The song “Livin’ for the Weekend” was made and remade because it resonated with the American workforce. Each Monday, laborers punch the clock with the thrill of the weekend behind them and the dread of another workweek ahead. For many, five of seven days each week are a necessary evil, endured to pay the bills arising from a weekend of leisure. Many workers dream of becoming wealthy enough to escape the rigors and monotony of the workplace. For them, work is a curse to be escaped.
The absence of biblical teaching on work, combined with common cultural misconceptions about work’s value and role, result in a miserable workforce that labors for all the wrong reasons. Although the tide is changing, many Westerners work almost solely to make an income. In this paradigm, we define success by our ability to earn money and sustain a particular lifestyle. Working primarily for pay has led people to lucrative careers that leave them unfulfilled without their knowing why. Could they be more fulfilled in another job? Is all work cursed and therefore miserable?
The Word of God is authoritative in every area of life, including our work. Scripture reminds us of its usefulness for teaching, rebuke, correction and training in righteousness, so that every one of God’s servants may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Christians have a tendency either to read Scripture from a temporal perspective, which jettisons its spiritual imperatives, or from a spiritual point of view, which separates the spiritual realities from their daily implications.
In our new book Every Waking Hour, we explain how Scripture contributes to our teaching of work. In this post, let’s focus on the first three chapters of Genesis. These verses lay a foundation for a biblical view of work that can inject new meaning into whatever we put our hands to (Ecclesiastes 9:10) — end ensure that we do more than ‘live for the weekend.’
God at Work (Genesis 1-3)
The dream of a life without work is nothing new. Ancient Greek philosophers believed that gods were perfect minds, uninvolved with the daily concerns of this world. These philosophers sought to become like their gods by eliminating common worldly cares in favor of contemplating otherworldly ideals. In contrast to Greek thought — and much of contemporary Western though — Scripture dispels the “work is bad” mentality.
Scripture dispels the “work is bad” mentality.
Creation (Genesis 1-2)
The first scene of the biblical story depicts God hard at work. In contrasting the biblical God with the Greek gods, David H. Jensen says,
“God does not sit enthroned in heaven removed from work, willing things into existence by divine fiat. Unlike the gods of Greco-Roman mythologies, who absolve themselves of work … the God of the Bible works.”
From the outset of Scripture, God is creating (Genesis 1:1), speaking (Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 26), separating (Genesis 1:4, 6), making (Genesis 1:7, 26) and naming/calling (Genesis 1:8, 10) his creation. Divine action recorded in the first chapter of Genesis dispels the notion that work is a result of the fall.
The Fall (Genesis 3)
God continued to work after humanity fell to sin. He was not asleep at the wheel, so to speak. God’s work never ceased; he immediately began to pursue relationship with Adam and Even when their sin led them to hide from him (Genesis 3:9). After announcing the curse on human work because of sin (Genesis 3:14-19), God continued his redemptive work among humanity.
Redemption (Genesis 3)
With the work of his hands, God crafted garments for Adam and Eve that signified hope in the midst of toil and disorder (Genesis 3:21). The coverings God provided were a sign of his divine protection from exposure to a sin-filled world. Ultimately hope and blessing would come through the one who would crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15), but God worked to heal Adam and Eve’s immediate brokenness as well. In the same way, God’s people should conduct their work to manifest the redemption that will be realized in the future.
Unless workers understand that God created work as good (Genesis 1-2), that humans sinned and brought a curse upon their work, and that God cares about redeeming work and restoring his rule, then it’s no wonder that some dread going to the office, the factory, the coffee shop. Unless workers understand their work in relationship to God, work doesn’t make much sense of reality.
Unless workers understand their work in relationship to God, work doesn’t make much sense of reality.
Workers in God’s Image
Working as an image-bearer of God imports new meaning to our understanding of vocation. Timothy Keller notes that Adam and Eve’s command to “fill the earth” is distinct from that given to the plants and animals; their task was to multiply and teem over the earth (Genesis 1:11, 20-25). Humanity was given the same task, but with the additional instruction to cultivate civilization with all of its organizational complexity. In essence, humanity is called to function as “small ‘l” lords” over creation.
The creation account records God’s image-bearers emulating his divine actions much like we do in our work today. On the sixth day of creation, God intentionally refrained from dotting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s. In his wisdom, he left potential for the world to be developed further; in effect, his image-bearers are called to pick up where he left off. Adam’s naming of the animals is one example of such work (Genesis 1:19-20). That task mirrored the divine action of exercising dominion over creation by naming its elements (Genesis 1:8), thereby bringing chaos into order (Genesis 1:2).
Humanity’s primary task is to develop civilization; that includes both social and cultural dimensions. Building a society includes fashioning an economy, business practices, sports, art, cultural norms (like folkways and mores), music and leisure. God establishes this potential in the beginning chapters of Genesis. We see only a glimpse in the garden, yet we continue this work today.
Fundamentally, the Genesis account makes it clear that continuing God’s work of caring for and cultivation creation brings dignity to God’s image-bearers; these are good and necessary acts for God’s vice-regents on earth. In fact, exercising biblical dominion over creation not only instills dignity in humanity, it brings glory to God by upholding his creative design for work in his world.
You don’t have to settle for living for the weekend. The work you do on the weekdays is valuable in and of itself. So the next time you punch the clock, don’t do so begrudgingly with an eye towards Friday. Work with a renewed purpose, knowing that you are giving God glory and functioning as his image-bearer.
David H. Jensen, Responsive Labor: A Theology of Work (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 22.
Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (New York: Dutton, 2012), 48.
Chad Brand, Flourishing Faith: A Baptist Primer on Work, Economics, and Civic Stewardship (Grand Rapids: Christian’s Library Press, 2012), 3.
Albert Wolters, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 41-42