“The Lord God took the man and placed him in the orchard in Eden to care for it and to maintain it” (Gen. 2:15).
When you hear the word “work,” what comes to mind? I’m guessing the initial thought isn’t “wonderful!” When I first entered the workforce and was lucky enough to find a job that I loved, my dad was shocked. His job was never one he really loved, although he was very good at it, and it provided for our family. He just thought work was always, well, unenjoyable.
Work in the Biblical Languages
I looked up the Hebrew and Greek words for “work” to see what could be learned about this word from a biblical perspective and what I found was fascinating. You don’t have to look very far in the Bible to see it mentioned. The very first verse, in fact, I would argue, has a version of the word work– “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Now, I’m no Bible or even English scholar but I’d say creating the world was work–even if it was just God speaking the earth into being. But I won’t die on that hill if you disagree. Let’s move past creation and look at a few verses in Genesis chapter 2.
Genesis 2:2 says, “By the seventh day God finished the work that he had been doing, and he ceased on the seventh day all the work that he had been doing.” Okay–well, maybe I was right after all. Scripture says God rested from His “work.” God, then, is the first entity in the Bible that we see “working.” Let’s move on to the next time we see a word for “work.” Genesis 2:5 says, “Now no shrub of the field had yet grown on the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground.” That word “cultivate” is one of the Hebrew words for “work.” So, now we have a predicament. God created the earth, but He needed someone to work the ground. Enter, Adam.
Re-read Genesis 2:15 above. Do you see it? The words “care for it” come from one of the Hebrew words for “work.” Okay, those of you who are good at Bible trivia–what chapter did sin enter the scene in Genesis? Yep, you guessed it, chapter 3. We just read about work in chapter 2 that says that work is good. Work was given to Adam before sin ever entered. God created work in the garden before Adam and Eve ate the apple. Fascinating, right?
What We Learn from Biblical Work
Do you know what that tells me? That good work originates with God. We have an ingrained deep desire within us to work–to do something of meaning and value with our hands, gifts, talents, and abilities. And as a result, we have something good to offer the world when we do good work! I even see this in my kids–they love to serve in ministry at our church. They love to do acts that are of service to others. That kind of action fuels them and it comes from being made in the image of God, who is a worker.
Let’s re-enter Genesis and look for the next time we see this word used. It’s there in Genesis 4:12a: “When you try to cultivate the ground it will no longer yield its best for you.” After sin entered, there is still work, yes, and it is still good. But it has become harder. The other shoe has fallen. We all know work is hard sometimes so this is not surprising news to anyone.
Work Can Be Good
I have a vocation that I love and that is fun. But that doesn’t mean we have parties every day and sit around and chit chat 24/7. We have work to do. I could use a lot of words to describe my work but “easy” wouldn’t be one of them. Even though work can be hard, it can still be good.
As I thought about work and its effects in the world, I realized that good work is one of the few things that outlive us. We can leave the world a better place when we work hard at something good. One of the Hebrew words for “good” means “beneficial.” Which begs the question: who is benefiting from my good work? When I put a face to my work, it makes me work better and with more focus.
Good work is something ingrained in us from being made in God’s image. And our God is all about doing good work in the world and using us to do it, too. What good work are you going to do today?