The Image of God at Work (Part 2)
We should be thoroughly persuaded that our work is about God, and not about us. In the this article I want to begin to demonstrate four ways work testifies to God. First, work declares God’s character. God is the original Worker! What is the beginning of history but the first work day of creation? Creation was a special six-day work of God, which led to the seventh day, marking the end of that unique work (Gen 2:2-3; Exod 20:11). What kind of work did God cease from on that first seventh day? “By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done” (Gen 2:2). There’s a critical qualifying clause: “which He had done.” Another qualifier appears in the next verse: “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Gen 2:3). This was the basis of the workweek under the rule of God in Israel.
There was a basic error rampant in Israel about the nature of the Sabbath. It stemmed from unbelief, and as a consequence it led to a wrong view of God, a wrong view of man, and a wrong view of work! To correct that, Lord of the Sabbath said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). The Old Testament Sabbath was one way man was to be patterned after God. Besides, it graciously afforded needed rest: It would be a cruel landowner who holds an unbroken, seven-day expectation of labor from his children, servants, or beasts of burden! The Sabbath, in part, was so that they “may rest as well as you” (Deut 5:14).
But it is important to note that God ceased from only that unique work of creation; He is never “off the clock!” As absurd as that sounds, having a wrong view of these issues leads men to come to some absurd conclusions. Some first-century Jews, when they found a man carrying his pallet on the Sabbath, informed him, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet” (John 5:10). (Whether or not he had just been miraculously healed of a thirty-eight year affliction was irrelevant to those in doctrinal error.) “But he answered them, ‘He who made me well was the one who said to me, “Pick up your pallet and walk”’” (John 5:11). It was as if to say, “You have a problem with my pallet-carrying on the sabbath? Take it up with the One Who just undid thirty-eight years of affliction!”
So when they found out who healed the man, the Jews began “persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath” (John 5:16). Apparently Jesus was working when He “wasn’t supposed to be working”! But Jesus’ response drove a rapier of doctrinal clarity into the issue: “But He answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working’” (John 5:17). Jesus essentially told them, “You thought that guy was doing work on the Sabbath? Let me tell you who’s working on the sabbath!”
Believing what is false always leads us to absurd and dangerous conclusions (which conveniently serve our flesh). First-century men had fabricated boundaries around work, stemming from a wrong view of God and Scripture. Twenty-first century men do the same. This begs the question: What are the boundaries of “work”? Is it 9:00-5:00? It is, but that’s just the time we get paid for it! Work is for the good of others, as Jesus demonstrated. But unbelief wants to make work about self and then fabricate boundaries around it when it doesn’t serve us: “Hey, I’m off the clock.” To work with faith is to emulate God. Holding back from doing good for others (because “it’s not our job”) in no way emulates God!
Unbiblical views of the Sabbath, of God, of man, and of work lead modern man to embrace ideas as foolish as the one behind calling out a man for carrying his pallet on Saturday. The worldly view of retirement strikingly parallels the notion that God is taking a perpetual sabbatical! It’s the Saturday that never ends! Sadly, it may be the best earthly manufacture of a “Sabbath rest” (cf. Heb 4:9) an unbeliever will ever taste. But even unbelievers quickly realize its emptiness.
The Lord Jesus exemplified the image of God at work. With striking language, “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work’” (John 4:34). “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4). All our work, on and off the clock, pre- and post-retirement, is our necessary purpose to fulfill God’s will and to testify to His character.
God at is at work in all believers to work (cf. Phil 2:13)! Work is a gift from the working God to be like Him. Work declares God’s character because He is the original Worker. He has given us work as one of the primary redemptive plot lines of our lives as a special context to glorify Him through emulation. Man, faithfully at work, testifies to the character of God.
Whitney Oxford is a graduate of The Expositors Seminary and serves as a lay leader at Grace Immanuel Bible Church in Jupiter, FL.