Origins of… Work

Genesis 1:28-31, 2:15

These verses are often referred to as the Cultural Mandate. God gives the people he have made his blessing, and gives them a task to do – filling the earth and subduing it, and having dominion over the beasts and birds.

It is important to notice that the humans were given work to do before the fall, and God then declared all that he had made to be ‘very good’. Contrary to some contemporary attitudes, work is neither a problem, nor a symptom of a fallen world but is a blessing and part of the idealised human existence before the fall.

In this sermon it would be good to emphasise the portrayal of work in this passage, and then to track how this develops through the Bible, including how the fall transforms our relationship with work, and how this is changed again in redemption. Try to keep things practical and connect with the challenges and experiences that we face in our working lives. Also remember that work takes a variety of different forms – make sure the sermon is applicable to those in paid employment (both blue-collar and white-collar), to those in self-employment, to those in volunteering and to those working in the home.

Some Key Points:

  • Work is a gift from God. It was given in creation and was not a result of the fall.
  • The task given was filling the earth and subduing it. In this, there is something of joining God in his creative work. It was a mandate to bring order to chaos, and includes creating and cultivating this earth to create culture and see the earth filled with a community of worshippers.
  • “The first phrase “be fruitful and multiply,” means to develop the social world: build families, churches, schools, cities, governments, laws. The second phrase, “subdue the earth,” means to harness the natural world: plant crops, build bridges, design computers, and compose music. This passage is sometimes called the Cultural Mandate because it tells us that our original purpose was to create cultures, build civilizations—nothing less.” (Nancy Pearcey)

Following the Threads:

  • Genesis 3:17-19 provides a transition point in the experience of work. No longer would it be an entirely blessed experience, but now work has become wearisome toil.
  • Colossians 3:23 is a verse originally addressed to bondservants, but with application to all that urges us to see our working life primarily as working for God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 expresses a similar sentiment, telling us to do everything for God’s glory. Our work is part of our worship!
  • Ephesians 4:18, 2 Thessalonians 3:10 & 1 Timothy 5:8 all emphasise the importance of work as a means of providing for ourselves and our families, and putting ourselves in a position where can give to those in need.

Potential Applications:

  • Attitude to Work – Many people have a negative attitude about their work. Seeing work as a creation gift of God helps us to have a much greater appreciation for how God wants us to think of our work.
  • Sacred/Secular Divide – It is sometimes taught or assumed that certain occupations are ‘sacred’ and God is interested in them, whilst other occupations are ‘secular’ and are merely about generating income to support ‘sacred’ workers. Understanding the Cultural Mandate given to all of humanity shows how false this division is and affirms that all work is sacred and can be done for God.

Suggested Response:

The topic of work can raise challenging issues for some people in our congregations. Some are looking for work and struggling to find it. Others have difficult workplaces, relational challenges with colleagues, unhealthy working practices or face ethical dilemmas in their job. Taking some time to offer prayer and/or pastoral conversation for those who this topic highlights issues for would be appropriate after this sermon.