God, the believer and work

Adam, the steward of God’s earth

The final act of God in creation was to create man in His own image, Gen. 1. 26, 27. He created man both male and female and gave him the responsibility to: replenish and subdue the earth; be fruitful and multiply and thus populate the earth; and have dominion over the animal kingdom and the created order, Gen. 1. 26, 28. The man was named Adam and he named the woman Eve, Gen. 3. 20. God created a garden paradise in which He placed the man directing him to dress and keep it. Adam’s role as a cultivator of the garden appears to have been an extension of his role as God’s head over the earth, Ps. 8. 4-6. The first marriage took place in the idyllic surroundings of Eden’s garden, Gen. 2. 18-25. God had created Adam as a social being, to live in the context of family and community. He acted as God’s head over the animal kingdom by giving to each animal an appropriate name, Gen. 2. 19, 20.

It is clear that Adam, made in God’s image, was meant to work as God had worked. He was not expected to be idle in his perfect environment but was to imitate the creative and sustaining work of God. He was to rule in God’s stead. For some reason the earth required to be subdued and replenished and this task was delegated to Adam. He was to till the ground, plant, sow, dress and keep the garden. Adam’s work as the first horticulturalist would entail the work of preparing the ground, tending to and caring for the crops, protecting, feeding, preserving, and hedging them about, anticipating the harvest. As the first husbandman he would care for animals. Skills no doubt that he would pass on to his two sons, Cain, a tiller of the ground and Abel, a keeper of sheep, Gen. 4. 2. Sadly, however, they would know what it would mean to work in a fallen world. Adam in his state of innocence was privileged to work under and in partnership with God to realize His purpose in the world.

Two Hebrew words for work

It has been pointed out that there are two Hebrew words used in Genesis chapters 1 and 2 to describe the idea of work. The first is the Hebrew word melaka. It occurs in Genesis 2. 2, 3, and denotes a skilled and creative activity. In Genesis chapter 2 verses 5 and 15 the expressions ‘to till’ and ‘to dress’ occur and translate the Hebrew word abodeh meaning to serve. This word also occurs in Exodus chapter 3 verse 12 where the Lord promises Moses that He will be with him and Israel when they ‘serve’ Him upon Mt. Horeb. As Adam went about his daily work fulfilling the role and tasks that God had given to him he would serve the Lord in obedience to His will. Adam’s work, no doubt characterized by excellence, would be offered to the Lord as an act of worship.

Therefore, God meant work to be a creative, productive and ennobling activity, providing opportunities to put to effective use the gifts, skills and abilities He has endowed us with. This is one way in which He has made us in His own image. He also meant it to be a stewardship whereby we provide for our temporal needs and the needs of others, contribute to the good of society and serve and worship Him. We do well when we ask ourselves the question, ‘Do I make the best use in my every-day work of the potential, ability and gifts He has given me and see my work as an opportunity to serve and worship the Lord and bring glory to Him?’

The Fall and its impact on work

One of the consequences of the fall of Adam and Eve was that while their various callings in life remained, those callings were now under the curse, Gen. 1 and 2. God’s ideal design for the family is unchanged, but now Adam and Eve are found in contention with each other. The joy of childbearing remains, but it is now accompanied with pain. The first family unit becomes dysfunctional, evidenced by the jealously of Cain and the murder of his brother Abel. Adam’s work, to rule, subdue and populate the earth remains but now he must labour and toil under a curse. The ground of the garden would yield the food needed to maintain life, but now by painful toil. The fruit of the ground would be mixed with ‘thorns and thistles’. His work would often be in vain causing frustration and disappointment. Once pleasant and fulfilling, it would now wear him out. He must work in the sweat of his face, Gen. 3. 19.

This is now the human condition. Work was meant to bring satisfaction since it was what we were made for, but it is also brings frustration, tiredness and failure to achieve our aspirations. Work is purposeful and virtuous but it is now perverted by sin, existing in a tension between fulfilment and futility. We can know the presence of God at work filling us with energy and enabling us to be creative and productive and to flourish, feeling good about what we achieve. On the other hand we know the futility of work, the lack of direction and purpose, the struggle to get things done, the fear of the future.

The fall changed work; it did not cancel it as a duty commanded by God

Work as a blessing was already present, but what was originally good had lost its original perfection. The new development after the fall was not the introduction of work as a punishment for sin but the shift in work as a blessing to being perverted by the curse.

Work has become toil, something to be accomplished against the hostility of the environment in which the work occurs. Someone has written that ‘man was meant to be a gardener, but by reason of his sin he became a farmer’. The thorns and thistles indicate that much of our work in the wake of the fall consists in undoing rather than constructing. It has assumed the quality of caretaking and protecting the physical and social order against the invasion of chaos. The fall explains what lies behind the experience of unfulfilling work and why work is not always intensely rewarding.

Work now lacks the creativity we look for as an outcome of it. In Ecclesiastes chapter 2, the preacher recounts his achievements in architecture, agriculture, business, the arts and culture due to his enthusiasm, energy and entrepreneurship. But in the end he pronounces it all as vanity and vexation of spirit. He is frustrated by the temporal nature of his achievements and disturbed by the thought of his own mortality. His heart despairs. The preacher concludes with an admission that he has failed in his quest to find meaning in work.

Working for God in a fallen world

With the curse came the promise and prophecy that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head under His feet, Gen. 3. 15. The promise of the coming Redeemer has now been fulfilled and Satan has been defeated once and for all through the work of His cross, Heb. 2. 9-15. The death of Christ has dealt a mortal blow to sin and Satan. The triumph of Christ through His death, burial and resurrection guaranteed the ultimate triumph of God over evil.

But the effects of sin in the present have not been reversed. The whole creation remains subject to vanity, or futility, and waits expectantly for the day of redemption when it will be delivered from the bondage of corruption and brought into the glorious liberty of the sons of God, Rom. 8. 18, 23. Christ in a future day will restore the creation to the way God meant it to be. Until then the effects of sin remain, including its effect on work. The work environment remains uncooperative, work is marked by futility and workers are still sinful.

But does the redemptive work of Christ make any difference to work in the here and now? The answer is, ‘Yes’. Just as creation will one day be transformed, those who have placed their faith in Christ are undergoing a process of being transformed into the moral image of Christ. This transformation is not without its consequences for the believer as a worker and his work. A Christian has more than one reason to view his work as very significant. The Christian works for Christ!

To be continued


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