Made For Work

Genesis 2:15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

INTRODUCTION

Back in 2015, in a sermon on Titus 2:1-10, this was a part of my introduction:

If my math is correct (45 hours/week x 40 years), the average worker in the U.S. works 85,000+ hours in his or her life. That’s almost 10 full years of life spent at work. Clearly, this is a significant topic for most people.

For the most part the people I’ve encountered give themselves to work each day for one of a few simple reasons. Some work primarily to provide for themselves and their loved ones (their motivation is love of comfort), some work primarily to get rich (their motivation is love of money or luxury), some work primarily to gain a sense of self-worth (their motivation is love of reputation), some work primarily because they feel they have to (their motivation is fear of the consequences of failing to work), and occasionally, I meet people who work primarily as a means of honoring God (their motivation is love of God).

The question driving this sermon is this: How do we get in that last group? Or, what does it mean to work as a means of honoring God? I hope that every Christian in this room has already asked themselves that question at some point in their working life. Therefore, I also hope that y’all will be leaning in this morning. Given the fact that so much of our time is spent at work, it’s critical that we get this right.

The answer to that question begins, as you might expect, in the beginning. Last week, from Genesis 2:15, I drew your attention to God’s commission to Adam to “work” and “keep” the garden in Eden. I also mentioned that the implications of this commission were nothing short of profound. What I didn’t mention was what I meant by that and for whom.

And that brings me to the main aim of this sermon today: to help you to see how profound this commission truly is for all of God’s people; including you and me. In other words, my aim in this sermon is to help you see that the seeds of the answer to our question (how do we honor God in our work?) are found in Genesis 2:15, while its mature form is found throughout the rest of the bible.

To guide you through all of this—to help you understand what the bible has to say about your work and how to put that into practice—I mean to share with you a decent handful of thoughts (16) on work from the bible. Each is short, simple, and to the point. Each is also massive in its effect. And each applies to all of us whether you are a kid working at chores, a stay-at-home mom working domestically, blue or white collar, just starting or long retired.

In the end I hope God sees fit to help you appreciate God’s good design for work, give you the tools you need to work for God’s glory, and to help you find genuine joy, satisfaction, and fruitfulness in your work. Would you pray with me that it would be so?

Before we do, however, let me quickly say that much of this sermon is owning to two specific books that are a tremendous gift to the Church: Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller and The Gospel at Work by Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert. If you want to press further into the idea of working for the glory of God, I commend both of them to you.

PRINCIPLES ON WORK

In his book, Every Good Endeavor, Tim Keller writes this, “The commandments of God in the Bible are a means of liberation, because through them God calls us to be what he built us to be” (26). If Keller is correct, and I believe he is, that means two profound things. First, because we are commanded to work, we were made for work. And second, rather than a means of bondage and frustration (as most people see it), then, God’s commands for us to work are actually means of freedom and peace and satisfaction. With that, then, consider with me the following biblical principles on work. And as you do, would you make sure to press them up against your work—to give real thought to how each of them relates to the way you currently think about work and the way you currently work? And then, would you ask the Spirit to help you apply one or two of them in particular?

  1. God is always working (Genesis 2:1-3, summarizing Genesis 1; John 5:17). This might seem insignificant or even peripheral to our question and aim, but it isn’t. It is foundational and central. If we are to rightly understand how to work to the glory of God, we need to begin with an understanding of the nature of God’s work. We’ve already seen this in Genesis 1 and 2, but I want to make it explicit again here. God only does good things. That God is always working, then, means that work is good, really good.

  2. God delights in his work (Genesis 1:31; Psalm 149:4; Jeremiah 9:24). We saw this throughout Genesis 1 as God continually referred to his work as “good” and then “very good”. This theme is steady throughout the bible; God’s good works bring him pleasure. God is always working and God is always delighting in his work. Again, our ability to work as God made us begins with these things. Have you ever thought in these terms? What difference do they make? Hopefully the answer will become clear as we continue on.

  3. God’s work is primarily to create (Genesis 1-2), order (Genesis 1-2), and care for (Psalm 145:14-16); and then it is to rescue (2 Timothy 4:16; Colossians 1:13) and restore (1 Peter 5:10; Revelation 21:1-5). These are the things God does. These are the things he is always joyfully working at. We’ve seen in Genesis that God made the heavens and the earth and everything in them. We’ve see God perfectly order his creation for his glory and man’s habitation. Not only does God make and order, though, he also cares for and tends to all that he made and ordered. He works to make things, order them, and make them flourish.

    Although God is always working to bring order and health, as we will soon see in Genesis (3), and as I’ll come to later in the sermon, mankind rebelled against God and therein brought disorder and decay into the world. Because of this, things fell into chaos and death. But God continues to work. God works to rescue and restore that which is lost. He is restoring the world now, and one day indeed he will make all things new.

  4. God invites us to join him in his work and his delight (Genesis 1:28, 2:15; Psalm 127:1). This privilege is given only to man—not to anything else in creation. It was given from the beginning, in the garden paradise. “Even before the fall man was expected to work; paradise was not a life of leisured unemployment…work is intrinsic to human life” (Wenham, WBC, 67)…we were made for work. And, as we’ve already seen, work is good. This point leads directly to the next seven points.

  5. We must work as God works: creating (Genesis 1:28), ordering (Genesis 2:20), caring for (Genesis 2:15), rescuing (Matthew 28:18-20), and redeeming (Matthew 28:18-20). The true nature and purpose of our work are not for us to decide. As God’s image bearers we are charged to bear his image, to express his character to the world in all we do…including our work. Our work then, whatever it might be (as a banker or an electrician or a brick layer or a stay-at-home mom or a fireman), must be about creating, ordering, caring for, rescuing, and redeeming. For this reason, we need to give careful thought to how we can uniquely join God in those things at our particular place of employment. That is, to honor God in your work you must be able to answer the question of how do you as a truck driver drive in such a way as to accomplish these things? How are you able to drive in such a way as to create (perhaps you can come up with a new way to load trucks faster), order (perhaps it’s by keeping the most accurate logs), care for (perhaps you could buy a cup of coffee for another driver at a rest stop), and rescue and redeem (perhaps by sharing the gospel with one of your coworkers and then guiding them through one of the Gospels over email). If you’re not sure how to do this, make sure to talk to your DG leader or someone at Grace. We’d love to help you out. One of my favorite examples is sitting in the room with us right now. If you get a chance, talk to Kyle about how by joining God in his work as a police officer, God saw fit to grow the Puelston family. That our work is really joining God in his work means something more still.

  6. It means that whenever we work like God our work has value and dignity. Keller writes, “In … Psalm 104:30 we find God … through His Holy Spirit, ‘renewing the face of the ground.’ However, in John 16:8-11, the Holy Spirit is said to convict and convince people of sin and God’s judgment…So here we have God’s Spirit both gardening and preaching the gospel. Both are God’s work” (40). Farming isn’t too insignificant of a job for God and neither is preaching. In other words, when we join God in the things he does, no matter what it is, our work has value and dignity because everything God does is valuable and dignified. Don’t fall into the trap, then, of believing that a more menial job is insignificant or a more prestigious job has significance in itself. Likewise, don’t fall into the trap of believing that you can honor God more in a “ministry” job than in a job in public works or the trades or the military or taking out the garbage for your parents. All jobs have dignity and worth only because they are a part of God’s work. And if they are not a part of God’s work, then no amount of marketing money or PR can make them dignified or worthy. Again, there are more implications yet.

  7. Because God is always working for the good of the world, so should we (Matthew 5:45). In Matthew 5:45 Jesus says, “[God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” By joining God in his work, therefore, we too are working for the benefit of the whole world, especially the Church. This makes jobs in government, law enforcement, communication, medicine, and the like especially significant. In these, our aim is to help provide a context in which the gospel can be preached freely. And, of course, this is part of what makes missions work so significant.

  8. Because God calls us to join in his work and his delight, work is not something we do primarily to make money, with the product of our work as an almost accidental afterthought. Rather, glorifying God by doing the work of creating, ordering, caring for, rescuing, and redeeming is our aim, and as we do it well, we gain the added benefit of being paid for it.

  9. Because of the fact that in our work we are joining in God’s work, we are also representing God in all we do (2 Corinthians 5:20; Colossians 3:23-24; Ephesians 6:5-6). One of my best friends started a roofing company many years ago and for this reason he called it Ambassador Building Company (Ephesians 6:5-6 was on all of his logos/hats). His aim was to represent God well in everything he did…and he did. In over a decade he never once advertised and was never without work because his work was good. Occasionally he’d be on a roof in the rain to fix something because he stood behind his work. He made sure everyone who worked for him did good work and acted honorably as well. He also paid his workers really well.

    To join God in his work and delight is to acknowledge that you work ultimately for God and not any earthly master. This changes the entire way we approach any and every job.

    Colossians 3:23-24 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

    This frees us from being too discouraged by bad bosses or employees. It frees us to find joy even around bothersome coworkers. It requires us to work with the knowledge that there is never a moment in our work day or a person we’ll encounter that is irrelevant or insignificant.

    In other words, because we represent God in our work, to the best of our God-given ability, we must work with competence, integrity, ingenuity, intelligence and excellence, because God always works in these ways. There’s no place for laziness or sloppiness or exploitation in the work of a Christian. More than anyone else in our place of employment we ought to do good work eagerly.

  10. In all of these ways your work can and should be as much a part of your worship of God as your time here on Sunday morning (1 Corinthians 10:31; Romans 12:1). Rightly done we work for God’s pleasure and in God’s pleasure. Rightly done we work with gratitude for our God-given abilities. Rightly done we work in such a way as to be able to explain the gospel through our work. That is, we ought to go about our job such that people see that we’re different in our attitude, product, service, peace, joy, aim, etc., and such that when they ask why we’re able to tell them. In other words, rightly done, all of our work is worship.

  11. Work is not all there is to life. As important as our work is, however, Keller writes, “Work is not all there is to life. You will not have a meaningful life without work, but you cannot say that your work is the meaning of your life. If you make any work the purpose of your life—even if that work is church ministry—you create an idol that rivals God” (27). “We either get our name—our defining sense essence, security, worth, and uniqueness—from what God has done for us and in us (Revelation 2:17), or we make a name through what we can do for ourselves” (110).

    Another way of saying all of this is to say that our work often reveals our idols. It does so by the job we take and why we take it. It does so by how we work. It does so by how it affects our choice of lifestyle and the way we spend the money we earn from our work. It does so by how we describe our job to others.

    Our ultimate purpose in life is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Work is one means to that end. The gospel is the good news that our identity is perfectly secured in the fact that we are God’s image bearers and, for Christians, that we are his beloved children; not in what’s printed on our business card.

  12. We must be ministry minded in our work (Matthew 28:18-20; 1 Peter 3:15). As we’ve seen, we must look upward when we work (working as God works and for his glory and as an act of worship), we must also look outward in our work (looking to bless others with the product of our work), and we must be careful about how we look inward (avoiding idolatry and idleness). But there’s another perspective we must have as well. We must seek to help the people we work with to look upward as well. That is, we must be ministry minded in our work. We must seek to bring the gospel to bear on our coworkers.

    Traeger and Gilbert provide a helpful list of simple ways to be ministry minded at work (128-131):

    • Do good work as a Christian. As I mentioned earlier, this gives credibility to our gospel claims.

    • Learn to put God on the table. Sharing the gospel is never going to be smooth with an unbeliever, so we must simply make prayerful, faithful efforts when we can. When someone at work asks, “What did you do this weekend?” tell them that you went to church.

    • Build relationships beyond the office. Look for ways to invite coworkers over for dinner or out for a cup of coffee. Your place of work may not allow for you to share the gospel, but you can build relationships at your work that lead to places outside of work where you can.

    • Use the witness of the church. In a healthy church, which we’re working and praying for Grace to grow more and more towards, you will have many other believers who are eager to work with you as you seek to reach your coworkers—to go out to eat or to a game or shopping or wherever, to pray with you and share the gospel with you.

    • Have a ‘mission field’ mindset about your workplace. More than likely, if you are a Christian, you work in a culture different than this one. Not everything about it is going to be good, but not everything about it is going to be bad either. Seek to build bridges and find areas of common interest through which to bring the gospel to bear.

    • Be wise and winsome, but not worried and wimpy. If your work won’t allow you to evangelize on company time, in general, honor that. Be kind to people who are stuck in sin. And at the same time fear nothing and no one but God alone.

  13. The Holy Spirit is living in us to empower us for good work (Ephesians 3:16). If all of this sounds a bit overwhelming, good. It should. It should because we’re very accustomed to thinking of how we are going to accomplish things in our own strength and power. The good news of God’s design for our work though, is that he gives the charge (to work) and he gives the strength. God has put his Spirit in every one of us to empower us for all He requires of us. He will, Paul says in Ephesians 3, strengthen us in our inner being by the Spirit. The bad news is that you cannot work as God has called you to on your own. The good news is that you are not on your own if you are a Christian.

  14. We must rest. God gave us this example in Genesis 2:1-3 and then later the command to join him in rest and promised to be our rest (Matthew 11:28-30). We were made for work, but we were also made for rest. We need to take breaks—not from work, but for work. Rest makes us better able to work as God works.

  15. Work is harder and less fruitful because of the fall. We are less efficient, office drama is common, products fail, kids disobey, we give ourselves to something for years only to feel a sense of meaninglessness to it all, etc. all because sin is in the world, actively bringing about decay and disorder in the world.

    In Genesis 3:17-19 we read of God’s judgment on man for his sin, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 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.”

    And that is why work is hard today. That is why work can be such a source of frustration and futility. But, again, this is also part of why we work…to join God in holding these things back in loving service to God’s image bearers. And again, we know that because we are joining God in his work our work will never truly be in vein.

  16. All of this together means that success at work is much like success in evangelism. Success in evangelism is preaching the gospel and calling people to respond to it. Success in evangelism is not getting someone to become a Christian. Likewise, in light of everything we’ve seen, success in work is not having the most profitable product or making the most excellent music or reaching the highest position in the company. Success in work is working just as God has called you to: for his glory, according to his example, and in his delight. And Jesus’ death on the cross means that God is pleased with every act of work offered in faith and that he will use it for good.

CONCLUSION

I broke off from preaching through Genesis for this one week in order to help you see more clearly one of the implications of a right reading of Genesis: seeing work and working rightly. We’ll do that a few more times when we get to marriage and sin, for instance. For now, though, and in conclusion, I want to remind you that Genesis provides the foundation of our work and also the story in which our work finds its meaning. It is the foundation in that it teaches us that our work is built on God’s nature and design for us and the world. And it provides the story for our work in that it helps us to see the beginning of how we fit into the whole of creation, fall, redemption, and glorification—the story of the world; where it’s been and where it’s going. More importantly though, as I just mentioned, the NT helps us to see that our work has ultimate meaning and success in the fact that Jesus died on the cross. There is a way, then, in which this good news, this gospel comes to bear on every field of work from garbage collecting to plumbing to medicine to government to artistry to business. And the cross means that even when we fall short of God’s good design for our work, we are already forgiven and free and loved children of God. Amen.