Your work matters to God.
Many people in the church suffer from a messed up, incomplete, or even harmful theology of work. Too often, we pastors have spent all of our time talking about the hours people are not working. But the reality is that most people spend most of their time working. That’s why we need to see what the Bible says about vocation.
So what does the Bible say? Genesis 1 and 3 give us five key observations about God’s view of work.
Five Observations about Work
1. Work is given and commanded before the fall.
And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)
Here in Genesis, God is ordaining, giving, and commanding work. He instructs us to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, and exercise dominion over it. That’s work!
Note that this command to work comes before sin enters the world. So work is not something we have to do because of sin. Rather, work is part of the goodness of God’s original design for us as humans, right from the beginning. Work, along with the sun and moon and stars, along with mountains and trees and animals and plants, is something the Lord created, looked upon, and called “good.”
2. Work is given so that we would reflect the image of God.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)
As the Bible opens, the first thing we see God doing is working: Creating, bringing order out of chaos, filling the earth, exercising dominion over it. Next, God created us in his image. Then what does he immediately command us to do as soon as we are created? Work!
God has put us on this earth to reflect his image. We do so in great measure through work. Reflecting his image through work shines God’s glory and grace to our world, and it meets the needs of our neighbors by our serving them.
Carpenters create where there was once nothing. Artists, musicians, and poets create beauty from formlessness. Small business owners create jobs, which provide for many individuals and families. Doctors and nurses subdue sickness, and custodians exercise dominion over all sorts of bacteria to keep schools safe and healthy. Accountants subdue and have dominion over someone’s broken budget. Finally, stay-at-home moms fashion chaos into order!
3. Work is given when there is no one to disciple or evangelize.
Obviously, God has put you in your workplace to be a light in word and deed for the gospel. But that is not the only value of your work. See, if work was given and commanded when there was no one to disciple or evangelize, then Genesis 1 is challenging us to realize that work has value in and of itself as you and I reflect the image of God.
Think about Jesus. Surely, the Son of God wasn’t wasting his life by working as a carpenter. Those years were a delight to his Heavenly Father as Jesus obeyed Genesis 1. Jesus’ trade does not diminish his work on the cross – it makes it shine more brightly!
His perfect obedience to Genesis 1 is part of the perfect life that makes him a perfect sacrifice for sinners. And his perfect obedience to Genesis 1 is part of the perfect righteousness that gets imputed to us in salvation. His perfect work in carpentry is the righteousness that covers our failures at work by grace!
Your vocation is a place to be a light for the gospel, and what you do in and of itself in your vocation matters.
4. Work has been cursed because of sin.
And to Adam he said, “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. (Genesis 3:17)
The pain and frustrations of our work are the direct result of sin and the curse that came with it.
Genesis 3:23 affirms that the command to work still stands: “Therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.” But the curse clarifies that the pure bliss of work that Adam first experienced is no longer. The curse has brought pain and frustration upon Adam’s work, and thus, upon ours.
5. Christ perfectly obeys Genesis 1 to fulfill Genesis 3:15.
In Genesis 3:15, God says to the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This is the great gospel prophecy of Christ crushing Satan, the first promise of the gospel in the Bible!
And Christ fulfills it! How? Through perfect obedience to Genesis 1, to the command to work! With a perfect life of obedience, Jesus overcomes the curse, which includes a curse upon work. With his death and resurrection, he subdues the curse and exercises dominion over sin and death and Satan. With his second coming, he will redeem and restore the earth and our bodies. His power as Creator will bring about the new earth and resurrection bodies, where sin and sickness and shame are forevermore subdued!
Even now, Jesus works to prepare a place for you (see John 14) so that you can have a heavenly home, eternally rescued from the work of the serpent biting at your heel forever. Christ fulfilled Genesis 3:15, crushing Satan and his work, by perfectly fulfilling the commands of work in Genesis 1.
Five Ways to Use God’s Teaching on Work
1. Learn what it means to be a disciple each day of the week.
If work is how we reflect the image of God, then being a disciple – which means being like Jesus, following Jesus, and putting him on display – means not merely prayer and Bible reading, it means faithfully working. If that’s what Jesus did, then being a disciple of Jesus and reflecting the image of God certainly includes work.
Work matters to God, and it matters to our discipleship.
2. Wield these truths as weapons against discontentment and frustration.
When you grasp how you are reflecting the image of Christ in your work, it rescues you from regarding your work as meaningless and purposeless. This will help you endure and find joy in the midst of the frustrations and pains the curse placed upon work.
The truths of Genesis 1 and 3 are a sword that can begin to strike down the discontentment and frustration with work that we can feel because of the curse!
3. Join Christ in fighting the effects of the Fall.
When we reflect the image of God, subduing and exercising dominion, we are being agents of Christ’s work in overcoming the curse. This is why excellent work matters because excellent work is warfare against the curse. Half-hearted work is living in Genesis 3, but excellent work lives out Genesis 1. Excellent work joins Christ in fighting the curse. So create and subdue with excellence!
4. Guard against idolatry and idleness.
Idolatry and idleness are two great dangers that we often face while working. If work is given by God, then it cannot be worshipped as an idol. He gave it, designed it, and commanded it. We worship the Creator, not what he’s created. If work is given and commanded by God, then we cannot be idle. We have been called by the Creator to create, fill, subdue, and exercise dominion.
So remember: We’ve got work to do! It’s from God, so we cannot idolize it. But we also cannot be idle because we’ve got work from God to do. Use Genesis 1 and 3 to guard against idolatry and idleness.
5. Discover Christ’s vision for your vocation.
Where are you creating and inventing? Where are you bringing what was once formless into order? Where are you exercising dominion and subduing the effects of the Fall? Why, in God’s sovereignty, has he placed you in this job?
How can you bring him glory with not just how you do you work but also with what you do at work? How can you serve your neighbor with not just how you do your work but with what you do at work? How is he growing you and sanctifying you by putting you in this job?
We want to seek to understand the why of our work because we have a Savior, King Jesus, who created this world, subdued sin and Satan with his death, and then put his glorious dominion on display at his resurrection! We have a Savior who perfectly worked in order to save us, fulfilling Genesis 1 in every way.
So wouldn’t we want to know his vision for our vocations?