Genesis: The Book of God’s Kingdom – 10 (“The Ordinance of Labour – 01”)

Genesis: The Book of God’s Kingdom – 10 (“The Ordinance of Labour – 01”)

We are currently looking at the book of Genesis and the different types of covenants in the Word of God. There are to main Covenants, i.e. “The Covenant of Creation” and “The Covenant of Redemption.” We have already seen that there are three ordinances under “The Covenant of Creation.” We have addressed the “Ordinance of the Sabbath” and the “Ordinance of Marriage.” Today we are looking at the “Ordinance of Labour.”

Gen.2:4-15 (ESV) ~ These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens. 5 When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up-for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, 6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground- 7 then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. 8 And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 10 A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. 14 And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. 15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”

We read in vs.15 that Adam had work to perform, even before he fell into sin. After the Fall, work became man-killing toil, but before the Fall, work did not have this laborious character; rather, it was wholesome and beneficial.

We should therefore realise that work itself is not a consequence of sin; only the laborious, life-destroying character of work is a consequence of sin ~ “And to Adam he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, You shall not eat of it, cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.'” (Gen.3:17-19).

Adam, in his sinless condition, was not to spend his days in idleness, but in useful activity. And as mankind had work to do before the entrance of sin, so the redeemed will have work to perform in the glory of eternity, after all the consequences of sin have been abolished. The popular notion of heaven as a life of pure idleness, with no other activities than playing harps or waving palm leaves, is utterly unbiblical. Heaven is the Sabbath rest that remains to the people of God, but heaven will also be a state of the most intense activity. For in the sinless, supernatural life of heaven, activity and rest will not be contrary to each other as they are in this sin-cursed world ~ “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him” (Rev.22:3). What that service will include, no one can say on this side of the veil; but that it will not be a state of unbroken idleness we can be sure.

I want us to look at vs.15 and specifically to three verbs. The first one, according to the ESV is “put him” ~ “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden…” This verb is derived from the word “rest” or “safety” in the Hebrew and this is important to take note of. This same word is also used in Ps.95:11 ~ “Therefore I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest'” and this “rest” or “safety” refers to the rest and safety in the Promised Land. Gen.2:15 must therefore have some connection with the Biblical teaching of the Sabbath rest in the Bible. Man has been created to find fulfilment, not in idleness, but in a life of rewarding labour in obedience to God’s command.

We see in vs.15 that God gave two commands to the man Adam, in other words we find the purpose for man to be put into the garden. First, he had to “work” the garden and second, he had to “keep” it, or to “take care of it”. Although this translation is as early as the 2nd century B.C. (the LXX), there are serious objections to this translation (on which I do not want to go into now, because it is very technical). A more suitable translation would therefore be, “to worship and to obey”, i.e. man is put in the garden to worship God and to obey Him. His life in the garden was to be characterised by worship and obedience. He was therefore not only a worker and keeper of the garden, but also a priest of the garden, in fact he was in the first and last place priest and worshipper and then through his work and keeping, he also worshiped God.

We understand this when we read Gen.3:8. God was walking in the garden in the cool of the day. God’s walking in the garden indicates His special presence among men. In this sense, the garden of Eden was a temple, a special dwelling of God on earth amongst men. The garden of Eden was the earth’s first sanctuary or temple (see: Ezek.28:11-19, especially vss. 13-14, 16, and 18). The prophet Ezekiel portrays Eden on a mountain (Ezek.28:14, 16). Israel’s temple was on Mount Zion (Ex.15:17), and the end-time temple was to be located on a mountain (Ezek.40:2; 43:12; Rev.21:10). Identifying Eden as “the holy mountain of God” indicates God’s special presence among men on the earth. In vs.18, the prophet Ezekiel says, “You profaned your sanctuaries.” This is an important passage of Scripture because it identifies Eden as a temple, the first mountain of God in which He dwelled among men on the earth.

Adam was made outside the garden-temple then placed in it. But what was he supposed to do in or with that temple? His commission was obviously vitally connected to the garden God put him in though not limited to it. Remember, he was to fill the earth and subdue it (Gen.1:28; Is.45:18). So the garden of Eden was not the end; it was only the beginning. Adam was called as an image-bearer of God who was sinless, to multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. His calling was to extend the garden-temple throughout the entire earth. In effect, the whole earth was to be God’s special dwelling place with man. Eden was a prototype of something much greater.

We already saw in Gen.2:15, that Adam was commanded to cultivate and keep the garden in obedience to God. It is very interesting to note that these two words, “work” and “keep,” are used together in other Old Testament texts to refer to the work of priests in connection with Israel’s tabernacle and temple (Num.3:7-8; 8:25-26; 18:5-6; 1 Chron.23:32; Ezek.44:14). These two verbs are both used throughout the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) and refers to “spiritual service”. “Keep” is used for keeping the commandments and taking heed to obey God’s Word. “Serve” (“work”) describes the worship and service of the Lord, the highest privilege a person can have. Whatever activity the man was to engage in, in the garden (and there is no reason to doubt that physical activity was involved), it was described in terms of spiritual service of the Lord.

Part of the service that Adam had to perform, was to work inside (in the “garden-temple”) and outside the garden (Gen.1:28 ~ “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth'”). Adam therefore, had to work inside the garden as priest, but also outside the garden and in both cases, he had to do his work as a spiritual service to the Lord.

This then is the blueprint to how we must think, feel and react on the work that we do in this world – whether it is at home as a home keeper; or as an accountant in the business world or a teacher, or a pastor, or a draftsman, or an elder in the church, or whatever – as a spiritual service to the Lord.

Before the Fall, work was a pleasure and honour to the man Adam and it went hand in hand with responsibility, excitement, happiness, etc., but then came the Fall and suddenly man’s work became a burden, unsatisfactorily, a frustration and a drab. What must our, as believers, attitude be towards work? We cannot and may not stop at the results of sin and the Fall and therefore, feel about our work in similar fashion than the world. We must go back to the original purpose/blueprint for work and start there again.

5. BRIDGING THE GAP:                                                                                             When looking at the believer and his work, there was an ever-growing (Afrikaans: “groterwordend”) tension between the world of work and the world of religion. And the past decade or two, this tension became an ever widening gap, which now in our day, is an insurmountable (Afrikaans: “onoorkombare”) gap, in fact openly living and acting according to your Christian principles are not only unacceptable, and more and more difficult, but in many situations even against the law and there are many reason for this. This reality led to a situation where believers in the workplace don’t know how to apply Christian principles in their work situation and some are even forced to compromise those principles. Believers don’t know how to bridge the gap between the two worlds that they are in – on the one side, the reality of a worldly, humanistic, corrupt, etc. world of work and on the other side their world of faith, the Bible and Christianity. Some Christians even feel and say that Christianity just don’t and cannot work in the workplace – there is no way to bridge the gap between these two worlds. In fact, most Christians have developed a skill to “commute between their two worlds – two realities – the public life at work, your private life at home and Church. This results in all sorts of personal tension and problems, e.g. guilt trips, stress, tension, depression, despondency (Afrikaans: “moedeloosheid”), etc. Many believers eventually conclude that their work does not matter to God, not as much at least as Church and ministry and “spiritual things.”

  • When we as Christian workers are at this point in our lives where we think that our work does not matter to God, it can have at least two serious implications:
    First, it destroys your dignity as a worker. If 60% or more of your life doesn’t count to God, then you don’t count to God. If your work has no value, then you have no value. At best you become a second-class citizen in the Kingdom of God.
  • A more tragic outcome of this situation is, as already mentioned, guilt. Guilty because you don’t live your Christian believes and principle in the workplace

In the light of these implications, we as believers must find a solution to bridge this gap and it can be done, because Christ is Lord of all life and of all situations and of our work. If we don’t believe that, He is not our Lord at all. But, because we know and believe that Jesus is Lord of everything, He is not interested in merely bridging the gap, but in eliminating it altogether. We must bring the entirety of our lives back together under Him. If we as believers let Jesus do this, we will find that it does not only transform our work, but even our outlook on life. We will, in such a case, only to mention two, experience a new and refreshing sense of dignity and meaning in work and we will experience a new sense of destiny and calling in work.

6. A SECULAR VIEW OF WORK:                                                                           Before we can look at how Christ can eliminate the gap between our Christian life and our working life, we must just quickly look at a secular view of work – how the world sees work:

  • The ultimate purpose of work is to fulfil yourself: First and almost foremost from a secular viewpoint, is that workers’ ultimate purpose in working, is to get fulfilment for self and in this process of self-fulfilling, the workplace becomes a battlefield, because workers set goals for themselves in order to achieve fulfilment and this goal is worth fighting for. It doesn’t matter whether you destroy others in the process, you just have to achieve your goal of self-fulfilment and therefore you are the master of your own fate and success in this depends on the intensity of your desire. It requires determination; discipline; the right goals; self-love; perseverance; vision; self-confidence, etc. Everything and all these qualities reflect human power and self-believe and no dependency on and submission to the Lord.
  • Success in life means success in work: In the secular world the benchmark (Afrikaans: “maatstaf”), or the norm for success in life, is success in work. The implication of this, is that man’s identity and status are measured to the success in his career.
  • The job must be done whatever it takes: No matter what or who you are, if you are in the way of completing deadlines, you’re done – the company will degrade you in some way or another, or work you out, or even fire you. It’s all about time management, achieving goals and deadlines and eventually serving Mammon (Afrikaans: “die ‘geld-god'”).
  • Earning a living: Most workers are only going to work to earn a living. On the face of it, this seems like a harmless, normal statement that any responsible wage earner might make. In fact, one of the major reasons we go to work is to provide for ourselves and for our families and this is indeed one of the reasons why God has given us work and expects us to work. But is earning a living a good enough reason by itself to justify work?

7. A DISTORTED CHRISTIAN VIEW OF WORK:                                                Many Christians believe that the only part of life that “really counts” to God is the part committed to religious activities like Bible reading, prayer, church activities, and the like. Day-to-day work itself has no intrinsic value or inherent worth (Afrikaans: “intrinsieke/innerlike waarde). In other words, it contributes nothing to the work of God and is in itself therefore “secular” and they can even back up their claim with Scripture passages. This view then sounds very Biblical and spiritual. But is it? The problem with this view is that it brings a number of unwarranted assumptions to the text – and to life. Let me briefly mention four of these assumptions:

  • The Soul vs. the Body: They believe that God is more interested in the soul than the body. This is a seriously flawed way of looking at things. It is a particularly extreme sub-biblical view to have of the nature of man. It assumes that man is somehow made up of parts, a “soul” and a “body.” But this is not how Scripture portrays man ~ “Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Gen.2:7).
  • The Eternity vs. the Temporal: The things of eternity are more important than the things of time. This concept of eternity and its implications for work are fairly widespread among Christians today. Yet is it eternity what “really counts” to God? Is it the ultimate reality? I’m afraid, Scripture suggests otherwise. It distinguishes between a seen world and an unseen world, and calls the seen world “temporal” and the unseen world “eternal.” So there are apparently two aspects or two “sides” to reality. But the Bible goes on to declare that both time and eternity are very real and very important to God. Yes, eternity is the ultimate reality, in that it will be our final destiny, but the temporal is just as important, because this is the time for us to prepare ourselves for eternity, through a life of sanctification in the here and the now and that includes all our callings, our religious life, our work – our total lifestyle.
  • The Sacred vs. the Secular: According to an unbiblical view of work, many Christians divide life into two categories, the sacred and the secular. Many Christians believe that a deeper and higher reality exists beyond the time-space universe and that this higher realm is where God is. Through religion, we can enter this holy realm and enjoy communion with God. Thus we live in a tension between “secular” demands and desires (work, hobbies, politics, etc.) and the higher sacred categories of religion (prayer, worship, church activities, ministry). As in the case of the eternity vs. temporal assumption, this viewpoint or belief, is also not acceptable, because there is not and cannot be a distinction in the Christian’s life between the sacred and the secular – only between sin and righteousness.
  • The Clergy vs. the Laity: These believers believe that, because of the nature of their work, pastors and missionaries are more important than the laity (Afrikaans: “‘nie-geestelike werkers'”). Nowhere in Scripture do we get a notion of a “higher calling.” Yes, we do read about specific positions of leadership, but there is no mentioning of a hierarchy over other Christians – This is how Paul described himself and the apostles ~ “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor.4:1; 3:5-9; 12:18, 25; 2 Cor.4:7; Gal.2:6; Matt.23:1-12).

8. GOD’S WORK YOUR WORK:                                                                                 We have seen how the world views work and we have also seen how many Christians see work, but the question is, how does God view work? We can say without any doubt, that God regards work as very significant:

  • God is a worker: God is a worker and we can say this, because God Himself is a worker. From the very beginning of Scripture, we can see that ~ “In the beginning, God created…” (Gen.1:1). After He created, He then rested, but He rested from that specific work, that is, He stopped working on it. Nevertheless, Jesus told the Pharisees in John 5:17 ~ “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” What is the ongoing work of God? First, He upholds the creation ~ “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col.1:16-17). We can also see in Ps.104:10-30 that He meets a broad range of needs that all of His many creatures have. In Deut.11:1-7 Moses points out that God is working out His purposes in history. And of course, God accomplished the great work of atonement at the Cross. As Jesus explained ~ “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34).

The fact that God Himself is a worker gives us a clue that work itself must be significant – that it must have intrinsic value.

  • Man created as a worker: We see a second reason why work has intrinsic value, in the fact that God created man in His image as a worker. We see in our Scripture reading for today, that… ~ “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen.2:15). God uses man to accomplish His goals in this world and that, as already indicated, is not only spiritual in nature, but also materially. All legitimate work is therefore an extension of God’s work.

The question however is, how a bank teller, or a journalist, or a backhoe operator, or a teacher, or a stay-at-home-mom, etc. contribute directly to God’s work? We can mention at least five major reasons why the work we are doing is an extension for God’s work:
– Through work we serve people.
– Through work we meet our own needs.
– Through work we meet our family’s needs.
– Through work we earn money to give to others.
– Through work we love God.

God has told us to love Him and to love others and to love ourselves. This is what He wants us to focus on. And our work is one of our most important means of fulfilling it. When we look at work in this way, it revolutionises our attitude toward our jobs. For the first time we can see a connection between what we have done all day and what God wants done. When we as believers view our work in this way, something that was distorted by sin and became a drab and curse, suddenly becomes meaningful and personal and a pleasure in spite of setbacks and other sinful frustrations, etc.

Kobus van der Walt

This means that you do not have to quit your job and go into the ministry to do something significant for God. Some will undoubtedly need to do that. But God wants most of us to stay where we are and contribute to His work in the everyday tasks of life. This is what He had in mind when He created the world as recorded in Gen.1-2. And this is part of the great commandment that Jesus recalled in Matthew 22.

Next time we will look at the reality of a sinful world and what the impacts are on believers in their work environment and how we must handle it.

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