To Lounge or to Labor


“I’m working for the weekend.” “Life’s a beach.” TGIFThank Goodness Its Friday.   These and many other messages promote the idea that work is drudgery, only a necessity, and that real living is a vacation, relaxation, and lounging.  Our society overemphasizes lounging and minimizes man’s need for labor. 

But God created man to labor and to lounge only in moderation.  He created man with a nature that needs labor.  God said, “Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth…Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it” (Gen. 1:26, 28) “And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” (Gen. 2:15)  Rev. Herman Hoeksema taught that these verses indicate that man has an irresistible impulse to labor with the creation and develop it.  He described this impulse as a “cultural urge.” (Christian and Culture, 1940) The word culture has to do with the development and growth of something because of human influence.  Agriculture is the development and good use of a field.  Aviculture has to do with the development and growth of a population of birds. Bacteria are cultured when they are grown and developed for a purpose.  That man has a cultural urge means that man has a need, a deep internal need, to work with creation and develop it.   

Adam had a cultural urge, and that urge has been passed along to us. We also have a fundamental need to be productive.  We can’t help but work. We labor to satisfy a human need. It’s not just the need to put food on the table or to pay the bills.  Instead, we also labor because we are human. Laboring is like an itch that needs to be scratched. Genesis 1:28 and 2:15 are not merely commandments that God placed in Scripture as a description of what man was instructed to do.  “Go and work the garden.”  Rather they are commands spoken into us.  These commands affected the fabric of man’s soul.  Laboring is now a part of our nature. Birds fly, fish swim, and men work.  Man is driven to seek out work, to be productive, to develop things.  This urge needs to be satisfied.  Man is restless when not productive.  Not only physical labor is necessary for our soul, but mental labor is also good work that soothes the soul. The doctor and the ditch digger, the author and the artisan, the teacher and the tailor, the counselor and the cook go home satisfied as a result of their labor.  A life of lounging is unsatisfying. Young person, keep this perspective of labor.  Don’t work for a living but work to live. 

Before the fall, Adam joyfully labored with the wonderful properties that his Friend placed in the creation.  God filled the earth with powers and properties that were intended to be discovered, understood, and then used by man; not for our own glory but instead to better serve his God and give him glory.  Certainly Adam walked with God in the cool of the day as a major aspect of their relationship, but Adam also enjoyed his God when God was not physically present.  Adam worked in the garden, was amazed at the physical properties he found and enjoyed engaging with those properties.  With labor, by labor, through labor, Adam had yet another way to enjoy and love his God.  

It is interesting to note that Jesus himself, before beginning his public ministry was known as a carpenter!  Jesus worked the wood around Nazareth. He crafted useful products.  Manual labor was not below him. He wanted to work. He felt an urge to work. Manual labor was part of his sinless and faithful service to his Father.    

Man is satisfied when he knows he has purpose, when he is able to scratch his cultural urge itch. What a great punishment it is when one is forced to live life without purpose.  Failure to have a sense of purpose is one of the greatest trials of the teenager.  Teens groan and complain because they don’t feel purposefully directed. They have to “find themselves.” Some Christian counselors will encourage those who have depression to be useful, to go to work, as one small part of the therapy given. Lack of significant work was the peculiar punishment that the mythological figure Sisyphus had to endure.  He was forced by the gods to roll a boulder up a slope to a summit. Just as he reached the summit, the boulder would roll back down, and Sysyphus had to repeat that pointless and wearisome effort over and over.  The Greeks understood the penalty of pointless work.  Interestingly the right to have meaningful work is a human right guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights created by the United Nations after World War II.  It was so demeaning to pointlessly haul piles of rocks and sand back and forth day after day that it is now a protected right to subject others to work only with purpose, even as a prisoner.  The Christian employer ought to take this to heart and point out to the man on the assembly line why his position is important and why his particular job ought to be done well.  The employee may feel that they are only one cog in a big wheel.  But cogs have significance, and satisfied cogs are those that see the scope of the whole. 

Actively being employed in labor is necessary for a satisfied soul, and our good God gives what is needed. He covenantally gives labor to his people. In Isaiah 28:2329 Isaiah makes it clear that knowing when and how to plant, cultivate, and harvest a crop, as well as which tool to use and how and when to use that tool, are all given from the Lord.  How to cultivate different crops in various soils and the skill of using properly crafted tools is tied to God’s good guidance in this chapter. Rather than being characterized as dreary labor, work is described as a gift given by God. In love God teaches us how to produce from the treasures of the earth.  With knowledge and skill God equips us for earthly life.  Lord in Isaiah 28:28, 29 reference Jehovah, our covenant God.  “This also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working” (v.28).  It is the covenant God that teaches the godly craftsman his skill.   Adequately equipped for work, man’s soul is satisfied, he fellowships with God as he interacts with God’s creation, he elevates the physical existence of his neighbors, he provides for the poor, he skillfully uses talents given, and he maintains the kingdom causes.  The text ends with This also cometh from the Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in doing.  God glorifies himself as he guides his people to produce a well-plowed field, a shingled roof, good software programs, and a finely tailored suit or a good loaf of bread. We lovingly serve him as we labor.  Labor, rightly pursued, is a covenantal activity.  

Of all the generations that have ever existed, your generation is far more equipped for working in God’s kingdom. Adam labored with little.  God’s eternal counsel has delivered fantastic cultural advancements into your hands.  Are you using them for God’s glory as you ought?   You’ve been given much, and now much is required. Avoid digital distraction! Limit your hours lounging in front of the television.  Your generation no longer has to work many hours just to put food on the table or to bring water into your homes.  You have air conditioning and electric lighting to keep your minds alert and fresh. Be thankful for the spiritual but also cultural inheritance you’ve been given.  What a gift!  What a responsibility!  Let’s labor with this abundance of riches.  Lounge in moderation. Labor in love.