The Image of God at Work (Part 4)
Work is a gift of God that declares His Own character and image. Biblical work also declares God’s design for it, namely, to produce and provide. God gave us a fertile earth—and through the image of God—fertile minds. A fertile earth, drawn from and forged with fertile minds produces some amazing things! But even more praiseworthy is the fact of its provision: God, by fiat, produced the elements and all their synergistic potential.
The godly Hebrew mind acknowledged this (we should take a lesson) and praised God as Creator for the richness of the earth. The psalmist recounts how “He waters the mountains from His upper chambers; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of His works. He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the labor of man, so that he may bring forth food from the earth” (Ps 104:13-14). To the spiritually naïve, these are bare, uninspiring facts. But believers should take note and see the significance. Notice how Job recounts some elemental facts: “Surely there is a mine for silver and a place where they refine gold. Iron is taken from the dust, and copper is smelted from rock. . . . The earth, from it comes food, and underneath it is turned up as fire. Its rocks are the source of sapphires, and its dust contains gold. . . . [Man] “puts his hand on the flint; He overturns the mountains at the base. He hews out channels through the rocks, and his eye sees anything precious. He dams up the streams from flowing, and what is hidden he brings out to the light” (Job 28:1-2, 5-6, 9-11). But he didn’t stop there; Job went on to extol the superlative quality of wisdom (vv12-28). Only by wisdom can one marvel at the elemental in view of God, who produced it and provided it for us. That’s a clue about God’s design for work: to produce and to provide.
We can’t make (i.e., create) anything: the “ore” of our work is God’s handiwork, and its design is to emulate Him by producing and providing with His raw materials! His languages, His physics, His elements. To produce is to work with God’s creation in order to actualize its useful potential. “In all labor there is profit” (Prov 14:23). So labor and profit! But God’s design doesn’t stop there with self as the storehouse for “bigger barns” of profit (cf. Luke 12:16-21). We have reaped the benefit of our labors. Now what? Provide for others. The fruit of our labor is a provision for others as well as its resultant income. With it we can rest and enjoy before the face of God (Eccl 2:24-25), even while it refreshes us to return to work.
We ought never to see wealth as a means of amassing our own self-serving stockpile. The bigger-barn-builder says to himself, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19). Unbelief makes it a goal to work in such a way, and for such a time, as to finally stop working. It is as though work is a thickly caked-on grime that we toil at removing for 50 years. Then what? Then we sit down, purged of that bane, exhausted and nearing our expiration date. This is the insanity of the secular/selfish view of retirement: work to stop working. But the beauty of God’s design is work to provide for others. It multiplies blessing in the world because “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). The receiver is blessed, and the giver is even more blessed!
At its most basic level, wage-earning work is designed to produce and provide for the household: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim 5:8). But work also produces the means of giving to church ministry (1 Cor 9:9-14; 2 Cor 9:6-15), and it generates wealth for generosity. “The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered” (Prov 11:25). “He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor” (Prov 22:9). Paul tells Timothy that the rich are “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Tim 6:18). Over and over again the Scripture instructs us to work in such a way that we can share with others. Significantly, this pattern of production and provision is the same pattern that marks true repentance from thievery: “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need” (Eph 4:28).
Do you work to get or do you work to give? Working to give reflects the image of God by declaring His design for work.
Whitney Oxford is a graduate of The Expositors Seminary and serves as a lay leader at Grace Immanuel Bible Church in Jupiter, FL.