Hugh Welchel, executive director for The Institute of Faith, Work & Economics (www.tifwe.org), said, “God is a worker. From the very beginning of Scriptures we are faced with the inescapable fact that work is part of God’s character and nature.”1 As image-bearers of our Creator, then we have to consider the fact that there are certain aspects of God’s character and nature that we reflect. God certainly made it clear that the call to work is one of those shared attributes. When we read Genesis 2, we find that work is the first task given to Man. Genesis 2:15, “The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.” God didn’t put man in the garden to string up a hammock between two trees and listen to the birds sing. Eden was no doubt the epitome of pristine locations, but it wasn’t a vacation. Perhaps we picture Eden as being the backdrop for a Jimmy Buffet song, but that simply isn’t the biblical picture. God put man in the garden to work. Work is one of those topics that doesn’t get brought up in church very often. Ignoring it has clearly been to our detriment.
It is very interesting that there are three errors regarding work that plague us today. A proper understanding of the first three chapters of Genesis corrects all three of those errors. The first error is that of laziness. The Bible speaks very clearly in regards to this error. Not only do we have Adam’s commission to till and keep the garden in Genesis 2, Proverbs 13:4 says, “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing.” 1 Timothy 5:8 reminds us, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” I could go on…for a LONG time. Yet today, we are living in a day and time when laziness is widespread. Of course, there is something to be said about helping people who are facing unexpected hardships, but as we have seen so many times, handouts and entitlements incentivize laziness for those who are prone to that error.
The second error is that of frustration and a lack fulfillment. It is important to understand that work was not a product of the Fall in Genesis 3. Certainly, one of the effects of the Fall is that work is often frustrating and difficult. However, in Christ, we begin to recapture that perfect image that is marred with sin. It is for this reason that Paul says in Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” Christians must begin to understand that work is not a means to an end, a necessary evil in a market-driven economy. Instead, they should see their work as yet another way to worship God and partake in His mandate to those who bear his image. Welchel said, “Work is not a curse but a gift from God. By our work we employ useful skills to glorify God and love our neighbors. Work is not a result of the Fall.”
The third error is when we allow work to become idolatry. This is the polar opposite of laziness. Always remember that after God worked for 6 days, he rested on the sabbath. Likewise, God gave the sabbath to his image-bearers for their good. Work can easily consume us. Now, we can work from home. And while that may save some commute time, it can also make it far too easy to avoid rest and reflection. Instant communication means that our work can find us anytime, anyplace. If we are not careful, we can allow our work to destroy our families, jeopardize our health, and distract us from our faith. If we are to redeem work for the glory of God, then we must also understand that God desires for us to take time to rest and reflect.
Properly understanding Genesis means that we avoid these errors and begin to reclaim our work for God’s glory, not simply see it as a means to an end. As Colossians 3:17 reminds us, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
1. Hugh Welchel, How then Should We Work, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2012, p. 7.