Audio Podcast Version of Towards a Biblical Theology of Work
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Transcript of Towards a Biblical Theology of Work Part 1
Towards A Biblical Theology of Work
David R. C. Deane
Well, G’day everyone. For those who don’t know me, my name is David Deane. I’m married to Julie and am the newish father along with a whole stack of others here, to a beautiful baby boy. I often joke with Shinko that with the number of babies born this past year, we have future proofed her job with the Children’s Ministry at Calvs.
Well, it’s the beginning of a new year. Many people are still in holiday mode, if you’re here I’m guessing you’re probably back at work already, which is a smooth Segway into our subject. Over the next two weeks we’re gonna take a break from our study with Terry through the book of Romans, and kick off the New Year with a two-part topical series that I have entitled “Towards a Biblical Theology of Work”:
- By “Towards” I mean that this isn’t going to be a complete treatment of the subject, there is just too much in the Bible to say in two weeks on the topic of work; and
- By “Biblical Theology” I mean that we’re gonna approach this topic of work by moving chronologically through the Bible. And that’s reflected in the outline here. Part 1 looks at work before the fall; Part 2 after the fall; and Part 3, which we’re gonna look at next week, looks at work in light of the coming of Jesus and His finished work on the cross.
Now, to help us on this journey I’ve got a map – by which I mean an outline – you can see it there on the screen.
- Work in the Order of Creation
1.1 Reflects God’s Triune Nature
1.2 Participates in God’s Creative Work
1.2.1 Why does God call us to participate in His work?
1.2.2 How does God call us to participate in His work?
- Work in the Disorder of Creation
2.1 Reflects Our Selfish Nature
2.2 Participates in the Curse of Creation
- Work in the Kingdom of God
3.1 Reflects Jesus’ Servant Nature
3.2 Participates in God’s Redemptive Work
For Part’s 1 and 2 that we’re gonna look at today, we’re going to spend our time in the first three chapters of Genesis. So if you have a Bible, please turn with me there and we will get underway.
While you’re turning there, let me just say that I preached my first sermon in, oh, 2009. But I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to preaching as much as I have for this subject. And the reason is because this is such a personal subject for me. As many of you know, I work full-time as an engineer in the Defence and Aerospace industry and have for over a decade now, and over that time I’ve really wrestled with questions like ‘What is the meaning and purpose of my work?’ and job satisfaction, my sense of calling and so forth.
So these are some of the themes I want to explore with you; this is going to be more broad than ‘How to tell your workmates about Jesus,’ I want us to get deep down into the theological basis for why and how we work.
So strap in. Seriously, ah, strap in and hold on. This is going to be a dense study with a lot of content but, ah, hold on and come on the journey with me. I believe you will be enriched and edified and pumped up for the Monday pulpit of wherever it is you work.
- Work in the Order of Creation
When we open up our Bibles we see a whole lot of work being done.
In Genesis 2 we read: “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation…” (Gen. 2:1-3).
Now, leaving aside disputes about how to interpret the days of creation and so forth, for our purposes, what we have here is a divine model for a working week consisting of six days of work, with a weekend of rest on the seventh day. Now we know from Exodus 20 that this cosmic working week was taken as a model for how Ancient Israel were to organise their working week. It’s inscribed in the Ten Commandments after all: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” (Exod. 20:8-10).
But of course, you and I today aren’t living in Ancient theocratic Israel; we aren’t living under Mosaic Law but the law of Christ in the Church Age. So in saying this cosmic week of creation is a Biblical model for work, we don’t mean to say you and I here in the 21st Century need to be working 6 days and having a Sabbath on the 7th. We have Monday to Friday workers, shift workers, part-time workers, stay-at-home workers, volunteer workers and so on.
But what I think we need to take from this model is the general principle of work and rest, with there being more of an emphasis on the work than the rest. I mean, rest is a good thing and we could just as well have done a sermon on that – there is a seventh day! But six seventh’s of this cosmic week, that’s 86% of the time, is given to work, so clearly there is a primacy of work over rest.
And we see this primacy in the description of God creating human beings. Genesis 1 verse 26, God says: “‘Let us make mankind in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’” (cf. Psa. 8:6-8; Heb. 2:5-9).
So you see, God works in creation, then He creates us human beings in His image and His likeness, and the first thing He says to us is to – what? To work! To have “dominion over… all the earth”! Work is good! Work isn’t a consequence of sin, it a calling given to us all.
And this calling, to have dominion over the things of the earth, it isn’t a calling to plunder and pollute the world as some environmentalists have tried to say. It’s a call to work and have dominion over the earth in the sense of a stewardship, caring and cultivating the land. This view is borne out in many of the Mosaic Laws concerning the treatment of land and animals and property. This is a commission to care for our planet. After all, God made the world, we are made in His image, so part of our image is to be like God in maintaining His creation. You know the old question, ‘What is the meaning of life…’ well, part of the answer involves working! Our work is a result of our design, our God-given nature, being made in the image of God.
And by the way, I believe this is one of the reasons why people who don’t work or can’t work for whatever reason, have all sorts of serious existential issues in their lives. Obviously, some people have disabilities that mean they can’t work in any real capacity at all; I’m not talking about those situations. The crisis comes when people who can work don’t work for whatever reason (e.g., laziness, financial crisis, etc.). Because if we were created to work, then not working means we aren’t living in accordance with the way we have been designed to live. And when something acts in a way it wasn’t designed to act, it can be really destructive.
Just get online, you can find peer reviewed article after peer reviewed article showing the effect of unemployment on mental health, on depression and anxiety, on physical health. There are even studies showing a strong correlation between unemployment and suicide.
Alright. So we see here from the beginnings of the Bible that human beings are called to work. And this call to work is a consequence of who we are: beings made in the image of God.
But let’s be a little more specific. It’s all well and good to say that going to work is a consequence of being made in the image of God, but what does that mean?
I want to suggest at least two things: first, our work reflects God’s relational nature, and second, our work participates in God’s creative work.
- Reflects God’s Relational Nature
If I were to ask you: ‘Why do you work?’ ‘What is the goal of you finding a job and going to work?’ what would you say? To make money? To put food on the table? So you can buy stuff and entertain yourself? Well, think about this scenario for a moment.
Imagine you want your bathroom tiled so you hire a tiler from a well-respected tiling business. The tiler comes, does their work and on the surface it all looks good and you pay the invoice and that’s that. But then, suppose in a week or so after you’ve started to use, say, your shower and you notice that the gradient of the floor tiles doesn’t allow the water to drain properly, and you notice, as well, some of the tiles lifting up on the edges. What would you do? Well, you’d call the tiling company and, in the least, get them to fix it up free of charge right away! Why? Because the goal of that work was to leave you with a well-tiled, water-proofed bathroom. And if that goal isn’t achieved, then as a paying customer you are within your legal rights to demand that it gets fixed.
What’s the point of this little story? Well, in our culture we have a tendency to think of work only in terms of ‘paid’ work so that the idea of work is really all about a means to a self-serving end such that work is viewed in terms of what we get from it. But I think that tiling scenario shows just the opposite. The primary purpose or goal of work is not what we get but what we give – that’s why the tiler has to go back and fix their work, even at a personal cost to themselves! They have to give and give until the work is done, regardless of the cost to them. Work is geared more towards the ‘giving’ than the ‘receiving’, as the Apostle Paul said: “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35).
So if you’re wondering about a definition, here it is: ‘Work is any activity involving physical, mental and spiritual effort in the service of others.’ In the broadest possible terms, that’s what work is. It includes those of us who have employment, those of us who work at home with our families, those of us who are students, whether at school or university. It even includes those among us who might be retired and yet still find work to do, whether volunteering or otherwise.
Let me give you another example, real quick. As many of you know, my wife Julie and I had our first child, who’s first birthday is fast approaching! Now Julie’s a trained medical doctor and has been on maternity leave since our boy was born. But even though she’s not making money, would anyone here want to stand up and declare to everyone that Julie hasn’t been working these past 12 months? Probably not, because I’ve got the microphone! Now I don’t mean to speak for Julie, but from my perspective I think she’s worked harder these past 12 months than she ever has before in her professional career. And in saying that I don’t mean to minimise her labour as a doctor… I mean to elevate her labour as a mummy.
Let me tell you, it is so comparatively easy for me to go off to work, to clock on and clock off, to give my time and energy knowing that I’m going to get payment in return. But there is no clocking on or off as a parent, and if you are a parent you know what I’m talking about. It’s relentless! It’s give give give from the deep stores of love and joy that you have for your children, but with very little to no material return. Frankly, it’s just crazy to me that our culture tends to undermine the stay-at-home mum or dad as though it’s not ‘real work’ when the home is one of the most difficult and demanding work places there is!
All that to say, let’s have a high view of work, folks. More than a means of financial support, work is any activity involving physical, mental and spiritual effort in the service of others.
So now bringing that view of work back to our outline, how does our work reflect God’s relational nature? Well, in the sense that work is one of the ways we make ourselves useful to each other rather than just living for ourselves. Work is one of the primary ways we connect with one another and in that sense, it is instrumental in cultivating relationships in the formation of civilizations, cultures and communities.
In fact, that’s what the etymology of that word community is: com-munus, com (together), munus (duties or obligations). Work is structurally communal, and in that sense, I think our work reflects God’s relational nature. After all, who is God?
Look here again at Genesis 1, verse 26. God says: “Let Us [plural] make mankind in our image”. We know from the New Testament that the “Us” here is a reference to the Trinity. Christians believe in One God who subsists as a plurality of Three Persons related as Father, Son and Spirit. That’s not a contradiction – it’s not one person and three persons, it’s One nature and Three persons; One Godhead of Father, Son and Spirit in perfect harmonious relations. You and I are made in His Triune image which means like Him we are relational beings and work is one of the ways we display that reality.
Interestingly, the second thing God says to humanity is here in Genesis 1:28, where God says we are to be fruitful and multiply. Quite obviously that’s another way in which we can relate to one another, but hey I’m not here to give you a talk about the birds and the bees, so we can move on.
- Participates in God’s Creative Work
A second way our work is a consequence of being made in the image of God is that by working we participate with God in God’s creation. God is a working God; He is living and active in all Three Persons of Father Son and Spirit, both in the act of creation and ongoing providence of creation where, as the writer of Hebrews says, “He upholds all things by the power of His word” (Heb. 1:3).
But, as I was thinking this through, I found myself with two questions:
- First, ‘Why does God call us to participate in His work?’; and
- Second, ‘How, exactly, does God call us to participate in His work?’
- Why does God call us to participate in His work?
In answer to the first question, the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther had some really incredible insights. In his commentaries reflecting on Psalm 145 and Psalm 147, which talk about the “wondrous works” of the Lord which “satisfy” and “feed” living things, giving food, and rain, and so on, Luther said that, quote:
“God could easily give you grain and fruit without your plowing and planting. But he does not want to do so. Neither does He want your plowing and planting alone to give you grain and fruit; but you are to plow and plant and then ask His blessing and pray: ‘Now let God take over; now grant grain and fruit, dear Lord! Our plowing and planting will not do it. It is Thy gift.’”
You see what Luther is saying? God could have made creation in such a way that you and I didn’t have to work. He could have made it so that food just appeared on the table or whatever. But in His divine wisdom He didn’t design it that way. Instead He involves us; He invites us to join Him, to participate with Him in His work in His creation.
What does that say about the esteem and value God has for us? There’s something profoundly dignifying about this call to work, both to you as a person and to your work.
What that means, then – and I’m stealing this phrase from Tim Keller – ‘God matters to your work, and you matter to God’s work.’ Whatever you do, if you mop up puke in a pub on a Friday night or if you mop up your opponent playing as a striker at the top of the table in the English Premier League, ‘God matters to your work, and you matter to God’s work.’
You know, I remember helping Tristan out when he was landscaping his backyard, and a bunch of us were taking wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of soil up a ramp to level off his back yard, and I remember seeing his little boy out the back as we were working, picking up soil and moving it. Now, is it the case that Tristan wouldn’t have been able to move the soil without his boy? Of course not! But there is something dignifying about having his boy alongside his daddy, not in the least because of – again – that relational intimacy that comes with working alongside others, but also because it provides an occasion for the dad to guide and instruct and teach his boy.
Our work is like that. God dignifies us by inviting us to work and participate in His providential work.
Luther concludes his train of thought, writing:
“What else is all our work to God—whether in the fields, in the garden, in the city, in the house, in war, or in government—but just such a child’s performance, by which He wants to give His gifts in the fields, at home, and everywhere else? These are the masks of God, behind which He wants to remain concealed and do all things.”
I love that. Luther’s saying that all of our works are, in effect, God in disguise. When farmer grows, when a cleaner cleans, when a surgeon operates, when a bus driver drives, when a baker bakes, when a pastor preaches, it is God loving you in and through those people.
All our good works are the masks of God working in disguise, loving others, providing for others in and through the distribution of His gifts and callings.
- How does God call us to participate in His work?
But to the second question, ‘How does God call us to participate in His work?’
Well, let’s take a look again at Genesis 1:26. When God says, “let them [us, human beings] have dominion”, the implication is that this earth is God’s creation and He is giving us permission or again, an invitation, to come and work with Him in His creation that He began “in the beginning” (Gen. 1:1). In other words, work – our service to other people – is not a right, it’s a privilege, a gift, a calling upon our lives.
Now, in one sense this Biblical call to work is as wide and varied as there are jobs and gifted people. But that is not to suggest that all forms of work out there are sanctioned by God. There are clearly some kinds of work that are morally reprehensible which don’t in anyway reflect the image of God. How so? Well, we see over the page here.
Look here at Genesis 2, verse 15: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to…” Rebuild it? No. Renovate it? No. Improve it? No. “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” (Gen. 2:15-17). There’s the moral limit.
You see, when the Bible says we are made in the image of God, that doesn’t mean we are little ‘g’ gods or anything like that. There is only One God – “‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One!’” (Deut. 6:4) – but as human beings we reflect certain realities about God in our own creaturely kind of way.
So when we say we work like God, that doesn’t mean we work the same as God! God works as the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing Creator. You and I work as finite, temporal creatures and there is no equivalence between the two.
We see that here in Genesis 2:15-17. God’s work as the Creator imposes the law and order of creation; our work as creatures is to keep that God-given law and order. In having dominion over creation, we aren’t ‘Lording’ over creation, we are ‘serving’ over creation.
Now, the Hebrew word for “keep” here in Genesis 2:15, it carries two related meanings:
- The same word used to describe the role of the Cherubim at the end of chapter 3 who guards the way to the tree of life, so taken that way, Adam is “put” in the garden to “keep it” in the sense of guarding it; guarding that God-given law and order of creation. But what does guarding it look like?
- Well, the same word is also found in Leviticus and Numbers to describe ‘keeping the law’ or obeying and observing religious commands and duties (Gen. 17:9; cf. Lev. 18:5; Num. 3:7-8; 8:26; 18:5-6).
So putting these two senses of together, Genesis 2:15 says that God “put” Adam in the garden to work it and “keep it” in the sense of guarding it by obedience – by obeying and observing the God-given law and order built into creation, including the prohibition to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And don’t miss that. It’s key. If guarding the garden looks like Adam obeying God, then the only way an attack can come upon the garden is from Adam’s disobedience!
You see, what this moral prohibition to not eat from the tree provides is a theological basis for objective moral values and duties. God is good (Luke 18:19), and He has imbued His goodness into the fabric of creation. So goodness for Adam, then, doesn’t look like him doing whatever he wants, it looks like him living in accordance with God’s good law and order in creation. It looks like his obedience Gods word. And the same goes for you and me; what’s true or what’s good, these aren’t preferences for between us like, say, the preference to eat crispy kale leaves over deliciously salted, deep fried, medium cut, gravy covered potato fries! That’s not what we’re talking about here!
You know, just as a footnote, it’s no coincidence that in the history of philosophy around the end of the 19th century when atheism became an intellectually respectable position, that one of the first movements to follow was “existentialism”. That question, ‘What is the meaning of life?’ is an existential question, because it’s a question about your existence. Now there were many different existential philosophers, some that I agree with on a number of points, but in its atheistic expression as a way of life, the whole of idea was basically that there is no God, therefore there is no meaning or purpose, and so we need to go out there and find and forge our own.
And hey, if God doesn’t exist, then existentialism makes sense because if there is no meaning, no source of truth goodness or beauty, we’ve gotta go and manufacture our own!
So when it came to work, what this kind of atheist existentialism said was you find your meaning and value in what you do not who you are. You see the reverse there? Christianity says you work because of who your are (made in the image of God); this atheist form of existentialism said no no no no; you work to make a name for yourself! (Tower of Babel style! Nebuchadnezzar!)
And on the surface that might sound quite liberating, to go off and find your own meaning and purpose in life. But – and speaking from personal experience here from before I was a Christian – that way of life is anything but liberating. It’s a bondage; a sentence to a prison of self-centered insecurity inasmuch as it is a vain search for the infinite amongst finite things. “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.” (Ecc. 5:10).
Why? Because God has written eternity on the hearts of every single human being (Ecc. 3:11), that’s why. We have a weight of glory imposed upon us that nothing in this world can satisfy… looking to the things of this world, to the work of our hands, to satisfy that weight of God given glory is like trying to quench your thirst for the volume of the entire pacific ocean with a teaspoon of water.
Forgive me, I’m still on this big footnote in my head, but I think this is important (I once had someone say that my footnotes to an essay were longer than the essay!)
The point of all this existentialism stuff is that Genesis says we don’t need to go off and find our meaning in our work because our work is already meaningful! Of course there are times when we don’t enjoy it, but to look for our life’s purpose in our work is to look in the wrong place. I’m not saying our work doesn’t have meaning.
We don’t need to go to work to find our meaning and purpose, we already have meaning and purpose and that’s why we go to work! Our work has meaning because we are already meaningful, and we are already meaningful because we are made in the image of the Triune God!
Ok, footnote over.
So just as Martin Luther helps us to see from the top-down how God works for us in and through creation, so our works from the bottom-up in and through creation are ultimately works for (or against) God.
And from this bottom-up perspective, I think another way we can characterise work is to say that our work is a form of worship. Faithful obedience to God in our work places – wherever that is – it’s an act of worship to an ultimate audience of One. That’s why the Apostle Paul says: “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col. 3:17).
Alrighti… How are you tracking?
It’s exciting stuff and there’s a lot more to go. But isn’t it interesting; I mean, so often when we think about the creation story of Genesis we come with all this baggage about science and evolution and all that, but We haven’t touched on any of that and look at how much we’re learning about our identity, our work, our moral values and duties!
Well, I find it exciting…
Let’s turn now to our second point on your outline, and flick over the page to Genesis chapter 3.
- WORK IN THE DISORDER OF CREATION
Here we move from the mountain of work as worship to the valley of work as idolatry…
If work in the order of creation looks like God giving humanity a work of stewardship over the earth, then sin reverses all of that and throws it into disorder and disarray. That’s the shift we see here in Genesis 3; from God creating humanity and humanity having dominion over every living thing on earth, to a living thing on the earth, the serpent, having dominion over humanity, and humanity trying to elevate themselves to the place of God.
It’s flipped Gods good creation order completely upside-down.
And let’s see how as it relates to our work.
- Reflects Our Selfish Nature
The first thing to see is the contrast with what we looked at previously. Where work in the order of creation reflects God’s relational nature, work in the disorder of creation reflects our selfish nature.
Look with me here at Genesis 3, beginning at verse 6 we read: “the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her…”
Here we see for the first time in human history work in the service of self as humanity looks to the apple of their eye instead of the God of the sky.
Of course, the tragedy in all of this is that Adam and Eve believed the serpents lie, that in the day they eat of that tree, they would be like God (Gen. 3:5). They thought they would become something they already were! They were little existentialists; they were trying to find meaning when they already had meaning! They were trying to be like God forgetting the fact that they were already made in the image and likeness of God!
And so they took. They ate. And the moral limit was breached. Adam dropped the armour of God and the sword of the spirit which is the word of God (Eph. 6:14-17), and picked up his own sword, his own words contrary to God, and he started swinging.
Adam went from guarding the garden to attacking the garden. And the rest is history, a history that you and I know only too well – especially at a time like this with everything going on in the world today.
Creation is not ordered the way it’s supposed to be; it is frustrated, it is “groaning” the Apostle Paul says (Rom. 8:22). There is still Truth, there is still Goodness and there is still Beauty, but the Truth is so often surrounded by a bodyguard of lies; the Good so often seen only in response to evils; and beauty is so often twisted into barbed wire, whether upon the fields of battle or in the perversity of what we call entertainment today.
To go back to that illustration of that little boy in his backyard helping his daddy, what we have here in the fall of Genesis 3 is a picture of that little boy beloved of his dad, growing up and using the freedom that his dad gave him to come and work alongside him, to turn and out of vain selfish ambition destroy that yard that he and his daddy had worked for and, in the process, destroy his relationship with his dad. It’s not as though the dad didn’t still love his little boy even after he did all of that; sin is not God turning His back on humanity, it is humanity turning our back on God! Because if reflecting the image of God looks like obedience to Gods word, then, well, what did the serpent say? “Did God really say…” (Gen. 3:1). If knowing God looks like obedience to God’s word, then sin separates us from knowing God by acting on the voice of another word other than Gods.
We walked out of the relationship, not God, and the evidence of that is right here in the text. Genesis 3:15 the promise that one day the “offspring of a woman” will stomp the head of the serpent, will crush the lies and assaults against God’s Word… This is the first promise of salvation that would come to fruition in Jesus; a promise that one day, when “the fullness of time had come” God would send “forth His Son, born of a woman” to redeem His people (Gal. 4:4).
It’s a promise by the dad to his boy saying, in effect, ‘son you can hate on me, you can destroy our work and leave this house if you want and try and make it on your own. But I love you so much that I’m going to come after you; like a shepherd I will leave the flock and come after you, and I will not force you to come home but I will call you by name and if you recognise my voice and come with me I will bring you home…’ (Matt. 18:12-14).
That’s the gospel, and it’s right here in Genesis 3. God couldn’t help Himself; we sin, He’s right here provisioning salvation.
And as this all affects work, look here with me at Genesis 3:17-19, at how our work now reflects our new selfish nature. God says to Adam: “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…”
Notice here how sin affects specifically the provisions or by-products of work. “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread…” Now, didn’t we say that work is all about what we give, our service to others? Why, then, does sin affect the provisions of work, the by-products, what we get, things like bread, and food, and our basic necessities if they aren’t the ultimate goal?
Well, think about it. Sin affects work in the place where Adam had shifted the goal. The goal of work was to serve God, but by eating the fruit, Adam effectively shifted the goal from service to God to service of himself. It became all about what he could get for himself instead of what he could give to God in response to what God had given him!
And when you look at Mosaic Law, so many of the laws have to do with the provisions of work, things like property, cattle and so forth, because God knows how our sinful selfish nature damages the work place.
And for you and I today, there’s lots of New Testament passages about, say, money for example. You remember what Jesus said to the rich young man? “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matt. 19:21-22). Jesus isn’t saying that you need to give away your stuff to become a Christian, He’s saying specifically to this rich man that he needs to ‘put his money where his mouth is!’ If you profess belief in God rich young ruler, then prove it by getting rid of your current God of money. For Jesus said elsewhere: “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Luke 16:13)
Well, why can’t you serve God and money? Well, think this one through. If you make money the primary purpose of why you go to work, and how you go about your work, then everything you do will be done with the goal of making the most money possible; with the goal of maximising your profit margin. And if that’s your goal, then to do your job well you’re gonna do whatever you need to do to make as much money as you can. Now all of a sudden cutting corners, committing fraud, theft, scams, bribery, tax evasion, you name it – now all of a sudden those become very tempting courses of action.
I’m not being sensational here; we have human resource departments for a reason, and in big corporations, there are HR teams for the HR teams! you have a manager who has making money as his primary goal, then his work is not gonna reflect the relational nature of God, no, he’s gonna destroy relationships because money is his God, and human beings made in the image of money, they just look like profit margins with a pulse.
Idolatry is dehumanising. That’s why the Bible is so hard on this stuff; that’s why the 10 Commandments begin with: ‘Do not have any other God’s before me’ (Exod. 20:3).
Work in the disorder of creation reflects our selfish nature and that, finally on your outline, perpetuates the sin-cycle by participating in the curse of creation.
- Participates in the Curse of Creation
You’ll remember that we said at the beginning how work is good. Well work is still good despite living this side of Genesis 3. Work isn’t the problem; it’s our relationship to work as we try and do it in a cursed creation.
I mean, just contrast what we see here in Genesis 3 with what we previously looked at in Genesis 2. In Genesis 2:15, remember we saw that God “put him [Adam] in the garden” to work it and keep it. The Hebrew word for “put” there in verse 15 carries the idea of ‘resting’ – we see the same word in Psalm 95:11 as the description of the Promised Land as a land of rest – and when you contrast that with Genesis 3:17-19 which says, “in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life… By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” – you couldn’t get a bigger contrast.
- In a sinless world we work for the glory of God. In a sinful world we work for the glory of ourselves.
- In a sinless world our work is restful. In a sinful world our work is restless.
- In a sinless world we work to live. In a sinful world we work to death.
You don’t get a bigger contrast than life and death! But it’s right here. Genesis 2 “in the day you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:15-17), Genesis 3: you’re gonna work “… till you return to the ground for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Vanity of vanities, said the writer of Ecclesiastes (Ecc. 2:4, 9, 10).
Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labour in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
To put stock in the provisions of self-serving work, is to make an investment in hopelessness. Because without God it’s all ultimately meaningless.
Objectively speaking, no matter how great a worker you are if there is no God then all of your greatness is reduced to a corpse in the ground for the choice picking of worms.
That’s the tragic-irony in all of this… We become food for the ground when the ground was meant to be food for us. That’s what sin does. It disorders God’s creation. Our work shifts from having dominion over the earth to the earth having dominion over us; from living and reigning with God to dying in bondage and dust.
So to sum all of this up then.
- We have seen that Work in the Order of Creation reflects the image of God. Work is a spiritual act of worship giving of our time and energy in the service of others for the glory of God.
- We have also seen how Work in the Disorder of Creation brought about by human sin, how the purpose or goal of our work – to glorify God – gets confused with the provisions or by-products of work, what we get from work.
And this is the low point that we’re gonna end of today. But let me just encourage you by saying, that this isn’t the theological end of what the Bible has to say about work. This is only Part One of a Two Part series and next week we are going to dive into that third point on our outline, Work in the Kingdom of God, where we will be looking at what Jesus says in Matthew chapter 6, the sermon on the mount, and what he has to say about the ethics of work in God’s Kingdom; the positions we have as workers (sacred/secular)…
And most of all, we will see next week how He, Jesus, the Second Adam, went to work in the garden much like Adam. Only this time it wasn’t Eden it was the Garden of Gethsemane… Where Jesus did what Adam failed to do and what every one of us has failed to do since… Perfect submission to God the Father in heaven… ‘not my will but yours be done.’
Take heart. There is good news coming, but we understand the good news all the more because of the bad news. Only when we grasp the depravity of our sin, especially in the work place, can we realise the beauty of amazing grace and how it can redeem even a wretch like me.
 Luther’s Works, vols. 1-30 St. Louis, 1958; vols. 31-54 Philadelphia, 1966; vol. 14, p. 114.
 Luther’s Works, vol. 14, p. 114.
 Notice I didn’t say Eve, even though Genesis 3 says she ate the fruit first. Why? Well, because at this point in Genesis 2 Eve wasn’t created yet. God gave this moral instruction to Adam, not Eve, and that’s why Paul says to Timothy ‘Eve was deceived, but Adam disobeyed’ (1 Tim 2:14); and later to the Romans, “sin came into the world through one man [not woman], and death through sin…” (Rom. 5:12f).
 “I made great works… I became great and surpassed all who were before me, whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them [interesting, Eve looked at the fruit]… and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” Note, also, that with existentialism we also saw the first philosophisation of suicide by thinkers like Albert Camus and the Myth of Sisyphus, or its modern parallel in the children’s nursery rhyme, Itsy Bitsy Spider. Nietzsche asked ‘those with a why to live can endure almost any how’. In other words, it’s all about the purpose. But if our purpose is what we can provide for ourselves, then what if it’s not enough? David’s three depressing D’s. What we do and how we do it must find its meaning from why we do it.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV)
Copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers
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