Work is a glorious thing. And if you stop and think about it, the most enjoyable kinds of leisure are a kind of work. Both these facts are true because the essence of work, as God designed it before the Fall, was creativity — not aimless, random doing, but creative, productive doing.
The Primal Worker
When God did his primal work, he created the world. That is the essence of work. Then he created us in his image, and put us in the world he made, and said, “Let them have dominion . . . over all the earth. . . . And the Lᴏʀᴅ God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 1:26; 2:15).
In other words, God is the primal worker, and we are created to go on working. His primal work was to create out of nothing. Our ongoing work is to create out of his creation. This is a glorious thing.
The Essence of Work
This is the ultimate reason behind the fact that in the New Testament, the main word for “work” refers both to the act of working and to the product of the work.
So the Greek word ergon refers to the act of working: “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,” (1 Corinthians 15:58). And ergon refers to the product of the act: “Are not you my workmanship in the Lord?” (1 Corinthians 9:1). The essence of work is to produce a work — an object, or a state of affairs, that did not exist before. The glory of work in reliance on our Creator (big C) is to create (little c).
This is the common denominator between our work and our leisure. The crossword puzzle is, at last, full. The scrabble score is high. The duck is carved. The scarf is knitted. The ultimate Frisbee game had some amazing catches. The fish is caught. The novel is understood and enjoyed.
What Sin Has Done to Work
What the Fall did was make this glorious thing burdensome and frustrating.
In pain you shall eat of the earth all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you. . . . By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground. (Genesis 3:17, 19)
But the image of God in human work was only defaced. It was not destroyed. All humans have been ambivalent toward work since the Fall. It is hated because of futility (Romans 8:20); and it is loved because of a sense of creative purpose and meaning in life.
Work in Its Glory and Joy
When the book of Proverbs tells us to go to the ant and learn how to work hard and work smart (Proverbs 6:6–11), and when Paul tells us to “work heartily, as for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23), they are not cursing us. They are pointing to our glory and our joy.
Jesus redeemed us from the curse in more ways than one. In Christ, the law no longer curses us for not working enough to be saved (Galatians 3:13). We are not saved by our working. And in Christ, none of our work is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). The ultimate futility has been overcome.
Rest and work begin to find their primal and their end-time union. Christ puts us into a yoke of labor, and he lifts the burden from us (Matthew 11:28–30). Now we serve in the strength that he supplies (1 Peter 4:11), and we work hard in reliance on his grace. “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). This is an amazing life.
Making the World Better
Work is a glorious thing. If you are starting to grow lazy, I summon you back to joy. God made us to work. He formed our minds to think and our hands to make. He gave us strength — little or great — to be about the business of altering the way things are.
That is what work is: seeing the world, thinking of how it could be better, and doing something — from the writing of a note to the building of a boat; from the sewing of what you wear to the praying of a prayer.
Come, leave off sloth and idleness. Become what you were made to be. Work.
Recent posts from John Piper: