Is work a blessing or a curse? Genesis 3:19 says, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground.” Life is very different because of the fall. Read or listen to this chapter from Work and Rest God’s Way to see why work is still a blessing.
Table of contents
- Work Is a Blessing Because God Works
- Work Is a Blessing Versus a Curse
- The Fall Can Make Work Feel Like a Curse
Most of us probably feel like we could have a good argument with ourselves about whether work is a blessing or a curse. Bob Black, an American anarchist and author, wrote in his essay, The Abolition of Work:
No one should ever work. Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world. Almost any evil you’d care to name comes from working or from living in a world designed for work. In order to stop suffering, we have to stop working.Bob Black, The Abolition of Work and Other Essays (Port Townsend: Loompanics Unlimited, 1986).
Not only does Black think work is curse, he thinks it’s the cause of all suffering.
How do we determine whether this author is correct in his assessment? How do we know if work is a blessing or a curse? We look to the Bible because it is the authority. The question is not, “What does Bob, or me, or you, or anyone else think?” The question is, “What does the Bible teach?”
Work Is a Blessing Because God Works
Morality (or goodness) is defined by God:
For the Lord is good.Psalm 100:5; see also 1 Chronicles 16:34, Psalm 25:8, 34:8, 86:5, 135:3, and 145:7.
Good is what God does, and what God does is good.
Just as listening and speaking are moral, so is work. The Bible opens with God working: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Then:
And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.Genesis 2:2–3
The words “His work” occur three times in two verses. God is the first worker, revealing work is good and moral!
God’s Work Brings Him Glory
Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows the work of His hands.” God’s work is creative, purposeful, thorough, and it benefits us: “For You, Lord, have made me glad through Your work; I will triumph in the works of Your hands” (Psalm 92:4). Jesus said, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working” (John 5:17).
Isaiah 6 showcases the wonderful vision of God sitting on His throne, high and lifted up, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Angels fly around Him, and Isaiah 6:3 says, “One cried to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!’” Creation is the display case for God’s work.
Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” The greatness of creation reveals the greatness of the Creator. God reveals Himself to the world by His creation because work reveals something about the worker. Work speaks of character, motivation, and skills. God’s work is of the highest quality because it is an expression of who He is.
Our Work Should Bring God Glory
We should work because we want to be like God. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” We are made in the image of God with some of His attributes. We work because we are His image-bearers! Ephesians 5:1 commands us to “be imitators of God.” To work is to be like God because it reflects what He does.
In Isaiah 43:7, God said, “Everyone…I have created for My glory,” which is why in 1 Corinthians 10:31 Paul said, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Giving glory to God means representing Him well; therefore, what we do should give others an exalted view of God. Since God’s work is of the highest quality, ours should be of the highest quality. We strive for excellence because our work says something about the God we represent. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Why do we work as though our labor brings God glory? Because it does! People look on, see what we do, and when it is done well, it gives glory to God.
Colossians 3:23 says, “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” Why do we work as though we’re laboring for Christ? Because we are! Ephesians 6:7 says that we work “with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men.” Even when performing jobs that might seem menial or insignificant, we should do our best because we’re doing them for the Lord. Our work ethic is one of our greatest testimonies. We must view our occupations as ministries, and our workplaces as mission fields, whether we’re in an office building, school, or our home. Our work is done God’s way when it’s done for His glory!
Work Is a Blessing Versus a Curse
We might have expected Jesus to spend all His time in the temple worshiping, praying, discussing Scripture, and doing other things that seem spiritual. Instead, He labored as a carpenter with His earthly father, Joseph, before beginning His public ministry (Mark 6:3). The Son of God Himself worked, and so did other great men in Scripture. Paul was as a tentmaker (Acts 18:1–3). Luke was a physician (Colossians 4:14).
God called people to serve Him when they were working. Moses was caring for sheep (Exodus 3:1). Joshua was Moses’ servant before he became his successor (Exodus 33:11). Gideon was threshing wheat (Judges 6:11). David was caring for his father’s sheep (1 Samuel 16:11). Jesus called four men to serve as His disciples while they were fishing (Luke 5:1–11).
For others, their professions aren’t listed, but they worked so hard for God’s kingdom that Paul named them in his letters! For example, Tabitha “was full of good works and charitable deeds” (Acts 9:36). Euodia, Syntyche, and Clement were praised because they “labored with (Paul)” (Philippians 4:2–3). Epaphroditus worked so hard he nearly died (Philippians 2:30). Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis were commended for their effort for the Lord (Romans 16:12).
God Put Adam to Work in the Garden Before the Fall
God created us to work. Genesis 2:15 says, “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.” God gave Adam the job of dressing and guarding the garden. What does this original mandate mean? To “tend” means to foster growth and to improve. To “keep” means to preserve from failure or decline.
Genesis 1:31 says, “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So, the evening and the morning were the sixth day.” God gave Adam work to do on the sixth day, which means it is also “very good.” The timing is important: sin hadn’t been introduced. Since this is prior to The Fall, it demonstrates work is not part of the curse. Instead, it is part of God’s perfect creation.
“Tending and keeping” Eden was designed to be a pleasant experience for Adam. He was meant to find his job fulfilling, purposeful, and rewarding. God created man to enjoy work so that He could enjoy watching him, just as parents enjoy watching their children do something positive and productive.
Our Work Can Be Satisfying and Fulfilling
Just as God observed His work and was satisfied with it, we can have the same experience. Few things are more fulfilling than accomplishing a lengthy task or finishing a difficult job. Animals are motivated by instinct and physical need, but we have higher motivations than simply surviving. We crave meaning, significance, and purpose. We want reasons to get up in the morning. Our jobs give us these reasons and helps fulfill our desires.
We should embrace the work God has given us, and express gratitude to Him because it allows us to:
- Provide for ourselves and our families
- Experience satisfaction and fulfillment
- Develop character and endurance
- Make discoveries about God’s creation
- Advance the kingdom through our talents
Work is an important part of life. Remembering the above truths allows us to view work as a blessing. Then we can labor joyfully and without complaint, finding pleasure and giving thanks.
Second only to Jesus, Solomon was the wisest man to ever live. In Ecclesiastes 2:24, he said, “Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God.” Solomon makes the same point four other times, in Ecclesiastes 3:12, 5:18, 8:15, and 9:7. God does not use highlighting, italics, underlining, or bold for emphasis, but He does repeat Himself when He wants to make sure we don’t miss something. He wants us to know that along with eating and drinking (or the simple things in life), “nothing is better” for us than that “(our) soul enjoy” our work.
The Fall Can Make Work Feel Like a Curse
Unfortunately, over the centuries, work has developed a negative reputation. We often view it as something that we are forced to perform that is difficult or unpleasant. How did something positive become viewed negatively? If we take our minds back to The Fall, God pronounced several judgments. To man He said:
Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.Genesis 3:17–19
Work figures centrally in the judgments. God still expects man to work after The Fall, but the pleasant experience has been replaced with drudgery and discomfort. The word “toil” implies challenge, difficulty, struggle, and exhaustion. Work itself is still good, but the process and the result are not always positive. Our efforts are not always rewarded in the way we expect or desire. We sow seed, but the plants grow among thorns and weeds.
Our Workplaces Don’t Feel Like Eden
God created Eden as an earthly paradise. It was a safe enclosure with purity and innocence. As a result of The Fall, instead of laboring in the garden, we’re forced to work “of the field.” Unlike the garden, the field represents an unbounded, unprotected area with less inhibition and more worldliness. We face greater hostility in our jobs, simply because we’re Christians. Think of the opposition Joseph faced working in Egypt (Genesis 39), the Hebrews faced in Egypt (Exodus 1:8–22), and the Jews faced when they returned to the land (Nehemiah 4).
God’s original design for work was ruined by sin, but God will restore it to its pre-Fall condition without the burdens The Fall introduced. Regarding the coming kingdom:
They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for as the days of a tree, so shall be the days of My people, and My elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain.”Isaiah 65:21–23
Work that was previously painstaking will again be pleasant. After the consequences of The Fall are removed, we continue working. Revelation 22:3 says, “There shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.” Even in heaven, we continue serving God, but no longer encumbered by the curse. We see that whether before the curse, during the curse, or after the curse, God expects us to work.
The Immorality of Laziness
One of the other consequences of The Fall is the sinful nature we received. The curse made work unpleasant, so we’re tempted toward laziness (being a sluggard). Since God commands us to work, failure to do so is sinful.
When we think of the “worst” sins, lying, adultery, and murder come to mind, but laziness might not. Some people don’t even recognize laziness is a sin. This is unfortunate because as moral and beneficial as work is, laziness is equally immoral and detrimental. As positively as Scripture presents work, laziness is presented equally negatively.
Laziness could run a competitive race for the most underrated sin. Quietly it anesthetizes its victim into a lifeless stupor that ends in hunger, bondage, and death.Ronald Sailler and David Wyrtzen, The Practice of Wisdom (Chicago: Moody, 1992), 82.
Though laziness is a sin that has no place in the character of a Christian, like pride, dishonesty, unforgiveness, and anxiety, it is a sin that all of us can identify with to some extent. Laziness might be a more difficult struggle for some than for others, but nobody can say they escape its temptation completely. If we appreciate the blessing of work, we’ll be better prepared to resist the temptation to be lazy.