Good Work


The Point:  Work is a gift from God, not a curse.

God’s Blessing to Mankind:  Genesis 1:28-30.

[28]  And 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 heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” [29]  And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. [30]  And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.  [ESV]

[28-30]  “In looking at the account of the creation of man by God in Genesis 1, two points are emphasized. First, man is created. This is repeated three times in verse 27, obviously for emphasis. Second, man is created in God’s image. This is repeated four times in verses 26 and 27. Following this clue to what are the most important ideas, we come next to the teaching that man was to rule over creation as God’s regent. This is mentioned twice, in verses 26 and 28: have dominion. Who is this who is to rule God’s creation? What is he like? What are his gifts? To whom is he responsible? To be created in the image of God involves man having a personality, a sense of morality and spirituality. But in relation to his rule over the animals, man’s creation involves responsibility as well. If man were his own creator, he would be responsible to no one. But he is not his own creator. He is created by God, and this means that he is responsible to God for what he does in every area of his life and particularly for how he carries out the mandate to rule over creation. Dominion of any kind, but particularly dominion of the scope mentioned in verse 28, implies responsibility to the One giving the mandate. God created the man and woman and gave them dominion over the created order. Consequently, they were responsible to Him for what they did. When mankind sins, as the Genesis account goes on to show that they do, it is God who requires a reckoning. In the thousands of years since Eden many have convinced themselves that they are not responsible. But the testimony of Scripture is that this area of responsibility still stands and that all will one day answer to God at the judgment.”  [Boice, pp. 94-99].

God’s Gift of Work:  Genesis 2:8-9, 15.

[8]  And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. [9]  And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. [15]  The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.  [ESV]

[8-14]  “The reality of Eden is important because it is a proper and constant reminder of two truths basic to Christianity. First, Christianity is a historical religion. It is not a religion of mere metaphysical concepts and ideas, as many of the non-Christian religions are. It deals with real people who lived in real places and who experienced the very real redemptive acts of God in history. Second, it is the story of man’s fall from perfection and the subsequent redemption of certain men and women by God for their good and the praise of His glory. If Eden is not real, then the fall is not real and we can all entertain the comfortable secular notions that there is really not much wrong with the human race and that whatever imperfections may be said to exist they are all inevitably being wiped out by time. Unfortunately for secular man, the Bible opposes such optimism and declares instead that man’s state apart from God is desperate. In 2:8-14 Moses sets Eden before his Jewish readers as a place they would recognize. Two features are striking. First, Eden is said to have been located in the east, a directional notation. We must remember that Genesis, being the first of the five books of Moses, was initially written to the people of Israel during the days of their wilderness wandering in Sinai. So when Moses says that God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, he is giving the location from the point of view of Sinai. Although the reference is not sharply specific, it means that Eden was located somewhere across the great Arabian desert toward the area we know as the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The second feature of this description is the extraordinary collection of place names found in verses 10-14, including the names of the rivers just mentioned. Moses is telling the people that at a specific period in past history and in a place well known to them, God placed the first man and woman and that the fall of man, which has affected all subsequent life so drastically, was as real as the acts they themselves were committing in a different but not totally unrelated environment. Human beings always tend to treat sin lightly, and one way of doing this is to dismiss it to a mystical realm in which it becomes merely part of the human dilemma or, as is sometimes said, a symbol of the fact that things are not as good as they can and may yet be. In this perspective sin is not a particular thing that I do. It is just an old word for a general and blameless imperfection. This can easily be seen in the way our modern, secular world seldom, if ever, uses the word ‘sin’ anymore. But this is not what Genesis teaches, and at this point Christianity stands radically opposed to the non-Christian world view. Sin is rebellion against God. This means that although it is a flaw in the human constitution resulting from Adam’s first sin, it is also nothing less than specific acts, performed by particular persons at particular points and places in history. Therefore the solution to sin must also be a specific act performed by a particular person at a particular point and place in history, namely, the atonement made by the Lord Jesus Christ in Israel in the days of Pontius Pilate. Eden is described as a real place, but in addition to this it is also described as an idyllic place perfectly suited to the man in his unfallen state. Just as Genesis 2:7 describes man’s nature, and portrays it as perfect, so does Genesis 2:8-17 describe man’s environment before the fall and portrays it as perfect. These two things go together and make the fall dreadful. Man could claim some excuse for his sin were he made imperfect, on the one hand, or placed in an imperfect, sinful, or degrading environment, on the other. But neither is the case. His nature was perfect; his environment was perfect. So when he sinned, as we know sadly he did, it was not because of some deficiency either of nature or environment for which God might be thought responsible.” [Boice, pp. 122-126].

[15]  “In verse 15 the author returns to God putting man in the garden [8], but adds God’s purpose for doing so. An important point from verse 15 is in danger of being obscured by the English translations. This is the change from verse 8 in the Hebrew word for put. Unlike verse 8, where a common term for put is used, in verse 15 the author uses a term he elsewhere reserves for two special uses: God’s rest or safety which He gives to humanity in the land [Gen. 19:16; Deut. 3:20; 12:10; 25:19], and the dedication of something in the Lord’s presence [Ex. 16:33-34; Lev. 16:23; Num. 17:4; Deut. 26:4,10]. Both senses of the term appear to lie behind the author’s use of the word in verse 15. Man is put in the garden, where he can ‘rest’ and be ‘safe’, and man is put in the garden ‘in God’s presence’, where he can have fellowship with God [3:8].”  [Sailhamer, p. 79]. Thus God gives man a purposeful existence with the responsibility of caring for God’s gift of the garden. Since 2:15 comes before the Fall, work is seen as a God-given assignment and not a cursed condition.

God’s Commandment:  Genesis 2:16-17.

[16]  And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, [17]  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.”  [ESV]

[16-17]  “In verse 16 we read for the first time that the Lord God commanded the man whom He had created. As in the rest of the Torah, enjoyment of God’s good land is contingent on keeping God’s commandments [Deut. 30:16]. The similarity between this condition for enjoying God’s blessing and that laid down for Israel at Sinai and in Deuteronomy is transparent. Indeed, one can hardly fail to hear in these words of God to the first man the words of Moses to Israel in Deuteronomy 30:15-18. The inference of God’s commands in 2:16-17 is that only God knows what is good for humanity and only God knows what is not good for them. To enjoy the good, humankind must trust God and obey Him. If they disobey, they will be left to decide for themselves what is good and what is not good. While to our modern age such a prospect may seem desirable, to the author of Genesis it is the worst fate that could have befallen humankind, for only God knows what is good for humanity.” [Sailhamer, pp. 79-80].

Purpose of God’s gift of work.

“Work is holy. Work is from God and it is to be done for God. Work is to be part of that worship of our lives by which we do all things to the glory of God. In Eden, man was given work to do. He was both to till the garden and to guard it. He was both farmer and watchman. He had a calling and that calling was his work. And in the account of all that in Genesis 2 we are obviously dealing with representative facts. We are not finding out about the life of Adam only, but about the life of mankind. In that early material we have Adam as worker, as steward and vice-regent of creation, we have Adam as husband and Eve as wife, we have Adam in relationship to God and as worshipper of God. There Adam is every man, every human being. And as every man he is working man. Work is the divine calling of every human being. Man was not made first to recreate but to work. That God gave him a day of rest is directly related to the fact that, in imitation of God, man would work the other six days of the week. His was to be a laboring life. It was to have a rhythm, but that rhythm was six days of work and one of rest. God worked and then rested and man’s life is to be lived in imitation of his creator. Work originates in God Himself and to be a worker is part of what it means for man to have been created in God’s image and likeness. So we are not surprised as we read the bible to find man working everywhere we look. Work, conceived as an occupation, as an living, is God’s will for our lives. Work is what God created us to do. And so work is holy. It has a divine purpose and is a divine calling. That, however, is a fundamental biblical conviction that the church has all too often let slip from her grasp. Too often she has come to think of the ordinary work of ordinary Christians as, if not positively unholy, at least less holy. Farming and guarding, such as Adam was called to do, became ‘secular’ work, of much less importance than the kind of work that ministers do. The very real danger of this type of thinking is that, because our work is ‘secular’ and not ‘full-time’ Christian work, then it leads to the position that we do not need to be concerned how we act in our ‘secular’ jobs. Since it falls into the ‘secular’ sphere of life, we do not need to be concerned about working in a Christ-like manner, for the glory of God. Calvin writes: ‘It is an ancient error that those who flee worldly affairs and engage in contemplation are leading an angelic life. We know that men were created to busy themselves with labor and that no sacrifice is more pleasing to God than when each one attends to his calling and studies to live well for the common good.’ [Commentary on Luke 10:38]. This positive notion of serving God through one’s work was worked out in greater detail by the English Puritans who brought into English culture the radically Christian idea that work, everyone’s work, is holy and is to be performed for the Lord, according to His laws, and with the expectation of His blessing. The biblical argument for this view is straightforward and compelling. The very first command ever given to man in Genesis 2:15 was a command to work, to perform a particular job. The inclusion of work here in the description of human life in Eden makes it what theologians call a ‘creation ordinance.’ It is one of those fundamental structures of human life – along with marriage, family, and Sabbath rest – designed to ensure that a man or a woman’s life will fulfill its purpose and bring mankind to happiness. Man was made by his Maker to be a worker. So in doing work men are being obedient to God and so should give their obedience to Him in that way most pleasing to God. You can work cheerfully and willingly or sullenly and half-heartedly, but only the former pleases God. This command is repeated many times in the Bible. It is interesting that the curse pronounced upon man after he sinned bears directly on his existence as a worker: Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life. … By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread [Gen. 3:17,19]. Man does not cease to be a worker because of his sin, but his work becomes more difficult, more frustrating. In any case it is obvious that the curse is not that man must work – he was a worker before sin entered the world – but that his labor has become laborious, grueling, and so often unsatisfying. The fourth commandment, which we ordinarily think of as a commandment to rest on the seventh day, is, of course, also a commandment to work the other six [Ex. 20:8-11]. The Book of Proverbs has a great deal to say about the virtues of hard work and the folly of the idle. It is the same in the New Testament. New life in Christ is to make of any person not less a worker but more. Take, as one example, Paul’s statement in Ephesians 4:18: Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. The Bible often addresses the believing person in terms of the way in which they do their work, whether or not they are doing it in a way that pleases and honors God [e.g., 1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17,23]. This point is based upon the lordship of Christ over all human endeavor, not just ‘spiritual’ activity. There is not a dichotomy between the spiritual realm and the secular realm found in Scripture.”

“We can draw the following conclusions from the Biblical understanding of work. First, Christians should be intentional about doing their work for the Lord, to honor and glorify Him. Second, there should be a thorough mixture of our Christian faith and our working life, as each is to penetrate the other and never to be separated from the other. Third, there should be a universal recognition among all Christians that work, all vocation, all occupations – so long as they are lawful for a Christian – is the service of God. We are the last people who can look down on people because of their jobs. God has given those jobs! They are service to Him. Fourth, we should all be looking for ways to make our work and our way of doing it more self-consciously the service of the Lord; in the name of the Lord and for His glory. Finally, remember that work is a large part of the life you live before God. God’s law and God’s pleasure and God’s presence orders your life at work and in your occupation as much as they do any other aspect of your life. The Gospel should be the principle of your working life as surely as it should be the principle of every other aspect of your daily existence. For example, Christians often grumble about their jobs with no conscience about the fact that this is the very same spiritual discontentment that Scripture forbids the people of God. Your aims and intentions should be the same there as they are when you are on your knees or when you are in your house of worship. And the same resources the Lord has promised you – His Spirit, His promises, and the wisdom of His Word – are as much available to you as a worker and in your occupation as they are to you as a husband or wife, parent, friend, bill-payer, home-owner, or evangelist. So let us conclude where we began, with this thought: our work is holy. It is from God and it ought to be done to God. What that means – the wonderfully encouraging thing that means – is that every day, and all day long, we have before us the means to serve God, to do His will, to fulfill our purpose before Him, and to give answer to His summons. It supercharges our daily life with significance, with opportunity, and with high purpose.” [Rayburn].

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What was involved in God’s blessing to man in 1:28? What is the relationship between being created in God’s image and likeness [1:26] and the blessing by God? In light of God’s creation and blessing to man, how should man then obey God’s mandates of be fruitful … multiply … subdue … have dominion?

2.         Describe the Garden in Eden. Note how God’s blessing in 1:28 includes not only His commands in 1:28 but also the resources necessary to obey those commands.

3.         Why is it significant that God’s’ command to work and keep the garden came before the Fall? What does the different word for put in 2:15 tell us about God’s design for human work?

4.         What inference should we draw from God’s command in 2:16-17?

5.         I have included part of a sermon by Rev. Robert Rayburn of Tacoma, Washington. List the things that Rev. Rayburn says about God’s design for human work. What attitude should the believer have concerning the various types of work performed by us?


Genesis, volume 1, James Boice, Baker.

Genesis, volume 1, Kenneth Mathews, NAC, B & H Publishing.

“Theology of Work Sermons” by Rev. Robert Rayburn,

Genesis, John Sailhamer, EBC, Zondervan.

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