Written by Elkana Chan
We spend a lot of our time on this earth working; I feel easily preoccupied by it and spend a lot of time thinking about it too. It seems that there is constantly more to do. I often fear, and sometimes even despair, How am I going to do all the things I have to do? And how can I work for the Lord, when I’m not even sure I can finish all that is placed before me? Honoring God in my work feels elusive and I struggle to work heartily for the Lord.
Yet God has shown us the gospel of grace that pervades all aspects of life, including work; I hope that in repeating these truths that He continues to teach me and apply to my heart may likewise encourage you and direct you to worship Him.
In creation, God made us to be His image bearers. He made us to reflect Him and gave us dominion over the earth as we are His representatives on earth. Included in this, is the ability to work and a command to work (Gen 1:28); plants had not really grown in the Garden of Eden until man was put in it so he could tend to them (Gen 2:5-9). Work was part of God’s perfect creation, which He called very good (Gen 1:31).
The New Testament reiterates that work is good: we’re familiar with Colossians 3:23-24 which tells us to work heartily for the Lord and that we serve him by doing so (see Eph 6:5-8). Moreover, Romans 13:9-10 and Gal 5:14 tell us that the law is summed up in the commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (which is an outworking of loving God); by obeying the commands to work (2 Thess 3:6-12, Eph 4:28), we thus serve the good purpose of loving our neighbors as ourselves. We see this practically in how parents are able to provide for their families by working; by studying hard and learning from your classes, perhaps you have been able to help a friend understand a concept. However, chances are, work doesn’t seem unilaterally “good” in your experience.
Sin has crept into our hearts, the hearts of others, and creation, and it manifests itself in all of life. The following are some sins in the area of work that I’ve seen in my life over the past week:
After Adam and Eve committed their first sin against God, He pronounced a curse upon them:
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen 3:17-19)
In His original creation, God had made us subservient to Him, and the earth subservient to us; but in our disobedience against God, we stepped outside of this order and the earth no longer submits to us. God didn’t curse work to be evil, but to be vain and frustrating. The book of Ecclesiastes speaks of this through and through — everything that man does is done with the knowledge that he will die and leave it all behind (Ecc. 1:2-4, 2:20-23, 4:4). Our lives are short, yet we toil and act as if our work and lives are of great significance:
“It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” (Psalms 127:2)
“Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!” (Psalms 39:5-6)
It’s so evident that work doesn’t submit to us as it should: we get stuck reading the same page over and over again (something I think of as a modern-day thorn/thistle), work is physically and mentally exhausting, and time seems to slip out of our hands. My work is so fleeting — by the start of a new week, I barely remember what I anxiously worked on the week before — and yet I become anxious again. Work is full of frustrations because it has been thoroughly cursed on this earth, and our sin and the sin of others pervades it. But thank God, this is only the condition of this earth.
The vanity of work is a consequence of sin that has persisted as long as sin has; but Christ came as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). He was perfectly righteous in all aspects of life, and “For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). The Bible also says, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor 5:17)
The fact that we are new creations in Christ — still imperfect in this life, but awaiting one in which we will be made perfect — is paralleled in creation:
“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Rom 8:20-23)
This is the Good News! All of the sins I have committed in work and in all of life are forgiven by Christ’s substitution. And the Spirit has taken residence in us, enabling us to live to please God — to fight against sin, to ask for help to fight against sin, and to be forgiven when we sin. Though our struggle against sin (and failure to fully defeat it) persists each day, we groan in hope of full redemption, for God uses it to sanctify us until He finally makes us perfect in a completely new creation. This puts eternal meaning to our work — groaning over the sins and vanity found in work is neither meaningless nor the end, but a part of anticipating the new creation that is to come.
So how do I honor God in my work? While I struggle with frustrations in the vanity of work and my own sin in it each day — I work remembering that God has shown me grace in not only forgiving me but promising to make all things new, and I live in this hope:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Rev 21:1–5)
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor 4:16-18)
Many of the thoughts in this post were taken from a CTS talk on “A Biblical Perspective of Work” given by former undershepherd Daniel Stevens in 2/2016 and Paul Twiss’s sermon series on Ecclesiastes in 4/2017 [https://www.gracechurch.org/teaching/search: look up “Paul Twiss” + “Ecclesiastes”].← All Posts