After God had made all other creatures, He created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after His own image; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it; and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject unto change. Beside this law written in their hearts, they received a command, not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; which while they kept, they were happy in their communion with God, and had dominion over the creatures. (WCF 4.2)
The last phrase of WCF 4.2 is essential to a tactical view of creation. The first command God gives His newly formed image bearers in Scripture is this: “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Gen. 1:28). We’re created to work.
Fatigue is a product of the Fall; sweat isn’t. When Adam sinned, God increased the difficulty of our work, but work was already a part of the sinless world God created. Taking dominion, which implies labor, was at the center of the Garden Covenant. Furthermore, Solomon the wise found that “there is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour” (Eccl. 2:24). Labor and the enjoyment of it, he said, is from the hand of God.
Solomon goes on to say that the kind of joyful labor he’s talking about is beyond the grasp of unrighteous men: “For God giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy: but to the sinner he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him that is good before God” (Eccl. 2:26). So, as Christendom spreads and the world is overtaken by the Gospel, we should expect men to work more productively and more joyfully. On the other hand, we should expect labor to be burdensome in societies that have not yet been subjected to Christ.
Because work is holy and good, we should approach poverty relief in a uniquely Christian fashion. Handouts that create financial dependence on the church or the state are a great evil to avoid at all costs. George Grant is helpful here:
“Whereas humanitarian social policy keeps people helplessly dependent, Biblical charity seeks to remove them from that status and return them to productive capacity. Biblical charity seeks to put them back to work because Biblical charity should never be anything other than a prod to full restoration of the poor to their God-ordained calling. Paul makes it plain: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10)” (Bringing in the Sheaves, [Atlanta, GA: American Vision, 1985], 78-79).
Biblical poverty relief puts folks to work. Able-bodied men and women who won’t work will starve. That’s not negligence on our part. It’s God’s curse on their disobedience.
Because work is good, it’s also here to stay. If you wonder what life in the New Creation sounds like, just imagine the growl of air compressors and the snap of nail guns. Isaiah heard it: “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind…. And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them. They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them” (Isa. 65:17; 21-23, emphasis mine). Retirement, that years-long respite most evangelicals strain towards their entire adult lives, is merely an interlude between careers, the second of which will last an eternity.
So what does the goodness and eternality of work mean for us when our alarms go off on Monday morning?
First, because of the Fall, work weakens our bodies, so it becomes increasingly difficult to roll out of bed. However, aches, pains, and anxiety over work are not inherent to work in general, just work between the Fall and the resurrection.
Second, despite the undeniable fact that we are, by God’s post-Fall design, working ourselves to death, joy in our toil is at our fingertips. Remember, Solomon said the righteous have Spirit-wrought joy in their hearts and on their faces while they’re digging ditches and fiddling with spreadsheets.
Third, as Christians living after the resurrection of Jesus, we live in the New Creation foreseen by Isaiah. It’s not full grown yet, but the mustard seed isn’t a seed anymore; it’s a sapling. So we should trust the Lord will prosper the work of our hands, making our labor joyful and productive.
Fourth, because the New Creation matches and exceeds the glory of the old creation, the Kingdom of God will include infants and mothers and plumbers and barbers and accountants. Work of all kinds can glorify God, so we should raise children who know a life spent unclogging pipes is just as significant as a life lived pastoring a congregation.
And, lest we lose sight of what work is for, we must remember the goal of work is wealth-building, which God uses to establish his Kingdom and Covenant: “But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day” (Deut. 8:18).
Now Apply It!
- List two ways you can show your children the goodness of work this week.