God created man to work. When God put man in the Garden of Eden He gave him the job of dressing and keeping it (Gen. 2:15). Out of the 290 times the word here translated “dress” is found in the Old Testament, it is translated 227 times as “serve” (cf. Gen. 15:14; Ex 1:11-14; cf. “labor” Deut. 5:13; etc.). Similarly, the word “keep” means “to hedge about or guard.” It is used of the flaming sword which kept the way of the tree of life (Gen. 3:24). It is also used of keeping God’s covenant and law (Gen. 17:9; Deut. 7:11). Thus, man was placed in the Garden of Eden to be its caretaker and keep it.
Now this was before the Lord God cursed the ground (Gen. 3:17). In the garden, man was a caretaker but the Garden of Eden was a lush, rich and beautiful place that freely released her fruits. Eden is described as the opposite of a desolate wilderness (Joel 2:3) and the opposite of a waste and desolate ruin (Ezek. 36:35) where great trees spread forth their branches (Ezek. 31:9, 16, 18) and precious jewels lay strewn about the ground (Ezek. 28:13). Man had work to do but the ground yielded with ease her fruits. After the curse, however, man’s labor was to be multiplied as the earth would no longer yield her fruits without also bearing thorns and thistles (Gen. 3:17-19). Man’s work was cut out for him. His work would be in the sweat of his face (Gen. 3:19).
In creating the world, the Bible says that God, Himself, “worked” and then rested from that work (Gen. 2:2). Now we should not in any way suppose that when the Bible says that God “worked” and “rested” that somehow He was fatigued and needed to regain something He lost in weariness. God is omnipotent and there is no end to His power. But that also does not mean that He did not expend energy in creation. Just because I can easily carry a bucket of water from the well to the house does not mean that it did not come without work. God ceased His work and rested from, thus putting an end to, those particular works. Being made in His image we also must work before we rest.
My mom always taught me, “You get your work done first!” To this day she follows this principle herself. Even the creatures of nature teach us this lesson. The Bible commands us, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways and be wise” (Prov. 6:6). The ants are constantly working to provide for themselves, as do all the animals of nature. But those who do not work will come to poverty (Prov. 6:11). The lazy always find an excuse not to work (Prov. 20:4). The Bible, however, is clear that poverty comes to those who refuse to work (cf. Prov. 10:4; 13:4; 20:4).
Indeed, it is not only a principle, but a command. Paul said if a man does not work, neither should he eat (II Thess. 3:10). There were some to whom Paul had written that believed the world was going to come to an end soon and, because of this, they ceased to work (II Thess. 2:1-3; 3:11). But Paul said that not even the apostles were exempt from this command to work (II Thess. 3:8). Even though Paul preached the gospel, he worked. His own hands ministered, he said, to his necessities (Acts 20:34). He was by occupation a maker of tents (Acts 18:3).
Whatever we do, we should do our very best and work as hard as we can (Eccl. 9:10). The Lord will bless those that work hard at what they do when it is not wrong or sinful (Ruth 2:12). It is a basic principle of life that the laborer is worthy of his hire (I Cor. 9:9). When we give our all at something worthwhile, we prepare ourselves to succeed and we make ourselves prepared when opportunities present themselves. While the parable of the talents is not about our physical labors, it sets forth a principle that God blesses those that work hard (Matt. 25:14-30).
Even when we are working for those who employ us in this life, we should work with the same intensity and character as if we were working for the Lord (Col. 2:22-24). It does not matter what we are doing, as long as it is within the parameters of God’s word, we should do it heartily as unto the Lord (Col.3:23). This does not allow us to slack up when the boss is away because we are not working merely for a mortal employer but for the Lord, as well.
Finally, since we are working for the Lord, we will be judged by Him according to our works (Rev. 20:13). Not only will our earthly works be judged, but our spiritual labor will be, as well. Therefore, we must be steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord forasmuch we know that our labor is not in vain in the Lord (I Cor. 15:58).
“For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (I Cor. 3:11-15).
Eric L. Padgett