Over the next few months I am going to be spending some time writing about what God has to say about our work. This first post will focus on how God created us for work. Perhaps this is a surprising statement, but right at the beginning of the Bible we see that there was fulfilling work before the fall. God created us and He did so with a purpose!
In this series I want to draw on what we call the Tick & the Cross illustration which is representative of God’s big story arc in the Bible. The illustration splits history into four parts: Creation, De-Creation (the Fall), Re-Creation (redemption) and New Creation (restoration). Everything we understand about ourselves and all we choose to do as human beings is conditioned by our understanding of this ‘story’ which provides the context for our existence. The starting point for Christian living (and our leadership) is to look to the Bible itself to define that ‘story’ within which our lives make sense and from which they find their direction and priorities. Right at the heart of this story, and therefore the key to understanding it, is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
1. Made in God’s Image (Genesis 1:26-27)
In the Bible’s creation account, we are told that God made us in His image and in His likeness. Many words have been devoted to explaining what this means:
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.” 27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.Genesis 1:26-27
The best way of explaining it that I have come across is to think about it in terms of four words beginning with the letter R. Firstly, God made us for Relationship both with one another and with God our creator who loves, protects and directs us. Secondly, being made in God’s Image is about being Responsible as stewards of His creation to nurture, care and develop it. Thirdly, God made us Rational with minds and morals and the ability to reason, argue and understand right & wrong. Finally, being made in God’s image is about being Real: God made us to experience emotions and to seek our acceptance, significance and worth in God.
After God had completed His creative work we are told that He rested. The second instalment in this series will focus specifically on rest but here we just need to note that God is a God who works and who rests.
1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. 2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 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.Genesis 2:1-3
In the New Testament Jesus says that “My food…is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34) and then He claims that “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:17). God made us in His image and He is a God who works and rests.
2. Be Fruitful, Increase, Fill, Subdue & Rule (Gen 1:28)
Secondly, Genesis records God giving mankind a mandate as stewards over all that He had made. They were not just to look after themselves, but the whole world around them. They were to grow, develop and expand it:
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.”Genesis 1:28
Genesis 2:15 puts it this way, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” God commissioned them to work it and care for the garden. He also directed them to spread it out across the world, developing it and making it better. God made a world that was full of potential and in it He placed in it physical beings made in His likeness. This huge task was not going to happen over night, it would take time to work this out. It was always His intention that we work within God’s creation for the good of all.
3. Caring for and naming the animals (Gen 2:19-20)
This mandate given to mankind was quite unlike anything God said to the animals. God provided the seed-bearing plants and fruit-bearing trees for mankind to eat, while He gave the green plants as food for the animals (Gen 1:29-30). We soon read about a river flowing through the garden to water it (2:10). Then we read about the presence of gold, aromatic resin and onyx. Later in chapter 4 we read of stringed instruments and tools of bronze & iron. This was the working out of God’s mandate to grow and develop. God made all kinds of trees that were “pleasing to the eye and good for food” (2:9) but there was one tree that He prohibited them from eating from, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:16). Later this would be the source of their undoing.
God brought the animals and the birds to Adam, and He entrusted the task of naming them, to him.
19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.Genesis 2:19–20
The text says that man was thus God’s answer to the problem He identified: namely that “there was no one to work the ground” (2:5). This mandate continues to this day – the work continues. In turn the woman was God’s answer to the second problem, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (2:18). This word helper (ezer kenegdo) means to assist and encourage. It points to one who was fit to stand before the man, opposite him, as his counterpart, companion and complement. Together they would work out the mandate that God had given to them.
In summary God created the world and when He was finished he declared that it was good, indeed He said that it was very good. This includes the work that God had given mankind to accomplish together. At creation this work was not frustrating, tiresome or toilsome. It is not until chapter 3 that work begins to be described in those ways.
As I finish let me ask you three questions: (1) Do you think that work is a good thing: why or why not? (2) What do you see of the inherent sense implied in Genesis 1-2 that God made you for work? (3) How important is work to who we are or who God made us to be?
13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.Psalm 139:13-14
See other posts in this series
- Created for work
- Working from a place of rest
- Finding Purpose in our work
- Working for the glory of God
- Wrong ways of working
- New Creation Work