The difference between barbarism and culture is, simply, work. Lester DeKoster

If you’re like me, you’ve often heard the saying that “work is a curse” as result of the fall in the Garden of Eden. That statement couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Our Original Purpose
In the beginning, prior to sin, God assigned Adam and Eve important work. In Genesis 2 we read about man’s first day of work: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15).

We were created to be stewards of God’s creation through our work. The opening two chapters of Genesis provide a foundation for how God sees work, culture, and our responsibility. This same perspective extends throughout the Scriptures.

Work is not a curse, but a gift from God given to us before the fall, although the effects of the fall make our work frustrating and difficult at times (Gen. 3:17–19). By our work, we employ useful skills to glorify God, love our neighbors, and further God’s kingdom. 

The Original Worker
We can better understand our work assignment from God by studying the work that he did in creation, when he brought order out of chaos. A gardener does something similar when he creatively uses the materials at his disposal and rearranges them to produce additional resources for mankind.

We were created to be stewards of God’s creation through our work.

Thus, Adam’s work in the garden can be seen as a metaphor for all work. Tim Keller offers the following definition of work: “Rearranging the raw materials of a particular domain to draw out its potential for the flourishing of everyone.”

For example, an architect takes steel, wood, concrete, and glass and rearranges them for the flourishing of mankind. A musician rearranges the raw material of sound to produce music. That is what Adam was called to do in the garden, and that is what we are still called to do in our work today. 

God's Call to Work
In the opening chapter of Genesis, God gave Adam a job description. It is called the “cultural mandate,” also sometimes called the “creation mandate:” “God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘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).

By our work, we employ useful skills to glorify God, love our neighbors, and further God’s kingdom.

Why is it called “the cultural mandate?” According to Merriam-Webster, a “mandate” is an “authoritative command; especially: a formal order from a superior court or official to an inferior one,” or “an authorization to act given to a representative.” This is clearly a command given directly by God the Creator to Adam and Eve, his creation.