THE GENESIS CALL TO WORK
David Shankle, Ph.D.
Ray Thompson, Ed.D.
Eden Life magazine has a bold mission and vision that calls for the restoration of Edenic Glory in the hearts of man. Part of the mission calls for a systematic change in the way businesses are run. A question emerges out of the mission statement: How do principles gleaned from the Garden of Eden impact the way Christians should work? This is a question on biblical work ethic.
Created to Create
The first step to understanding Biblical work ethic is to understand that man was created in the image of God (See Genesis 1:26-27). Being created in the image of God means that man is endowed with mental and spiritual traits that connect us with the Creator (Jackson, 2012). Inklings of God are imprinted on man’s heart, soul, and mind. C.S. Lewis (2001) claimed that this can be seen through the conscience and natural laws that are found innately within every person. One such trait that can be witnessed in humankind is ability to create. The Creator inspired creativity in the minds of the created. As Christians, we all have the ability to be creative and to create new ideas, concepts, products, etc… Creativity is inherent, although there are some who are more creative than others.
In living the Eden Life, Christians should harness their creativity in their daily work. Not only should Christians strive to be creative, they should foster the creativity of others. Three of the five aspects of leadership outlined in Kouzes and Posner’s (2008) comprehensive research on leadership support the concept of living a creative life and fostering creativity in others. By inspiring a shared vision, challenging the process, and enabling others to act, Christians model leadership. Proverbs 29:18 (KJV) states, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” While different translations use differing words for vision, the point is made that man is given a revelation from God, and is called to use that revelation for the benefit of all.
Before the fall of man, God called Adam to tend and keep the garden (See Genesis 2:15). Work in itself was something that man could use to glorify his Creator. Matthew Henry’s (2012) commentary on Genesis 2:15 said, “There is true pleasure in the business God calls us to. Adam could not have been happy if he had been idle.” For some reason our culture only see vocational ministry as a calling, while other types of work are not God-ordained callings. God gave man work to do in Genesis 2 as an expression of faith in Him. John Calvin (1552) emphasized the point that one’s everyday work was considered sacred in God’s sight. The Apostle Paul shatters any preconceived ideas about everyday work and vocational calling in Colossians 3:17 (NKJV). “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” In God’s eyes all work is holy. From the minister to the businessman/businesswoman, all work should be an expression of one’s faith in God.
Genesis 2:19-20 displays man’s cooperation with God through the act of work. God sanctioned Adam to name every animal in His new creation. Work was a way for Adam to commune with the Creator. The work of man was a gift from God and is essential for human productivity. Even after the fall, man was called to continue working for the Creator (See Genesis 3:17-19). The ground was cursed, but man was still to continue to “toil” and “sweat.” In Colossians 3:23 (NKJV) Paul says, “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.” All work is to be holy work as an expression of worship to a loving God. In his book Why Business Matters to God, Van Duzer (2010) explains that business has an intrinsic value and was intended from the beginning to play a major role in the flourishing of God’s creation. Holy work was never intended to be lonely work.
Is It Really Supposed to be Lonely at the Top?
Many businesses today are run top-down. The owner, CEO, or top leadership dictates what is to be done, and the underlings are to do the bidding of leadership. Edenic principles obviously make man subordinate to God’s authority (See Genesis 2:15-17), but is top-down leadership the best model? It was not good for Adam to be alone (See Genesis 2:18). Leaders in business need a core group of advisors to help them to make the best decisions possible. Solomon in his great wisdom penned these words, “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14 NKJV). In understanding biblical work ethic, a Biblical mandate clearly exists for men and women in business to surround themselves with wise people. Steinheider and Wuestewald (2008) conducted extensive research on collaborative leadership in a suburban police department and found that collaboration worked much better than a top-down leadership style. Working conditions, labor-management relations, and productivity all increased dramatically when collaborative leadership was implemented. The best of biblical work ethic would dictate that it should never be lonely at the top!
Allow us digress for a second to mention that counselors must be selected prudently. II Chronicles 10 describes how King Rehoboam sought counsel on how he should rule over the people of Israel. To his credit, he learned something wise from his father Solomon – seeking counsel. His problem was that he listened to the wrong counsel and ultimately divided the kingdom. When leaders seek to draw out creativity in others, they should make sure that they are listening to the right people. From a human resource perspective, the appropriate people should be selected based on specific knowledge, skills, and abilities (Mathis & Jackson, 2011 ). Only after they have proven themselves as prudent should they be invested in and listened to. Joseph would be a Biblical example of this process. He proved himself prudent as Potiphar’s servant, and again in prison, and finally in Pharaoh’s service. He displayed Godly wisdom, hard work, and integrity, and his actions compelled others to seek his counsel (all these are required as a part of biblical work ethic). Joseph would not have commanded respect from others if he had neglected to treat them appropriately.
Treat All People with Dignity (Genesis 2:18)
When God created Adam, He did not create a being who was superior to Eve. Genesis 2:18 describes how God in His infinite wisdom saw that is was not good for man to be alone; therefore, He created a helper “comparable to him.” Eve was not inferior to Adam even though she was subordinate to him. In the same way leaders in business are not superior to their workers; in fact, the best leaders spend their time developing subordinates to make them the future leaders. This reality was uncovered by Jim Collins (2001) in Good to Great. Bill Hybels makes a strong statement in Courageous Leadership. “When I watch an older leader investing time and energy to coach and empower a younger leader, I am convinced that I am seeing leadership at its very best” (p. 122). Adam had to become others-centered once God blessed him with Eve. In business, being others-centered requires that all people be treated with dignity and respect. The Edenic model of viewing others as comparable to oneself allows for creativity and collaboration to flow in business. Former CEO of General Electric Corp., Jack Welch, viewed developing others as a kind of gardening. “Every day is about growing people” (p.67).
Four main implications emerge from an overview of the Edenic call to work (Biblical work ethic). They are:
- Man was born with an innate ability to create and be creative
- All work is holy and sacred in God’s eyes
- Leaders surround themselves with wise counsel
- All people are to be treated with dignity
A quote from Oswald Chambers so eloquently puts work in the proper perspective:
Once our concentration is on God, all the limits of our life are free and under the control and mastery of God alone. There is no longer any responsibility on you for the work. The only responsibility you have is to stay in living constant touch with God, and to see that you allow nothing to hinder your cooperation with Him. (April 23, 2012).
- Calvin, J. (1552). The institutes of the Christian religion. Retrieved from http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.pdf
- Chambers, O. (2012). Do you worship the work? Retrieved from http://utmost.org/do-you-worship-the-work/
- Collins, J. (2001). Good to great. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
- Henry, M. (2012). Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary of Genesis. Retrieved from http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-concise/genesis/2.html?p=2
- Hybels, B (2008). Courageous leadership. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
- Jackson, W. (2012). Created in the image of God. Christian Courier. Retrieved from http://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1519-created-in-the-image-of-god
- Kouzes, J. & Posner, B. (2008). The leadership challenge (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
- Lewis, C.S. (2001). Mere Christianity and the screwtape letters. San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins. (Original work published 1952).
- Mathis, R & Jackson, J. (2011). Human resource management (13th ed.). Mason, Ohio: South-Western.
- Steinheider, B. & Wuestewald, T. (2008). From the bottom up: sharing leadership in a police agency. Police Practice and Research, 9, 145-163.
- Van Duzer, J. (2010). Why business matters to God: And what still needs to be fixed? Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Welch, J. (2005). Winning. New York, NY: HarperCollins.