This is a community that values work – hard work. In our time here, I’ve seen some of the beauty of this, and some of its dangers. We know both the joy and peace of good work, a job well done, and we know the bondage that work can become. As we have watched you and lived among you, Pastor Olga and I have frequently wondered about what Scripture has to say into this complicated situation of ‘work,’ especially with such rich diversity in the kind of jobs we have in this congregation. So this morning, we want to begin building a biblical theology of work that can help all of us to follow God more deeply in this significant area of our lives.
Today, all we are going to do is lay the foundation. Pastor Olga will pick up the building project next week, but today we will just have the foundation. And to lay a foundation, we need to hear a foundational story – the beginning of the true story of the whole world. I invite you to listen this morning with ears and hearts attuned to God’s call to our work. But before we do, please take a moment to pray with me.
Father, may your Word be our rule, your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.
These are the very words of God from the book that we love:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.
And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.
And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.
And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all livestock
and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
To the woman he said,
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.
The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
That was Genesis 1-3, if you’d like to follow along. The opening chapters of the true story of the whole world.
1. ALL WORK IS GOOD
I have a question for us this morning, and I am looking for an answer. Why did God place Adam in the Garden? It’s right there, throw up a sign when you find it. Hint, it’s in chapter 2. 2:15. Excellent, will someone say it out loud for us.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
– to work it and take care of it.
Remember, we have just heard the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
God created the world and over and over again, he saw that it was GOOD. We are looking here at the beginning, getting a glimpse of the design God had for the universe and the people he put in it. And God takes Adam and places him in the garden to what? to work it and take care of it.
Wait, does that mean that life in the Garden was not like a vacation in Cancun? You mean it wasn’t laying on the beach, relaxing in the sun, sipping fruity drinks? You mean to tell me that Adam had to work in the garden, and this was considered ‘good’?
But what kind of work was Adam doing? Anybody? (Working the ground, naming animals)
Does this seem like ultra spiritual work to you? (Not really)
This is key. The first part of our foundation for a theology of work is right here. God’s plan in the garden included all kinds of work and all of it glorified God. All of work can glorify God.
Engineering, Chemistry, Teaching, Medicine, Agriculture, Research, Art, Manufacturing, Learning – All of work can glorify God.
Adam tended a garden and named the animals and in doing so, worked for the glory of God. This tells us that God-glorifying work is not limited to the kind of work we might normally categorize as spiritual. Every job, every occupation, every sphere of your life was designed from the dawn of creation to glorify God.
I once asked Pastor Olga why here family moved halfway around the world to milk cows, especially when they don’t like being far from family or moving. She said that her Dad would remark that he was called to be a farmer.
He was called to be a farmer. Do you mean that farming can be a call from God? That God is honored by good, wise farming of the soil? That God is honored by integrity and honesty in business practices? That is God is honored by cows being treated well and milking well? That God is honored by generosity in the time and resources that he has given? That God is honored by a dairy farmer being a good dairy farmer?
Yes. All of work can glorify God when it is directed toward the good God intended for it. When farmers farm well, when educators teach well, when paramedics care well, God is glorified. When our work contributes to the making of peace and wholeness in the world, when we direct what we do to the glory of God, it is good.
2. ALL WORK IS FALLEN
But as we heard this foundational story this morning, we know that the untainted goodness of creation, of work in service to God, is only act 1 of the story. What happens to work after the encounter with the snake and Adam and Eve disobey God and eat the fruit? It’s in Genesis 3:17-19. Can someone tell me what happens?
through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life
As a result of sin entering the world, work becomes toil. Work becomes toil. If you have ever gone to school, lived with a family, or worked more than a day in your life, you know what it means when work becomes toil. When what should be joyous and should bring life and growth and glory to God seems to suck out your soul and weary your bones.
through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.
God’s goodness extends the the very depths and breadth of creation – to every sphere of life. And humanity’s fall into sin touches every one of those spheres as well. Every arena of life is touched with toil – art, science, journalism, law, politics, education, medicine, the home, the church.
It is almost like creation and humanity along with it, was like a little child. There is something wrong if they baby stays in infancy forever. It was designed to grow, develop, and mature into adulthood. Not long after birth, it contracted a debilitating disease for which there is no known cure. As the child grows, the disease constantly affects the body. Two processes are at work in it simultaneously: the process of growth, maturation, and the progress of the disease.
This is, in some ways, what our work is like. It is good, part of the creation that God called ‘very good,’ but it is also deeply affected, deeply debilitated by the effects of sin. If the first corner of our foundation is that all work is good, the second is this: all work is fallen. All work turns into toil.
3. ALL WORK IS REDEEMED
But that is not the end of the story either. The most exciting work is in act 3, the act we only get a glimpse of here: Redemption. All work is good, all work is fallen, and all work is being redeemed.
All of it. If God’s goodness and purpose for us extends to every nook and cranny of our lives, and if sin has found its way into the deepest and widest place of existence, then the redemption of creation in Jesus Christ goes as the old hymn tells it – ‘far as the curse is found.’
God’s purpose and design for you and me involves every square inch of our lives and every square inch of this world. As the Dutch theologian, Abraham Kuyper, once put it, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
Let me say that again: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
Not a square inch. Every sphere of life is being redeemed. That means your work, your school, your home, your farm – all of it is being claimed by God. And because of that, you can serve God right where you are, in the very work, the very home, that God has placed you in.
Every square inch is God’s – he is reclaiming all of it for his glory. If we want to understand how God speaks into our working life, then it begins with this. God is claiming all of it. Your job is the kind of work God is interested in using for his glory. And your job, for all its goodness, is also deeply affected by sin. And God is claiming everything, even your work, for his kingdom.
This work that God is doing in redemption, in crushing the head of the snake in Jesus, as he promised in our passage today, this work is about more than saving your soul so that you go to heaven when you die. It is about so much more, though certainly not less. It is about nothing less than the whole of your life, the whole of creation, redirected from all the ways it heads away from God to now do what God created it to do.
I long to see each and every one of us come alive with purpose – to see our work and school not just as another task to complete or something that must be done to pay the bills or to ‘get on to what is really important’. I long for each of us to see our work for what is really is – an arena where God is working out his redemption, where he calls us to work for his glory.
God is redeeming every square inch.
“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
I want to speak directly to the students for a minute, and invite the rest of you to overhear. Students, you can glorify God and serve him with all your heart without changing your major. Whether it is in the future as a teacher, a medical professional, a lawyer, a farmer, or even right now as a student. You can serve God wherever he sends you. God is redeeming all of life, which means God’s kingdom mission has to do with your school, with your family, it has to do with building safe bridges and distributing good medicine, it has to do with taking care of the land and with teaching children. What do you hear at the end of the service here every week? “Wherever it is that God sends you this week, let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
And you can do that, even now, wherever God puts you.