Having looked at some of the common motivations for work in part 1, let’s begin to look at what the Bible says about work. We see right from the start that we are created to work. That’s our place in this world.
In Gen 1:28, after God makes humanity, he tells us to ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’ From this we can see that part of our work is subduing the world. This is to rule over created things. Here we take the things of this will and bend them to our purposes. It’s part of what it means to be made in God’s image (1:26). We dig metal from the ground, melt it and bend it to good purposes. We beat the air into submission as we fly from place to place, we marshal resources together as we build cities and infrastructure. There is no sense in Gen 1 however that these purposes would be for anything other than the good of humanity and the environment. There is no licence here for ravaging the earth in service of our own greed.
This leads us to a complementary point about work. In the parallel creation account in Genesis 2, we see that in the Garden of Eden humanity is to ‘work it and take care of it’ (2:15). We also see the work of naming the animals in 2:19-20. This is the ordering and re-ordering of the world. Far from ravaging the earth we are to bring order to the land. God does not picture paradise as a wild, untouched ecosystem, but a garden that is worked and taken care of by people. This is the ordering of the earth so as to bring fruit from the ground. The work of ordering is to make the world productive for the support of life – all the kinds of life. This is farming (cropping and pastoral), environmental planning and management, irrigation, water supply, fishing, warehousing, transport, distribution and much more. Now the effects of sin have again had dramatic effect on our ability to order, often with our ignorance or greed leading to widespread environmental damage. But that doesn’t lessen our responsibility to do the work of ordering and re-ordering.
All this work happens before Genesis 3 and is therefore good. Sin affects our work, but not so that it takes away from its inherent goodness. But there are more dimensions to work than just what we do as we interact with the environment in which we live. There is also a social dimension.
Stand by for part 3…
Why do we work? What is the point? What can we hope for from work?
One of the extraordinary things we see in the ancient biblical book of Ecclesiastes is reflections of our contemporary attitudes from millennia ago. This is true in the area of work. In Ecclesiastes, the teacher takes it upon himself to turn his considerable wisdom to the topic of work. As is his way, he throws himself deeply into the experience of work:
I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. (Eccl 2:4-7)
What did he discover from his foray into construction, horticulture, landscaping, trade and animal husbandry? He found personal fulfillment: ‘ My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor.’ (2:10). He increased his reputation: ‘I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me.’ (2:9). He found power to consume: ‘I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well– the delights of the heart of man. ‘ (2:8).
Don’t these themes sound familiar today? Much of the motivation in the workplace could fall under the categories of seeking personal fulfillment, improving your reputation and gaining the power to consume (earning money to spend).
How did it work out for the teacher in the end? Emptiness:
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. (2:11)
As intoxicating as his achievements were, they didn’t last. As happens to all of us, time got the better of him. As the cliche, goes, very few people wish they had worked harder on their deathbed. Retirement and ultimately death rob us of the satisfaction of a career.
This all sounds fairly bleak. Is there any good to be found in work? What about from a Christian perspective? Are there right motivations for Christians to work?
Stand by for part 2…
I couldn’t help noticing this as I was reading through Acts recently:
Acts 4:4 But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.
Many people like to attach a size to what they consider to be a biblical church. ‘A biblical church is a house church’. ‘Once your church gets over about 200 it’s no longer following the biblical model’. What we see in the Bible, though, is all sorts of different size churches, from house churches to mega churches. And which came first? The mega church. In the first four chapters of Acts we see the church grow to 3,000 people and then on again in chapter 4 to over 5,000 (Luke records 5,ooo men – if he’s only counting men then we could more than double this figure). Who knows what this meant for their meetings and organisation? Despite whatever faults or flaws we may see in mega churches, their are biblical in proportion. Wouldn’t it be great if many more of our churches grew to that size!
While studying for exams I came across these extraordinary words of Jesus:
Luke 10:22-24 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”
If I were a non-Christian reading these words of Jesus I couldn’t help but notice the incredible arrogance of the statement. Jesus is that almost everyone of any importance in Israel’s history wanted to see Jesus. It’s akin to saying, ‘You guys are awesomely privileged beyond anyone in our national history because you get to hear and see me‘. It’s breathtaking! Not only that, but he has just claimed that he alone can teach us about God (his Father). These are hardly the words of a ‘good teacher’ as so many people think Jesus was these days.
When I read these words as a Christian I find myself profoundly agreeing with Jesus. The disciples were incredibly privileged to be eye and ear witnesses of Jesus, who was God himself walking among us on earth. Thank God that they recorded what they saw and heard in the Bible for us so that we too can have Jesus reveal to us the Father as we read the Bible.
My wife Simone and I lived in Sale for nearly nine years. During that time we really loved the town and the people. We saw the birth of the first three of our four children in Sale. As my time in the RAAF was drawing to a close we decided that the most loving thing we could do for Sale was to move away, be well trained in ministry, and then return to plant a Reformed Evangelical church. This is exactly what we are in the process of doing. I’ll finish my training at Moore Theological College at the end of this year and then we’ll return to Sale to start Flooding Creek Community Church. Others have caught this vision and are excited to join us in this project. We are now a growing group of Christians looking to introduce as many people in Sale to Jesus as possible.
There are three great reasons to plant a church in Sale:
- Sale is a town of 15,000 people, the vast majority of whom do not know Jesus. The days are short and we need to reach the town with the saving message of the gospel. The best way to do this is to plant a Reformed Evangelical Church in Sale.
- The RAAF Base at Sale is a training base which every officer who joins the RAAF will visit for at least four months. Christian ministry onto the base has a national, even international, impact.
- Gippsland needs Evangelical churches. There are some great churches in Gippsland, but there are not nearly enough. Sale is geographically central to Gippsland and a great base from which to plant more Reformed Evangelical churches in Gippsland.
Please join us on this important adventure. If you live in Sale then we’d love to talk to you about joining with us. If you live elsewhere, why not come with us for a gospel adventure in Sale? We covet your prayer and financial partnership also. All the details you need are on this site.
All for Jesus glory!