June 24, 2015 • Life for Leaders
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth . . . And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.”
In yesterday’s devotion, I asked the question, “Does work really matter to God? Or is recent Christian interest in faith and work just a fad?” One way to answer this question is to see if work is truly central to biblical revelation. Does work figure prominently in Scripture, in God’s story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration? Or is it just a minor theme, something inessential?
Genesis 1-2 puts work in the center of creation as well as God’s intentions for human life. First of all, God is revealed to be a worker. God does not just sit back while his heavenly servants form the universe. Rather, God makes all things in a systematic, intentional way. God has a plan and works his plan. Of course, God works by speaking all things into existence. But this is truly work. Genesis 2:2 makes this clear: “And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.” Though the focus of this verse is on God’s seventh-day rest, it refers to his creative efforts of the first six days as “all the work that he had done.” If the Bible’s opening act reveals God to be a worker, surely this suggests that work matters greatly to God.
This suggestion is strongly and plainly affirmed in what is said about the creation of human beings. In Genesis 1, God creates humankind as male and female, in God’s own image (1:27). Immediately thereafter, God tells the first humans to “[b]e fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion” (1:28). God creates human beings in his image so that they might work, even as God works. Genesis 2 adds to our understanding of human work. In verse 15, God “took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it,” or, perhaps, “to serve it and take care of it.” Then God creates woman as a partner for the man in this work. Summing up what we find in Genesis 1-2, God creates human beings in God’s own image so that they might work. Their work includes being fruitful, multiplying, filling the earth and subduing it, having dominion over the earth and its creatures, serving the earth, and caring for it.
As the biblical story unfolds throughout the pages of Scripture, God has many more things for human beings to do. Our daily work isn’t everything. In fact, God sets apart one full day of the week in which we are not to work. But, as you may recall, even in the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath imperative is set up with, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work” (Exod 20:9; “labor” translates the same verb found in Gen 2:15 as “till” or “serve”). Exodus 20:9, though focusing on rest, makes it clear that work does indeed matter to God. Why else would God tell us to spend 85% of our days working?
Given how clearly central work is to God’s intentions for humanity as revealed in Genesis 1-2, it is stunning to me (and distressing) that Christians have for so long devalued “ordinary” work, stressing instead the things we count as “spiritual,” such as preaching sermons, leading Bible studies, having daily devotions, sharing your faith with others, and so on. I’m not saying that these actions have no value. Indeed, they are essential to our lives as Christians. But their importance does not erase God’s first plan for humanity, and that plan placed work in the very center of our divinely sanctioned activity. From Genesis 1-2 there can be no question that God made us to work. Therefore, work does indeed matter to God.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Do you think my reading of Genesis 1-2 is true? Is work really as central to human existence as I am claiming?
What do you see in the biblical story?
How might underscoring the importance of work be a good thing in our lives, and how might it be not so good?
Gracious God, thank you for making yourself and your ways known to us in the biblical story. Thank you, once again, for Genesis 1-2. Thank you for revealing yourself as a worker. Thank you for creating us in your image, to work even as you work. Thank you for the work you have assigned to us. Thank you for giving us such opportunity, authority, and responsibility in this world. Thank you that our work does indeed matter to you.
Help us, Lord, to think rightly about work. Help us to work in a way that honors you and is faithful to your intentions for us. Keep us, Lord, from devaluing our work. Keep us from making our work an idol. Help us to work well and hard, but also to rest as you have taught us. May our work be a way for us to glorify you in all we do. Amen.
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.