Interview with

Founder & Teacher,

Audio Transcript

Two weeks back, two Mondays ago, we looked at how to glorify God in our business successes. That was APJ 1915. Now two weeks later, we are talking about business again more broadly. It’s a question from a listener named Travis. “Pastor John, hello to you. Can you tell me whether our work today is a blessing or a curse? Much of our work seems to be cursed, based on Genesis 3. But a lot of our work also seems to be a God-given blessing, according to Ecclesiastes. According to the Bible, is my nine-to-five job a blessing, or is it a curse?”

Let’s start with the first work mentioned in the Bible — namely, God’s work. Genesis 2:2–3:

On the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

You can’t miss the point. God worked, God worked, God worked. Now, work was not a curse for God. God is not cursed; he’s not burdened; he’s not frustrated; he’s not coerced to do what he does not wish to do. He worked in creation because it was a sign of his greatness and his fullness that he should overflow in creating a world that declares his glory and a human image of himself that can enjoy and worship that glory. That’s no sign of weakness or burdensomeness or frustration; that’s glory. Work was glory for God.

Satisfying Work

From the beginning, work was not a curse. It was a God-like gift, a blessing. The essence of work, as God designed it before the fall into sin, was creativity: creative, productive doing, arranging, making. When God did his primal work, he created the world. Now, that’s the essence of work. Then he created us in his image to put us in a world that he had made, and he said,

Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. . . . [Let them] fill the earth and subdue it. (Genesis 1:26, 28)

Then in Genesis 2:15, it says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Literally, the word is serve. “Serve it,” almost like a serving in the work of the Lord — to serve it, to work it and keep it.

Now, I presume this working and keeping of the garden before the fall was a partial fulfillment of having dominion over the earth and subduing it. Now, what does that imply then? It does not mean that the garden was imperfect as God made it. It wasn’t imperfect. It didn’t need correction, as if God had made a mistake. “Oops! I didn’t fix the garden right; it needs help.” It means God made the garden for man, and part of its perfection was in providing for the man the raw material for being creative like God. Man would flourish in working the garden; the garden would flourish in being worked. It would be beautifully satisfying — not frustrating, not burdensome, not futile. That’s work before the fall: thrilling, satisfying, creative.

Cursed Work?

Now, what the fall did, what sin did when it came into the world (Genesis 3), was to make this glorious reality of satisfying work become futile, burdensome, frustrating. Genesis 3:17–19:

In pain [Adam] 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.

“The futility and burdensomeness of work is part of the curse of creation, and it won’t always be this way.”

It’s not accurate to say that work is a curse. What’s accurate is to say that the futility and frustration and burdensomeness and painfulness of work is a curse. Paul said in Romans 8:20–21, “The creation was subjected to futility.” When sin came into the world, God subjected creation to futility, “not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself would be set free from its bondage to [futility].” The futility and burdensomeness of work, therefore, is part of the curse of creation, and it won’t always be this way. He said, “There’s a hope coming,” and God put the world under this curse temporarily to show the exceeding sinfulness of sin.

God’s Workmanship

But Christ has come to redeem the world from the curse, and that happens in stages, not all at once. This is true for work as well. It is really significant, when you think about it, that the gospel — the good news of Jesus’s salvation — does not stipulate that work is how you earn it. You can’t earn it; it’s free. Work is not assigned that impossible, hopeless, burdensome role in salvation. This is really good news.

Listen to the three things said about work in our salvation, according to Ephesians 2:8–10:

By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [1] not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his [2] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus [3] for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

“We are recreated in Christ for good work.”

This is glorious. First, work does not bear the weight of having to save us. Christ saves us; he does it by faith. Second, God steps in and does the work. He makes us new, and he does everything required to make us new creatures in Christ. We are his workmanship. Third, now that we are loved and forgiven and accepted and adopted, we are created for good works. We were created the first time — that is, brought into being as human people — for good work, way back in the beginning. That was our original intent as human beings, and we are recreated in Christ for good work.

Light Yokes for God’s Glory

This work in Christ is not burdensome. If we find it burdensome, if you find obedience to Jesus and work for Christ to be burdensome, then you’re not thinking clearly, or you’re not trusting Christ the way you should. Listen to Matthew 11:28–30. This is the paradox of the work that Christ calls us to do. On the one hand, we are like hardworking, yoked oxen — and on the other hand, our work is lighter than a feather. Here’s what he says: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke” — oh, wait a minute, you just said rest. What’s with the yoke? A yoke is what you put on oxen to pull a plow, and it’s hard. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Yes, there is meaningful work to do as we follow Christ. That’s the meaning of yoke. We have a yoke to wear. We’re not thrown out to be doers of nothing. How boring would that be? But in that work, that yoke, there is a restfulness of spirit that is free from the curse. The key in all our work that turns it from curse to blessing, and the key that glorifies Christ in it, is described in 1 Peter 4:11: “[Let the one who] serves” — just say, “Let the one who works” — “[work] by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” The one who gives the strength gets the glory. We get the help, he gets the glory, and work is delivered from its burdensome cursedness.

Or here it is again in 1 Corinthians 15:10: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them” — any of the other apostles — “though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” That’s the glory of hard work in the Christian life, just like it was before the fall. I don’t doubt that Adam gloried in a long day’s work in the garden, making it perfectly suitable to his needs, flourishing in all his efforts. “Not I, but the grace of God with me” — that takes away the misery of burdensomeness and futility.

Whatever You Do

When Paul calls us to do lots of work as Christians, he’s not calling us to a burdened, frustrated, cursed life. He’s calling us to our glory and our joy. First Corinthians 15:58: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” — I think that means doing lots of it — “knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” It’s not futile. I think that applies to any work done in the name of Jesus, for the glory of Jesus, in reliance upon the power of Jesus — not just church work, all work.

In fact, Paul says in Colossians 3:23–24, “Whatever [that’s an important word] you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” So that elevates all of our work — not just church work, but all of our work — to the level of worship. If we do it in the name of the Lord, in reliance on the Lord, for the glory of the Lord, it’s not mere human work; it’s divine work. It honors Christ.

I’ll say it again. From the beginning, we were made for work — shaping, creating, subduing the world according to the wisdom and goodness and beauty of God. This was not — it is not — a curse; it is a blessing. And I think it will last happily forever.