Work is Not a Dirty Word

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When we talk about the subject of productivity, we need to recognize that what we are really talking about is work—how to get more work done better, faster, etc. But some Christians carry with them the mistaken assumption that work is a bad thing. They believe it is a tedious but necessary consequence of sin and the fall. To many of us, work is synonymous with pain, toil, and frustration. We think of work as a dirty word. But the way we view work will shape how we do work, so it is important that we understand work as it was designed to be.

Perhaps you look at your difficult job, the frustration of the daily grind, and catch yourself day dreaming about what it must have been like for Adam & Eve. Certainly, in paradise those pristine specimens of humanity never had to work, right? It was just a never-ending vacation in a beautiful utopian garden! All they had to do was sit around munching on apples all day and chilling with talking animals. What a life! Likewise, perhaps the cessation of work is one of the things you look forward to most in heaven. In heaven we’ll pass eternity by floating around on clouds strumming our harps all day in celestial retirement, right?

Well, no, not exactly.

Work was created by God, it existed before the fall, and it will exist into eternity. Work is good.

Work, far from being a dirty word, is actually part of God’s very good plan for mankind. Though work is difficult and toilsome now, it will be restored to its former splendor in eternity. Yes, there will be work in heaven, and it will be a glorious, productive joy to perform.

Work Was What We Were Made For

From the beginning, God made mankind to work. Take a look at Genesis 1:26–28.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”

Genesis 1:26–28 ESV

Right from the start man was given a task. He was assigned a job. He was made to work. This passage describes mankind being made in the image of God. And like his God—Who is a God Who works (Gen 2:2, cf. John 5:17)—man is made to work.

God commands the man to:

  • have dominion over all creatures of the earth,
  • be fruitful and multiply,
  • fill the earth,
  • and subdue it.

We were made to work.

Work Was Always the Intention

What’s more, it’s clear that work was God’s intention for mankind even before He created him. Genesis 2:5 speaks of a time “When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground.” And then in 2:15, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”

Part of man’s overarching work of ruling over the animals was the specific task of naming them (Gen 2:19–20). And you’ve heard about how Eve, Adam’s wife, was created to be a helper, right? Well, have you ever asked yourself what she was helping with? She was helping with the work!

Work has always been the intention for mankind, but it was not always frustrating and toilsome.

Work Was Not Originally Wearisome

We must recognize that work and and pain are not inextricable. Work is not wearisome by original design. Before sin ever entered the picture there was work to be done. And this work, like all that God made was included in His summarizing pronouncement about His creation, “it was very good” (Gen 1:31).

Adam and Eve’s work was not painful, toilsome work. Moses could have used other Hebrew words like amal and yaga for work, terms which connote the toilsome, laborious side of work. But throughout the first two chapters of Genesis he uses the word mahlahcah which speaks of work, but which carries none of the negative associations we have with work in a post-curse world (Andrew Bowling, TWOT, מְלָאכָה).

Work is part of God’s good creation, but obviously something has changed.

Conclusion – Work is Cursed But Work is Good

This understanding of work as a good part of God’s creation should change our attitude toward it. Though our work has been cursed (Genesis 3:17–19), there nevertheless remains much of the joy and pleasure which work was designed to produce in us. We feel it still in the pride of a job well done, in the ache in our legs as we stretch out in bed after a hard day’s work, and in the satisfying integrity of knowing that today I worked heartily as unto the Lord and not for men (Colossians 3:23).

It’s important we remember that there was once a time when work was always done with perfect productivity and satisfaction. Let’s be careful that we do not denigrate work as something bad, that we do not call evil what God has called good. Your work is a gift from God and can still be an immense source of joy and opportunity to glorify God. Sure, it’s difficult, but be careful that you do not turn to grumbling. Work is not a dirty word.

But mankind did sin, and that messed work up royally. In the next post we will look at how the fall of man and the curse made attention to productivity necessary.

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