Honor and shame in the book of Genesis––#2: The honor of work

honor and shame in the book of genesis2

This is the second in a series about honor and shame in the book of Genesis. You’ll benefit from reading this in your browser. I encourage you to read all the way to the bottom—where you will be rewarded with a video and movie trailer.

In our first post in this series, we examined Gen. 1:1—“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. We considered the honor of God as Creator, summarized below. This summary serves as an essential foundation for this second post concerning the honor of work.

God is Creator-King, and creation is his temple. We see this plainly in Psalms 96–100:

  • God is King—enthroned, majestic, glorious, infinitely honorable (Ps. 95:3–6; Ps. 96:6–10; Ps. 97:1–2; Ps. 98:6; Ps. 99:1–5; Ps. 100:4).
  • God is Creator of the earth—and thus deserving of worship from all the earth: (Ps. 95:4–5; Ps. 96:1, 9, 11–13; Ps. 97:1, 4–5, 9; Ps. 98:3–4, 7–9; Ps. 99:1; Ps. 100:1).
  • The heavens and the earth are a templesacred space in which all peoples, nations—even all nature—rejoice together in worship of the Creator-King (Ps. 95:1–7; Ps. 96:1–13; Ps. 97:1–9; Ps. 98:1–9; Ps. 99:1–5; Ps. 100:1–5)

It is unmistakable—the heavens and the earth do not comprise a “machine” devoid of sacred honor; no, the heavens and the earth comprise sacred space—an honorific temple of the Most High God, the Creator-King!

The author of Genesis and the Psalmist agree on ‘the nature of nature’—the essence of creation: There is no separation between natural and supernatural, or between secular and spiritual. There is a unity between matter and spirit. Why? Because it was all created by a glorious God for a glorious purpose (Rom. 11:36).

Darrow Miller LifeWorkIn his book LifeWork, Darrow Miller says it this way:

Scripture does not divide existence into separate natural and supernatural, or material and spiritual, realms. The separation that the modern world tends to make is utterly foreign to the biblical worldview. It is doubtful that the people of the Bible could even have wrapped their heads around the way we tend to see our lives and the world now. The Bible reveals that God is Creator of both the heavens and the earth.[1]

Work as sacred honor

Inside of this sacred, most honorable framework for all creation, let’s examine what Genesis 1–2 says about work. Below are five observations.

  1. When God created, God worked. Notice the description in Genesis 2:1–2. “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.” God’s work in creation was to create highly ordered, “very good” (Gen 1:31), sacred space. We affirm that it’s not just the result of God’s work that is sacred (that is, creation); no, the work itself was sacred. God is holy; therefore, all of God’s work is holy—including the work of creation. Moreover, we see God pictured both as a craftsman (Gen. 2:7; 22) and gardener (Gen. 2:8). God himself is at work!
  2. God gave man work to do. Genesis 2:15 makes this plain: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” In the sacred garden of Eden, God gave man work to do. Since God made humankind in his own image (Gen. 1:27), it is a reflection of the honor of God that he gives man work to do in the garden—“to work it and keep it”. Man’s work is not the result of the Fall. Work is not a curse. No! For man to work is to live in the image of the Most High God! Of course, the Fall made work harder, more painful (Gen. 3:17–19), but in God’s original design, work is good, honorable, sacred.
  3. God gave regal responsibility to humanity through work. Notice the word dominion in Genesis 1:26; 28. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’” The word dominion implies regal oversight and supremacy (Ps. 8:5–6, 145:13). Darrow Miller also says that dominion is tethered to stewardship:

    Because God is a working God, when he makes man in his image, part of what that means is that man is to work as well. We find in Genesis the first job description. The nature of man’s work is to have dominion (stewardship) over creation. This is not only the first job description but also the job description out of which all other legitimate job descriptions come.[2]

    Later in his book, Miller speaks of the link between a high view of humanity, a high view of work, and the unusual prosperity of nations influenced by a Christian worldview. Miller points to the scholarship of Jeremy Landes in The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor.

    So, the difference, according to Landes, was religious worldview: the dignity of labor, humankind having dominion over creation, history that is going somewhere, and a free market. Landes got the first three right but, in my opinion, got the fourth point backward. The high view of man was not a result of enterprise; it was the biblical concept of a high view of man—the image of God—which led to enterprise. Man is the secondary creator, innovator, inventor, and artist. It is these worldview elements and others that raised nations out of poverty.[3]

    Humanity is made by God in the image of God. And since God works, God also gives humanity work to do. It is not meaningless, dishonorable work. No, it is the grand work of having dominion with and under God’s kingly rule over all the earth (Gen. 1:26; 28).

  4. God gave humanity the honor of providing for oneself through work. In Genesis 1:29, God speaks to humanity, “…‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” God does not say, “I will feed you.” Rather, God says in effect, I am providing plants, fruit and seeds by which you can make gardens and develop agriculture—and out of your work you will have the food to sustain you. God provides the resources for humanity to provide for themselves. This is nothing less than the honor of providing for oneself through work under the kingship of Creator God.
  5. God gave creative work to humanity. In Genesis 2:19–20 God gave man the distinction of language—distinguishing man from the rest of the animals. And with that language came the responsibility of creative work: “… And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. …” Darrow Miller calls this “making man a word maker” and a culture-maker.

God established man’s dominion over nature by making man a word maker. Part of the image of God in us is our ability to reason, make words, and understand created distinctions. As man follows God in using language, he is separated from the rest of creation as the maker of culture.[4]

I asked my wife Daphne, how does honor overlap with the truth of God as creator? Daphne is a piano teacher and a great cook. She said something like this: Whenever you create something you just feel good. Whether it’s a work of art or a piece of music or a meal—creating is inherently honorable. And the honor one feels is even greater when people you love also enjoy what you have created.

The point is simple: God gave work to humanity—work that was regal, honorable, expansive, enjoyable—inside of God’s sacred creation. This is an incredibly high view of work. Work is about more than surviving. Work is about more than productivity. Work is about fulfilling God’s good purposes on the earth.

What does this mean for the mission of the church?

Here are a few principles that can be applied to the work of international missions—locally and globally. These principles have been stated by many others. I want to specifically connect these principles to the honor of work.

  • All work done to the glory and honor of God is spiritual work and sacred work.
  • Full-time ministers and missionaries are not more honorable—spiritually speaking—than any worker or professional who also does their work with all their might to the glory of God (Eccl. 9:10; Col. 3:23). We all stand equal at the cross, and we all have honor in our respective vocational callings.
  • Believers of virtually every vocation—and in their vocation!—are needed in God’s honor-sharing story of blessing the nations (Gen. 12:3, Acts 1:8) through Jesus Christ.
  • Providing good jobs to the poor and facilitating the honor of work can be integral to—and highly strategic for—making “disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19).

Five suggestions for resources concerning work, honor, mission

1) At Mission ONE, we’re engaging in a Missional Business vision with our international indigenous ministry partners. Learn more here, and watch a one-minute video.

2) Read a book on the theology of work. Darrow Millers’s LifeWorkmentioned above—is a comprehensive treatment on the subject. Two other books, much shorter, but compelling in how they tie together business and missions, are:

3) Attend a conference on Business As Mission. The BAM Conference is in Los Angeles, September 16–18.

4) Watch a video. The 5-minute video below by Skye Jethani is excellent—“Recapturing a Theology of Vocation”. Click here to see it in your browser.

5) Watch a movie: Poverty Inc. is on Netflix and Vimeo. It’s an amazing documentary—so worth watching! On the one hand, this film shows why traditional forms of charity often do more harm than good—while dishonoring the very people and communities who are being “served”. On the other hand, the film amplifies the honor of building businesses and providing good jobs through small to medium sized businesses. This is vital in fighting poverty and transforming communities around the world. Watch the trailer below (or in your browser):

Poverty, Inc. from Brainstorm Media on Vimeo.

1. Miller, Darrow; Newton, Marit. LifeWork: A Biblical Theology for What You Do Every Day (Kindle Locations 665-668). YWAM Publishing. Kindle Edition.

2. Ibid., Kindle Locations 3591-3593.

3. Ibid., Kindle Locations 5049-5053.

4. Ibid., Kindle Locations 2207-2209.

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