What do you think of when you hear “work?” Is it something good, or simply a necessary evil? Perhaps you think of work as something only adults do.
Our contemporary society struggles with the notion of work. Many have jobs that are seemingly pointless and monotonous. Others find their jobs so separated from any kind of countable, tangible result, that it’s hard to quantify what a “good day” looks like. In general, work seems like something to do as little as possible.
What if God envisions something grander for work? This would be great news, considering the sheer amount of time invested in work across a lifetime. I believe it is our obligation not only to capture this vision ourselves, but also pass it on to the next generation. God’s vision for work goes wider than vocation. In fact, everything we do is an opportunity to glorify God.
All of life, in some sense, is work. If this is true, then we ought to prepare our children not only for a lifetime of future work but also for the work God has given them to do right now.
To learn what God has to say about work, we need to go all the way back to the Garden of Eden to look at the first workers, Adam and Eve.
God’s Plan for Work
In Genesis 1-3, we learn of God’s plan for work, how sin has made work hard, and the point of work for Christians.
When we open to the very first verse in the Bible, what do we find God doing? He is working! In fact, the very first verb in the Bible describes God at work. Genesis 1:1 tells us that, in the beginning, God “created” the heavens and the earth. Further, after each thing God created, he labeled it “good,” thereby putting his stamp of approval both on his work and on what his work produced.
Finally, as a culmination of his good work, he made people (Gen 1:26-28). In this passage, we learn three things about how God made people:
- He made us in his image. This means that we show what God “looks” like to the world. Just like God works, we work; because we are made in his image.
- He gave us “dominion” over everything: We have a responsibility to care for and exercise authority over all of creation: all the animals, all the plants, all the earth. This means we do everything from feed it to nourish it to pull weeds out of it. This is all work.
- He wants us to “be fruitful and multiply.” As the context of this passage implies, this certainly refers to making families and raising children. However, this passage has far wider applications. God wants all people, married or otherwise, to produce—to turn what we have into even more. We have a mandate to make sure everything we have grows and doesn’t shrink.
To review, what do we find at the very beginning of the Bible? We find a working God who made us to work as well. We were created to do everything we do to the glory of God. Therefore, work is good. So, why does it often feel like work isn’t good? Why is work sometimes frustrating, boring, and tiring?
Sin Makes Work Hard
We find the answer to that question as we continue through Genesis 1-3. When God put Adam and Eve in the garden, he only gave them one rule. He gave them everything in the garden to enjoy—except one tree (Gen 2:15-17). God was testing their obedience.
Adam and Eve failed that test (Gen 3:1-7). And because they disobeyed, there were consequences (Gen. 3:14-19). Now that sin was in the picture, nothing would be as good as it was. Work would now be hard. The ground wouldn’t always make as much food as they wanted. Weeds would choke out the good plants and would require hard, physical labor to remove. Even the unique work given to women—having babies—would become really, really painful.
That is the reality of work now. It is why people complain about work—it’s hard. Work is not the way it’s supposed to be, but it is the way that it is.
The Point of Work = Glorifying God
So here’s the question: what is the point of work, now that sin has twisted it? To answer the question, we first must recognize that the problem is much deeper. You and I (and everyone on the planet) are just like Adam and Eve. We also disobey God. Just like Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden and away from God’s presence, so we are separated from God. We are frustrated by the consequences of our sin that make this world so hard.
But Jesus always does the work of his Father (John 5:17; 8:29). God sent Jesus to do the good works we couldn’t do, and he always obeyed. Further, Jesus did the greatest, hardest work in dying in our place. He took on the curse we deserve. When we trust in him and decide to follow him, we get forgiveness from our disobedience, we get purpose in our work, and we get help to do it.
Therefore, work gains a purpose if and only if we are in Christ. For the Christian, our purpose becomes glorifying God in all that we do (1 Cor 10:31). Work may not get easier, but Jesus shows us that God is doing something in our work.
How do we know we are glorifying God? A helpful verse in answering this question is Romans 11:36. This verse says that God deserves glory—or honor—because all things come from God, come through God, and are to (or for) God. Basically: He’s the best! So, whatever we do, we can do it for his glory when we act on this trifold truth. We can do everything we do for the glory of God!
The Work of a Child – Whatever We Do
Here’s where all this becomes relevant to your child. A theology of work is not simply something for your child to tuck in their back pocket for later. Your child has several jobs to do right now. Building into them a theology of work will help them see that everything they do should aim for the glory of God. This will help them to see jobs they don’t like as an opportunity to glorify God. It will also help them to avoid the temptation to turn jobs they do like into an excuse to glorify themselves.
What kinds of jobs does a child fulfill? A child, primarily, is a son or daughter. If they have siblings, they are a brother or sister. Outside of the family, they are a friend. In addition, the child’s roles may include student and teammate. Even a child’s play falls into the category of whatever we do.
In all these jobs, your child will continually make small decisions whether they will work for God’s glory or for their own. Will they honor their parents and do their chores to the glory of God? Will they respond to a bad test grade to the glory of God? Perhaps most telling: will they respond to winning a soccer game to the glory of God? These and so many more situations are daily, even hourly, opportunities for your child to reflect on the truth that all things come from, through him, and to him.
Teaching your child about God’s plan for work, then, ends up being a springboard for teaching about their purpose. We were made to do all things for his glory. By his grace, we pray that our children would recognize and embrace that all-encompassing job.