Here’s a quick word association test: What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word work? Go ahead and think about it. Regardless of your answer, I’m guessing that few of us would respond with the word good. We don’t tend to think of work as good, but rather as difficult, frustrating, and exhausting. Perhaps that has more to do with our experience in this fallen age than it does with God’s design. The Bible helps us to change our perspective in several ways.
The goodness of work is enshrined in the pattern of creation. God worked on the first six days, creating the heavens and the earth and all its fullness (Gen. 1:1). He did that by speaking, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3); by blessing, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28); by forming (Gen. 2:7, 19); and by bringing together (Gen. 2:19, 22). Because God is good in His essence, we know that all God does is good. With creation we have an explicit superlative, telling us exactly what God thought about the work of His hands: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31, emphasis added). Both the act of creating and the finished creation itself were pleasing to God.
There are several important principles that follow. First, if God was conducting good work before the fall, then work itself is not a product of man’s fall into sin. Neither is work the curse itself. Adam was supposed to rule the earth and subdue it, but when he failed in his mission, something new was added to both Adam and Eve’s labor as a result. Pain was introduced. Now, instead of reaping a full harvest, Adam gathered thorns and thistles by the sweat of his brow. Likewise, Eve’s pain in childbearing multiplied (Gen. 3:16–19).
The fall changed our experience of work. It brought a sense of toil and a loss of productivity, but it didn’t fundamentally change the character of work itself. Have you ever wondered why a task can be of seemingly infinite delight to you when all the gears are turning in the right direction, but how that same exact task can be absolute drudgery on frustrated days? Your teacher might not be satisfied when you tell her that your homework isn’t complete because Adam took and ate the forbidden fruit, but the biblical truth isn’t far behind.
Work is a vital part of God’s good design for man. It is full of dignity and purpose. When we work hard at the tasks He has by His providence given us to do, we glorify Him: “Whatever 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” (Col. 3:23–24). That’s why we feel satisfying exhaustion and invigorating hunger at the end of a full day’s work (Eccl. 5:12).
When we fail to work hard, we harm ourselves as well as others. That’s one of the reasons God’s law condemns the three related sins of sloth, idleness, and laziness: “Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger” (Prov. 19:15; see also Prov. 12:24, 27; Titus 1:12). Idle parents make for a hungry household (Prov. 31:27; 2 Thess. 3:10). A sluggard’s bed makes a broken-down house (Prov. 24:30–34).
In His Word, God wisely provides a way of escape from these temptations. What’s the cure for a gossiping tongue brought on by too much free time? It’s a spoonful of tactile work and a quiet life (1 Thess. 4:11). The antidote to thievery and stealing is plain old good, honest, hard work (Eph. 4:28). Do we see the practical wisdom in good work?
There is also an example to follow. So that he could preach the gospel free of charge, without any strings attached, the Apostle Paul worked hard night and day and encouraged church members to do likewise (2 Cor. 11:7; 2 Thess. 3:7–12).
Want to take our word association test again? Better yet, don’t we want to taste the goodness of working hard by doing whatever it is that God puts in our hands to do, both for the extension of His kingdom and the glory of His holy name?