The Nature of Work

Work is how results happen in this world. Nothing is done, no idea is materialized, no dream becomes fact without labor and effort. Even God worked six days to create the universe we live in. Remember the connection of work and result as you read further.

Work is a globally imperative component of life—one that today is often seen at best as “a necessary evil.” Our culture has derived many misunderstandings concerning the nature of work from ignorance of Scripture’s definition of the concept.

The Bible does indeed have a gamut of things to say about work, and I have endeavored to share what Scripture teaches about it. The initial insights are not difficult to comprehend, and are easy to glean from the verses at a glance. I am certain deeper perceptions can be found, but the plainer wisdom of the Bible leaves much to chew on by itself. I think you will find however that the conclusions we draw straight from Scripture will quickly escalate to amazing promises God has made us about our work.

It is first important to realize that work is not a result of the Fall; in fact it was approved along with Creation as “very good” by God. God Himself set an example of work by creating the world over six days. When He created man, He gave man several mandates: to be fruitful, multiply, and replenish (reproduce and fill the earth); and to subdue (subject to oneself) and have dominion over the earth.

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 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." (Genesis 1:27–28)

If we compare God’s mandate to humanity with His mandate to the rest of Creation, we find that man alone was instructed to “subdue and have dominion” over the earth. At the least, we must concede that ruling over the earth would have qualified as work. Later, God instructed Adam to name the animals (Gen. 2:19–20). And what does the Scripture say when God formed Eve from his side? "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him (Gen. 2:18).” A helper is only necessary where a task must be executed.

Work, then, is a part of God’s perfect plan.

Even His servants the angels minister to Him and make their occupation the worship of Him, management of His sanctuary, and ministering to humanity. So why is work hard and wearisome? For even Paul had to admonish us “not [to] lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary (Galatians 6:9).” Doing good is even termed throughout Scripture as “works”. It would be unbiblical to say that good works are evil, yet we must submit that doing good takes labor, effort, and sacrifice—all clear traits of work. When the Israelites rebuilt the temple, they suffered much grief and pain during their work, though God Himself had inspired Cyrus to let them rebuild it.

Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and frightened them from building [the temple], and hired counselors against them to frustrate their counsel all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. (Ezra 4:4–5)

Even Nehemiah, moved by God to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, faced oppression in his work from the neighboring tribes—to the point that the builders had to bear their swords at all times to protect themselves from their intimidating enemies (Nehemiah 4:23).

So again, why is it that work is often negatively taxing to the worker? We know that the pain and suffering attending work were never a part of God’s perfect Eden.

Work itself could not have been a part of the Curse God put on the earth. In fact, Genesis clarifies that God cursed Adam so that only through much toil (also translated sorrow) and suffering would he receive the fruits of his labor.

Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life…by the sweat of your face you will eat bread [.] (Genesis 3:17, 19)

Thus, we must conclude that God did not curse man with work, He cursed man’s work itself.

How exactly did He curse man’s work? Look at verse 18.

Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field [.]

Before the Fall, all of Adam’s work achieved direct, productive results. Recall that when I opened this entry, I stated that work is intended to generate a result. With the Fall came the violation of work’s very purpose, by weakening the positive effects that come through labor, while the very nature of work was made unpleasant and unenjoyable. So we see that God cursed once perfect, painless work in two ways.

It is a curiosity that if we search the Word for all references to work, we often find a parallel reference to a reward or blessing from the LORD. Perhaps it is a simple point, but it carries subtle promises with it. Proverbs 16:3 instructs us to “[c]ommit [our] works [deeds, acts, enterprises] to the LORD, and [our] plans [thoughts, purposes, imaginations] will be established.” This is simply one of many passages (Ruth 2:12, Job 34:11, Psalm 62:12) that affirm the reward of God to the man who works unto Him. What an encouragement to know that all of our work we perform in this life—from washing dishes to serving as a senator—has significance and a price according to God’s standard, and it will receive a just reward.

Thus, work, when entrusted to God, always receives a full reward, either in this life or the next.

This eliminates at least half of the two-fold curse on man’s work: that though we may not obtain the fullest results in this life as we could before the Fall, God promises to reward us justly in accordance to our work (Psalm 62:12). What a colossal promise for Christians and an overthrow of the degrading effects of sin!

It may not be a terrible stretch also to link this promise to Christ’s teaching of laying up our treasures in Heaven (Matthew 6:20). Could this also include our work as well as our treasures? One can only speculate, but it rings true with the premise that our works will be recompensed by Him in the same way that our treasures we entrust to Him will remain untouched in the storehouses of Heaven.

If God has reversed the consequences of work’s weakness to fully incur effective results, what of the curse of the pain and suffering that accompanies work? Has that been cured? Scripture tells us of how even Jesus himself suffered in His ministry. Is their any redeeming value to our suffering? Hebrews hints at the direct benefits of suffering in the work of God:

Although He [Jesus] was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. (Hebrews 5:8)

It is a strange truth, but without suffering, Christ would not have learned obedience; God therefore redeemed His Son’s suffering with a direct benefit. We are also told by Paul that tribulations (pressure, distress, affliction) from living the Christian life result in perseverance, then character, then hope. As if that was not enough, Scripture continuously links Christ’s suffering with His eventual glorification.

Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things [torture and death on the Cross] and to enter into His glory? (Luke 24:26)

Paul affirms in Romans that this promise of glory through suffering is for those who follow after Christ as well:

The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:16–18)

God has redeemed the pain and suffering that accompanies work with the benefits of Godly character, hope, obedience, perseverance, and ultimate glorification of the believer.

So God has nullified the Curse on man’s work on all fronts: (1) by promising us as Christians a just reward for all of our work (bypassing the weakened results of work on earth), and (2) by using suffering as a prefix to to Godly character and glorification.

As a believer then, we can enjoy our work with a joy no other faith can claim. Imagine the ecstasy that comes with such a knowledge, that God has ordained us from the beginning to work, that He blesses every work we perform, and that the temporary pain that surrounds work actually produces fruit we would not have otherwise produced! It encourages me to work not just because I must to pay the bills, but because I aspire to honor God with a tool He gave man long ago as a gift, not a burden.

Do you want your work to be justly rewarded? Do you want everything you do to have significance? Are you seeking hope in the midst of the pain and toil of daily labor? You can take advantage of all these promises by repenting of your life of sin and rebellion against God and accepting Christ’s payment for your sin on the Cross. Make peace with God and obey His commandments He has given us through His Word, the Bible.

This entry has been as much a challenge for me to write as may be for you to ponder. I found myself wading deeper and deeper as I became immersed in verses pertaining to work. Unfortunately there are a dozen other facets of work I was obliged to leave out accordingly. It has been heartening for me to personally discover how special my work is to God. He truly honors us.