|The Image of God and Work|
In the last two articles, we looked at creativity and reason as two aspects of the image of God that are essential tools for carrying out our mandate to create culture and to act as His stewards in this world. Before considering other aspects of human nature that reflect God’s image, this article and the next will look at ways that creativity and reason work together in fulfilling the work God gave us in Eden. We begin with a closer look at the command to tend the Garden.
In our culture, work is often seen as something we do because we have to. The Biblical attitude is that work is something we do because of who we are. Work is the fulfillment of our nature as beings made in God’s image. Genesis 2:2 tells us that God worked when He created the world. God’s command to Adam to tend the Garden thus reflects His own nature as one who works.
This same idea is seen in the fourth commandment. As Del Tackett points out in The Truth Project, we think of this as the Sabbath command, but it might be better to think of it as the labor command: “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall do no work …. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Ex. 20:9-11)
We take the Sabbath off because God did, but we also work the other six days because God did. And work is so important that God actually had to tell us to take time off!
There is another important respect in which our work is related to God’s: Adam’s responsibility to tend the Garden was actually a command to continue and complete the work that God began. Our labor, using the resources He has placed in our hands, is an act of sub-creation that is intended to bring out the potential He has placed in the world.
Work and culture
Put simply, the command to care for and tend the Garden does not mean merely to conserve what is there, but to develop it responsibly as stewards of God’s world toward the advancement of civilization and culture. The principle is articulated forcefully in Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30): the only servant who is punished is the one who simply conserved what he was given and did not try to use it to bring profit to the master. Why should our stewardship of the world be any different?
What this means is that our work to develop culture and civilization is a sacred act to a Christian, to be carried out as part of our mandate as the image of God in this world. All professions that are not inherently sinful can be God-given vocations, callings on our life, to carry out God’s purposes in and for the world. We need to escape from the idea that some jobs are sacred and others merely secular: all work is and should be sacred to the Christian, done in full recognition that what we do in this world matters and can be done for the glory of God. This idea, known as the cultural mandate, is critical for understanding our role as God’s stewards and for fulfilling Jesus’ call to us to be salt and light in the world (Matt. 5:13-16, cf. Matt. 13:33).
The goodness and dignity of work also means that we should apply our reason to the task, so that as good stewards we make the best and most efficient use of the resources available to us. We must always remember that the earth is the Lord’s, not ours, and though we need to develop its resources, we need to do so with care. Our reason and ingenuity are thus to be used in the task of responsibly creating culture and making the best possible long term use of what we have been given.
Economic significance of work
The connection between the call to work and the provision of food points to one of the most basic of our God-given rights: the right to enjoy the fruits of our labor. This concept made its way into our culture in the traditional norm that people should be given an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. It has also been used to support the idea of collectivization, worker ownership of the means of production, and Christian-influenced versions of communism. These and related ideas, however, do not do justice to the full biblical vision of labor, ownership, and rewards.
The right to the fruits of our labor leads directly to the idea of a right to property—in fact, it is hard to have the former without the latter. The Old Testament law presupposes a right to property, or the commandment against theft and the many property laws laid out in the Torah would make no sense at all.
This can be seen in the provisions for land ownership in Israel. A family’s allotment of land was sacrosanct, so much so that when hard times hit, it could only be leased out, never sold. This meant that even the destitute in Israel would never be without hope of a fresh start for the family because their land could never be taken away from them forever. The right to property was absolute.
This law also points to the idea that property rights extend to heirs, and thus that property can be inherited.
How seriously God took this law can be seen in the life of Ahab, arguably the worst king in Israel’s history. He sponsored Baal worship and idolatry, and persecuted those trying to remain faithful to God, even murdering prophets (1 Kings 18:4). For these things he was roundly condemned by Elijah and other prophets throughout his reign.
The right to property continues in the New Testament. The consistent testimony of the Scriptures points in this direction, from the commands against theft to the examples of Peter’s continued ownership of his fishing boat (Jn. 21:3) or the wealthy Christians who opened their homes to the church. The one potential counter-example is Acts 2:44, which says that the believers in Jerusalem “had all things in common.” Many people argue that this means that the church operated as a community of goods without any private property.
In other words, people owned their own property but held it lightly, so that they freely parted with it to meet the needs of the poor in their community. Thus they simultaneously “had all things in common” and maintained private property.
A positive vision of work
 The articles may be found at http://www.colsoncenter.org/the-center/columns/call-response/15602-the-image-of-god-and-creativity and http://www.colsoncenter.org/the-center/columns/call-response/15653-the-image-of-god-and-reason.
 Since he was not directly responsible and humbled himself, God held off the judgment until the days of his son (1 Kings 21:27-28).