God’s View of Work
Many people see work as something negative but necessary that helps pay the bills, or buys your lifestyle…and if you’re lucky, may even bring occasional moments of pleasure. To be distinctive, we need to see our work the way God sees it. Here are three ideas from the book of Genesis.
Work: God’s Gift of Creativity
The Bible begins with the story of God making the heavens and the earth - it is his work (2:2). The creation narrative shows that God works with both a huge breadth of vision and meticulous attention to detail; he works with the authority to make everything from nothing; he organises and puts order into what he makes; he evaluates his work; he enjoys what he makes; and he rests.
In Genesis 1:26, we read that the Creator made us in his image and likeness. He makes us to be creator people - not his equal, but made in his likeness as people whose work can display something of him. Work is God’s gift to us because our brilliance can in a small way show off God’s much greater brilliance. Brilliance in art and music - that’s obvious. But also brilliance in running a business, completing a set of accounts, coding some software, building an app, managing a team - you name it. Whenever you do something brilliant you do it because you’re made in the image of a brilliant God!
Work: God’s Gift of Responsibility
In Genesis 2, God places Adam in the garden of Eden to “work it and take care of it”. The word for work here is a different Hebrew word which carries a sense of duty or responsibility; elsewhere it’s translated as worship and service. Here it is translated as work…Adam works in creation because God gives him that responsibility. Work in Eden is work for God!
Adam’s first job is to give names to all the animals (Genesis 2:19). In chapter 1 God named parts of his creation, and in chapter 2 God delegates that responsibility to Adam! This the creation mandate “to rule over the earth and subdue it” played out not as exploitation but as responsible care for God’s creation, including those we share the planet (and our workplace) with.
The challenge for each of us is to work out what areas of responsibility we can exercise through our job. How can we work to bring glory to God? It will be different for each of us: some may be life-savers, others plastic recyclers; some may be justice administrators, others wealth creators; some may be educators, others project managers…It doesn’t matter what you do, but it does matter who you’re doing it for!
Work: God’s Gift for Survival
In Genesis 3 Adam and Eve sin and as a consequence, God curses the earth and announces that now “through the sweat of your brow” you will get enough food to eat (verses 17-19).
Before sin, work was not for survival - everything (including a tree of life) was freely given for Adam and Eve to enjoy. Work in Eden was always about creativity and responsibility. From Genesis 3 onwards, work is also about survival.
After God’s curse for sin, creation is cursed and is no longer able to provide freely all that a growing population needs to enjoy the good life. The economics of scarcity spring to life, and very quickly the world is divided between those with economic power and those without. But work is not a necessary evil; rather it is the means God gives us to keep on living in a broken world.
Your work may be dull, may lack creativity, or may have little sense of responsibility. But if it helps pay the bills and enables you to survive or even flourish, then remember it is still a gracious gift from the Lord to a sinful humanity.
Mind over Matter
At the end of the day the Bible makes it clear that how and why we work is more important than what work we do. Paul sees clearly the Gospel influence that slaves can have even on their masters (Titus 2:9-10), but only if they understand that "it is the Lord Christ they are serving" (Colossians 3:24).
The Christian writer A W Tozer put it like this:
It is not what a person does that determines if their work is sacred or secular, it is their attitude.