Out of 112 waking hours in a week, a third or more is spent at work (or school, if that is your “work”). Many of us have more time to live out our faith in community at work than anywhere else. Hence, while “work” is not a typical topic for Sunday sermons, perhaps we need a “theology of work.”
I think we have a fairy tale picture in our minds of the Garden of Eden as this land of leisure where Adam and Eve just laid on beds of flowers while little monkeys served them fruit bowls and the plants just lowered their branches to place apples at arms reach. And then came sin to ruin it all. We think that only after the Fall in Genesis 3 did Adam and Eve have to start working. We see work as a curse. But that’s not quite how the Bible tells the story.
Work is something worth doing for God and it is not beneath Him; it’s a joy for Him.
In the first two chapters of Genesis, work is a part of God’s good created order – not a result of sin. God worked before the fall. Genesis 2 tells us that on “the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work” (v.1, 2, NIV). God speaks and something comes out of nothing. Order from disorder. Beauty from chaos. Usefulness from mere stuff. In fact, Scripture clearly distinguishes between God at work and God at rest. Work is something worth doing for God and it is not beneath Him; it’s a joy for Him. And God is still at work; Jesus said, “My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:17, NIV).
In fact, have you ever thought that work is part of what it means to be the image of God? Humans worked before the fall – it is part of our mission and purpose. Have you ever noticed that Adam and Eve’s purpose in the Garden was TO work? Read Genesis 2:15: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Some translations say “to cultivate it.” To make things grow, to keep the garden up, to maintain it.
Cultivating what God has made, bringing order out of chaos, making things beautiful, adding to joy on earth – that’s what work is all about, and it’s inherently good.
Work produces goodness.
In Genesis 1:28, Adam and Eve are commanded to, “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (NIV). The idea of subduing the earth suggests that we are to take the stuff of God’s creation and participate with Him in bringing beauty and usefulness to our world. Even though God’s creative work is finished as we read in the beginning of chapter 2, God has purposefully left work for us to do. Of course, it’s not as if God needs us to do this, but He purposely left something for us to do as part of His plan. Cultivating what God has made, bringing order out of chaos, making things beautiful, adding to joy on earth – that’s what work is all about, and it’s inherently good. Next time you are pulling weeds, changing a diaper, or hammering on something, remind yourself that you are bringing order out of chaos and exercising dominion by bringing beauty and goodness to the world.
Work is commanded as part of what it means to live in community.
Paul writes in II Thessalonians 3:6, ““In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us” (NIV). Idleness and boredom can get us in trouble. If you read the rest of that passage you’ll see that Paul is saying that, in community, everyone does the best they can to work and take care of themselves and others. The point of all of this is that work is part of God’s good design. We are hardwired to do useful things.
I don’t know if we are meant to actually retire. I think we are meant to wear out, not rust out . . .
I don’t know if we are meant to actually retire. I think we are meant to wear out, not rust out, as long as our bodies and brains can do something. I am reminded of a story about a bedridden grandmother in New York City. She decided one day to get out the phone book and, starting at “A”, call people and ask them if they would talk to her about Jesus. Hundreds came to Christ because this lady – flat on her back – still had work to do! Now, I definitely plan on retiring from teaching public school someday, and someday I may have to slow down. But I hope to be more like Caleb who, at 80, marched up to Joshua and said, “I may be old, but I can still take on giants – give me the hill country to conquer!” (Joshua 14).