For many people the very concept of "work" conjures up distasteful thoughts. Ugghhh...Monday! Our culture seems to have taught us to live for the weekends, and just muddle through the other 5 days. In addition to that, work, and our attitude towards work, has been subjected to numerous stereotypes. Those who have done financially "well" are assumed to be workaholics who have their priorities misaligned and who only care about profit not people. On the other hand, those living at or near the poverty level are assumed to have a poor work ethic, and if only they worked harder they would be in a different position in life.
Think of how much political debate and social discussion revolves around the issue of work! What should be the minimum wage? How many hours per week should we have to work? We have labor unions and a Department of Labor and calls for labor reform. Work-issues surround us every day.
Is there, however, a Biblical view of work? Is there such a thing as a Biblical work-ethic? Does our very concept of what work is need a sort of modern reformation?
In John Murray's Principles of Conduct (PoC) he introduces the subject of "labor" as a Creation Ordinance. Work, along with the institutions of Marriage and the Sabbath, were part of God's initial design and plan for mankind. God created humans to be working, laboring beings.
THE INSTITUTION OF LABOR
Murray argues that the institution of labor is inseparable from the Sabbath institution. You can't have a day of "rest" apart from a concept of "labor." If we were meant to rest one day, then we were obviously meant to work the other 6 days. Additionally, Murray reminds us that God gave Adam and Eve a very specific type of labor to be involved in when we are told in Genesis 2:15 that "the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it."
THE DIGNITY OF MANUAL LABOR
Murray draws an immediate conclusion from the above text which he suggests we have sadly lost sight of today. His conclusion is that there is a fundamental dignity to what we might call "manual labor." He calls the work of gardening (we might extrapolate and say 'farming') "highly worthy of man's dignity as created after the divine image [p. 35]." He speaks of the "nobility of manual labor [p. 36]."
Murray suggests that we as a society have suffered by disparaging the dignity of such tasks. He suggests our automatic insistence on and pursuit of "professional" employment may reflect "an unwholesome ambition which is the fruit of impiety [p. 36]." He reminds us that "culture" can be developed in conjunction with tasks which are not professional in nature such as those of the farmer, the tradesman and the laborer. And the fact that we do not assign sufficient nobility and dignity to such types of work, in Murray's view, simply displays how far we have fallen.
THE VARIETY OF WORK
Murray reminds us that mankind's call to work would eventually have involved a variety of tasks since he was commanded to "replenish the earth and subdue it (Genesis 1:28)." This, he says, "must imply the expenditure of thought and skill and energy in bringing the earth and its resources under such control..." [p. 37]
Murray also points out the way in which the earth itself "is fashioned and equipped to meet and gratify the diverse nature and endowments of man" and that man in pursuing such things would "magnify God's glory" through the "discovery and exhibition of the manifold wisdom and power of God [p. 37-38]." Murray imagines man investigating and discovering the wonders of this planet while ascribing all the glory to our Creator. He quotes Psalm 104:24 as reflective of this where the Psalmist says "O Lord, how manifold are they works...the earth is full of Thy wisdom!" This puts "work" on a much higher level than we are accustomed to doing. There was no sense of drudgery in God's original design.
WORK AS COMMAND AND DELIGHT
Finally, Murray points out that this work that man was called to do was a command. We are, however, too apt to think of anything "commanded" as being burdensome. We equate "duty" with "displeasure." But Murray suggests that "duty" was intended to go hand-in-hand with "delight." Man, prior to sin entering the world, would have found no disconnect between our calling to work and our enjoyment of it. In the absence of sin, there would be "the perfect complementation of duty and pleasure [p. 39]."
As with the subject of marriage, Murray is going to devote a whole chapter to the concept of work. It is central to man's ethic. But here in this chapter he just shows that work was part of God's original creation-plan.
I do wonder what our places of employment would look like if we all, each and every one of us, began to look at work as a divine calling, sanctified by God's blessing and endorsed by His very command. We have this twisted view that God Himself only smiles on us on Sundays while we are in church. But what if we imagined God watching us work with the same delight He watches us worship?
What if every job was approached with this sort of heavenly dignity and delight? What if we saw our jobs as part of our fulfillment of the "subduing" the earth mandate? What if I thought of my employer as God Himself? Would the quality of my work and attitude about work improve?