WORK MATTERS

 

Week of January 1, 2006

 

Bible Passages: Genesis 1:26-28,31; 2:15; Psalm 127:2; Proverbs 6:6-8; 21:5; Colossians 3:22-4:1.

 

Biblical Truth: Work was ordained by God before the fall and is beneficial and satisfying to workers as well as honoring to God.

 

Work is God’s Idea:  Genesis 1:26-28,31; 2:15.

 

[26] Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” [27] God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. [28] God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” [31] God saw all that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. [15] Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. [NASU]

 

[26-27]  In both the opening chapters of Genesis man is portrayed as in nature and over it, continuous with it and discontinuous. He shares the sixth day with other creatures, is made of dust as they are, feeds as they feed and reproduces with a blessing similar to theirs. But the stress falls on his distinctness. Let us make stands in tacit contrast with Let the earth bring forth [24]; the note of self-communing and the impressive plural proclaim it a momentous step. Compared to the animals man is set apart by his office [1:26b,28b; 2:19] and still more by his nature [2:20]; but his crowning glory is his relation to God. The dignity and uniqueness of man is emphasized by the divine counsel recorded in verse 26. Of all that which God created, we see in this verse that only man was fashioned in his image and likeness. In such a way was man set apart at the climax of God’s creative activity. What do these two terms mean? Man was given dominion over the earth because he represented God in a lower creation. And although the likeness has since been distorted because of the presence of sin, man did resemble God at his creation because he was made as a moral being. Other parallels emerge from the passage to illustrate the manner in which man still resembles his creator. Let us consider these briefly. First, God is seen as creative. So too is man, although not on the same level as his maker. Second, speech is an attribute of God. It is this mark of intelligent communication which also distinguishes man from beast, and likens him to God. Third, man, like God, possesses personality. The power of abstract thought enables him to rise above brute creation. Fourth, note that God ascertained that what he had created was good. He approved of moral good and abhors moral evil. So too are the powers of moral choice and will characteristic of man. Finally, and most important, the image and likeness consists of man’s being fashioned for rational, moral and spiritual fellowship with his Maker. This is the element that was destroyed by the Fall and must be renewed by redemption. According to Paul, spiritual regeneration is nothing else than the restoration of this element of the divine image [Eph. 4:20-24; Col. 3:5-17 (see in this passage a clear contrast between man without the image of God and man after the image has been renewed)]. Man’s relationship to the rest of creation was set forth in God’s statement that man would have dominion. Man was made master and lord over creation; a lordship he would lose, in part, at the fall. Elements of his mastery remain however, as David suggests in Psalm 8:6-8. Man’s dominion over all creatures is not the content but the consequence of the divine image. In verse 27, there is the threefold use of creation and the twofold use of image. This repetition serves the purpose of emphasizing the importance of man being created in the image of God.

 

[28] The blessing of God upon man is seen in verse 28. it was more comprehensive than that bestowed on the animal creation, and it included dominion. Furthermore, the command to subdue the earth was issued here. God’s blessings carry with them his enabling power; he provides us with what is necessary to accomplish the tasks he assigns.

 

[2:15] The earth was given to man, with the condition that he should occupy himself in its cultivation. The responsibility of labor is seen in the command to care for the garden. Man was to perform the challenging and rewarding task of maintaining his beautiful home. We need to recognize the value of some kind of labor. It occupies us, and its accomplishment brings fulfillment.

 

Work is Beneficial:  Proverbs 6:6-8; 21:5.

 

[6] Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise, [7] which, having no chief, officer or ruler, [8] prepares her food in the summer and gathers her provision in the harvest. [21:5] The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty. [NASU]

 

[6-8] The bite of sarcasm is felt in the contrast between the diligence of the ant and the indolence of the sluggard. The sluggard lags behind the ant in two chief ways. First, the ant needs no leader; it is not part of a bureaucracy [7] with its chief, officer or ruler. The sluggard may fail despite an organizational structure that ought to promote achievement; the ant succeeds on its own. Second, the ant plans ahead. It understands the seasons. The cycles of life – harvest season and dormant periods – are coded into its instincts. It works while food is plentiful and stores it against the season of want. The contrast leads to a sarcastic complaint in verse 9: How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? The writer is frustrated, even angry. Laziness is a breach of love. It refuses to carry its own weight let alone help with the loads of the rest of us who plod along supporting our young, our aged, our infirm. We have no surplus energy to carry those who can walk and will not. How long and when are the right questions. The sting of the sarcasm comes through in the caricature of the sluggard. One of the sluggard’s traits is cartooned here – the tendency to deny the laziness. Hard work ought to be the normal routine of us who call ourselves children of a Father who is still working.

 

[21:5]  In Proverbs the diligent are usually contrasted with the slothful, but here they are contrasted with the hasty person. Solomon is saying that the diligent man thinks things through. He makes plans and carries them out in an orderly fashion. He is dedicated to his business, and prosperity usually follows. The hasty man acts on undisciplined impulse, often irrationally, and then wonders why his efforts never seems to amount to anything. While this verse indicates that one’s success depends on the proper management of time, Solomon was more concerned here with time’s eternal dimension than its temporal dimension. He was reminding us that we have only so much time on this earth and what we do with that time has eternal consequences. One of the greatest obstacles to success in life is the mismanagement of time. Too often we devote our time to nonessentials.

 

Work Should Be Kept in its Proper Perspective:  Psalms 127:1-2.

 

[1] Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain. [2] It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; for he gives to his beloved even in his sleep.  [NASU]

 

“Useless!” “Meaningless!” “In vain!” Is everything meaningless? Yes – if we leave God out of the picture. Building is useless – unless the Lord builds the house. Precautions are useless – unless the Lord guards the city. Unless the Lord blesses our work, unless the Lord blesses our family, our labors are in vain. They are not in vain if God is in what we are doing. The first two verses of this Psalm teaches us three things about work. First, God works. If God himself works, then there must be some kind of work that is meaningful. God worked on each of the six days of creation and pronounced his work “good”. But God continues to work and works constantly. Part of what God does is work in, with, and through those who are working for him and in his name. Secondly, God makes our work meaningful. If we seek to work apart from God; without seeking to bring him glory; without his direction, then we labor in vain. But if we seek to work for God and his glory, then we receive his blessing which makes all of our efforts meaningful. Thirdly, God rewards our work for him. The first verse of the psalm tells us that work without God is useless. The second verse lists blessings for those who work for and with God. The change from the negative to the positive occurs in the last line of verse 2, which cites a reward: For He gives to his beloved sleep. This statement suggests that having worked for God and at God’s direction, the psalmist now sleeps well since he is able to leave the results of his work in God’s hands with absolute trust in His wisdom and goodness.

 

Work Honors God:  Colossians 3:22-4:1.

 

[22] Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. [23] Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, [24] knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. [25] For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality. [4:1] Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven. [NASU]

 

[22] Paul’s guidelines about slaves’ responsibilities were twofold: obey and serve genuinely. Regarding the obedience the Lord expected, Paul used the same term for the slave/master relationship that he had used to describe children and parents. The word “obey” occurs rather than “submit”. Further, slaves, like children, were to obey in everything. They had a complete responsibility to their masters. Like the other two relationships, however, this instruction probably assumed that a line could be drawn for immoral or illegal activities which might be encouraged by the master. The second portion pertains to slaves’ service [22b-23]. They were to serve genuinely. The tendency for all slaves was to work when the master watched, thereby easing their situations and, perhaps, qualifying them for favors. Paul spoke against that. The slave was to do his work for the Lord, not for his earthly master. The all-seeing eye of the heavenly Master searched the motivations of the heart. Since, in reality, he served the Lord, the work was to be undertaken with a spirit of reverence and fear. All of life was to be lived with a conscious realization of the Master.

 

[23] Paul continued the command to genuine service by urging slaves to work with all your heart. Recalling the general admonition of 3:17 (whatever you do in word or deed), Paul applied the principle to the slaves’ work. The point is that the Lord concerns himself with the expenditure of energy and choices made with all of life. He is the real Master. No matter what our condition in life, we are to work as those who serve the Lord and not just man. Our true labor is ultimately rendered to Christ and not our earthly master or employer.

 

[24] Three motivations for such service are given in verses 24-25. The first appeals to the motive of reward. In speaking of rewards, Paul challenged them to consider the fact that their rewards were spiritual. Such rewards could not be taken away, and the real Master would pay them what really matters. The reward and inheritance seem to have involved the presence of the Lord himself. Thus, the motive was faithfulness to the Lord in the circumstances of life. Being a Christian meant that the concerns of heaven were to occupy the thoughts and energies of those on earth. The second motivation was the sovereignty of the Lord: It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. They knew that they served a Redeemer who is sovereign. He could deliver them in time, and he would deliver them in eternity. If, therefore, he allowed them to remain in slavery, he had some other plan for their lives. His plan temporarily overrode his deliverance.

 

[25] The third motivation is given in verse 25. This verse, set in contrast to the preceding, shows that wrong will be punished, because there is no favoritism with God. Doubtless Paul meant it as a warning to Christian slaves not to presume on their position before God and think that he would overlook their misdeeds. In the parallel passage in Ephesians it is the master who is reminded that there is no partiality with God, while here it is the slave. In Ephesians, masters are not to think that God is influenced by social position; in the present passage, slaves are not to act unscrupulously just because they know men treat them as irresponsible chattel.

 

[1] No doubt these last words led Paul to address masters in terms of justice to their slaves. If they were to avoid judgment, they had to have a concern for fairness. The motivation given to masters reminded them that they, too, were slaves. The heavenly Master rules over all. 

 

Several applications are clear. First, the primary concern in the text is a Christian response to life’s situations. If circumstances cannot be changed, Christians must respond with a sense of responsibility to God who has chosen not to alter their circumstances. Second, a theology of work emerges. Genuine service in honest vocation brings honor to God. God watches the stewardship of energy, time, and life. This passage teaches that work is honorable even if the profits do not accrue to the worker. Third, the passage clearly teaches the equality and dignity of all persons. Ultimately, individuals are judged by personal responses to the Lord in each situation. These principles are adequately taught here. In contemporary life, the most probable parallel is the workplace, where these principles may be applied.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.      What is unique about God’s creation of mankind? Why is image or likeness so important in determining the importance of mankind for God’s creation?

 

2.      What does Solomon want us to learn about work from the ant? How can we become diligent workers for the Lord?

 

3.      What is the key point in Paul’s teaching about the slave/master relationship? How can we apply his teaching to the employee/employer relationship of today’s world?

 

References:

Genesis, Derek Kidner, Inter-Varsity Press.

Strangers and Pilgrims, Paul Flint, Loizeaux Brothers.

Proverbs, David Hubbard, Word.

Exploring Proverbs, John Phillips, Loizeaux Brothers.

Psalms 107-150, James Boice, Baker.

Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, Richard Melick, Broadman Press.