In the TV show Psych there is this running joke about the main character of the show, Shawn. Shawn always changes jobs and those closest to him say that he never commits. However, from Shawn’s point of of view, he thinks that working for a week in job makes him an expert, so just quits and moves on to another job.
We can have a complicated relationship with work. For instance, you might find ourselves in a job you don’t enjoy. You might feel like you’ve given your all to a job and you’re wondering what is next. Perhaps you seem to be always moving on to the next job. Our relationship with work can be complex.
The author David Miller defines work this way “A sustained exercise of strength and skill that overcomes obstacles to produce or accomplish something.”
In this helpful definition, Miller captures the truth that work is broader than employment. For example, a café employee makes a ham and cheese sandwich for the customer. A parent at home makes the exact same sandwich, ham and cheese, for their child. One person gets paid for for making a sandwich, the other person doesn’t get paid. However, they both make the same sandwich, both accomplish something using their sandwich making skills. They both are working.
We all work in one way or another. Kids work by building a Duplo tower. Grownups can work by pulling out weeds in the garden. We can work by volunteering at a Nursing home. We can work in innumerable ways.
God, in his word, teaches us about the nature of work.
Lets look at the topic through the framework of creation-fall-redemption.
Genesis 1 verse 1 says “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
God created this universe for his pleasure, making a world of beauty and order. The world that God made is able to be worked in.
People, made in God’s image, work because God worked. So Genesis 2:15 “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” As it says in another verse, humanity is made to have dominion over creation. Human beings were made by God to be are priest kings in God’s world. God gave us work, and a weekly pattern of work and rest.
God made us to work, it’s good. People work in all sorts of ways. Whether it’s using physical stuff, like milling timber to make frames for a house, or whether it’s our desire to fix broken things, or solving problems, or improving something.
This is God’s good world, designed by him to be worked upon and in. Therefore, what we see around us now, what we experience as often futile and hard and painful, was not meant to be this way. God made us to develop, create, think, improve things, before sin entered the world. This also means that there is a goodness to all morally good work.
Work is also important for our own survival as human beings. The myth that we can believe is that we a independent creatures, free to do what we want. However, this is far from the truth. Take for example, a new born baby. Babies don’t create a LinkedIn profile or look on seek.com for employment. They depend upon the work of mothers and fathers. The same is true for adults as well.
We are dependent creatures, depending on God first and foremost, but also our fellow human beings. We all need food and clothes and places to live. These things don’t magically appear. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 says “If a man will not work he shall not eat.” Brutal honesty, but something we need to know. Work is needed to survive. We need to work together, collaborate, so that we can help provide for each other.
In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray for our daily bread. The way God answers that prayer, in the sense of material needs, is oftentimes through the work of many people. If we think about the humble capsicum you eat on a pizza, it took a lot of human activity to get that capsicum onto your dinner plate. You need farmers, truck drivers, people who make machinery, supermarket workers, not to mention someone to build you a kitchen so that you can do the work of making a pizza.
Work is good, that’s our first point. God works, and so we as his image bearers work as well.
There is a problem with work. The fall of humanity effected every part of God’s good creation. Sin effects the way we work, and the work we do. There arises lines of work which are morally wrong (for example, the work of a drug dealer).
In Genesis 3, Adam rebelled against God, and God then cursed the ground. Genesis 3:17 to 19 says “To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it.’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
The curse meant thorns and thistles plague human work. Both literally and metaphorically, thorns infest our daily work. There is toil. It’s hard. It’s difficult. Instead of finding our satisfaction in God through our work, what God made us for, humanity serves its own goals. Work becomes a tool to gain for ourselves.
When sinful human beings work together on something, it can be glorious, can’t it? Whether it’s a new playground that someone designs for children to enjoy. Whether it’s a new beautiful building, collaboration in work can be glorious. It can, however, be far from that.
I listened to a podcast recently, which was saying that one of the biggest reasons why a project fails is because team members argue and fall out. Sadly, this is true in church projects, the office, or with kids playing with Lego.
In this fallen world, work can also seem very futile. In wisdom book of Ecclesiastes we find the Teacher reflecting on what work is like ‘under the sun.’
Let me read from Ecclesiates chapter 1. From verse 1.
“In the words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: Meaningless! Meaningless!” Says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” What do people gain from all their labours at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.”
Ecclesiastes reflects on what work is like under the sun. There is a futility to it.
You know, you might work hard in a job for 10 years. And then you look back, and you see some successes, to be sure, but maybe not as much as you’d hope. You work hard, you’ve earned some money, you’ve even worked with great skill and done your job really well. But even then, Ecclesiastes chapters 2 says, you need to leave this hard work to someone else after you. The world keeps going day by day, and sometimes we feel like it’s all futile. It’s doesn’t seem to mean anything.
There are, in the words of Genesis 3, thorns and thistles.
So is there any hope for work?
Jesus is good news for us, not only personally, but in our work as well.
He worked for most of his earthly life as a tradie. The Bible says he built things, a stone or wood worker. If anything, this shows there is a nobility and dignity to good, honest, hard work, whatever form it takes.
Most significantly, however, Jesus came to do the work of redemption. He came to redeem us, to save us from our sin. To restore this world. Redemption has implications for our work.
You see, the problems with work, isn’t work in and of itself. No God designed us to work. Work is good. No the problem is the sin that infects and damages and brings disorder to our work. The solution is redemption.
You and I can’t redeem the world through our work, but Jesus does. Jesus came to do his Father’s work. Jesus says in John 4:34 “my food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” When he accomplished his work, he according Galatians, Jesus bore the curse of sin, in his death. On the cross, he uttered the words “It is finished.” (John 19:30). He finished the work. In his resurrection, Jesus, was raised flesh and blood. His resurrection is the first fruits. Resurrection means that God has plans for this, his world. It means to fix that which was broken. To redeem that which is fallen.
I always think that Christmas carols have the best theology, and one of my favourite carols is ‘Joy to the World’. It has a great line in it, “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found.” Jesus redemption, his work in his death and resurrection, restores. He restores sinful people unable to work for our own salvation. He sets us free from the guilt and condemnation of our sin. And we all need to believe in him for that. And Jesus redemptive work also goes as far as the curse is found.
Just as sin and the curse effects all parts of God’s good world, so Christ’s redemption extends that far. In the words of Colossians 1:20 God through Jesus determined to “reconcile to himself all things.” That’s the scope of Jesus’ work of redemption.
We can in Christ, serve and image God in our work. Our original calling is restored to us in Christ, as we’re being remade into his likeness. Restoration is real, but it’s not yet complete.
Dan Doriani, in his excellent book on work, shows how Jesus renews our work. He writes that as Christians we can go about it treating people with dignity in our work. God gives us the goal of our work: All things are to be pointing toward God, in thankfulness and joy in the gifts God gives, for God’s glory. God gives us standards to our work, with moral instruction, his law. God teaches us godliness, the Spirit in us, to change us so that we embody the character of Christ in our work. God also gives us wisdom, not only to know what is right and wrong, but to decide and act and plan and do things in the best possible way. He gives us skills and abilities, gifts us in different ways. Wisdom helps us learn about how God’s world works best by practice, by learning from others, by experience.
Our daily work becomes the arena through which we discover ways to serve and please God, doing it for the Lord Jesus, for his glory. In Christ, we now are to go about our work, as Colossians 3:23 says, “whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord not for men.” Or as 1 Corinthians 10:31 says “so, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”
The good news is that Jesus worked, and his work changes everything. When we see that our work is for the Lord Christ, this gives us a new perspective, a greater vision for loving our neighbour through it, and is why you can find satisfaction in it.
For more about our daily work, here is the sermon I preached on the topic.