Work vs. Toil

How do you feel about work?

Whether it be your job, vocation, career, chores, duties, or responsibilities, how do you feel about your work?

Do you love it? Is it rewarding? Would you, as my high school guidance counselor always hoped, work even without pay?

Or is it a drudgery? A necessary task to earn money? A prerequisite to leisure time?

I’ve been thinking a lot about work lately. I’m currently writing a Bible study on the Sabbath and I’m coming to understand more and more than without a proper understanding of work, one cannot have a thorough understanding of rest.

So, what’s work?

work in progress

First of all, work was not designed to be evil, a punishment, or a drudgery. To put it another way, there was work before sin entered the world. Read this nugget of truth from the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery:

“The first image of human work in the Bible stresses its perfection. Work existed in the time of human innocence in paradise, as the Protestant Reformers never tired of pointing out. The notion of work as part of God’s perfect design for human life is captured in the majestic simplicity of Genesis 2:15, ‘the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it’ (RSV). Here human work is shown to have worth and dignity as a service to God and as something that gives purpose to human life. Work is here a creation ordinance, a God-appointed necessity for human life…[W]ork does not originate with the Fall, as is often and erroneously claimed. The Fall neither cancels God’s command to work not does it introduce work into the world. What is new is work as a curse and as toil–something that must be accomplished against the hostility of the environment.” (Ryken, et al. Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, InterVarsity Press Academic, Downers Grove, IL, 1998, p. 966).

Dictionary of Biblical Imagery


There is a difference between work and toil. Work is good! It is an act of worship. It was designed to be good. But now we live in a marred world. We experience toil. Our work is not fulfilling. It is full of the thorns and thistles of inefficiency and disillusionment. The crops don’t harvest what we’d wish. Those people don’t return my phone calls. The house never stays cleaned. We live in a cycle of toil. But that is not the way it was meant to be.

Therefore, know the difference and seek to work, worshipfully and whole-heartedly, and not to toil, tirelessly and tediously!

1 comment / Add your comment below

  1. To answer your question, I have a job which is more ministry than toil, and I feel very fulfilled doing it. However, there are still an awful lot of thorns and a spiritual heaviness which comes with it. Now a couple question for you! I always hope to find meaning and worship in my work – even when it’s cleaning the toilet. But in today’s economy, more and more people have had to take jobs that they are unsuited for or unfulfilled by, just to make ends meet. The high school counselor’s dream is a rarity. Do you think there is any sense in which fighting the thorns is also worship? Any thoughts on doing work you fundamentally dislike in a worshipful way? Have you read Keller’s book on work?

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