“We can see what human wholeness consists of: when we work well, love well and worship well.” – C. John Collins
With this concise statement, Collins puts forward the three basic purposes of humanity, echoed by Grand Canyon University President Brian Mueller in some of his speeches.
These three fundamental purposes hearken back to our creation in the garden of Eden and the pristine relationship Adam and Eve had with God. Work is our joint activity with God in preserving and caring for the world. Love is to be our primary characteristic as God’s image bearers, directed first to God and then reflected to all people. Worship is our connection to God, vital to our health and well-being.
The command to work not only precedes the fall, but is also fundamental to the creation account, joining us with God’s work of providence. In what is known as the cultural mandate of Genesis 1:28, God first blesses humanity, then gives them this command:
“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.” (Gen. 1:28)
The threefold charge to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” surely came quite naturally to our first parents, and with it, the intrinsic duty of nurturing and caring for offspring. But the rest of the command carries an almost limitless burden, a weightiness that everyone senses when entering into adulthood: “What am I to do?”
In this original prime directive, humanity is given the responsibility of controlling and ruling over all of God’s creation. Adam didn’t have to wonder long, for God placed him in the Garden of Eden with further orders “to work and keep it” (Gen. 2:15).
Soon, Eve was given to him and the responsibility to work and preserve the garden was shared. This work before the fall, though not painful nor confounded with thorns and thistles, was nevertheless still task-oriented labor, as with naming all the animals. After the fall, they and all of humanity retained that mandate to work and care for the earth, as well as the ongoing duty to procreate and raise children for the next generation.
How we carry out this mandate of being productive citizens is a matter for each of us to discover as we progress through our life journey. And it changes from season to season. For instance, if you become a parent, your children quickly become a major part of your purpose in life, radically altering your priorities and time management. Likewise, if you join the military, you suddenly find yourself duty-bound under a commanding officer, radically redefining your purpose in life.
The decision to continue our education is one that many of us make. And that ongoing sacrifice of time and money in pursuit of a degree is a major part of learning to work well, for it is in the classroom (whatever that setting might be) that we are equipped for a career that will empower us to impact the world for good.
Learning to work well is a God-given purpose we need to embrace in whatever station of life we find ourselves in. As we read in Scripture, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” (Ecclus. 9:10). A strong work ethic to be industrious in life is found throughout the Bible, from the striking contrast with a sluggard (Proverbs 6:6-11; 24:30-34) to Paul’s exhortation “to work with your hands” and not “walk in idleness” (1 Thess. 4:11-12; 2 Thess. 3:6-12).
Motivation matters! Doing our best is only commendable if we are serving God and not ourselves. Why? Because selfishness leads to self-destruction in the long run. The Bible calls us to aim higher: “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
Jesus said it like this: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
Keeping the Lord before us (Ps. 16:8) as we go about our daily activities will keep us on the right track. Remember who you serve. The Apostle Paul closes his letter to the Colossians with these memorable words:
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him … Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Col. 3:17; 23-24)
Learning to work well is a major part of finding our purpose. In a nutshell, it may be remembered with the saying I constantly remind my students:
Keep persevering and looking up!
123. John Collins, Science and Faith: Friends or Foes, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003), 123.