So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 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.”
—Genesis 1:27-28 ESV
And so God created work and gave Man the right of dominion (or the very imprimatur to work and be satisfied in it without apology.) Read to the end of that chapter and note how God saw that this was a good thing.
One of the first pieces of business God set for Adam was to name the animals.
So out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.
—Genesis 2:19-20 ESV
Clearly, God was pleased and perhaps even amused by what Adam named the creatures God placed before him. We take the same pleasure from our children when they ascribe names and meaning to the things in this world that they encounter daily.
It has always startled me that so early on God let go of the reins, so to speak, to let His man assert a name for the very creatures God Himself created. I get a kick out of the fact that whatever Adam named the animal, God agreed that Adam’s choice of name was what that creature was. In this way, God viewed His Man as a partner for achieving His will.
We don’t tend to think of work as worship, but it is. In this simple act of naming the animals, Man is worshipping the Lord by utilizing the gifts of intellect and creativity God instilled in him. That same worship goes on every day when we work.
Some have confused the later curse God places on Adam with a cursing of work, but what does it actually say?
And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
—Genesis 3:17-19 ESV
God did not curse work, but the ground. The call to subdue the earth and God’s handing dominion of the earth over to man proves that God thinks work is a valid and good thing still. I firmly believe that God takes pleasure in our work, even if we don’t. By working, we are continuing the call placed on us in the Garden, worshipping God in our work though we don’t realize it.
I’ve worked in a number of industries and for plenty of supervisors over the years. Today, I work at home and own my own business. As a freelance writer, I can attest that there’s not a whole lot of “the sweat of my brow” in what I do. In fact, the tendency is for my backside to broaden rather than to have it firmed up by toiling under the hot sun on a piece of ground that reluctantly gives up its fruits. That said, my wife and I have the beginnings of a farm on our land, having planted a fruit orchard and with plans to put in an acre or two of wine grapes later on. Whether I like it not, that will be the kind of work that suffers from the cursed ground in Genesis 3. But as for my writing career, the pleasure is only dampened by tough customers—and there’s no way that will get better until the Lord returns. Then who knows just what I will be doing for work?
In the course of time I’ve endured some backbreaking and downright noxious work. Possibly the worst thing I ever did in my life was when I was eighteen working for college money. I worked at the same pharmaceutical company my father worked for. Being sans skills, I was in maintenance at the plant. At one point I donned a Haz-Mat suit for two weeks and crawled through blistering hot ventilation shafts suspended seventy feet above the floor, scraping off built-up crusts of various drug residues. At 6′ 4″ tall and 190 pounds at the time, it was a narrow fit for me and a simply hideous task for anyone. Add in the undersized respirator they gave me and it was hell to just breathe—though removing it could’ve proven fatal. I also had to wear a “pinger” so they knew here I was in the shafts should some misfortune beset me and they had to cut me out—dead or alive. Of course, the older guys didn’t want to do that job, even if they had more elbow room up there. They’d all probably done it once in their time there.
Yet still, God was pleased with that work, although I felt like death at the end of the day.
God does not give us a pass to slack, no matter how tough work might be. He commanded us to work and work we must or else the apostle Paul will have something to say about it:
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
—2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 ESV
…aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may live properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.
—1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 ESV
I think it is important here to point out that Paul is not recommending that we live as islands unto ourselves when he says, “Be dependent on no one.” It is quite clear that the early Christians saw that no one wanted for anything; certainly there were people who had needs that needed to be met and were thus dependent on benevolence to some extent. Rather Paul means that we not sponge off people while living a life of idleness. He affirms work.
Yet it wasn’t until the Reformation that work took on a new splendor. Martin Luther’s theology held work in high esteem, proving it to be a reflection of the work that God Himself performed. Luther’s strong work ethic, later reinforced by John Calvin, was instrumental in the ascendancy of existing German trade guilds that set new standards for entrepreneurship. It would be no stretch to say that the Reformation was the death knell for feudalism. This “power to the people” movement, however, did not result in communism or socialism, but pure capitalism.
But no matter the system, not all work is created equal. We all know people who work jobs that we would shrivel us to nothing in a week. And despite the tech revolution we are in, some jobs are still physically exhausting (Alaskan crab fisherman anyone?) or mentally draining. Many of us have come home from work and all we think about his work, even when are trying to sleep to get up the next day to work some more. Ecclesiastes nails it:
What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity. There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
—Ecclesiastes 2:22-26 ESV
But in the end, work still brings meaning and purpose. It also brings mystery. Again, from Ecclesiastes:
What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.
—Ecclesiastes 3:9-13 ESV
Now with these three brief intros, I think we’ve set the stage for looking at some of the tough issues we Christians face with work. In the days ahead, I’ll be exploring the nature of modern work, the American Church’s response to today’s business environment, and how we can pursue a radically different work ethic as Christians, an ethic I think can change the world.
Thanks for stopping by. Hope you have been blessed so far.
Previous post in the series: The Christian & the Business World #2: Economic Systems
Next post in the series: The Christian & the Business World #4: The Industrial Church Revolution, Part 1
6 thoughts on “The Christian & the Business World #3: Subduing the Earth”
I’m blessed so far, and I look forward to the rest of the series.
“By working, we are continuing the call placed on us in the Garden, worshipping God in our work though we don’t realize it.”
I know I am rowing up a tributary here but that sentence set my mind to thinking. I believe it is possible to worship God secretly. I was just wondering about the possibility of worshipping God unconsciously. My question therefore- Is it really possible to worship God without realizing it?
That’s a good point.
I think it is a point of spiritual awareness. When I am working on a job, deep in thought, often concentrating on coming up with a tagline or slogan or something like that, my mental focus is probably not on God, but by using the gifts He’s given me to create I am still worshiping Him. I try to keep focused on Him, but when that focus slips, it does not mean that I am failing to worship Him at that point.
In the case of unbelievers, I think that Calvinists would claim that common grace exists for them that also reflects back to God by the work they do. So in that way, they too are unconsciously worshiping God. I’m still trying to sort that one out in my mind since I tend to lean to the “always a reprobate” position, but that is their stance, I believe. A stout-hearted Calvinist can correct me if I am wrong here (and I’m willing to be corrected—always.)