A Biblical Theology of Work – Part 1

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

oil on wood panel
oil on wood panel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It has been referred to as the Cultural Mandate.  It is a requirement from God of all human beings that we reproduce ourselves in order to fill the earth and subdue it.  God built a planet we call Earth capable of sustaining many billions of people and He wants us, commands us, to rule over it in a way that in fact does sustain us.  This requires work, effort on our part, to successfully accomplish the utilization of Earth’s resources in a way that pleases God and brings life to Earth’s population — us.

Before Adam and Eve disobeyed God (Genesis 3) God gave them work to do (Genesis 2) that included taking care of the Garden of Eden (2:15) and understanding and overseeing the animals of this area (2:19,20).  This responsibility did not cease after man’s rebellion, but became fraught with frustration as the ground began to work against man’s best efforts to grow food.  In the process human beings developed systems for raising livestock, growing food, producing music and forging tools (Genesis 4), all of which were necessary for our health and development as divine-image replicators.

In contrast to the pagan notions of man’s responsibilities, God did not create us to be His slaves and do all His dirty work.  He made us to be presidents to His chief executive role, vice-regents to His kingly rule, and managers for His owner-operated business.  There are at least three implications to this Cultural Mandate:

  • We are workers under divine appointment

We are not independent contractors.  The work we are called to do is or should be determined by God.  We are responsible for knowing what kind of work would be acceptable to Him in faithfully caring for His world and each other.  We may say that providing prostitution, or drugs, or control over other people is providing a service, but it is not the kind of service God says helps His world thrive.  And of course, He knows best what will make us thrive.  Our work must be of the kind that furthers the honor of God and the welfare of mankind.  This is His world and we are asked to share in making it livable.

  • We are stewards of God’s green earth

A steward is someone who takes care of someone else’s property.  His or her responsibility is not to own it but to develop it for the sake of the owner.  It just so happens in this case that the owner, God, has made us partners in the ownership, but nevertheless, He is the principle owner.  So our work must serve to develop and utilize, not exploit for ourselves, the world He has given us.  This means we must use arts and technology wisely and lovingly to reflect the character of God and benefit our race (see Lessons from the Old Testament: Arts and Technology).  It must certainly mean that we do not so exploit our world that we make it less habitable or reduce its quality of livability.

  • The more of us there are, the more work that needs to be done

We were made to care for each other the way God cares for us.  So as we multiply we need to create better systems for caring for each others’ needs for food, shelter, beauty, clothing and protection.  Our goal cannot be personal wealth but public weal, the prosperity and well-being that we can secure for all people.  And though it might be argued that capitalism is the best system in a fallen world for such public weal, sinners always find a way to take personal advantage of even the best systems to the detriment of others, and those who submit to God look for ways no matter the system to help others thrive.

Are you a plumber?  You are helping me and our whole culture thrive.  Do you grow food, deliver and sell food, make clothes, sell insurance, pave roads, build buildings, serve in government, paint pictures, make music, heal, administer funds, advocate for lawbreakers, develop community laws, cut hair, raise livestock, put out fires or any number of other “professions”?  You are working as God’s appointees to tend His world and people in ways that make it possible for us to fill the earth.  You are so cool, because the part that you play combined with the part that I play and all of us play makes possible a relatively peaceful and prosperous life.  We are caring for each other under God’s wise direction, and that’s what makes the world go round.

For further reading:

What is the Cultural Mandate?

The Cultural Mandate

What the Cultural Mandate Means for Your Work

Video and Resources from Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City

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3 thoughts on “A Biblical Theology of Work – Part 1

  1. Really helpful. Loved your “independent contractor” metaphor! “We are not independent contractors. The work we are called to do is or should be determined by God. We are responsible for knowing what kind of work would be acceptable to Him in faithfully caring for His world and each other.”

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