Second Reformed Church

Monday, September 08, 2008

"Work Is Not Punishment" Sermon: Genesis 2:4-17

“Work Is Not Punishment”
[Genesis 2:4-17]
September 7, 2008 Second Reformed Church

Are you familiar with the song, “Everybody’s Working for the Weekend?” Even if you’ve never heard the song, you may well have had the feeling, right? “The best thing about work is going home.” “I only work to make money so I can enjoy myself on my days off.” “I deserve a break today, so I’m calling in sick.” “Why shouldn’t I let the system – or my girlfriend – support me – I mean, just look at me.” Surely we have heard these excuses or some like them.

It seems as though people believe work is a nuisance we have to live with or even a punishment for something we, or even, you did. Would many people say that they enjoy their work? That they look forward to accomplishing their work? That their work is a joy to them?

The Scriptural idea of work suggests that it is not a punishment, but something that should give us joy. If we go to work, hating or dreading what we are there to do, there is something wrong. Even in a difficult work, we should be able to find joy.

Let us consider: how much time passed between the creation of Adam and the first sin? In the Scripture, it’s less that a chapter, but it was actually some period of time – it was not instantaneous, some time went by before the first sin.

Let us look at what we find in this morning’s text:

Verse four of chapter two backs us up, telling us that we have heard the overview of the Creation, and now we are going to look at a specific incident.

Verse five tells us that the bushes and small plants had not grown yet – God had created them, but they were not yet growing, maturing, multiplying. And this was at a time before it rained – in fact, there was no rain until Noah – there was only this mist that kept the plants healthy. And there was no man (yet) to work the ground. So, one of the reasons that God created human beings was to work the ground, to care for the plants – remember we saw last week, caring for the Creation is part of what it means to be created in the Image of God.

So, if God intended to create humans for the purpose of working the land, but humans didn’t yet exist, then God could not be punishing humans by giving them work. The gift of work come under the category of being created in the Image of God.

Then, as I just said, verse six, there was a mist – not rain – on the earth that provided for water.

Then, verse seven, it is the sixth day, and God formed Adam out of the dust of the earth, and when the body was completed, God Himself breathed into the form and gave Adam life – he became a living being. And here we are.

And then, verse eight, since there was a human to work the ground, then God planted the special garden He called, “Eden,” in the east, and God put Adam in the Garden of Eden to live and to care for it, to work the ground and provide for it. It was a gift, a responsibility given, but it was not a punishment.

So, verse nine, God caused every pleasant plant to grow up, and it was pleasing to the eye and good for food. And God put the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden.

Would you like to see where this lush Garden, this gift of God was? Moses gives us co-ordinates in verses ten through fourteen. Here’s where the Garden of Eden was: where the Tigris and Euphrates and Pishon and Gihon Rivers all come together. Unfortunately, we’re not sure what the Pishon and Gihon Rivers were, but we do know where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers come together. We know the country that the Garden of Eden was in. Today we call it, “Iraq.”

So, we see that we were created to work and work was not given as a punishment, but as a gift and a responsibility. Paul wrote, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV).

John Calvin wrote, “Moses now adds, that the earth was given to man, with this condition, that he should occupy himself in its cultivation. Whence it follows that men were created to employ themselves in some work, and not lie down in inactivity and idleness. This labor, truly, was pleasant, and full of delight, entirely exempt for all trouble and weariness; since however God ordained that man should be exercised in the culture of the ground, he condemned in his person, all indolent repose. Wherefore, nothing is more contrary to the order of nature, than to consume life in eating, drinking, and sleeping meantime we propose nothing to ourselves to do” (John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, 66-67 [Genesis 2:15]).

And Adam and we are not merely called just to work non-specifically, but God calls us to our work such that we will glorify God through our work. Paul wrote, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24, ESV). Everyone has a boss to answer to, and everyone has to answer to the Lord Jesus Christ. So, we ought to focus ourselves as working for Him. If we focus on Him and pleasing Him and glorifying Him in our work, the failures of those humans around us will not be as draining.

Does that mean just spiritual work or work in the Church? No, when we consider work, here, we are talking about every kind of work that provides for the economy of the household – whether that be your immediate household or the household of faith. All honest work adds to the provision of some part of the Creation. So, all work can give us joy; all work can glorify God.

And surely there are some who want to call out, “But I don’t find my work joyful: I find it irritating, mind-numbing, painful, futile – it’s hard and unpleasant. How does that fit in?”

And we’re right to wonder about that – no one’s work is always joyful – we struggle and suffer to accomplish the goals that are set before us. And we wonder if that isn’t punishment – doesn’t that mean work is punishment?

The answer is this: work has become unpleasant and hard because of sin. Because our first parents sinned, God cursed the Creation as part of our punishment. Listen, “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 to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Genesis 3:17b-19a, ESV).

When Adam first worked the ground in the Garden of Eden, it was not difficult – it was pleasant – it was completely joyful, and he surely raised praise to God and glorified Him in the work he did. But, after the first sin, God removed our first parents from the Garden, He made the soil hard to work, He gave the plants thorns and thistles, He undid the good relationship man had with the animals. Sin made work hard and unpleasant.

Even so, we can do our work to the best of our abilities. We can work as for the Lord and not merely for humans. We can work in such a way that we glorify God in our work. And we can look forward in hope to that day when all will be restored, including, completely pleasant work.

In the mean time, let us always consider that what we have to do has been given to us by God as a gift. Let us give thanks for the work we have. Let us work as for the Lord – not merely as for our human bosses who are sinners like us and will fail us – let us be concerned with what God thinks of our work, and if we are, our human bosses ought have nothing to complain about. And let us have the attitude that we are doing the work we have to glorify God, and if we do that, we will find joy and satisfaction in Him.

“Well, wait a minute,” some of you are thinking, “that’s all well and good, but I’m retired. I don’t work any more. How does any of this apply to me?”

The Bible knows nothing of retirement – which is not to say anything one way or another. What the Bible shows us of life is that we are born, we live and work, we die, we are raised from the dead, and then we spend eternity suffering in Hell, or living with Jesus. That’s what the Bible presents to us.

Yet, there is a principle in Paul’s letters that we can use to address retirement. Paul wrote, “Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may live properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (I Thessalonians 4:11-12, ESV). And, “For even while we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (II Thessalonians 3:10-12, ESV).

In other words, if you’re able to provide for your own living, you ought to do so. You ought not to be mooching off of another person or the “system.” Whether you work in an employ that gives you a regular paycheck, or, if you are retired from such an employ, but can provide for yourself through some means you have set up, if you have any ability to provide for yourself, you ought to do so.

Thus, whether one is in gainful employ or not, the theological principle that Paul gives us is, “Don’t be a mooch.” If you are able to provide for yourself, do so.

“Well, ok, but what about those people who are physically and/or mentally incapable of providing for themselves?”

Throughout the Scripture, we are told to care for the widow and the orphan and the stranger in need. The same principle applies here, if anyone is truly unable to provide for themselves, then Christians ought to provide for them. And some of you are thinking, “Well, that will never happen.” Then, shame on the Church. We are to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves, and we work to make sure that we have the basics for survival, so we ought at least be willing to provide those basics for someone who truly has no means to provide for himself.

Work is not punishment. Work was given to humanity as a gift and a responsibility and as a way to glorify God and be joyful in Him. Work has become difficult due to sin. Still, in whatever we do, we should consider the Lord Jesus as the One for Whom we work, and seek to do all things in a way that pleases and glorifies Him.

Let us pray:
Lord, we thank You for giving us the earth and the call to care for it. We thank You for the work that You have given each one of us to do, whether it is in someone’s employ, or through the good works You have given us to do, simply because they are right and pleasing, God-glorifying works that also give us joy. Keep us from being idle busybodies and from mooching off of others. Show us that we each have work to do for You, and we work towards the fullness of Your Kingdom among us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.


Alexis Josef said...

This is all crap.... all my life I worked hard and never got rewarded... so definitely work is a punishment.. Whenever I was passionate about the work I have, I always end up getting fired instead of rewarded... at least that's how things are in Catholic Malta..

Peter said...

I agree with you: in this life, the gift of work has been corrupted by sin. Work is now difficult, painful, unrewarding, etc. But it is that way due to sin -- work was originally a good and wonderful thing. It is sin that has caused work to seem to be a punishment. I'm sorry if I was not clear in the sermon: work, itself is a good and blessed thing, but, due to sin coming into the world, we now often experience work as suffering.

江美琪Maggie said...
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