We’ve done quite a few topical mini-series over the years: The nature and work of Christ, the nature and work of the Spirit, studying Scripture, the disciplines of the Christian life, the nature of the Church, angels and demons, and a few more. Now we’re coming to what I believe will be our last topical study: Work. I’ve wanted to do a series on this for some time, and yesterday’s passage was a great springboard for it, since modern Christians apply it to the employer/employee relationship.
When did work start? Well, if you just went off today’s passage and answered “Adam and Eve,” you’d be wrong. The first worker was God. He created everything in chapter one of Genesis, then stepped back and assessed it as “very good.” When he was done, he rested, which is why he instituted the Sabbath.
But work started for the human race in today’s passage. This is really really important for us to understand: Work did not start with the Fall. Our first parents were put into a perfect garden and were told to “work it and take care of it,” or as the NET Bible translates it “to care for it and maintain it.” What exactly did this entail? What did they need to do in a perfect environment? We’re not sure. But keep in mind that this was a sin-free environment. No desire on the part of Adam and Eve was left unfulfilled (with one lonely exception, which ended up being their downfall). Before the Fall, our first parents were in complete submission to the Father’s will, so creation was in complete submission to them. Before the Fall, I’d surmise that mosquitos wouldn’t dare bite an image-bearer of the Creator. Death only entered the human experience once Adam (the head of our race) sinned and rebelled against his Creator. We were designed to live forever, and creation was designed to submit to us. Once we rebelled upward, creation below us rebelled against us as well.
The point I want to make is that the reason we tend to dislike work so much (there’s a reason why someone has to pay you to do the things you do) is because on this side of the Fall, we only know the sin-wrecked version. Work didn't start with the Fall, but frustrating and useless work did. Now we have to earn our bread “by the sweat of our [brows],” which means we have to put a lot of effort into our work. Where once the earth freely supplied all we needed at a moment’s notice, now we basically have to “force” it to give up what we need just to survive, much less thrive. And some more additives to our modern work experience are the “thorns and thistles.” We plant seed (either literally or figuratively), we put in a certain amount of back-breaking labor, and we might get an 80% return on our investment. Or maybe 60%. Or—as any farmer could testify—a storm or a drought might come by and you get 0% return on your labor. That’s especially heartbreaking.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, at least not all the time. If we’re laboring for the Lord, then it’s not meaningless. If we’re serving him in the way we work, then even if in the world’s eyes it’s a waste of time, nothing but “thorns and thistles,” it’s not. The issue is that we need to rethink our definition or metric of success. Success in the world’s eyes is usually pretty simple: money. But for the believer, our definition of success is obedience. Please note that I’m not saying that obedience leads to success. No, obedience is success. The moment that I’ve chosen to do things God’s way instead of my own, I’ve succeeded in the only way that counts.
And work doesn’t have to be as frustrating as it’s usually thought to be. Yes, a certain amount of frustration is unavoidable in a fallen world. but . . . if we’re serving him, then we can get our satisfaction from him, and the common frustrations in life—including in our work—can roll off our backs like water off a duck’s.
Over the next couple of days, we’re going to see what God’s word has to say about this. Join me, will you?
Lord Jesus, we lost so much when our first parents made a bad choice. By your grace, I want to make better choices. And you’ve started the project of reclaiming that loss, both in the world and in my life. Thank you.