by Dave Hintz
I was in the eighth grade when I got a phone call from a pastor from this new church my family started to attend. We chit chatted for a little while then he asked if we wanted to do lunch – his treat. Naturally, the prospect of getting a free lunch prompted an affirmative answer and in a few days we sat across the table from each other at Chi Chi’s – my favorite Mexican restaurant. During the course of our conversation he gave me this “sage” advice. “Dave” he said solemnly, “Don’t start work until you absolutely have to because from that point on you will be working for the rest of your life.” At the time, this tickled my ears and I found it to be wonderful counsel. I like most young men, had an idolatrous love of leisure and desired to play as long as possible. Yet, this advice was poisonous to my lazy psyche. It suggested that work was a curse which should be avoided as long as possible. Little did I know that work could be a fulfilling, spiritually uplifting, and rewarding experience. A brief biblical survey will demonstrate this reality.
Initially, work furnished purpose for life. God labored to create the world in six days, and made man to take care of it for the rest of time. Adam had the task of ordering and administrating God’s creation by cultivating and keeping the garden (Gen. 2:15). Therefore, work provided man with the opportunity to emulate his maker through working and dominion. Through his labors he capitalized on the functional nature of being made in the image of God (1:27).
From its inception, man carried out these duties through naming the animals and searching for a helper suitable for him (2:17). God’s decree to the first couple to “be fruitful and multiply” (1:28) also afforded him with the opportunity for obedience. The work of man consisted of spiritual service to the LORD through actively obeying His precepts. The garden did not exist as a playground of pleasure, but an opportunity to serve his creator.
Cultivating and keeping the land also provided an opportunity for Adam to familiarize himself with the concept of work. As he picked the fruit and oversaw the animals, Adam understood his purpose for existence. God worked at creating the world, therefore Adam would work at maintaining it. Thus, Adam achieved greater communion with God through the shared experience of work.
Furthermore, as he cultivated God’s creation, he became more familiar with God the creator. Witnessing the splendor of the works of divine hand most assuredly led to worshipful thoughts regarding the artist.
The acts of obedience, the shared experience of work, and a growing appreciation of the beauty of God’s creation made work a wonderful activity as it provided purpose for Adam’s life.
Tragically, all of this came to a screeching halt, as Adam capitulated to the schemes of the devil and the will of his wife by disobeying the single prohibition given by God. The labor of love, which Adam had partaken in, transformed into a labor of lug. God found Adam guilty of eating the forbidden fruit. Therefore, God sentenced him to perpetually experience toil and pain in the aspiration of eating. Food would no longer come easily to the evicted resident of the garden. Apple trees, blueberry bushes, and strawberry patches would be intermingled with thorns and thistles. The ease of eating in the garden would be a distant memory as he spends every spring overturning the soil and every summer removing weeds. Food will come, but not without the expense of the sweat of the brow. Eventually, the energy and physical exertion of keeping the land, combined with the newly declared curse of death, would lead to man reuniting with the dirt he so diligently worked (Gen. 3:17-19).
Notice that the curse directed to Adam rests not upon him. God cursed the ground and not the man. Subsequently, we should not equate the curse with the exertion and expense of energy. Undoubtedly, Adam labored rather diligently in the Garden; for example, in one day he named anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 kinds of animals (Gen. 2:19). The impetus of the curse rests in the frustration and fruitlessness of wasted work. Every gardener knows the frustration of weeding. Men and women spend entire weekend afternoons yanking every weed by its roots, only to watch them sprout again by the next weekend. The inefficiency of labor leaves man wearied and worn down.
Yet, work can have meaning and fulfillment apart from sheer productivity. Referencing back to Gen. 2:15, God commands Adam to work and cultivate the ground. The Hebrew word for “work” corresponds to keeping the Commandments and heeding God’s Word. Similarly, the Hebrew word for “cultivate” conveys a sense of serving the Lord through spiritual acts of obedience. For Adam, the action of cultivating and working glorified God as he obeyed the commandment given to Him. To find purpose for work, one must fuse mundane and spiritual labor. Paul admonishes in Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”
Consider the office cubicle as a wonderful place to worship God. This worship does not consist of putting the paperwork aside to pray and read the Scriptures. Rather, worship God by working hard and producing excellent work to His credit and not your own. Working for the glory of God consists of having a positive attitude free from the vices of whining and complaining (Phil. 2:14). Laboring for the Lord also leads to submission to the authorities in the work place which God has placed over you (Rom. 13:1).
Young men, do not be afraid of work, but embrace it as an opportunity to fulfill your calling as men. You don’t have to have your dream job to find fulfillment. As long as you have a biblical perspective on work you can obtain deep joy whether you are flipping burgers, fighting fires, or programming computers.