Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Beginning of Work

Part 4 of The Beginning, a series on Genesis 1-3

Text: Genesis 2:1-17

You can listen to this sermon here.

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (v. 15). 

Work Is Good

In Genesis 2, we read that God put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Many people think that one of the perks of paradise was the absence of work. However, if you read Genesis 2 carefully, you’ll discover that work was a part of God’s original “very good” creation.

If your job is getting you down, you might want to think about some of the messy, gross that some people do for a living: professional smeller ($39,000 a year), pet food taster ($40,000 a year), crime scene cleaner ($600 an hour), frog pickler, professional patient ($15 an hour), roadkill collector ($25,000 an hour). Many of us struggle with the difficulty or the dullness of our work. (I’ve had some jobs that I didn’t enjoy.) Someone has said, “I hate how Monday is so far away from Friday and Friday is so close to Monday.”

In Genesis 1-3, we find several truths about work. (These truths can be applied to both paid and unpaid work.)

  • Work was a part of God’s original plan for humanity. God “put [Adam] in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Work is also a part of God’s plan for the future (“they shall beat their swords into plowshares,” Isa. 2:4). 
  • Work brings personal fulfillment. We were made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27), and work gives us the opportunity to imitate God (e.g., by being creative, by enjoying the fruit of our labor, by doing good for others). 
  • Work became difficult after the Fall. After Adam sinned, God said to him, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground” (Gen. 3:17-19). 
  • Work is not to be devalued by laziness or overvalued by workaholism. God’s seven days of creation show us the importance of both work and rest (Gen. 2:1-3; cf. Ex. 20:8-11). 

Worshiping as We Work

We should not view work as merely a means to an end (e.g., working for the weekend, providing for my family). Every type of work should be viewed as an act of worship. “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31; cf. Col. 3:17). All work is spiritual. (The English word “vocation” comes from a Latin word meaning “a calling.”)

God created us to work, and we are to work to glorify him.

We exist to glorify God (“whom I created for my glory,” Isa. 43:7). God deserves to be glorified because of his work on our behalf (creation, providence, redemption).

We are to work from our acceptance in Christ, not for our acceptance (see Eph. 2:8-10).

Glorifying God in Our Work 

When you show up at your job, you’re there for the glory of God. How can we glorify God in our work? There are at least three ways we can glorify God in our work.

1. We can glorify God by doing excellent work. 

God is not glorified when we don’t do our best (e.g., continually arriving late to work). The apostle Paul said to slaves (without condoning slavery), “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:23-24). Paul himself was not afraid of hard work. He made tents to support himself (Acts 18:3) and said, “We work hard with our hands” (1 Cor. 4:12).

2. We can glorify God by doing ethical work. 

God is not glorified when we do dishonest work (e.g., stealing money from the company). Paul writes, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands” (Eph. 4:28).

3. We can glorify God by doing evangelistic work. 

If we are not doing excellent and ethical work, effectively sharing the gospel with co-workers will be almost impossible. How we do our work is a part of evangelism.

Jesus the Laborer

It’s interesting to find out about the not-so-glamorous jobs of famous people. Bill Cosby shined shoes and worked as a stock boy at a supermarket. Beyonce Knowles swept up hair in her mother’s salon. Mick Jagger worked as an ice cream salesman and as a porter at a hospital. Warren Buffet worked at his father’s grocery store and at J. C. Penney. Jimmy Stewart painted lines on roads and spent two summers as a magician’s assistant. Brad Pitt dressed as a giant chicken to promote a restaurant.

Jesus didn’t start his public ministry until he was about 30 years old. What did he do all those years before he became a teacher? He was a carpenter (“Is this not the carpenter…?”, Mark 6:3). Jesus knew what it was like to do difficult work.

The creator of the universe (John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2) was a carpenter. Jesus prayed to the Father, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4). In all of his work—whether it was his work as a carpenter, his work as a teacher, or his work as a Savior dying for the sins of the world—Jesus glorified the Father.

May we as Christ’s followers see that we were created by God to work. And may we glorify God in our work.

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