Work Is a Blessing? You’ve Got to Be Kidding

This is Part 1 of a three-part series on The Meaning of Work (and How to Make It Meaningful).

Work Is a Blessing? You’ve Got to Be Kidding

This is Part 1 of a three-part series on The Meaning of Work (and How to Make It Meaningful).

Work was clearly good, because God himself worked. What happened, then? Can work be redeemed?

Leslie Koh

If you’re feeling overworked and underpaid, welcome to the club. And yes, you are actually overworked.

Surveys have put Singapore among the most overworked countries in the world. Many people work more than 9 hours per day, and more than 5 days a week. Not surprisingly, we’ve also been ranked among the most fatigued countries in the world. 

It’s hard, then, to ever imagine that work can be called a blessing.

A friend once asked me: “Do you think work is a blessing or a curse?” 

I looked at her dumbfounded. “Duh . . . how can a blessing be so tiring?”

As far as I was concerned, work has been a curse ever since Adam had to till the grounds in vain. Genesis 3:17–19 summarises my exact feelings about work:

“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,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food.”

Now, doesn’t that make work sound painful!

Actually . . . It Was a Little Different in the Beginning

Once upon a time, however, work was actually a blessing, because God himself worked. 

At the very beginning of creation, “God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). And at the end of each of the first 6 days of creation, He sat back and observed His handiwork with satisfaction, saying that

“it was good”.

Work was clearly good, because God himself worked, and He looked at the fruits of His labour and declared it as good.

Not only that, He gave work to man to do. After He created man—in His own image, which means that man was to do as He did—God assigned Adam to take care of the Garden of Eden and work the ground (Genesis 2:15). 

Work, then, was the purpose for Adam’s existence (and by extension, ours, too). 

All of us are created for work, “to cultivate the soil” (Genesis 2:5 NLT) so to speak. Work is part of God’s plan and purpose for our very being, and it is meant to be a gift.

If this sounds a little counter-intuitive, we need to remember that cultivating the soil was not meant to be a difficult thing to do, at least at the time.

Genesis 1:29 notes how God assured Adam that He had given man all the seed-bearing plants which would bear fruit that Adam could eat. Adam would have to work for his food, but there was no indication that it would be tiring and difficult.

Everything in the Garden of Eden was perfectly designed by God for man’s enjoyment and blessing. It was all, as God declared each day, “good”.

Where Work Went Wrong

We all know how this arrangement turned out, of course. 

After Adam disobeyed and sinned against God, it all went to pot. He and Eve got kicked out of the perfect garden, and death became a feature of life, as it were.

But here’s the thing. One thing did not change, and that was Adam’s purpose.

The entry of sin did not remove the need for Adam to work—it was still something he had to do, because that was part of God’s plan for man. The only difference now was, work had become a lot more difficult.

The ground that would provide his food had been cursed by the presence of sin (Genesis 3:17), so Adam’s work of cultivating the soil would now become painful, tiring, stressful, and difficult. He would have to battle thorns and weeds, and it would involve blood (probably), sweat, and tears.

Because of sin, work, which was God’s gift, would now become frustrating and possibly even futile. As the Teacher observed sadly in Ecclesiastes 2:22–23: 

“What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labour under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.”

I don’t know about you, but as far as I am concerned, that’s a pretty apt summation of what work is all about these days.

But . . . That Doesn’t Make Work Bad

So what difference does it make to know that work was once good, but it had become bad?

It’s an important difference. 

Today, because of what work has become, many of us (and I am certainly one of them) have come to believe that work is a curse or punishment for sin. We imagine that if Adam had not sinned, we’d just be lying around in the lush Garden of Eden all day, plucking fruits and enjoying the shade of the trees.

But that’s not really the case. If sin had not entered the picture, we’d still have to work. But it wouldn’t be difficult. In fact, it would be enjoyable

And this is where the starting point is important. If we see work as inherently a curse, then we’d associate everything bad with it. There would be no way to see anything positive in it, and we’d never believe it can be redeemed. 

But . . . if we remember the origins of work and realise that it was once meant to be good, then we can begin to see it differently.

We’ll begin to see that it might be possible to redeem the idea and concept of work. Yes, it may be hard now, but perhaps, it can be good one day. Like an inherently good person who has gone wrong but who we believe can be rescued, work is an ideal that can be redeemed and saved. 

And that could well be the starting point for us to begin enjoying work and seeing what it truly is:

a gift from God.

Adapted from a sermon by Sim Kay Tee, author of Journey Through Ruth by Our Daily Bread Ministries.

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