Relationships and Work (Genesis 1:27; 2:18, 21-25)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project
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Engineer Turned CEO Learned to Put Relationships First in Managing People

To Work in God’s Image Is to Work in Relationship with Others (Genesis 1:27)

A consequence we see in Genesis of being created in God’s image is that we work in relationship with God and one another. We have already seen that God is inherently relational (Gen. 1:26), so as images of a relational God, we are inherently relational. The second part of Genesis 1:27 makes the point again, for it speaks of us not individually but in twos, “Male and female he created them.” We are in relationship with our creator and with our fellow creatures. These relationships are not left as philosophical abstractions in Genesis. We see God talking and working with Adam in naming the animals (Gen. 2:19). We see God visiting Adam and Eve “in the garden at the time of the evening breeze” (Gen. 3:8).

How does this reality impact us in our places of work? Above all, we are called to love the people we work with, among, and for. The God of relationship is the God of love (1 John 4:7). One could merely say that "God loves," but Scripture goes deeper to the very core of God's being as Love, a love flowing back and forth among the Father, the Son (John 17:24), and the Holy Spirit. This love also flows out of God's being to us, doing nothing that is not in our best interest (agape love in contrast to human loves situated in our emotions).

Francis Schaeffer explores further the idea that because we are made in God's image and because God is personal, we can have a personal relationship with God. He notes that this makes genuine love possible, stating that machines can't love. As a result, we have a responsibility to care consciously for all that God has put in our care. Being a relational creature carries moral responsibility.[1]

God Equips People to Work in Relationship with Others (Genesis 2:18, 21-25)

Because we are made in the image of a relational God, we are inherently relational ourselves. We are made for relationships with God himself and also with other people. God says, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner” (Gen. 2:18). All of his creative acts had been called "good" or "very good," and this is the first time that God pronounces something "not good." So God makes a woman out of the flesh and bone of Adam himself. When Eve arrives, Adam is filled with joy. “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23). (After this one instance, all new people will continue to come out of the flesh of other human beings, but born by women rather than men.) Adam and Eve embark on a relationship so close that “they become one flesh” (Gen. 1:24). Although this may sound like a purely erotic or family matter, it is also a working relationship. Eve is created as Adam’s “helper” and “partner” who will join him in working the Garden of Eden. The word helper indicates that, like Adam, she will be tending the garden. To be a helper means to work. Someone who is not working is not helping. To be a partner means to work with someone, in relationship.

When God calls Eve a “helper,” he is not saying she will be Adam’s inferior or that her work will be less important, less creative, less anything, than his. The word translated as “helper” here (Hebrew ezer) is a word used elsewhere in the Old Testament to refer to God himself. “God is my helper [ezer]” (Psalm 54:4). “Lord, be my helper [ezer]” (Ps. 30:10). Clearly, an ezer is not a subordinate. Moreover, Genesis 2:18 describes Eve not only as a “helper” but also as a “partner.” The English word most often used today for someone who is both a helper and a partner is “co-worker.” This is indeed the sense already given in Genesis 1:27, “male and female he created them,” which makes no distinction of priority or dominance. Domination of women by men—or vice versa—is not in accordance with God’s good creation. It is a tragic consequence of the Fall (Gen. 3:16).

Relationships are not incidental to work; they are essential. Work serves as a place of deep and meaningful relationships, under the proper conditions at least. Jesus described our relationship with himself as a kind of work, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:29). A yoke is what makes it possible for two oxen to work together. In Christ, people may truly work together as God intended when he made Eve and Adam as co-workers. While our minds and bodies work in relationship with other people and God, our souls “find rest.” When we don’t work with others towards a common goal, we become spiritually restless. For more on yoking, see the section on 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 in the Theology of Work Commentary.

A crucial aspect of relationship modeled by God himself is delegation of authority. God delegated the naming of the animals to Adam, and the transfer of authority was genuine. “Whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name” (Gen. 2:19). In delegation, as in any other form of relationship, we give up some measure of our power and independence and take the risk of letting others’ work affect us. Much of the past fifty years of development in the fields of leadership and management has come in the form of delegating authority, empowering workers, and fostering teamwork. The foundation of this kind of development has been in Genesis all along, though Christians have not always noticed it.

Can You Love Your Employees?(Click Here to Read)

Samantha thought the advice of her grad school professor was a little unusual—words given her as she was about to launch her career: “Don’t get too close to your co-workers,” he said. “You never know when you’re going to have to fire someone, and you don’t want to fire your close friends.”

Many people form their closest relationships when some kind of work—whether paid or not—provides a common purpose and goal. In turn, working relationships make it possible to create the vast, complex array of goods and services beyond the capacity of any individual to produce. Without relationships at work, there are no automobiles, no computers, no postal services, no legislatures, no stores, no schools, no hunting for game larger than one person can bring down. And without the intimate relationship between a man and a woman, there are no future people to do the work God gives. Our work and our community are thoroughly intertwined gifts from God. Together they provide the means for us to be fruitful and multiply in every sense of the words.