March 24, 2020

The Creation Mandate

Barry Cooper
The Creation Mandate

In the ultimate sense, there is no such thing as a job, a task, or a duty that is truly mundane. Today, Barry Cooper looks at God’s purpose for our everyday work in the world.


Over the years, the Gallup organization has polled twenty-five million employees in 189 different countries. According to their latest survey, they found that only 13 percent of workers feel engaged by their jobs. The vast majority—about 63 percent of us—describe ourselves as “not engaged.” The remainder say that they actively hate their jobs.

That means that roughly nine out of every ten workers around the world see their work as frustration rather than fulfillment. As one commentator remarked, “Ninety percent of adults spend half their waking lives doing things they would rather not be doing at places they would rather not be.”

We need to talk about the creation mandate. You can see it in Genesis chapter 1 verse 28, where God blesses Adam and Eve and says, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

That’s the creation mandate: that we should be fruitful and multiply, that we should fill, subdue, and rule the earth. Similarly, in Genesis chapter 2 verse 15, we read that “the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”

Notice here that for Adam, work isn’t a curse; it’s a blessing from God. Adam’s work in the garden was very much a part of God’s unsullied paradise. So why is it that many of us don’t experience work as a blessing?

Well, it’s because of what happened in Genesis chapter 3. Adam and Eve turned away from God, and because of that, from that point on, work became painful and difficult.

And yet, even after that catastrophe, God says to Noah, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” So God repeats the creation mandate that existed before the fall.

It’s very easy to start seeing our work as little more than a necessary evil rather than as a way to love and honor God’s creation mandate. We can think of work as an imposition that we begrudgingly do because we have to pay the bills. And while it’s true that many of us wouldn’t do the jobs we do if we weren’t paid, nevertheless, when we say that someone is only in it for the money, we’re not paying them a compliment. We have a hunch that work is, and ought to be, more than that. Deep down, we seem to know that our work as human beings is to be fruitful, to fill, subdue, and rule—not just to make money.

So, what does this creation mandate mean for your everyday life? It means that all work—assuming it isn’t sinful—is an act that honors and glorifies God. In that sense, there is no such thing as a job, a task, or a duty that is truly mundane.

The Apostle Paul echoes the creation mandate in the New Testament when he says, “Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”

Before the Reformation, the view was that only monks and nuns and priests were truly honoring God with their work; everything else was “worldly.” Even getting married and having children was seen as getting in the way of a truly spiritual life.

But the creation mandate, to be fruitful and multiply and to work, proves the contrary. Martin Luther wrote: “The works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks, but . . . all works are measured before God by faith alone.

Luther even said that the work of a father changing his child’s diaper is something that God, with all his angels, smiles upon. These acts of “work,” Luther said, “are truly golden and noble works,” because they are expressions of trust and love to the Father who has given us these things to do.

So, whether you’re composing a sonnet, taming an unruly shrubbery, preaching a sermon, sitting at an office computer, or changing a diaper—if it is done as an expression of our obedience to God’s creation mandate, then to use Luther’s phrase, all these acts are “adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels.”

Now, I wonder what difference that truth would make to our job satisfaction?