The Work Behind Generosity

Work is hard.

Even if you like what you do, chances are you still have a love/hate relationship with work. If you feel this way, you’re not alone. Data shows that Americans have a habit of working longer and taking less vacation than their counterparts in the industrialized world. As we take on responsibilities to support our lifestyles, we’re seemingly chasing an elusive satisfaction.

Since the fruits of our labors empower our ability to be generous, we would do well to understand a biblical view of work.

Most of us are familiar with the earliest commentary the Bible offers about labor. The Lord instructed Adam to “tend and keep” the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15), essentially, creating the very first job. Adam and Eve kept performing this task until they sinned by eating the forbidden fruit. As part of the punishment for their rebellion, the Lord expelled them from the Garden and into the real world. He then declared,

“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow, you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

(Genesis 3:17-19)

Because of this text, some Christians suggest that work is a curse. But that’s a misreading of the Lord’s judgement here. Adam and Eve were already working long before the curse. Additionally, the Lord himself labored; the Bible seems to imply that God found joy in his creative work.

The actual curse is that work will fight back. It will be hard. It will be frustrating. It will often be unsatisfying. Ecclesiastes 2 and 3 affirms that work often feels like a meaningless endeavor. We work for people who control us. Work can bring us grief and pain. Work keeps our minds running through the night.

While this seems like a bleak picture, we shouldn’t be dismayed. The good news of Jesus brings redemption, even for our work. We get an initial glimpse of this in the words of the Teacher from Ecclesiastes 3:11-13,

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.”

The world will continue with or without our work. This makes our efforts appear to be meaningless. Yet the reality is that we live our lives in the midst of a tension between beauty and unknowing. We’re permitted the opportunity to copy the Creator—to work and to take part in the task of creating. Thus, the ability to find contentment in our work is a gift from the Lord.

We should remember the words of the apostle Paul from Colossians 3:23 when we consider our motivation to stay the course:“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.”

So whether we get truly excited about our work or we find it a struggle, Christians can give their time to labor knowledgeable that our efforts serve a greater purpose.