The Purpose of Work in Creation
by Jonathan Haefs
*On Sunday, as part of our “New Life” series, I attempted to walk my faith family through what it looks like to live a new life in the context of our vocations (That sermon can be found here). I wanted to give us a miniature biblical theology of work, in other words, a birds-eye-view of what Scripture has to say about our jobs from Genesis to Revelation. So much was left unsaid, yet the positive response was overwhelming. People had never really thought about work in the way it is truly presented in the Bible. So, over the next few days/weeks I plan to expand on the sermon I preached. This will still only be a birds-eye-view, but hopefully this format will allow me to fill in a few of the missing details and play out some more of the practical day-to-day implications. So… let’s start this mini-Biblical-theology of work in the beginning… in Genesis 1.
Most of us spend at least 40 hours per week within a vocation. Over a 40 year period that is over 80,000 hours of our lives spent at work. Even if you don’t have a technical place of employment, you wake ups with some kind of job to do. My wife is a stay-at-home mom and her vocation makes my 40-60 hour work week look like child’s play (pun intended).
So, does the gospel have any effect on how we live the 80,000+ hours of our vocational lives?
The short answer is yes. Scripture actually has a lot to say about our work. From Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, work comes up again and again as a pretty significant Biblical theme, and what the Bible has to say about vocation might actually surprise us.
The grand storyline of Scripture reveals to us 1) the purpose of work in creation, 2) the problem of work after the fall, 3) the pursuit of work through redemption, and 4) the promise of work in the new creation.
So…to form a Biblical theology of vocation we begin in the beginning.
The Purpose of Work in Creation
Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
Genesis 2:2, “And on the seventh day God finished his WORK that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his WORK that he had done.”
The fact that God “rested” does not mean he got tired and needed a nap! This is a celebration of his creation! Throughout Genesis 1, as God creates, he has mini-celebrations in which he steps back, examines his work, and celebrates by declaring this is good, this is good.
At the completion of creation he says, “…it is VERY good,” and he uses an entire day to step back and take a long, celebratory look!
God works and he “rests.” This is foundational for understanding our own purpose in working because of the truth revealed in Genesis 1:26.
Genesis 1:26, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…”
God-the-worker creates us to be like him! We are to be small pictures (images) of what God is like… and this includes in our working, our creating. Just look at the rest of verse 26 which fleshes out some of what it means that we are created in the image of God.
Genesis 1:26, “…And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
God is the creator, he is the rules over all, yet, he gave us the vocation of ruling over creation! We “image” on a small scale what God does on a large scale! God said, manage this world… spread throughout it, build, create, shape, work… and do all of it in such a way that you are a small image of me! When people see the way you work, they are seeing a picture of how I work!
We are workers… because God is a worker and we were made to image him! Our work was purposed to point to him!
Your vocation is a part of this plan! It doesn’t matter what your work is or how insignificant you feel it to be… it’s purpose is to point to God! I mean Adam was a gardner for crying out loud (No insult to gardeners… quite the opposite)!
Genesis 2:15, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to WORK it and KEEP it.”
Adam did on small scale in the garden, what we have all been designed to do on large scale throughout the earth, namely, work it and keep it. Every single one of our jobs are a part of working and keeping creation. It doesn’t matter if your job provides a service, or education, or food, or creativity, or entertainment, or recreation, or beautification, or whatever… it is a part of our “ruling” over creation, caring for it, working it, and keeping it.
No matter what your occupation is, it is a part of the same plan with the same ultimate purpose as everyone else’s… to point to the one true worker/creator… God! Work was designed to be worship!
Is not worship us pointing to God as great and good and beautiful?! We were designed to work in a way that on small scale points to the large scale greatness, goodness, and beauty of God!
Do you see how this makes every occupation valuable (unless you’re a hit-man or something else that directly opposes God’s goodness)? Every vocation has the potential to point to the glory of God!
“Your work matters not because of what you do, but because of who you work for!” – Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert (The Gospel at Work)
I think there are many of us who buy into the lie that our occupation doesn’t matter. I’m just a stay-at-home mom. I’m just an assembly line worker. I’m just in advertising. I’m just a sales clerk. I’m just…I’m just… I’m just…
In reality, you are “just” a creation of the living God with the potential to display his glory in your work! Adam was “just” a Gardner! David was “just” a shepherd. Peter was “just” a fisherman, and Jesus was “just” a carpenter!
The Son of God spent over 90% of his life sweeping up sawdust for the glory of God the Father! What does that tell us about the value of work? Would any of us look at Jesus and say that all that time was wasted and pointless? No!
“Your work matters not because of what you do, but because of who you work for!”
My job, as a pastor, is not more valuable than yours, because our jobs have the same purpose… to point to the glory of God! That was the purpose of work in creation! And it was good!
…if we’re honest most of us don’t experience work as a good, God-glorifying thing. It actually surprises most people that work existed before the fall as a part of God’s good creation and is a good gift from God! That might actually make you laugh, because you’ve never experienced work in that way… why?
That is the question we will tackle tomorrow…