’s lives. What then is good work? Good work has the glory of God as its principal outcome. Good work reveals the will of God (Deuteronomy 12:32; Revelation 22:18 Revelation 22:19). Good work is an expression of gratitude in our heart (John 14:15 John 14:23; Galatians 5:6). Good work comes from the fruits of the Spirit (Titus 2:10-12). Good work always honors God. It is good work that brings a child into this world and raises them to be productive citizens who honor our God.
(Colossians 3:23) – “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,”
- Do you think you will work when you are in eternity (heaven)?
- Ideas to Explore: Do you believe you will work forever, just not find the thorns and thistles? Why or why not? Do you think you could be happy in eternity if you did not have a fulfilling purpose?
- What issues are driving abortion?
- Ideas to Explore: Has society placed too low a value on motherhood? Is raising a child no longer a Godly purpose? What human emotions drive the death of an unborn for convenience rather than the good works of motherhood?
- What is it about work that you either love or hate?
- Ideas to Explore: The relationships with people? The value society place on your role or title? Ethics of an organization? Is the physical effort or sacrifice involved? Do you even know what work will bring you joy?
- What would you tell your child about the role of working for life?
- Ideas to Explore: Are you encouraging or discouraging? Do you work to prepare them for a life of labor?
- Does retirement end work?
- Ideas to Explore: Volunteerism. Can you afford to retire these days? Do you see God’s purpose for you as you grow older?
- 1NIV New International Version Translations
- 2August 2022