Biblical Work vs. Self-sufficiency


If the Bible speaks to all areas of life, then what does the Bible say about Work?  How should we view work Biblically within the bigger picture of  our worldview? In this post, I will attempt to answer these questions.

Today (this side of the Genesis 3) the concept of work is married to the concept of subsistence.  Even as early as Genesis 3:17, we see that the result of the curse is that we will have to work hard to get food from the ground. This work / subsistence/ food relationship is clarified further in 2nd Thessalonians 3:10 when Paul charges that if a man will not work, neither let him eat. However, I recently realized that this was not the case before Genesis 3.  Before the fall, man was commanded to do 3 types of work:

  1. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)
  2. Name the creatures (Genesis 2:19)
  3. And keep the garden (Gen 2:20)

2 out of the 3 commands have nothing to do with keeping dinner on the table, and even the third command to “tend the garden” does not sound to me to have the same “work or starve” implications as genesis 3 and beyond .

So why the difference in the nature of work? I think the answer lies in the nature of the fall.  When Adam and Eve ate the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, I believe they did more than simply disobey their creator (though that alone would have been reason enough for the race they represented to need a Savior). God gives us a window into the nature of their crime against him in what he says about their crime in the first part of Genesis 3:22: “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil…”.  I believe that God is saying something along the lines of “Mankind can now think independently of us and make his own decisions about right and wrong.” You see I see the decision to eat of the tree of the knowledge of Good and evil as a sort of “declaration of Independence” against God.  But that is not who god created us to be.  God created us to be dependent on him for everything, even the knowledge of right and wrong.  So the “work he assigned us before the fall had nothing to do with our survival because God was providing that perfectly and we were dependent on him for it.  But after our declaration of independence, all that changed.  Now we would have to earn our keep.

The good news though is that that is not how God left us.  We can see shadows of God working history to a time when we would once more be dependent on him entirely.  We see it in God providing an Ark for the flood (Gen 6, 7, and 8). We see it in the Manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16) and ultimately we see it in Christ.

But how does Christ invalidate humanity’s Declaration of Independence (eating of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil)?  To answer this question I need to fill in a couple of points of theology that I hold to be axiomatic.

  • We are completely sinful
  • God requires complete righteousness
  • We can only satisfy Gods requirements if we rely on faith through the righteousness of Christ.

OK, with these axioms being said there is an interesting set of logical steps that can be implied:

  • If we could live perfect sinless holy lives on our own, we could earn some measure of Gods favour (let me just say I don’t believe at all this is possible, but bear with me for a minute)
  • In order to live a perfectly Holly and Righteous life, one must have a perfect knowledge of the law by which righteousness is defined.
  • So the Knowledge of Good and evil is required to perfectly obey the law.
  • So when we put our faith in Christ’s righteousness we are making the first step toward returning to a place of complete dependence on God.  Putting our faith in Christ shreds the declaration of independence shouted by mankind in Genesis 3.  Furthermore, submitting to Christ as Lord further tears asunder Mankind’s rebellious declaration of independence.

So if Christ is the antidote to the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Good and evil (or the tree of life as he has been called), what does that mean for us Christians now.

One thing that comes to mind is, I believe that we should approach our national cultures lifting up of independence with much more caution than we do.  People in our culture love to be thought of as independent thinkers, Self-made men, financial independence, and vocational independence.  Some of these things  are, ok and can be good things,  however, it is important that we remember that as independent as we feel that we are, we keep an attitude of complete dependence on God,  always ready to surrender our independence to the one who made us to be dependent on Him.

So what then does this mean for work?  Well the Bible clearly says that Christians should work to “earn our keep”  Thessalonians 3:10,  but I believe we need to remember that we are not working to attain our independence, but rather we are working to please our Lord,  just like Adam was before genesis 3.

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