Recently, I taught on some of the basic biblical principles on work in Gen. 1:28 and Gen. 2:15 that describe Adam and Eve as God’s coworkers. As I reflected on these verses, it occurred to me that just as Adam was placed in the literal Garden of Eden to work with God for his divine purposes, we too have been placed in our own figurative gardens to fulfill God’s purposes.
So, what does it mean that God called Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” and
“to subdue the earth” (Gen. 1:28)? What does it mean for us to work and take care of our own gardens?
In his book Every Good Endeavor, Tim Keller reflects on what God’s blessing of working in the garden entails:
Just as he subdued the earth in his work of creation, so he calls us now to labor as his representatives in a continuation and extension of that work of subduing. …The material creation was made by God to be developed, cultivated, and cared for in an endless number of ways through human labor. …The word ‘subdue’ might be read to imply that the forces of nature were adversarial and needed to be conquered in some way.
The main idea is that Adam’s number one job was not only to manage the garden but also to expand it. Even though the creation was perfect, it was incomplete. God requires our participation, as his image bearers on earth, in completing what he began. We, like Adam, are called to be good stewards by multiplying God’s redeemed images and expanding the resources God has given us to advance his kingdom on earth.
While I was on active duty for twenty years, it seemed that God always had a variety of purposes for me in every duty station to which I was assigned. However, three main purposes come to mind: 1) to take care of the things he entrusted to me; 2) to meet the needs of the people where he placed me; and 3) to expand his kingdom by multiplying God’s images through evangelism and discipleship.
1. Taking Care of Things
Anyone who has worked in a garden of their own knows how much work is entailed to get the ground ready, to remove the rocks and other vegetation, lay out rows for seeds, plant those seeds, cover them with dirt, water them until they grow, and keep the garden free of weeds and cute, furry herbivores.
Joseph is a great example of a worker who was planted in three gardens of his own: in Potiphar’s house, in prison, and as second-in-command under Pharaoh.
In Gen. 39:3-9, we see how Joseph faithfully took care of the things that were entrusted to him. Potiphar “saw that the Lord was with him (Joseph) and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did.” Joseph “found favor” in Potiphar’s eyes; he was promoted to a position of greater responsibility and Potiphar “entrusted to his care everything he owned.”
In my own work, my supervisor has given me certain responsibilities so that he does not need to worry about them. I must take good care of many things on a routine basis so that the organization I work for can prosper. When I faithfully carry out my duties, God blesses them through me because his presence is with me as it was with Joseph.
2. Taking Care of People
At every job, there are the same categories of people. Most of us have bosses we work for. Many of us have employees that report to us. The vast majority of us have coworkers that we interact with and customers to serve. These people provide us with divine appointments for ministry and good stewardship.
A great illustration of someone who took care of his coworkers is the apostle Paul. His relationship was so tight with one local body of Christ that he expressed deep emotion for them as a father would his own children:
How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith” (1 Thess. 3:9–10).
These were mutually beneficial relationships. Paul and his coworkers completely depended on one another to help them grow in Christ and preach the gospel.
I don’t know about your workplace, but at mine, personnel turnover is huge. I have anywhere from three to five people working for me at any given time. Some are relatively permanent; others work temporarily for a few weeks or months. The challenge I have is meeting the needs of all individuals and ensuring that the team functions well, no matter how often it changes. With God’s help, caring for these individuals well is one way that I can fulfill his calling to good stewardship.
3. Expanding the Kingdom
Jesus said that his followers were to be salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16) in the world around them. I see these as metaphors to describe how we are to be fruitful and multiply God’s redeemed images and influence others in Jesus’ name. Salt preserves and light dispels darkness. We are to stand out as a stark contrast among the people we work with. We are to be Christ-like examples of purity, integrity, and most importantly, love. As we let our light shine in this way, Jesus says that people will see our good deeds and will glorify God.
In my current job as a civilian employee working for the U.S. Army, I believe I expand God’s kingdom in many subtle ways. As one of God’s agents representing him as I serve in human government, I can demonstrate daily what it means to submit under God’s authority. As I accomplish the missions I am given and take care of the people I work with who are all made in God’s image, I am able to minister to them in many ways and make his presence known.
I trust that these applications of biblical principles can be life-changing as we go to work in our respective “gardens” each day. My vision is that Christians who understand the eternal purpose of their work will say, “Thank God it’s Monday!” and not just wait until Friday to be thankful.
Editor’s note: Read more about the integration of faith and work in How Then Should We Work?
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