Thank God It’s Monday: The Goodness of Work (Genesis 1 and 2 Sermon Notes)
Texts: Genesis 1:26-28, Genesis 2:15
Dominant Thought: The nature of work is good and the purpose of work is love, both of which mirror the loving creative work of God himself.
You have probably attended a worship service in which all the Sunday school teachers are acknowledged, thanked, and prayed for. A friend of mine told me about a teacher in one church who was offended by
this experience. Surprised, my friend asked her why. She replied, “I spend an hour a week teaching Sunday school, and they haul me up to the front to pray for me. The rest of the week I am a full-time teacher, and the church has not prayed for me once.”
What this teacher is articulating is a common experience that many of you may have felt. Many times it feels like that the church “blesses” those parts of your life that involve the church and your faith-related
responsibilities. This communicates that the things that really matter to God are the church-related things you do: Bible study, prayer, church activities. But when it comes to what you spend the great majority of your time doing during the week, we’re just not really sure what that has to do with your Christian life at all.
Dorothy Sayers wrote, “How can anyone remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life?” If the gospel only has an impact on your prayer life, your spiritual life, but not on who you are during the week, in school, at your job, in the home, who you are in the great majority of your life, then the gospel really is irrelevant.
We’re going to be spending the next few weeks demonstrating that this isn’t true. The gospel is utterly relevant to all parts of your life, including your work. So we are going to do a big survey of the Bible, from beginning to middle to end, to see what it has to say about our work and how the gospel impacts our everyday lives. Let’s turn to our text.
Point 1: The Nobility of Work
The most obvious note we must make from this Genesis text is that work is a part of creation and not an evil product of the Fall. This may come as a surprise to some of you! We see in both Genesis chapter 1 (vv. 26 and 28) and 2 (v. 15) that work, specifically the cultivation and care of the created order, is something we were created by God to do. In fact, even before humans go to work, God has been at work. God plants, God builds, God digs, God creates. And then, God calls humanity to join him in the work.
Illustration: My wife loves to garden. As she is out gardening, she often invites our daughters to join her
in the work. They have no idea what they are doing and often make a mess. But it is beautiful to see
them mirroring the motions of their mother, reflecting her own creativity through their childlike and lovely
creative work. God is creating, cultivating, sustaining, renewing the face of the earth, and he invites
us as his little children to be a part of that good and beautiful work.
What does this mean for you? That your life is far more meaningful than you ever imagined. God has called you into the work of partnering with him in caring for and cultivating his creation. He has made us deputies, agents, stewards over his World, delegating to us his authority. This does not mean simply recycling and using energy efficient bulbs—although it certainly includes that! It is more broadly speaking the work of holding creation itself together. The work of a mother with her children, the work of a business person with her clients, the work of a student with his books, the work of a doctor with his patients. Whether you are changing diapers, studying algebra, sweeping floors, managing portfolios, painting a wall: you are partnering with God in sustaining his creation, our God who is a parent, an artist, an investor, a preacher, and a servant. Work is good because it is at root partnering with our God who creates and sustains the earth.
Point 2: The Purpose of Work
Why do we work? What’s the point? If we are honest, most of us would say we work for money, status, and security. We work to take care of our families. We work to build our reputations. Though there is some good in these motivations, these are mostly self-focused purposes. And the church has not helped you in this either. The church often subtly suggests that your work is either for occasional evangelism opportunities, or to make money to give to the church. None of these reflect the true purpose of work, as we see in the creation narrative.
What is the biblical purpose of work? Love. Simply put, to lovingly contribute to the common good of the world in service to others. The work we witness God doing in Genesis 1 and 2 is the most generous, loving, and beautiful work done for the sake of the humanity he loves. He creates light, he creates vegetation, he creates diversity and coloration, he creates beauty. He does all this for men and women to enjoy. Even after humanity rebels, God continues to work and sustain his creation (see Psalm 8) even for those who do not acknowledge him (Matthew 5:45). God is constantly and lovingly at work for the common good of the world.
Our work has the same purpose. The two most basic commands, to love God and to love our neighbor, can be simply expressed through our daily work. There are innumerable ways we can daily give, serve, and contribute to others and the common life of society in ways that make us useful and beneficial to others. Now immediately you may be thinking of the “helping professions” that are explicitly serving felt needs. But that only scratches the surface.
Illustration: Think about the chair you are sitting in right now. Somewhere someone drilled holes in the
metal that constitutes that chair. There is a guy sitting at a drill press somewhere that drilled those holes
for you. Is that not a work of love? Is he not serving you this morning, is he not making your experience
this morning more comfortable? Or consider the breakfast cereal you ate this morning. To get that
cereal to your table, farmers cultivated wheat, scientists checked the food for purity, bankers arranged
for financing, engineers created farm equipment, operators operated the farm equipment, loaders loaded
it on to trucks, truckers drove the trucks, construction works laid the roads, grocers stocked the shelves,
cashiers checked you out: All this for your bowl of cereal! All different kinds of work express service
and love, not just nurses and social workers.
Work is contributing to the common life of the world, joining with God in sustaining creation. And this is all the more true for Christians, for we know the God who creates and sustains, and our own work mirrors the loving purposes of our creative and loving God. So don’t work just to make money. There are many jobs that are very profitable and legal, but are not strengthening the fabric of our world or bringing more value to those around us. Indeed, there are some forms of work that could very well be negatively impacting the world, the poor, or the environment. Instead, work to love. Work to serve the common good—out of love for the world and the people God has made. Like God, use your work to bring order out of chaos—making the world orderly, livable, beautiful: reflecting the God who made you.
Summary and Conclusion
Today we have reflected on the Creation narrative and what it speaks to us about work. We have drawn from it two simple lessons: that the nature of work is good and that the purpose of work is love. Both of these aspects of work reflect the holy nature of the loving God who made us.
The gospel is the good news that through Jesus Christ, we may be reconciled to our Creator and restored to our intended purposes. So many people are wandering aimlessly wondering what is the point of their lives, living in a ground-hog-day-like cycle of meaninglessness as they run the rat race of our world. Family of God, see this amazing hope we have to offer to the world! Through Jesus Christ, not only is God offering eternal life but also hope for our daily existence, an invitation to know the God who created you and to know the reason for your existence! The gospel is not just an eternal hope for heaven, but a temporal hope for the our daily workaday lives. There is more meaning to your life than you ever imagined, to join the work of a loving God in sustaining creation. What a purpose, what a calling.
Thanks be to God.
Corey Widmer is Co-Pastor of East End Fellowship in Richmond, VA, a multi-ethnic city congregation. He is also Associate Pastor of Preaching at Third Presbyterian Church, Richmond. After serving as Study Assistant to the< Rev. Dr. John R. W. Stott, Corey earned his M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in theology at the Free University of Amsterdam.
Other sermons in this series on Thank God It's Monday: