In this teaching, I compare what constitutes work in the story line of the Bible vs. how modern American culture defines work. We will look at Genesis chapters 1-3 and see how work is not a curse but actually one of the greatest gifts that God has given to humans.
This is the first of two episodes about a Christian view of work and vocation. I gave these teachings while I was a pastor at Door of Hope Church. In this season, the church was mostly made up of young 20-somethings, many of whom were new followers of Jesus and most of whom were either starting or still discovering their careers. These messages were an effort to help guide them to a fully integrated life where one's career becomes another expression of devotion to Jesus.
August 30, 2017
Speakers in the audio file:
Tim Mackie: Hey everybody. I'm Tim Mackie and this is my Podcast, Exploring my
I am a card-carrying Bible history and language nerd who thinks that Jesus
of Nazareth is utterly amazing and worth following with everything that
On this podcast, I'm putting together the last 10 years' worth of lectures
and sermons where I have been exploring the strange and wonderful story
of the Bible and how it invites us into the mission of Jesus and the journey
of faith and I hope this could be helpful for you too.
I also help start this thing called The Bible Project, we make animated
videos and podcast about all kinds of topics in Bible and theology. You can
find those resources at the BibleProject.com. With all that said, let's dive
into the episode for this week.
All right, hey everybody. Thanks for listening to The Strange Bible podcast.
And this is going to be the first, just a short two-part series. These were
two teaching that I contributed to a teaching series at A Door of Hope
church about thinking about work and career and vocation. At the
moment, we had a ton of young twenty-somethings, met dozens and
dozens of them were brand new followers of Jesus, living and working
right in the core of Portland.
And we sensed at that moment in the church, we needed to help
guide many of these people in helping them think about their work and
vocation as a part of how they follow Jesus, of viewing their careers and
vocations as a part of their discipleship to Jesus.
And there were a number of recent books out on the topic by
Timothy Keller and a New Testament scholar, Ben Witherington. And so, we
just thought, "Man, let's go with this." So, these were two teachings that I
This was the first one in the series that's called A Story about Work
and essentially, I try and draw together portraits of what constitutes
meaningful in modern American western culture versus the conception of
work that we find in the storyline of the Bible. It's mostly talking about
pages one through three of the Bible and how work is not a curse but
actually one of the greatest gifts that God has given to the humans.
So, I hope this teaching is helpful for you. I had a lot of fun
preparing for it. I learned a ton. And there you go, let's dive in and see
what we find.
If we're following Jesus, it is a commitment. It's giving my allegiance
to this One who died for me, gave His life for me, was raised for me, gives
His Spirit to me. If part of my allegiance to Jesus in following Him is every
area of my life being rethought, reevaluated, and experienced and then,
hearing it in a new key, as it were, in light of the Gospel and the good
news about Jesus, then obviously, what we do with the majority of our
waking hours, namely some kind of work and very broadly, whatever that
means, for your parents or part-time or your bi-vocational, whatever.
Work, that's fine. Very broadly, whatever you do with your productive
Surely, following Jesus should deeply inform how we think about
and go about our work, right? I mean, if following Jesus has to do with all
of our lives and with a huge majority of our lives is going to work, then
surely there should be a connection.
Okay, so in theory, that sounds great but the other reason we're
doing this series is because if, you know, we would have our sharing night
or something and all of us could have a minute and a half to share about
how integrate and out together my faith and commitment to Jesus and my
work, or kind of my greater vision for work and where I’m going and what I
want to do, almost certainly we were just getting huge, bewildering variety
of responses, right?
And so, some people, I hope, would be honest and say, "Yeah, I
have no idea, like, how following Jesus, what does that has to do with my
work. I just go to work, you know. Let's just do it."
And some of us would be even more honest and say, "I've never
even thought about that question. I've never thought about putting this
thing- What do you mean? Do I-? Well, what does it mean?"
And there might be some of us who have thought about this
through some degree. So, we might think of, "Well, I talk with my
coworkers about Jesus." It's one way to do that.
Some of us might say, "Well, I try to work from a different
motivation. I work to bring honor and do excellent work, whatever it is I'm
doing to honor God." Or, "I try to do my work-
"With integrity or excellence." You know, it is different than other people.
And then I'm sure there would be some of us who would say, "You know
what? You're right. Like, I don't see any connection between Jesus and my
work. And so, I should probably quit my job or something. You know?
Become a pastor, I guess, or a missionary or something, or go work for a
non-profit that serves the poor or something, because that way, there will
at least be a little bit more of a connection, right?"
Among that variety of answers, some I think are better than others. But the
fact that there is a bewildering variety of answers, to me, shows again why
we need to do a series like this. Because what that shows is the Christians,
we need to be taught on this. We need to hear from the Scriptures about
what we do, how will we do if the majority of our waking hours connects
to our commitment to Jesus.
And I don't think most of us are really well-equipped to really think that
through their work. And I don't think we're equipped because we lack a
story, we lack a grand story about why work matters as a Christian.
And let's hear this in the words of somebody else, a guy named Andrew
Delbanco. Andrew Delbanco is a professor at Columbia University, teaches
American literature. And this is what he has to say. He writes very short
little books, which is great. Short, little books, right? You love those short,
They're little essays that basically explore different facets about just
American culture and how weird and screwed up we all are basically. That's
kind of his take on things.
And so, he writes this book called The Real American Dream: A Meditation
on Hope. And so, he starts the book, he says, "At the heart of any cohesive
culture is a story that gives it hope, a story that helps us overcome the
working suspicion that all our working and getting and spending amounts
to nothing more than fidgeting while we wait for death."
It sounds like Ecclesiastes, right? Hope depends on finding some end to be
pursued more extensive than merely instant desire. And the premise of this
book is that human beings need to organize the events of our lives into
such a story that gives us hope. Without it, we are, as the anthropologist,
Clifford Geertz, has put it, a kind of formless monster with neither sense of
direction or power of self-control in the chaos of vague emotions.
This is his description of modern American culture. It has become the
thesis of the book, which is essentially: if there was any coherent narrative
or story that brought Americans together, that has now all but faded and
the main narrative that's out there is consume, meet your desires, try not
to die. Which, he says, is no hope at all.
What that story does not offer you is any way to make sense of what we
do with most of our days, which is just our working and why we're working
and what we're working for. And most of us, he's saying, don't have such a
grand story. We don't have some great goal or end that we see our jobs
or work fitting into.
And so what are we left with? We're with the gratification of desire and so,
I'm kind of into this thing and so, I want to pursue that. You know, if you
kind of do that job for a while and then, get tired of that thing until, I
mean, I kind of move over here. We're a very mobile society, very transient
society. I saw enough people move and shift careers now, all over the
place. And so, whatever, you know. Maybe you'll have eight, nine different
careers. Thirty different jobs. But there's no greater goal.
What he's saying is essentially, if you don’t have that greater end, what are
human beings without a story to make sense of all the random stuff that
happens in our lives and all of the days that we work? And so, he says, if
you don't have a story, you quote this guy, it's such a great quote, I think,
we become formless monsters.
If you don't have a greater story to why it is and where you're going with
your work, you lack direction. Why should you choose this job or another,
why should you choose any job? You could just play Xbox all day or
something. Why, what's the point?
And so, you lack direction, you lack the power of self-control, right?
Because what possible motivation do you have to work super, super hard
and to sacrifice for something if you don't really have any idea where
you're going or any bigger purpose that you're working for?
Like, what's the motivation to work super hard? It's just kind of, like, all this
work and just kind of get by, you know. And I guess, if that job is in our
And so, like, you end up as, you come from the chaos of vague emotion
because you never caught up in the passion of something great that you're
a part of, but then again, you're also not hugely disappointed because you
never see yourself as a part of anything great.
And so, you end up with a culture of people who are just kind of bored.
You know, whatever, and can go to work, I guess, whatever. You know, just
kind of this disaffected, cynical-
I felt like he'd been reading my mail and my generation's mail, you know
what I'm saying? When he wrote this.
Our culture lacks a story about work and I'm convinced that that has a
great influence on the church, and that we also lack a grand story for work
besides the survival narrative, besides the consumer story, right, the
weekend warrior story, whatever.
We lack a grand story about work is precisely what the Scriptures are
trying to offer us. Turn to page one of the Bible with me. Just a simple
observation about the first sentence of the Bible.
In English, here are the first three words of the Bible, what are they? "In the
beginning." Let's stop right there. What kind of books begin with a line
like, "In the beginning," or "A long time ago," or "A long time ago in a land
far, far away, a great adventure have-" so what kind of books begin like
Epic tales, epic stories. Narratives. "In the beginning." Stories. The Bible, in
its essence, is a grand story that claims to be telling the story of our world
that we happen to be sitting in right now. And as we're going to see, we're
going to camp out in Genesis 1, 2, 3 tonight and you might think, "What
does that have to do with work?"
Like, I thought it has to do with everybody debate about creation and
evolution and so on. Here's the caveat, so reading the Genesis, 1 through 3
especially, is very much like what happens to Americans when they go to
Mainly, they don't pay any attention to, like, dress code. And so, Americans
go there with, like, shorts and tubes socks pulled up high. And when they
get off the plane, without a phrase book going around, asking where the
McDonald's is, you know.
And it's just like, "What?" You know, like, we're arrogates. We're cultural
arrogates, right? Now, I think we do a very similar thing when many of us
pick up these chapter in the Bible and we just assume that the Bible is
going to speak my language and talk about things the way that I think
about them and answer the questions that I happen to have as a 21st
century westerner, you know?
And we're just like, "No, stop that. That's rude. That's rude. No, you're
stepping into another time, another culture's way of seeing the world, you
need to humble yourself." Have your first assumption be, "I probably am
not understanding this on the first go. I'll need some help. I probably need
And so, if my conviction, that actually, most of the energy that gets wasted
on these chapters is about questions that that story is actually not trying
to answer and it's making the story do something that it's never designed
But when we actually pay attention to the themes of the story itself, you'll
see one of the main things these chapters are doing is offering us a grand
story about work and the meaning of work and labor and vocation for
humanity but much, much larger because the first worker in the Bible is
not a human. It's God.
Let's dove in here to the grand story of work. "In the beginning, God
created the heavens and the earth." Okay, let's stop real quick here. Now,
we need to slap our hands. So when you hear the word "earth" for
contemporary English, what does the word earth refer to in English?
What's the image that comes in your head?
A planet. Mainly, a globe, right? That's a beautiful picture, right? Planet
Earth and the oceans and comets or whatever, clouds or something. So,
question, so how long does the human imagination even been able to
have that image in its mental furniture? At least, in terms of the color
picture that comes into all of our heads.
Satellite image? First satellite image of earth? So that's early 1960's. Right
now, 50 years old, okay? How old is Genesis Chapter 1? Oh yeah, 3,500
years old. You know, so start there.
So, what would an Israelite author 3,500 years ago mean when he says
earth? Not a planet. In the beginning, God made the heavens. What are
the heavens? This is what's up there. And what's the earth? This is what's
And when did God make and create what's up there and what's down
here? It's in the beginning. So, when's that? It's actually quite a vague word
in Hebrew, let alone English.
And so, most of the questions that we come to Genesis with is one with,
like, how and how long and how exactly. And the author was like, "No, I
don't care about that. I have a different story to tell. In the beginning, God
made what's up there and what's down here. Let's keep going."
So that's interesting, right? Because, look, the story is not concerned with
all of that. The story is concerned with, now that everything is here, what's
happening here? That's what Genesis 1 is.
So, what's interesting is, the majority of Genesis 1 is not a story about God
of Work P1: A Story about Work
Something out of nothing. The story doesn't even talk about that. It just
says God made it all back then. What's the story is interested in is how God
is turning what's here into something better because of the Verse 2, it's
So now, what's down here, the land or earth, it was formless and empty,
and darkness was over the surface of the deep. Let's again pause real quick
Whatever that's supposed to mean, does that sound good to you?
Formless and empty and darkness. Is this a good thing?
Well, it depends. It depends. Yeah, it's kind of neutral, isn't it? Okay, so
here's a few things. First of all, if you have the globe still in your mind, this
will make no sense whatsoever. Well, there was a new Christian that's
reading and so he was like, "So is this blob of clay floating in the universe
or something? I don't know, what is it, is there nobody living there or
something? I don't get it."
So first, you know, how it is with me, so what's great is this is a wonderful
phrase in Hebrew. It's a rhyme: tohu wa-bohu. Tohu wa-bohu. "Formless
and empty" is one way to render it. The best way I've come across is from
a Jewish scholar named Robin Fox. It preserves the rhyme, "Wild and
waste." Now we're talking.
Wild and waste. These are words used elsewhere in Hebrew to describe
desert and wasteland. And so, the idea is, indicating God made what's up
there and what's down here. He made it all back then, okay.
Now that it's here. It's in a state of tohu va-bohu. Now, is this good or bad?
Well, it depends on who you are. If you're a lizard, is tohu wa-bohu bad?
No, that's where you live. You live in the desert wasteland, you know what
I'm saying? Is it bad if you're a fox or a spider or something? No.
For whom is tohu wa-bohu not good? Us. Humans are going to be the
pinnacle point of this particular story in Genesis Chapter 1. Everything is
seen through the view of what is winding up for humans in a good space.
It's a very human-centered view of the universe, Genesis Chapter 1.
And how can it be anything else? It's 3,500 years old. That's just the nature
of the story, it's part of the point of the story, as you'll see.
So, this state of affairs, however, it's fine for the lizards, it's not good for
the humans. The rest of Genesis 1 is about God taking tohu wa-bohu and
turning it into something wonderful. Darkness that was over the surface at
the deep, but what's there hovering in that dark, wild, waste place?
It's got His spirit. His personal life-giving presence is there, and God's
personal life-giving, energizing presence shows up in the dark wasteland
and what starts happening when God shows up in dark waste places?
Good stuff happens, right? Life shows. It's all over 3.
So, this is another good one, where it's like, "No. Stop it, stop it." Right?
And God said, "Let there be light." And we think, "Oh, yeah. Exactly, lights.
Those little, super, teeny-tiny pockets of energy called photons that are
emitted by the sun, right? That hit the earth, photosynthesis, and so on."
That's a very modern concept of light as a thing. Is light a thing, it can be
manufactured and made? Let's keep reading.
God said, "Let there be light. And there was light, and God saw that the
light was good. He separates light and darkness." He's bringing order.
"God called the light," and He doesn't not call it photon, does He? What
does He call it? Day. "And the darkness He called night." Now, let's stop
Is day a thing that you make? You know what I'm saying? So, no. Day is a
period of time that is meaningful for whom specifically? Humans, right?
God doesn't make anything on the first day. All He does is He declares a
meaningful division between not light and light. God's creating time here
as it were. He's creating structure and order in the midst of chaos. So that's
essentially what Geneses 1 is, what God is up to. It's His bringing order.
He's taking what already exists and He's bringing and declaring it to be
meaningful and ordered. And so, this is essentially what Genesis 1 is. Okay,
we have to skip over the rest now, basically.
And so, this is all that Genesis 1 is. It's in ways that are different than how
we think about the world and ways that we're very familiar to this author,
and the audience and so on. He's talking about God creating, the potential
for weather and rain, and the potential for agriculture with dry land, and so
And then, after those, after creating all of these, ordered divisions when He
fills the world with all of these inhabitants. Let me go to Verse 11. Verse 11
is a good one for what God is up to here.
It says: "Let the land produce vegetation, seed-bearing plants and trees on
the land that bear fruit with seed in it."
"According to their various kinds and it will sow." So what kind of trees are
just sprouting and generating out of the earth here? What kind of trees?
Seed-bearing plants and trees, so fruit trees. Fruit trees.
Now immediately, we're, with our modern mindset think, well, what about
all the other trees? Yeah, what about all the other trees, the deciduous tree
and the fir trees and evergreen trees? And the author was like, No, fruit
trees are what He's focusing on because fruit trees are going to especially
beneficial for whom?
For humans, right? Fruit trees are going to play a key role in the story,
aren't they? Right? That's the whole point, he's teeing you up. Here, look at
Verse 24, here's a good one too:
"God said, let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds."
Livestock, creatures that live on the ground, wild animals, all according its
kind. That's how ordered everything is, with the species and kind and so
Now, where are the land creatures being generated out of right here? Look
closely. What does it say? Just the land. Well, how? How has that
happened? I think the zombies coming up out of the grave. It's a very
wide, open statement: The land generates creatures.
In other words, the vision is God is taking tohu wa-bohu, He's bringing
order. And then, I think they're, like, a big TNT like powder cake and it's just
stuffing full of potential and energy that's just ready to burst and generate
life and goodness and so on. Just produce and so on. Just go, go, go,
And that's essentially what happens in Genesis 1. He's packed it full of
potential to just generate and life and goodness, which is actually what He
calls them. Look at the last verse of chapter 1, verse 31:
"When God looks, and He sees this ordered, beautiful world, God saw all
that He had made," and what does He say about it? It's very good, it's very
good. The Hebrew word for good is tov. So, God turns tohu wa-bohu into
tov. Do you get it? It's a word play. It's a word play.
He takes what is wild and waste and He turns it into something that is
good. Now what does it mean? Well, we already know one piece of it, it's
that He's bringing order out of the chaotic darkness, and so on. So, it’s God
bringing order, but then we're also going to see that He really highlights
that are pleasing to the eye. We'll see this in Chapter 2.
So, He takes what is dark and wild and waste, and He creates a place of
great beauty. Do you live in the northwest? Do I need to say any more?
You know what I'm saying?
So, the sun sets, the last couple of nights. What? I mean, just incredible.
Place of incred- sun and moon and stars and clouds and weather and
creatures, and so on. So, it's amazing. A place of incredible aesthetic
But know this, He doesn't just make this to, like, sit there and float out
there. He's making it for the humans. What are the elements of the world
that are specifically highlighted? Elements that bring order or benefit
humans. Fruit trees and day and night, and so on.
And so, what God is taking is this raw wasteland and He's shaping and
ordering it to be a place of beauty and a place of benefit for others. This is
what good means: order and beauty. It brings benefit. Let's keep going.
God saw, He made it so good and beautiful and ordered. It's perfect for
the human beings, and so on. And so, the heavens and the earth were
completed in their vast array. By the seventh day, God had finished the
what? Work. Well, it's the first-time work is used in the Bible.
Who's the first worker in the Bible? It's God. And what is God's work? It's
this right here. How exactly He generated the material world, the Bible just
says, yeah, just in the beginning He made what's up there and what's down
God's work in the world in the model of work that we see here in Genesis 1
is about taking what is full of disorder and darkness and raw materials and
generating a world of order that's beautiful and it brings benefits to
others. This is described as work.
God finished His work on the seventh day. He rested from His work. And
God bless the seventh day because He made it holy and because on it, He
rested from the work of creating what He had done.
Josh is going to explore next week in the series this theme of rest and
sabbath and how it fits in to the Biblical vision of work. So, it's very
But notice three times we're told that this is God's work. What does it
mean to work? So, I've said it, like, five times. Let me say it for, like, twenty
more times. Would that be okay? But it's taking-
This wild wasteland, bringing out the potential in it, but not yet brought
into the order, beauty, and benefit.
Now, if you're bringing about something of benefit, so you're a worker,
God's the worker here. It begs the question: benefit for whom? For
someone else. Do you see that here? For the humans, as what you're
seeing in Verse 26.
So, in other words, I couldn't find a really good way to do some of the
drawings so I'll put it up here. Work generates order and beauty and
benefit because it generates something that is meant to be shared. Benefit
is something you do for something that's to be shared.
Now, the Biblical vision of work is not simply survival, right? So, survival is,
like, roaming around in wild and waste, surviving off of nuts and berries,
you know what I mean? So, it's a scavenger.
But God's not scavenging here. He’s generating out of His creativity and
His mind something of beauty that will bring benefit to others. Work is an
others-centered activity. Do you see this here?
Work is something God does so He can share the fruits of His work with
others. It's the vision of work here. It's not just survival, it's sharing. It's an
But He wants to share it and specifically with one creature in particular.
And go to Verse 26. These were God's first co-workers. That's funny to me,
God's first co-workers.
Verse 26: "God said, 'Let's make mankind, humans, in our image and in our
likeness and so they can rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the
sky and the livestock and the wild animals, over all the creatures that move
along the ground."
So, there's all these creatures bursting with potential, who's now going to
take on the role of also bringing order and generating beauty for the
benefit of others and so on? It's now these creatures and they rule, which
doesn't mean they live in the 80's or something.
That's my joke about ruling in the Bible, because, right? I don't have a
concept, you rule over animals? Put them in a zoo? Yeah, I'm a city guy.
Like, what does that it even mean?
So, it's the idea that there's all this potential out there but even, like,
healthy tomatoes aren't just going to, like, fall from heaven on your plate.
You got to get out there and do something. So, like, venison isn't just
going to appear in your freezer. You need to go and hunt.
That's ruling. God created humanity in His own image, in the image of God
He created them. Male and female, He created them, both genders reflect
the image of the one God. God is neither wholly reflected in one or the
other. It's their oneness and difference that reflects the image of God.
Fascinating and we have to skip it and keep moving.
Verse 28: "God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in
number. Fill the earth, subdue it, rule over the fish of the sea and birds of
the sky, every creature that moves on the ground."
Okay, so, this is so fascinating. Humans are the only creatures in Genesis 1
who are told to reproduce. Isn't that interesting? So, the land creatures just
do it, literally, you know what I'm saying? So, rabbits, they just go, you
know? They just go. They just multiply.
But humans are somehow intentionally reproduced. What's going on here?
So, just think about the vision of humanity, it's different.
Humans are made to reflect, they are the image of God. In other words,
humans are distinct from the other creatures and that the ways that we go
about relating to tohu wa-bohu and to God's good world is different than
other creatures because when rabbits multiply, they just make more
rabbits. When humans multiply, we make families and we make
neighborhoods and we make cities that make food and music and art and
culture, you know what I'm saying?
We don't just make more of ourselves, we make societies. Flowers and
apple trees, when they reproduce, they just make more flowers and apple
trees. When humans reproduce, they take the flowers and they cut
bouquets and sell them at farmers' markets. And they cultivate the apple
trees and make them grow in ways that they wouldn't normally so that
they can grow actually even more yummy apples to sold also at the
farmers' market while somebody is singing a poem that they wrote about
the apple blossom tree, or something. You know what I'm saying?
So that's the idea. When humans multiply, they remake the earth. They
don't just make more of themselves, they remake the earth. And so, we
have to be intentional how it is we go about reproducing. It's so
Fill the earth and subdue it. It's this popular in Portland to talk about this?
Subduing. Now, is there any hint of, like-
negativity or exploitation or something like this? Is this before or after evil
is in the story? So, it's before.
Subduing is asserting my will over something so that it yields its potential
or increases its potential. Apple trees will make some apples if you just let
them go wild. They'll make more apples that will benefit more people if
you subdue an apple tree. Like a grapevine or something, you learn the art
of viticulture, you can make awesome wine. Grapevine is not just going to
make awesome grape for wine, right? So, you have to subdue it.
Even, like, the most super, whatever, Portland thing. Like, it's their urban
community farm or something. Like that. For a little 20 by 20 plot that you
have three years to get, right? We sign up when you finally get it but it's
not just going to grow awesome peppers or something just waiting for
you to eat if you never do anything.
You have to assert your will over it and work over it and yield the potential.
Somehow, there's a potential in the sun, water, that dirt, and useful seeds
and then the weeding that we have to do. And somehow, that makes
awesome food for myself and then, let me share with other people.
You know, that's the idea here. You subdue. You bring a certain amount of
will and bring out the potential. It's a positive thing. It's a vision of work.
And actually, subduing is what God has been doing in Genesis 1, right?
Taking tohu wa-bohu and turning it into tov. And so now, He invites the
humans to do is the exact same thing. And because if you, like, multiply, if
you domesticate cows and if you start, like, big farms, yes, the dairy farmer
will be fed but so will a whole lot of other people too. That's the whole
So, humans are called to imitate the first worker. So, this is the beautiful
vision of work in Genesis Chapter 1. It's something God does and then it's
something He gives over to these image-bearing creatures. And work is
this dignified beautiful vocation of taking what is potential and bringing
order and beauty so that others can benefit more than just me surviving.
You see? This is a beautiful vision right here. So, this grand story of work
that I think most of us lack, this is one of these fixed points right here.
Notice what kind of work is being praised and highlighted here, in
information age, what we would call manual labor.
It doesn't matter what kind of work humans do. Well, okay, that's not
entirely true. There are some kinds of work that can actually be extremely
degrading to human beings and actually cause them to lose their own
humanity. We take that for granted, they're typically trade to exploit other
human beings in the process and so on. So, we're getting there.
But most human vocations and jobs are given this great status of God-like
dignity because God is the first worker and humans are called to imitate
God. You see a human at work? You see the image of God. That's the
vision of Genesis 1.
And Genesis 2 comes alongside it and fleshes it out in a really unique way.
Genesis 2 and Genesis 1 are distinct ways of getting at the same story.
They use different language, different imagery, different timelines, and so
on, but they're all getting at the core, same images.
Look at Genesis 2 with me, Verse 4. How are you guys doing? All right,
thank you. Genesis 2:4 "This is the account of the heavens and the earth
when they are created," when Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
Now, know that, sure, they had yet appeared on the earth and, you know,
planet had sprung up for the Lord God of heavens that reign on the earth
and there wasn't anybody to work the ground. There's nobody to work the
ground. Man, I wish that somebody would come along, right? Hint, hint,
Streams came out from the earth, water surfaced the whole ground.
What's this a picture of in Genesis 2? It's telling the same story with
Genesis 1, which is about beginning with wild and waste and there's no
agriculture or farming, there's nobody there to bring out the potential.
Theology of Work P1: A Story about Work
So, the Lord God farmed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed
into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living being. This
is such a great image right here.
Humans, the word for human in Hebrew is adam. The word for dirt in
Hebrew is adamah. So, God makes adam out of the adamah. It's very
similar to English, I'm pretty sure, where the word human is related to the
word hummus, which means earth, right? Earthlings. Earthling would be a
good translation right here. God made earthlings out of the earth.
The idea is not trying to get us a description of the process of manufacture
of human beings. These are images about the nature of human beings.
What are human beings?
We come from the earth, we're intimately connected to it because we
know we go back to it when we die. We're made of the earth but humans
Stand on this border between heaven and earth, right? There's a
distinction, a uniqueness. So, we're dirt and divine breath. A divine spark of
energy that we are, we exist because of a grace of the Creator. That's the
And forming, this is such a great image. Forming is the word used for
potters in the Bible and artisans, right? Of the artisans sitting at a wheel of
a lump and shaping intentionally and so on. It's like God goes into the, you
know, I don't know, I think that's making pots but, you know, He goes into
wherever you go to make pots and that kind of activity, right? So that's the
So then, look at Verse 8, it's great. Who's the first gardener in Genesis 2?
Who's the first worker in Genesis 1? God. And then, he gets some coworkers.
Who's the first gardener in Genesis 2? Well, say it. The Lord God
planted a garden in the east. In Eden, there He put the man He had
The Lord God made all these trees grow out of the ground, some that are
just good to look at, putting trees that are pleasing to the eye. There were
some objects and creations that are just there because they're stinking
amazing. Holy cow. And then some are of benefit. Some that were good
Now, in the middle of the garden, there's also these, you know, the Tree of
Life, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. We'll talk about those in a
second. Go now to Verse 15:
"The Lord God then took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to
work." To work it and take care of it. So here, the image is not ruling or
subduing, it's a related image of working, which you already have an idea
of here, but also care. There's an intention and attention, a carefulness in
the stewarding and gardening as we go about our work in bringing.
But what's the whole point of gardening? If you're making a huge garden,
yes, of course, you're going to get something to eat, but the whole point
of the garden is to make a surplus of food so that others can eat. It's the
same exact vision of work.
So, here's work in the Bible. The first grand story of work. It's a divine gift,
it's something that humans do to imitate the creativity and the goodness
of The Creator. It's something that humans so whatever little patch of the
garden that happens to be in front of us. We work to bring order and
beauty so that we benefit, and others can benefit too.
It's the vision of work in Genesis 1 and 2. It's beautiful. It's profound, isn't
it? Does the story end here? Okay, no. No, the good times are rolling,
right? How long do the good times roll?
We're on page two and it lasts about two pages, right? Because the story
gets a lot more complex with these trees here. These trees. Let's keep
reading. Verse 16:
"Now, Lord God commanded the man, 'You're free to eat from any tree
from the garden but you mustn't eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of
Good and Evil for when you eat of it, you'll certainly die." And stop. Stop
real quick here.
So, so, many misunderstandings here again, some of that that says, “Is that
magic fruit, what do you mean?” So, look. Stop, stop.
Who has been the provider of the good so far in this story? God. And
when God makes something good, it's really good. You get, like, sunsets
and fruit trees. But what God is offering to these images of God-bearing
creatures is a freedom and a dignity, moral maturity.
So, one of these trees is called the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This is
about discerning between what is good and not good. Who's been the
sole provider of good in the story? So, God has been.
So, here's really what this tree represents here: will the humans put
themselves under, right? Humble themselves before this creative,
wonderfully, beautifully inspired Creator and submit to God's definition of
what is good and not good, God's knowledge of good and evil? Or are
they going to cease autonomy and opportunity to know, that is to define
good and evil for ourselves? That's the idea.
And there's no greater place with that question becomes important than
human work because, of course, human work poses all kinds of really
difficult complex scenarios and decisions for us, right? So, you want to
expand your garden, but you've got a neighbor there and there's this
boundary line and it's like, "Well, I want my garden to go over there."
So, what are you going to do about that? Well, you have some different
choices. You can stick with God's wisdom and say, "Well, He doesn't give
me 20 by 40 lot. He gave me 20 by 20 so I'm not going to steal his land."
Or you can cease the opportunity, "What's good for me is that I'm able to
provide for more people if I had a bigger garden so I'm going to find a
loop hole in the law." You know what I mean? That's the idea. Yeah, I was
trying to play it out with a metaphor, but you see where this is going.
Work is the place where human beings-
Exercise their moral judgment all of the time. And of course, you know, the
most outstanding intuitions or memories from human history where this
has gone terribly wrong is where humans subdue not just the creation to
bring out its potential, but where humans subdue other humans so that
they work for virtually nothing and have their dignity stripped for them to
provide for somebody else.
There's an example of this whole things going wrong, right? That's the idea
here. And what are the humans going to choose? Are they going to trust
God's definition of what's good and not good as they go about their work
or are we going to define our own terms, become our own god?
Well, you know how the story goes, right? Probably because you've heard
this story before, also probably because you and I live this story every
single day, don’t we? Chapter 3:
"Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord
God had made. He said to the woman, 'Did God really say, "You must not
eat from any tree in the garden?"'" Okay, let's stop here and just address a
few problems like the talking snake, you know what I'm saying?
So that's true. It's weird. The white elephant in the room, let's just name
that. It's bizarre. Let's not become, like, too smug, right? As, like 21st
century modern people over primitive people, you know, though stories
3,500 years old. And so, that's ridiculous. It's ridiculous.
Do you really think people 3,500 years ago believed that snakes talk too?
You know what I'm saying? That's ridiculous, right? The whole point of the
story is we all know that snakes don't talk, this is quite extraordinary, you
know what I'm saying? No matter what millennia you happen to be living
in, right? This is very remarkable.
So, whatever's happening is very strange. Somehow, something that we all
know is, a snake has become a vehicle of some other power, of some other
being. Is that right? I think that's what the story forces you to put together.
What is that being? And where is that-
And the story is just like, "No, I don't care. I'm not going to tell you about
that. I'm not interested in that." But this is the story that it's interested in:
the origin of the being that caused this problem. But the story of the Bible
is the story of what God is doing about this being and what this being do
to humans and what it's doing. That's what the story the writer's about.
So, what is this creature, being, do? Notice the way this creature works, he
deceives. He's like, "Listen, you know. Yeah, God said He was providing
good for you but really, I mean, it's kind of legalistic. You're not supposed
to eat from any tree, you know." Right?
Is that what God said? Well, God said eat from any tree, you know, in the
garden except this one which represents this much, much bigger issue
here about the knowledge of good and evil.
And so, what the humans are posed with right here is a choice. Do I think
God's holding out one me? I mean, I’ve got some big dreams for what I
can do with my garden and it would be convenient for me if there's a few
things that God said I shouldn't do, if I actually could do them so maybe
this works. Maybe He's holding out on me.
You know, that's what the serpent is doing. And so, whatever this creature
is, you know he's from the story this much, is this creature, we might call
this the source of evil or something. Is this the being that is somehow of
equal status to The Creator that has God biting His fingernails in the story?
It's a creature. It's a creature in rebellion against The Creator and it's
inviting other creatures to rebel along with it, which is precisely what
And so again, we're summarizing here because I want to get to the payoff
in Verse 17, right? So, the humans, they eat off the tree. They rebel and
what immediately happens? What immediately happens is sin enters into
the story and it begins to undo all that God made for good and turned it
back into tohu wa-bohu again.
And so, this wonderful relationship and institution that God granted the
humans and marriage for order and beauty and to benefit each other and
to benefit others, right? And they were naked with each other and they
All of a sudden, now that they have different views of knowledge of good
and evil, they have to hide from each other, right? Because I can't trust you
because your definition of good and evil might be different than mine,
right? And so, let's keep a healthy distance, right?
So this marriage gets fragmented, a family gets fragmented. Humanity's
relationship to God becomes fragmented and distorted. Humanity's
relationship to their work becomes fragmented. Look over 17, this is so
"To Adam," or to the human, "He said, 'Because you listened to your wife,
you ate fruit of the tree that I commanded you, saying, ‘You must not eat
from it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will
eat food from it all the days-
"Of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, you will eat the
plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until
you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are
and to dust you will return.'"
This is good news and sad news. So, will humans be able to continue
eating? Yes, three times it said you will eat, you will eat, you will eat, but
the environment has changed.
God made the world to need work. It's not like humans are supposed to
learn [00:45:35.00] having grapes popped into their mouths or something.
That's not the image. Humans were supposed to work and work hard,
right? Because God worked hard, and humans are supposed to work hard.
But now, there's going to be resistance and now, the human efforts are
going to swatted by. And so, this poetic image here of thorns and thistles,
you know, that's like some sort of silly, like, "And here's where weeds came
from," you know? It's a poem, come on, you guys. It's a poem.
What are weeds? If you're a gardener, weeds are your arch enemy because
you're out there two days trying to prodact your tomato plants, I speak
from experience, right? And in two days, you're just out there, all those
works and then you come back three days later and they're all back in
greater number, the weeds are. And you're just like, "What? No, no."
You don't want to them kill off all that, your plants. So, I can't tell you how
many times Jessica and I planted. We had a house in Madison, in
Wisconsin. We planted a garden and, like, we get, like a quarter of what we
thought we would out of it because of the weeds, the woodchuck, you
know what I mean?
So, woodchucks are not right here in the poem but there was one in my
backyard and it was massive. And it ate all of our peas and all of our
strawberries. Like, it destroyed. It destroyed our garden. So, woodchucks.
So, here's the thing, the woodchuck is fine in tohu wa-bohu but not in my
backyard because we made a garden, you know what I'm saying? That's
the idea here. There's resistance. And this resistance comes from all sorts
There's stuff that happens that I have absolutely no control over, like this
woodchuck. But then, there's other things that, like what it says, "Through
your own painful toil, by the sweat of your brow," there's resistance that's
internal to me. There might be resistance that just comes from my own
lack of ability, from my own stupidity and just dumb choices that I make.
Then all of a sudden, there are weeds that I shouldn't have planted or did
the wrong temperature or the wrong depth of the roots or something. And
then, you know what I'm saying, this is the image here.
And so, all of a sudden, sin has fragmented our judgment, our morals.
Remember, work is all about our moral decisions. Work requires moral
decisions. Work requires moral decisions of all of us all of the time.
And so, if that's distorted and screwed up, then all of a sudden, the
relationships where we carry out our work are going to be distorted and
screwed up. And then, there's just the distortion of sin out there in the
There's the sign of my coworkers that's going to spill over into my life and
then to my work. And then there's this stuff that happens, market
conditions, art rights whatever, and I had this startup idea and then it was
perfect. It was just nobody wanted to put any money into it and the
conditions weren't right, but I was sure it was a good idea. You know what
Well, I'm sorry. Thorns and thistles, you know. That's the nature of the
world. So, it's so fascinating. Genesis offers this beautiful, dignified vision
of work. It's like imitating The Creator, it's to bring order, beauty, and
benefit for others to share.
But now, that we live in this post-fall world where our hearts are
compromised by selfishness and sin, our dreams and goals will never
accomplish as much as we want to be realized because we live with weeds
and thorns and thistles and so on.
And what Genesis asks us is to hold both of these in our hands as the
world in which we live. And so, here's what's interesting. I think
generationally speaking, even in the church, it's easier to tend towards one
or the other and to say, "The world is good. Work is awesome. The world's
your oyster," you know?
And so, that's the naive idealist or something like that. And then you have
like, the heart of realist where he's just like, "No. Grit your teeth and bear
it," or something. It's like my grandpa, for example.
So, my grandpa, you know, was born in depression, post-world war two.
Became an electrician, he was lucky to find a job, he worked it for forty
years and you just do it. What do you mean, you don't like your work, you
ninny? Go to work. You know what I mean?
So, it doesn't make you happy and fulfilled, you just go to work. You know
what I'm saying, you just work, right? And so, there are many ways in
which I cannot blame him, but he resonated very much with the Genesis 3
vision of work. Life is hard, so you just work to provide and to get by.
That's my grandpa.
And then, you have my dad, right? Who's growing up in the 60's. And so,
he was a part of all that in the idealism and so on. And so, he learned a
trade in metal manufacturing. And this is so cruel, he went to trade school
and literally the year that he got into his first job, his entire field was made
obsolete by a new piece of technology.
He trained four years for this and now it's completely obsolete. And so, he
had this dream where he always wanted to be a painter.
"Yeah, I just want to be an artist," and he actually was really good at it.
Grew up, three houses in from Grand Central Bakery here and my dad has
a studio in the garage, in the backyard. And he was living the dream, he
was loving it. He was fulfilled and so on. It led to extremely lean years for
My first experiences of having to ride the public bus system were because
my mom had to go to work because my dad wasn't making enough
money, which I thought was wonderful. All these interesting people and
things I've never seen before, you know, happening on the bus and so on.
My mom lamented it.
But anyway, so my dad was, like, living this dream. And so, he's living out
of Genesis 1 and 2. And again, I don't question the decisions that he made
but it led us to some hardships for our family because it wasn't actually
providing sometimes. Which is it, you know?
And then they produced me and I'm a part of this Andre Delbanco
generation where I grew up in the baby boomer wealth and son on. And of
course, I just finished college and then, like, job. Well, it appeared to me
and of course, the world owes me a job, you know, because here I am, I'm
out of college, you know?
And it's super hard, and then I got into grad school. So, then you end up
with no direction, self-control, or chaos and vague emotions. And what
Genesis 1 and 2 is saying, "No, it's based on who you are, based on the
garden plot that God places you in." We'll talk about that in the third week
of the series. Discerning vocation, right? And calling.
But based on the garden plot that I'm in, you may be in a Genesis 1 and 2
season, you may be in a Genesis 3 season. You are likely going to face
both at the same time in many seasons.
And the fact that you're working super hard doesn't necessarily mean that
you're in the wrong place. It just means you live in a world compromised
by sin along with the rest of us. And life is hard because of that, you know?
But that's the vision of work. If we have the design of work and then the
ruin of work, is there any hope for the redemption of work? Look at the
poem in Verses 14 and 15:
"God said to the serpent, 'Because you have done this, you're cursed above
all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will
eat dust all the days of your life."
You're doomed for defeat and shame, essentially, what it's telling me. Now,
pay close attention. Hold your Bibles up and this is one of those important
verses in the Bible, FYI. God says:
"I will put enmity," or hostility, "between you and the woman." Who's the
you right there? It's the serpent or the snake. Hostility between the snake
and the woman. "And hostility between your offspring and her offspring."
Who's the "your offspring"? Serpent and her offspring. What? It's so weird.
So, is this like humans don't like snakes? Is that what this is talking about?
This is weird. What's happening?
From this event, they'll go forward to lineages the humans can align
themselves with. Those who give in to the lures of the serpent, give in to
the evil, give in to the temptation, or those who are going to cling to align
in a hope of God's promise.
Because look what happens: there's going to be hostility between you, the
serpent, him alone, between your offspring and her offspring. "He will
crush your head." Who's the "your head"? The serpent. Who's the "He"?
So, there is coming from the line of the woman a "He" and He's not going
to crush baby snakes. He's going to crush him, the source itself. That's so
powerful, you guys. And how is this One going to crush the very source of
He's going to step on him, right? You can see, "He will crush your head."
But what is the serpent going to do to this Victor the moment of his
victory? In other words, this Victor is going to be wounded as the means of
His crushing becoming victorious.
This is so awesome, right? And so, here's the idea, it's that somehow, this
Victor is going to come who has to take the venom of the serpent into
Himself to absorb it fully into Himself. What is the venom of the serpent?
It's the evil that he's released and lured all of humanity into.
And so, this Victor comes and He takes it into Himself but that very
absorbing is the means by which He crushes and destroys the source of
evil itself. And of course, if you destroy the source of evil, what are the
implications of that for work and the promise of work?
Right, it's for the redemption of God's good world. This is why at the end
of the Bible, at the very last pages of the Bible, which we won't turn to, is a
depiction, not of everybody floating away somewhere to some nonphysical
place. It's about God's space heaven coming here and it's a
recreation of the garden of order and beauty and goodness. But it's also a
At the same time because cities are where these dense populations
where people are working in tandem, all in interdependence on each
If you have a city, garden, world without sin, what do you have? You just
have lots of tov being produced. Which means, lots of shared goodness.
And that's how the story of the Bible ends, with work's redemption. Work's
redemption. But we're not there yet, are we? You're very, very aware if you
go to work tomorrow morning, you're not going to the garden of Eden.
But this is the grand story of the Bible.
I realize this is a long teaching but there's no other way to do it. You just
got to do it. This is the grand story of work.
How do our stories fit into that? I mean, the whole point is that the
moment of the cross where Jesus absorbs human sin and evil into Himself,
what it enables in the present is a slow partial marching forward of this
redemption of God's work in our lives. And so, this side of Jesus' return, we
won't experience the garden of Eden but we are called to allow more and
more of His redemptive work to take over our lives and where do we
spend most of our working days where this redemption will work itself up?
At work. So, what are the kinds of questions that we should be asking? So,
this story that humans are called to imitate, now depending on the work of
Jesus for us, I mean, this is a very broad story.
You could retell this story of work right here about seven billion times,
which is almost how many humans there are, because God has placed us
all in very different garden plots. I mean, really, just think of your own
workplace and ask some Genesis 1 and 2 questions.
What's this garden all about? How does it work? Where is there tohu wa-bohu
in your workplace? Really, you know. If you work in an office or
something like that, you know. I guarantee there's wild and waste going
Where's the tohu wa-bohu inside of you? You know what I mean, that's
contributing the tohu wa-bohu that's in your workplace. Of course, it's
easy to point out that tohu wa-bohu in somebody else that makes work
part of various- but you know, that's what this class does. It humbles you.
Where can you put your hand to your place in work that can bring order or
do something beautiful that is just purely for the benefit of other people?
How can I enter into my workplace not with just, like, my next, like, three
paychecks so I can do the weekend warrior thing in mind?
But actually like, no, how can I be a benefit? How can I, like, do something
that would bring, like, joy or, like, surprise to the people around me? Even
if I don't really like them. I think Jesus said a thing or two about that, right?
You know what I'm saying?
Because the vision of work is others-centered here. What would this mean
in your workplace?
And maybe some of us might need to ask some Genesis 3 questions of our
work. Like, where have things gone wrong here in the place that I work?
What's the problem? Is there any way that what Jesus has done for me
could somehow be part of solving a problem around here or mediating an
argument or seeking peace or finding a way to solve a problem so that
more people can benefit from what we're already doing?
It's Genesis 3, what's gone wrong here because of human sin and folly.
How could I be a part, through God's grace, of making it better? That's a