Work Matters

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I’ve been writing about the importance of rest over the past week or two but we cannot talk about rest without talking about work. It is that point which influenced my last article on the matter.  In that article, I responded to a question about why we do not give enough attention to the part of the commandment which says, “Six days shall you labour.” My response was that this was not how the commandment worked. It was not two commandments, to work and to rest, it was one commandment to keep the Sabbath. However, this does not mean that work does not matter or is not commanded. There are two reasons for this.

First of all, the purpose of mentioning work in the commandment for sabbath rest is to highlight the distinctiveness of the seventh day (or for us today, The Lord’s Day). If your sabbath is no different to any or all of the other 6 days then, it is no sabbath at all. Secondly, whilst the sabbath command is not in and of itself a command to work, it is given in the context of a whole Biblical theology of work as both gift and command from God.

God sets the pattern for work in creation.  He is seen working for six days before resting. His rest is in fact an enjoyment of his completed work.  This is also seen in Christ.  It is after he has completed his earthly ministry of salvation that he sits down on his throne.  He too can be seen to be entering a rest where he enjoys the fruits of his labour.[1]

We are commissioned to work.  This is seen in three ways. First of all, God’s creation mandate is for us to rule over, subdue and fill the earth.[2] There is ongoing work to be done in his creation.  Secondly, God places Adam in the Garden of Eden and sets him to work tilling and guarding the garden.[3] This work includes the naming of the animals. Adam and Eve’s work is worship -the words used to describe him at work in the garden are the same words used later in the Law to describe the work of the Levites in the Tabernacle and Temple. Thirdly, when God creates Eve as a helper and companion for Adam, it happens in the context of his commission to work.  He needs help to fulfil the creation mandate.[4]

The Fall means that work is challenging and hard. Whilst work was a gift before sin entered the world and not a punishment, we should recognise that because of judgement it is no longer perfect but includes pain and toil. There will not always be an even distribution of work and resources. [5]However, God provides for this by encouraging gleaning. This is what Ruth is found doing after her arrival with Naomi in Bethlehem.  The Law provided for the poor in a way that ensured their needs were met whilst encouraging them to join in with work.[6]

Sin means that people are tempted to avoid work and find other ways to make ends meet or even prosper.  Idleness is a form of idolatry. Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 3:10

10 Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.”

The context is that some have become idle and with idleness and a refusal to work have become meddlesome busybodies but this is not how Paul himself behaves, rather he works hard among the Thessalonians and indeed it seems that as with elsewhere was ready to turn down the support from them that he was entitled to. Similarly, in Ephesians 4:28, Paul contrasts honest labour with law breaking.

“If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need.”

This brings us back to the Ten Commandments.  What we are seeing is that failure to work breaks the Ten Commandments. I want to suggest it does this not just by stealing but also because the desire for good things without the willingness to work for them is to covert your neighbour’s possessions. To refuse to work is unfaithfulness to your spouse and to your community.  To refuse work is to refuse the very means by which God has provided for you so that it also becomes a form of idolatry as you seek to enjoy this world apart from the way that God has told you to.

Work is therefore something commanded by God. Although it is affected by the Fall, it remains a good gift from him to be enjoyed. A willingness to work hard is a sign of sanctification.

[1] Hebrews 1:3.

[2] Genesis 1:28.

[3] Genesis 2:15.

[4] Genesis 2:18.

[5] Genesis 3:17-19.

[6] Ruth 2.

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