In 2014, our church spent the whole year focusing on worship. Although I was sure that this was the direction that God was leading us toward, I was unsure that I could glean enough biblical material on this topic to last 52 Sundays. At year’s end, I still had a plethora of sermons to share and could easily have continued for another couple of years. What I found was that the Bible has a lot to say about worship beginning in Genesis and continuing through the Revelation. Today I would like to share just one thought that I uncovered that has transformed me and the way I view life, worship and work.
Genesis 2:15 states, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (ESV)
I absolutely love the original languages (Greek, Hebrew & Aramaic) and have become adept at using study tools that enable me to get to the original words and meanings behind our English translations. As I studied this particular narrative, I found that the words underlying the phrase “work it and keep it” hold much more insight than any English translation is able to bear out. The two Hebrew words are avodah and shamar. Let’s take a look at each separately.
Avodah is from the root word from which we get the word work; however, it is translated elsewhere as worship. I believe that, in this context “work” is an appropriate translation but lacks the fullness of the purpose that God intended for Man in the Garden and in the world. In essence, God placed Man in the Garden to work it but also as an act of worship. So, work is the activity but worship is the motivation that spurs the action. The Christian understanding is that work can be worship when it is done as unto the Lord and not just to get a paycheck (Colossians 3:23-24).
The second word is shamar, translated here as “keep it.” Like avodah, this word is translated differently in other passages. Undeniably, this word carries the idea of keeping guard like a watchman but also denotes observance to what God has instructed. The idea is that Man was to be the watchman over God’s creation, in obedience to the commission of God.
Applying this insight, we can see that Man was placed in the garden to worship and obey God. Of course, this manifested itself in their task as watchmen and caretakers of creation. This, I believe, helps us to see the relational part of the task, not just for Adam and Eve in the garden but for us today. We have a task that involves hard work and caring for the planet and its inhabitants; however, the task is tied to relationship with our Creator and is best accomplished as an obedient act of worship.
This week, I challenge you to go to work and allow your labor to be an expression of avodah. When you do this, your work will cease to be unsatisfying labor and result in invigorating worship.