The Bible has a lot to say about work and our attitudes toward it. Here are five points to consider.
Sometimes we forget that in the first verse of Scripture God was at work. He created the heavens and the earth and everything in it in six days and rested from His work on Day Seven (Genesis 2:2–3). Moreover He is described as one who “makes” (1:16, 26), “forms” (2:7), “fashions” (verse 22), and “plants” (verse 8). The things that God made were “good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25); in fact, at their completion they were declared it to be “very good” (verse 31). God’s working for six days and resting on the seventh was a pattern the people of Israel were to follow (Exodus 20:11; 31:17).
In Genesis 1:26–28, man, who is created in the image of God, is given responsibility to care for creation by subduing, ruling over it, and increasing upon it. This is something that man was also told to do after the Flood (Genesis 9:1, 7). After Adam’s creation in Genesis 2, he is placed in the garden to “tend” and “keep” it (verse 15). Adam’s life in the garden was not one of laziness; he had work to do, even though it may have been less strenuous than what was to come in a fallen world.
Work is sometimes viewed as a product of the Fall, but this is not the case. Rather, difficulty in our work is a product of the Fall (Genesis 3:17–19).
Since the Fall made our work difficult, and because we are in a fallen state, we naturally want to find a way not to do our work. In our culture, and even in the Church, our fallen state often shapes our attitude toward work. For example, in secular society, human fulfilment is often seen as an escape from work (i.e., early retirement or winning the lottery). On the other hand, for many people work is the center of their life and in effect becomes their idol—their means of personal fulfilment. The Bible warns against both of these mentalities. Scripture condemns slothful and lazy attitudes toward work (Proverbs 18:9; 19:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:6–13) and teaches that we should work with all of our hearts as to the Lord (Colossians 3:23) rather than being motivated by our own fulfilment.
Adam’s work in the Garden was not just a means to an end but was a way for him to worship God. The Hebrew words in Genesis 2:15 for “tend” (ʿaḇaḏ) and “keep” (šāmar) are used elsewhere of man’s worship of God (Exodus 8:1, 20, 9:1, 13) and of his obedience to God’s Word (Genesis 17:9; 18:19). The two words also appear together in Deuteronomy 10:12–13 in the context of worshiping God. Adam, therefore, was put in the garden to worship God by “tending” and “keeping” it. As Christians, in whatever we do, we are called to do it to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Jesus not only showed us that physical work was necessary and good (Mark 6:3), but he also modelled for us an attitude of work by fulfilling the work He was called to do (John 9:4, 10:37, 17:4). Whereas the first Adam made work difficult, the Last Adam, through His work on the Cross, changes our attitudes toward work so that we can bring glory and honour to the Lord.
Again, because of the Fall, mankind now attempts to work for salvation with his own hands by taking the things he makes to satisfy God (see Genesis 3:7, 21). However, Jesus promised rest from the weariness of work (i.e., manmade rules—see Matthew 23:4), for those who come to him (11:29). Salvation is not a product of our work, as it cannot benefit us before God: it is solely a gift of God. Our good works are the fruit of our salvation (Ephesians 2:8–10).