Spiritual Disciplines: Work

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God breathed the breath of life in Adam, and he became a living soul (Gen. 2:7). Having created him as a living soul, He gave him an abundance of food to eat (Gen. 1:29). The third thing that happened was that God gave him a task (Gen. 2:15). His immediate task was to tend the Garden, and his long term task was to subdue the entire earth. So there we have the full curriculum of the spiritual disciplines—breathe, eat, work.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Gen. 1:27-28).
Notice that the creation of man as male and female was essential to the task that was later assigned. First, mankind as male/female is how we bear the image of God (v. 27). Mankind was given dominion over the earth as the vice-gerent of God, and if we are stopped and asked what authority we have for doing this or that, we must show our papers. And what are those papers? The answer is the fact that we bear the image of God. All attempts by evolutionists to deny that we are created in the image of God are either attempts to abdicate the task entirely, or are attempts to usurp the authority from God, and to rule in our own name. It is usually the latter.

The dominion and stewardship that Adam was called to exercise was absolutely dependent upon the wife he was given. Prior to Eve’s formation from the rib, he could have been told to trim a bush, or cut a path, or build a monument. He could have done such things by himself. But the globe was always going to be enormous, and Adam would have remained a solitary guy. The command was to be fruitful and multiply. How could Adam do that by himself? He could not. If Adam was commanded to dig a hole, he could have figured out a way to do it. But he was commanded to replicate himself.

This is why incidentally, the whole debate over homosexual marriage is an instance of high rebellion, and is not just a public indulgence of a petty vice. In response to such follies, our task is to present the image of God accurately, as well as to present a living model of Christ and the Church. We have the privilege, in our marriages, to testify both to creation and redemption. Marriage is high theology.

Man therefore has a right to tend and supervise what is happening on the earth. Good stewardship is our responsibility, assigned by God. This awesome responsibility was made much more difficult and complicated when our race fell into sin. The task was now far beyond us, but the task was not removed from us. After the judgment of God that fell on the earth with the Flood, this cultural mandate was repeated (Gen. 9:1). Despite our sin, we still have all the same responsibilities. Because this is our house, we are the ones who have to mow the lawn.

But God saw our inabilities and promised a Messiah, one who would enable us to fulfill and discharge the responsibility that He gave to us. Even after the Fall, the psalmist is amazed at the dominion responsibility that God gave to man (Ps. 8:6). And the author of Hebrews notes that it was not until Christ came that the true fulfillment of this was even remotely possible (Heb. 2:8-9). We do not yet see everything subject to man, the way it ought to be, but . . . we see Jesus.  

Unconverted men do not want to follow God’s order. They want to be saved “by works,” which means ultimately, that they believe the order is work, live, eat. But we are not saved by good works, but rather we are saved to good works (Eph. 2:8-10). God gives life first, strength second, and the task last. To this I labor, Paul says, struggling mightily with the energy He supplies (Col. 1:29). And in another place he says that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for God is at work in us, to will and to do according to His good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13). Work out what God works in—that is, life and strength. Lots of good works, but no autonomous good works. It is all grace.

As we exercise stewardship, we have to be extremely careful to pay attention to the boundaries of our stewardship, which are marked out by God in the institution of private property (Ex. 20:15). Just the prohibition of adultery presupposes the institution of marriage, so also the prohibition of stealing presupposes the institution of private property. And the state has no more right to confiscate property willy-nilly than the sultan has the right to gather up his nation’s wives into his harem.

Adam and Eve are the paradigmatic couple. The way they got married sets the pattern for all mankind—a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and the two become one flesh (Matt. 19:5). Paul applies this to the matter of calling and vocation as well (1 Cor. 11:8-9). The man was made for the task, and the task of the woman was the man. The man tends the garden, and the woman tends the man. These are not watertight categories, obviously, but Scripture does describe this authoritatively as being our foundational orientation.

Now the thing that we are to take away from this pattern of breathe, eat, work is that the task of mankind is that of management. We do not create wealth ex nihilo—we manage it as it comes off the tree. We are stewards of a multiplying world.

This world needs to trimmed, managed, shepherded, replenished, and we are to do it in the name of Jesus and a good amount of sweat. The institution of work is a pre-fall institution, just like marriage is. We are to learn how—in Christ—to resist and overcome the effects of the Fall on our labors. And the more we do, the more it multiplies.

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