Made to Work
Sometimes work can be difficult. How many of you recall the Florida DJ who locked himself in the studio and repeatedly played the song “Take This Job and Shove It” by Johnny Paycheck? He told his audience that he was mad at his employer and he was going to keep the doors barred and play the song over and over again until they agreed to give him a raise. Absolutely hilarious!
As it happened, the whole thing was a publicity stunt put on by the radio station. Even the local police were in on it. The stunt worked. It hit news outlets, and almost overnight the local radio station became a national sensation. The stunt’s success was due in large measure to the fact that so many people could relate to it. We’ve all had the experience of being frustrated at work. We’ve all been tempted to join in Johnny Paycheck’s anthem.
Part One: IN THE BEGINNING, GOD WORKED
Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them;male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
Unfortunately, the book of Genesis has become a battleground for debates over creation and evolution. As such, we have missed the entire purpose and function of this important book. Genesis was not written to 19th century Christians so that they could argue with Darwin. It was written to a community of wandering nomads, who were surrounded by cultures that worshipped the sun, the moon, the stars, and hundreds of other less powerful demigods. Egyptians worshipped the forces of nature, and Genesis made it clear that the true God was above nature. In fact, he brought nature into being! He not only created the sun, the moon, and the stars, he also created man and told him to “master” creation.
In the beginning, God WORKED.
Look at verses 2 and 3 of Genesis 2 again: “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (emphasis added).
God worked in the very beginning. He also rested, and we’ll get into that later in the series. I took the time to read this passage in the original language, and do you know what I discovered? The Hebrew word translated here as work means, well, work. It’s sometimes translated as occupation or business but very often it’s work. God worked in the beginning. In fact, God took great pleasure in the work he did. He looked around and said, “Now that’s good!” Imagine God as an artist stepping back to take in the entire canvas of creation—rivers, and lakes, and forests, and mountains, and valleys—and declaring himself satisfied.
The fact that God worked in the beginning dispels the myth that work is the result of the fall. He even gave mankind work to do in the very beginning. Work is not a four-letter word; it’s not a curse word, so to speak.
God created man in his image and gave him work to do.
God made us to follow his example. We’re also meant to find pleasure in our work and to rest from it when we ought. I probably lost some of you right there. You’re thinking “I’m with that Florida DJ. I’m ready to tell my boss to take this job and shove it. Now you tell me God made me to work and to find joy in my work?” If you are feeling that way, I totally get it.
I’ve had days when I thought to myself, “What in the world have I gotten myself into? I pour out my heart on Sunday while people are off playing soccer. Then those same people want to talk to me about their problems—the problems I addressed in last week’s sermon! All too often, I get nastygrams from people who want to pick apart everything I say. Everyone seems to want a piece of me, and around town people stare at my like I’m a circus animal. I’m supposed to be a saint at all times when I’m really a sinner, just like the next guy. My family falls under the same expectation even though we’re just like everyone else. There are bills to pay, and budgets to meet, and people to manage. Sometimes people argue with me and sometimes they gossip about me. On top of all that, people think I only work 3 hours a week—at the 8:15 service, the 9:45 service, and the 11:15 service. Bottom line: I LOVE my job. But I have days when it’s a chore instead of joy. You know why. We live in a fallen world, and we are fallen people. We live post Genesis 3.
“After Genesis 3, the world turns into a Jerry Springer show.”
- Pastor Rick McKinley,Imago Dei Community Church (cited in Leadership Journal)
After Genesis 3, the work conditions change for EVERYONE! However, while Genesis 3 (the fall) is a game-changer, it does not destroy Genesis 1 and 2. We are still image-bearers, albeit fallen ones, and working is still good. Look at Genesis 1:26 again: “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” In Genesis 2:15, God puts his plan into action: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”
Do you see the importance of these verses and the theology they represent? The God who made all things made man in his image so that he could make things! We have been created to create. It is a classic misconception that God put Adam and Eve in this lush garden so that they could lay around in hammocks and drink Mai Tais all day. When God created the world it was beautiful and good, but it was also undeveloped, which is why God told Adam and Eve to cultivate it. And it was uncivilized, which is why God told Adam to subdue it, and fill it up. From the very beginning, God gave man the raw materials to work with and the go-ahead to develop it. This is called the “Creation Mandate” or the “Cultural Mandate,” and we will get into it next week. To summarize, we are created to make God’s world a better place for the glory of God.
We were made to work, which explains why we don’t feel quite right after we have sat around and done nothing for a while. We weren’t made for inactivity or even unproductive activity. Sure, the fall made our work more difficult, so now we have sweat and stress, but it was never intended to be a chore or a bore. Why? Because the primary purpose of work is NOT to make a living but to make the world a better place.
“Work should be looked upon – not as a necessary drudgery to be undergone for the purpose of making money, but as a way of life in which the nature of man should find its proper exercise and delight and so fulfill itself to the glory of God.”
- Dorothy Sayers, “Why Work?” in Letters to a Diminished Church
That one sentence has the power to transform the way you carry out your work! Work is not to be considered a drudgery! You were made to work as a way of life so that you can make the world a better place and therefore glorify God. The mechanic serves people by repairing cars. The builder provides homes for people to live in. The painter makes the world look better. The engineer designs cities and roundabouts to make our cities and lives better. The musician delights our ears and our emotions. The CEO provides much needed leadership—he organizes people and resources to help a business serve others more effectively. The plumber—well—where would we be without him?!
In this series, we’ll talk more about work as a way of life and a method for improving the world. We will also broach the topic of “vocation” or “calling,” and what happens when you are working a job that just doesn’t bring you joy. For now, let me encourage you with the hope that God is at work in your life, even in you work, right now. Even if you don’t like it, and even if it is hard. We have been created by a creative God to make his world a better place. We have been made to work.
“Leisure and pleasure are great goods, but we can take only so much of them…According to the Bible, we don’t merely need the money from work to survive; we need the work itself to survive and live fully human lives.”
- Tim Keller, Every Good Endeavor
Part Two: A NEW HABITUDE
I want to introduce you to a great word. Habitude is an old word with roots in Middle English and Middle French and it refers to a person’s normal condition or character. It sounds like a mash-up of habit and attitude, which is a good thing since, as a concept, it’s something of a mash-up of those two notions. So, a good habitude is a healthy, mental habit. And that’s what I’m calling for in regards to work. A way of thinking that embraces how you were made. You were made to work.
In this series, I am going to urge you to do your work to serve others, to make the world a better place, and to glorify God. I am going to urge you to follow Christ, even when your work is difficult. He had the hardest job in the world, but he embraced it with all his might in order to make the world a better place.