The Glorious Gift of Work

A few days ago I was discussing the excesses of our entertainment generation, and the way that can so easily creep into our lives. I finished by saying “What is God’s great plan for you and I to find fulfilment? Not television or concerts or the weekend. God wants us to be fulfilled, and He’s given us a wonderful gift to ensure that happens — the gift of work.” Today, I want to spell this out in a bit more detail

Work is good

Why then do we never wake up on a Monday morning and shout to the heavens: ‘Thank you God! I can go to work today!’ Why instead, do we spend our week longing for Friday and the weekend?

It is true — work really is good…

  1. Genesis 2:15 says, ‘The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.’ In paradise itself, where everything was ‘very good’, work was being done. And not just being done, Adam’s very existence in the garden was in order to work.
  2. Ephesians 2:10 tells us ‘For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.’ Adam was created so he could work. The Christian was saved in order that he could work.
  3. In Matthew 9:38 Jesus says we are to ask God to ‘send out workers into his harvest field’. The Christian is not just to work, he’s to pray that more would joining him!
  4. 2 Timothy 3:16–17 says, ‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful… so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.’ One reason the Bible was given was so that we would be able to work well.
  5. Finally, in John 17:4 Jesus says, ‘I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.’ What did Jesus do while He was here on earth? He worked!

Why was Adam to put in paradise? To work. Why is the Christian saved? To do good works. What should we pray for? More workers. Why did God give us the Bible? That we might be equipped to work. And what did Jesus do when he was here on earth? He worked. So work is good.

…but work isn’t only good

Why then do we wake up in the morning wishing that we didn’t have to work? Why does sometimes work seem dreadfully hard or boring? It’s because of sin. In Genesis 3:17–10 God tells Adam,

Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of 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…

Work is hard, because God made it hard as a punishment for sin. Those days when you slave away all day, and seem to achieve nothing — it’s a punishment for Adam’s sin. That’s why every Christian longs for something better than ‘painful toil’. We are to long for the day when we will be free from all the frustrations of this life. To long for the day when we won’t spend hours working only for the computer to crash and lose it all. To long for the day when we don’t wake up on a Thursday morning to discover that after all the hours you’ve put into your exams you’ve still ended up with an ‘F’. To long for the day when you won’t be sitting on a production line fitting widgets into thingamajigs. To long for the day when you won’t be stuck in an office just hitting buttons on a computer. To long for a day when work will seem worthwhile, when work will seem productive.

But work that seems to be completely unproductive is not just because of Adam’s sin. It’s because of my sin, too. In 1 Corinthians 15:58, Paul tells us ‘Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.’

Sometimes work seems hard and boring because we are not labouring in the Lord. It is no wonder our labour is in vain, because this is just the work of men that we are doing. Christ has redeemed work. We don’t have to wait to go to heaven to serve Jesus Christ, and all work that is done for Him is not in vain – no matter how it sometimes feels.

Always working

If we’re to always gives ourselves fully to work, then work is not just what we do between nine o’clock and five o’clock between Mondays and Fridays. Work is not just that thing you do in college just before your essay deadline. A Christian is always working. We may help in the Sunday school, or the children’s club. We might assist the deacons in putting the chairs away at the end of a meeting. We might write to missionaries, visit the housebound, pray for the sick, encourage our friends, study the scriptures, care for our families, and it’s all work! Not only is it work, it’s glorious work – or at least it can be. Work for the Lord is glorious because it is never in vain.

When your friends are sitting at home crashed out in front of yet another repeat on TV, you could be involved in glorious work helping children to understand the gospel in your kids club. As they are sitting in clubs or bars listening to the latest sounds, you could be involved in glorious work in searching the scriptures and finding Christ in them! Praise God for redeeming work!

But don’t think that work for the Lord is work that you do when you’re not ‘at work’. Colossians 3:23-24 says

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it… with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord… It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

God not only redeems work by giving us extra work to do, he redeems work by giving meaning to the work we already have. Work is never a means to an end. It is never something we just do in order to pay the bills and keep a roof over our heads. It is never something we do just in order to get a degree so that we can then get a ‘proper job’! We work for the Lord! Isn’t that wonderful news?

But what about rest?

I’m sure I don’t have to convince you that rest is good. We know that already! But if you’re too busy and need reminding, make time to read Genesis 2:2, Matthew 11:28, Hebrews 3–4, Revelation 14:13 and Exodus 20:8–11. Those passages will remind you that rest plays a central part in God’s eternal plans for every believer. They’ll show you that God rests, that being a Christian is restful, that Heaven is a place of rest, and that God commands that we should take regular rest. So rest is good.

But those verses also show that rest is always rest with God. Eternal rest means being with Him. Sabbath-rest means separating from the world and coming to Him. When Jesus says “I will give you rest”, his sentence starts with the phrase “Come to me.”

The Bible knows nothing of ceasing work simply to indulge yourself. If in the Bible work is always seen as work for God, then rest is always seen as rest with God. How tragic then, that so often we use our times of rest to put God out of our mind, instead of coming close to him.

If that’s the case, it should come as no surprise that we often feel unfulfilled, and exhausted. So next time you need to rest from your labours, don’t switch on the TV, or put the radio on. True rest is much more glorious and enjoyable than that.