For many, work might as well be a four-letter-word. So many people today live longing for a day when they can earn, save, or win the monetary means necessary to retire. The great American motto is, “I must work in order to one day be free.” And we have bought the lie.
But the Bible has news for us. We were created to work. It is a part of the image of God in every man to work the ground, to keep it, and to have dominion over it (Gen 2). As such, man will always be miserable unless he is doing that for which he was created. Work is a creation ordinance (Gen 2:15). It is a blessing from the Lord, and will be a wonderful reality in heaven.
So what’s the problem? Where did we go wrong? Why is work such a drag? Answer: Adam sinned in the garden and fell; and “in him,” we did the same (I can hear Shai Linne in the back of my head saying, “In Adam all die, in Adam all die…”). In His gracious response, God cursed the ground, and made sure that thorns and thistles would always accompany work during this life (Gen 3:17-19). Work, after the fall, would now be extremely difficult, and would be done by the sweat of our brow. But we cannot miss the reason. Difficulty in work is given to lead us to Christ.
Sin causes us to hate what we ought to do. This is the essence of slavery – of spiritual death. What we ought to do, however, is that which will bring us most joy. It also brings God most glory. But sin jacks everything up. So, when we do not want to do what we ought, we must not stop doing what we ought, but repent of despising what we ought. Yes, work is a kindness that leads us to repentance. When we don’t want to work, we must go to the Lord in repentance.
Because sin enslaves us to hate work, we must be set free to love it. Christ sets us free (Jn 8:36). When He does, we no longer see work as a means to only get paid; but as a means to fulfill our calling and bring God glory. Free men see all work as a blessing. Yes, a lot of jobs are terribly difficult. But most can attest that at the end of a terribly difficult day, there is a deep satisfaction that follows. His grace is sufficient for us. Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, tells slaves to use their freedom to obey their masters (Col 3:22). In a difficult and oppressive work environment, there is freedom to obey.
Also, work is a redemptive opportunity to give and not merely to gain. Everyone needs to hear the gospel. And the workplace is a great field that is ripe for harvest. One way to love work is to understand that there are other workers with you who desperately need the gospel. Garbage men as well as corporate CEOs need to hear about the freedom that Christ provides from sin and death. In other words, don’t take the job because the money is better. Take it because the Lord is calling you there. Not everyone is called to college. Not everyone is called to make a ton of cash. There is intrinsic dignity and honor in all work.
The message and advice of our culture is tyrannous and dangerous. Focusing our attention upon work itself will do nothing but dig our graves deeper. It misses the problem entirely. Our problem is not work, no matter how difficult that work may be. The problem runs much deeper than what we can or cannot do with our hands. Our problem is sin-deep. And, as implied above, we don’t need retirement – we need redemption.
Simply put: We don’t need to work in order to be free; rather, we must be freed in order to work.
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