Work and Our Labor in the Lord (Short Studies in Biblical Theology) by James M. Hamilton Jr. Crossway. 128 pages. 2017
This week we begin looking at James M. Hamilton Jr’s new book Work and Our Labor in the Lord. The book is described as follows:
“Work has been a part of God’s good creation since before the fall—created to reflect his image and glory to the world. What are we to make of this when work today is all too often characterized by unwanted toil, pain, and futility?
In this book pastor, professor, and biblical scholar James Hamilton explores how work fits into the big story of the Bible; revealing the glory that God intended when he gave man work to do, the ruin that came as a result of the fall, and the redemption yet to come, offering hope for flourishing in the midst of fallen futility.”
This week we begin our look at this book with the “Introduction”:
- The following questions will help us to seek the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors on the topic of work:
- What part did work play in the big story of the world through which the biblical authors interpreted their lives?
- What propositional truths about work did they understand to flow out of and back into that big story?
- Do the biblical authors understand work to symbolize something beyond mere labor?
- We will begin with:
- (1) God’s design for work in the very good creation, prior to sin. From there we will move to consider,
- (2) What work looks like in a fallen world,
- (3) What work should be in the kingdom that the Lord Christ has inaugurated, and finally,
- (4) What the Bible indicates about work in the new heaven and the new earth the Lord Jesus will bring.
- The following four chapters will enable us to explore work as it was meant to be, as it is, as it can be, and as it will be.
Chapter 1 Creation ~
- Work is neither punishment nor cursed drudgery but an exalted, Godlike activity.
- The Bible opens with a depiction of God at work, and the operational understanding throughout the Bible is that God continues to work, guiding, upholding, loving, judging, and saving.
- God made male and female in his own image (Gen. 1:27); then he blessed them and told them what he wanted them to do (1:28).
- We are here to reflect the character of God in the way we subdue the earth and exercise dominion over the animal kingdom under the blessing of God.
- Work is therefore built into the created order, right from the start. God gave man stewardship of the land and all life on it. All tasks man undertakes in God’s world can be seen in relationship to that original commission.
- Arguably every righteous task in the world—from that of the farmer or rancher to that of the engineer, the software developer, or the nuclear physicist, from that of the ditch digger to the physician (or veterinarian), from the coach to the pastor, the zookeeper to the politician, the sergeant to the mailman—every task in the world can be seen in relationship to the subjection of the earth and the exercise of dominion over the animal kingdom.
- At its most basic level, a righteous job is one that does not exist to commit or promote sin but to accomplish the tasks God gave to humanity at the beginning: fill, subdue, and rule. Such work affords everyone who does it the opportunity to image forth the likeness of the one living and true God.
- The man’s role of working will entail providing; his role of keeping will entail protecting; and implicit in the narrative we also see that the man is to lead since he has heard the prohibition in Genesis 2:17 though the woman has not. The man was to provide, protect, and lead.
- What does the woman’s role of helping entail? Perhaps it would be easier to say what helping does not entail, for helping would seem to involve everything but what the man is to do.
- Men and women who reject the distinctions in roles given to male and female at creation rebel against God’s purpose: he made man male and female to reflect his own image and likeness. We cannot reflect the character of God’s unified diversity as the one God who ever exists as three persons if we reject the roles he gave to man and woman.
- God built this vast world, and then he created two people whose responsibility it was to be fruitful and multiply and fill this world, to subdue the earth and to exercise dominion over all the animals. Can you imagine a bigger task?
- The task of multiplying and filling the earth so as to subdue it and have dominion over the animals makes marriage foundational to the work that God gave man and woman to do on the earth.
- This means that so-called egalitarians have rejected the roles assigned to men and women by the Creator on the basis of biological sex. We can further say that same-sex “marriage” and transgenderism rebel against the created order by rejecting the normative nature of Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 articulated by Jesus in Matthew 19:4–5. Same-sex marriages cannot be fruitful and multiply, and transgender behavior rejects the sex assigned by the Creator.
- Being in the image and likeness of God, working to fill the earth with God’s image bearers, subduing it according to God’s character, ruling it as God’s representative—work points to the character and glory of God. As man works, he is to make the ways of the invisible God visible to any and all who behold what he does.
- Though sin got Adam expelled from Eden, God did not alter his purpose from what he set out to achieve when he put Adam there in the first place. That purpose was and is to cover the dry lands with his glory.
- Work continues to point beyond itself, with the character of God being displayed in the way God’s people do their work.
- It is interesting to observe that in the Bible’s grand narrative, God’s judgment falls in particular on the domains of what God made man and woman to do.
- God made man to work, but sin resulted in God’s judgment. God’s word of judgment against sin makes the work painful, the environment cursed, and the relationships between men and women strained. Because of sin, work will be futile, frustrating, and fatal. Everyone dies.
- The fact that the man and woman are allowed to continue in their work, cursed though it is, means that they still have the job of making the ways of God known in the world.
Chapter 2 Work after the Fall Fallen, Futile, Flourishing ~
* As we turn our consideration to work on this side of the fall, we will see that the biblical authors present the tragic and devastating consequences of sin touching everything we are and do. We are fallen, and that means our work will be fallen. Sin makes everything more difficult (cf. Gen. 4:12), and death introduces futility, meaninglessness, and a vanity into all we do. In spite of our banishment, however, the biblical authors maintain that by God’s grace it is possible to flourish in the midst of fallen futility.
* Moses intends to teach his audience that people do not work for themselves, nor do we reap the fruit of our work for ourselves. We live to the Lord.
* Rather than a satisfying experience of bringing God’s character to bear on his tasks, Cain’s work was cursed and made more difficult because of his sin.
* The toilsome, laborious nature of the futility of life and work is a major theme in the book of Ecclesiastes.
* Work done with wisdom symbolizes the realization of God’s purpose to have his image reflected by those made in his likeness, for God himself did his work with the aid of wisdom (Prov. 8:22–31).
* The examples of Joseph, Daniel, Nehemiah, and Ruth are relevant for a biblical theology of work for a number of reasons. Foremost among these are the ways that these men serve as types of Christ and this woman became a messianic matriarch.
* If we were to summarize the instructions and the examples, we might say something like this: know God in all your ways (Prov. 3:5). Enjoy your work and its fruits as God’s gift to you (cf. the seven statements to this effect in Ecclesiastes). Hope in the promises and bless the world (Gen. 12:1–3). Live and work the way that Joseph, Daniel, and Nehemiah did: seeking to hallow God’s name and to see his kingdom come and his will be done—in reliance on him for daily bread, forgiveness of sin, and deliverance from evil—for his is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.
* These anticipatory types of Christ—Joseph, Daniel, and Nehemiah—along with Ruth the matriarchal woman of valor, were imitators of God in their work, and they are examples for us, for whose instruction their stories were written (cf. Rom. 15:4).
Chapter 3: Redemption Work Now That Christ Has Risen ~
- We now consider how what Jesus accomplished on the cross redeems and frees people to work for God’s glory.
- The concepts in Romans 12:1–2 energize everything the New Testament says about work.
- To bear his image as Christ-like imitators of God, Christians must reflect the one they worship in the way they work. The basic idea can be captured in one word: integrity.
- Christians are not to be idle.
- Work that does not communicate love for God and neighbor is idolatrous because such work exalts something other than God as ultimate, making a god of oneself or mammon or one’s agenda or whatever.
- The following four principles from four New Testament passages provide a cross section of the New Testament’s teaching on how to love God through our work.
1) Work to please God: The parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14–30).
2) Do all for God’s glory (1 Cor. 10:31).
3) Do all in Christ’s name (Col. 3:17).
4) Work from your soul for the Lord (Col. 3:23).
- In addition to working for the Lord, Christians should work to benefit other people.
- Following is a sampling of New Testament statements on how we work in order to love our neighbor.
1) Following Paul’s example of hard work to benefit others (1 Cor. 9:6–27; 15:10).
2) To support the ministry (1 Cor. 9:14; Gal. 6:6).
3) To share with the needy (Eph. 4:28).
4) To live an undisruptive life (1 Thess. 4:11; 2 Thess. 3:12).
5) As a good testimony for unbelievers (1 Cor. 9:12; 1 Thess. 4:12; 1 Tim. 5:14; 6:1; Titus 2:5, 9).
6) Not to burden others (2 Cor. 11:9; 12:13, 14, 16; 1 Thess. 2:9; 4:12; 2 Thess. 3:8)
7) In brotherly love that transcends race and status (1 Tim. 6:2; Philem. 16).