Is Work a Blessing or a Curse? (Genesis 3:19)

Is Work a Blessing or a Curse? (Genesis 3:19)

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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.

Work and Rest God's Way: A Biblical Recipe for Finding Joy and Purpose in All You Do Front cover
Work and Rest Gods Way Family Guide author Scott LaPierre

The text in this post is from my book, Work and Rest God’s Way, and the audio is from the audiobook. I am praying God uses the book and accompanying Family Guide to exalt Christ and encourage you as you serve Him.

Understand Morality to See Whether Work Is a Blessing or a Curse

During college, I took a world religions class. A Buddhist monk was brought in as a guest speaker. He had no vehicle, computer, or refrigerator because he thought these were sinful (immoral). He thought it was good (moral) to allow himself only what was necessary for survival, such as food, water, and shelter.

This is not what Jesus meant when He said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Jesus referred to denying ourselves immoral pleasures, but the monk abstained from the amoral (non-sinful, spiritually neutral). Colossians 2:20–23 records:

Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—“Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.

When people rigorously neglect the amoral and follow legalistic, man-made commands, Paul acknowledged there’s “an appearance of wisdom,” but there’s “no value against [indulging] the flesh,” which is to say there’s no spiritual benefit. How heartbreaking is it for people to spend years rigorously neglecting themselves in amoral ways that have no moral advantage?

The Bible teaches drunkenness and homosexuality are immoral (1 Corinthians 6:9–10). How tragic is it for people to spend years getting drunk or participating in homosexual relationships because they’re convinced these immoral actions are amoral?

We must understand morality because if we don’t, we might fail to see the goodness (morality) of certain behaviors and the sinfulness (immorality) of other behaviors. The above examples demonstrate the two errors we typically make with morality.

Error 1: Thinking Something Is Immoral When It Is Amoral

What we do with food, guns, and money is moral because each can be used in moral and immoral ways. Our relationships with them are moral because they can become idols, addictions, and obsessions. Although, as lifeless and inanimate objects, they have no morality of their own. People are not spiritually better or worse if they do or don’t eat certain foods, have or don’t have guns, or are rich or poor.

Certain foods are healthier and unhealthier than others, but spiritually they’re not better or worse than others. Paul said, “Food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse” (1 Corinthians 8:8; see also Matthew 15:11, Mark 7:18, Acts 10:15, Romans 14:17, and Colossians 2:16-23.). Food is amoral, but our relationship to it is moral. We can commit the sin of gluttony or, on the other side of the spectrum, the sins of anorexia and bulimia. God doesn’t care what we eat, but He cares how much we eat.

Money is amoral, despite the famous quote: “Money is the root of all evil.” First Timothy 6:10 says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” Notice that the word “money” is substituted for “love of money,” and “the root of all evil” is substituted for “a root of all kinds of evil.” Although the differences seem small, they make two untrue statements.

First, the love of money versus money itself is evil. We are not better or worse if we’re rich or poor. We get into trouble when money controls us, regardless of how much wealth we have. Some of the most generous people can be the wealthiest, while some of the stingiest can be the poorest.

Second, the quote makes money responsible for all evil in the world, but there’s plenty of sin that has nothing to do with money. Jesus said evil comes from our hearts versus money: “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19). Sin is not birthed from money but from giving in to temptation: “Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:14–15).

Error 2: Thinking Something Is Amoral When It Is Moral or Immoral

Many verses discuss the morality of our words. For example:

  • Matthew 12:37—Jesus said, “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
  • 1 Peter 3:10—He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit.

Most people know their speech is moral, but they might not know that the amount they speak and the amount they listen is also moral. James 1:19 says, “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” The verse contains three commands, which means we’re dealing with morality. It is moral to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. It is immoral to be slow to hear, quick to speak, and quick to anger. Anger and listening might be mentioned together because they’re closely related. As a pastor, when I’m counseling, sometimes it’s obvious early on who’s more at fault because they’re slow to hear and quick to get angry.

Ecclesiastes teaches that one way to identify fools is they talk too much: “A fool’s voice is known by his many words…a fool also multiplies words” (Ecclesiastes 5:3 and 10:14). David took so seriously how much he said that he prayed God would protect his mouth for him: “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3).

Proverbs is filled with contrasts between wise and foolish people. One of the contrasts is wise people listen, but foolish people babble on: “The wise in heart will receive commands, but a prating fool will fall” (Proverbs 10:8; see also Proverbs 10:19, 13:3, and 17:27–28.). Another contrast is a theme of this book: wise people work hard, but foolish people are lazy.

The Morality of Work

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 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.

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.

Consequences of the Fall

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.

Eden was created by God 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.

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