September 3, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Genesis 1:1, 4, 27-28 (NRSV)
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth . . . .
And God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness . . . .
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them, 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 air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
Today is Labor Day in the United States, a good time to consider six essential truths about work revealed through the first chapter of the Bible. Genesis 1 shows us that: 1. God is the first worker. 2. God’s work is good. 3. God created us in God’s own image. 4. God created us to work. 5. Work is essentially good. 6. There is a time to work and a time to rest.
How are you feeling about your work today? Glad to have a day off? Worried about all you have to do? Excited about the possibilities that lie before you? Or . . . ?
Today is a good day to talk about work because it is Labor Day in the United States. Throughout the years, on this national holiday, I have shared some reflections on work in Life for Leaders and offered a relevant prayer. This year I’d like to underscore six essential truths about work that are revealed in the opening story of the Bible. What we learn from Genesis 1 grounds our understanding of God, creation, ourselves, and, yes, our work.
1. God is the first worker.
The first verse of the Bible reveals God as the Creator of all things. Or, to put it differently, God is a worker, the first worker in the whole universe (see Genesis 2:2). Whatever else we believe about work, God’s own work lies at the center of our understanding.
2. God’s work is good.
In Genesis 1:3, God speaks light into existence. In verse 4 God “saw that the light was good.” This is the first indication in Scripture of the fundamental goodness of God’s work. That truth is reaffirmed several times in Genesis 1, culminating in verse 31: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” The goodness of God’s work helps us to understand the goodness of God.
3. God created us in God’s own image.
Genesis 1:27 reads, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Theologians debate the precise sense of God’s image, but whatever it means in detail, it suggests that each and every human being is special because we bear God’s image. This truth should have a profound effect on work and workers. We must be committed to making sure that the dignity of each human being is reflected and reinforced in every workplace.
4. God created us to work.
According to Genesis 1:28, “God blessed [the man and woman he created], 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 air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’” Though this verse points literally to the “work” of producing and raising children, it suggests something far more extensive and inclusive. Genesis 2 shows that the work of human beings also includes using the world’s resources productively while stewarding them wisely and well (2:15). This is part of being fruitful and having dominion over the earth.
5. Work is essentially good.
Genesis 1 reveals a good God who does good work. God created human beings as workers, just as God is a worker. God gave people work to be done, work that is crucial to God’s “very good” creation. Therefore, work is essentially good.
Now I realize, of course, that we do not experience work in this way. Rather, we regularly endure the sin-drenched brokenness of work. Genesis 3 will reveal why the reality of work falls short of the promise of Genesis 1 and 2. Sin messes work up in profound and pervasive ways. But sin does not negate the essential goodness of work. Sometimes, by God’s grace, we get to experience that goodness in our daily work, such as when we serve a customer attentively, when we complete a project that makes a positive difference in the world, when our young children actually thank us for doing their laundry, or when we treat our employees with justice and grace.
6. There is a time to work and a time to rest.
God worked for six days and then rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:1-3). God’s example teaches us about the importance of regular work and regular rest. Moreover, learn in Genesis 2:3 that God not only rested on the seventh day but also “blessed the seventh day and hallowed it,” making it a day of rest for everyone.
Labor Day gives us an opportunity not only to think about work but also to thank God for the goodness of God’s own work and for the privilege of partnering with God in helping the world to be full and fruitful. Remembering the fundamental goodness of work can encourage us to see and be grateful for ways in which we experience that goodness in our own work.
At the same time, the picture of work in Genesis 1 contrasts with the reality of work in our broken world. We long for a world in which all workers are treated as divine image-bearers. Moreover, we commit ourselves to doing what we can in the places of our influence to see that God’s justice and peace are reflected in our workplace structures and systems, as well as our hearts.
How do you respond to these sixth basic truths about work? What do they make you think? What do they make you feel?
In what ways do you experience the essential goodness of work in your own work?
Do you think of yourself as partnering with God in the work of caring for this world and helping it to be productive? How does your work do this?
Today, enjoy a bit of rest. Even though it isn’t officially the sabbath, it’s a good day to rest from work.
Gracious God, thank you for what we learn about work from Genesis. Thank you for being the first worker. Thank you for doing good work. Thank you for creating us in your image. Thank you for creating us to be workers and for giving us good work to do. Thank you for resting on the seventh day, giving us the gift of sabbath.
Help me, I pray, to see how I experience goodness in my work. Teach me to take delight in this and to give you thanks.
Help me also, Lord, to see where my work falls short of what you intended from the beginning. May I be committed to doing all I can to help those with whom I work to be treated as beings created in your image, starting with my colleagues and direct reports.
In the classic words of St. Ignatius, when it comes to my work, “Grant, Lord, that all my intentions, actions, and operations be directed purely to your praise and your service.” Amen.
Banner image by Joshua Olsen on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: God’s Creation Takes Work (Genesis 1:3-25; 2:7).
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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.