Dirt Under Her Fingernails

Michael Metzger

Why do we work? Over the last 20 years, there have a lot of good books on how faith and work connect. But do they get to the root of why we work?

Ever wondered why the Hebrew word avodah is rendered different ways in scripture? It first appears in Genesis 2:1-3 as work. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing… he rested from all his work… from all the work of creating.

But avodah is also translated as worship (Ex.3:12; 8:1), craftsmanship, or beauty (1 Chr.28:21), as well as service, or ministry (Num.8:11; Deut.10:12; Josh.24:15). Why?

I have an idea.

The Hebrew word for God in the first chapter of Genesis is elohim, plural. God—the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit—works (avodah). The triune God is also love. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit take great joy in one another. They seek to “wed” their joy to another, to a bride for the Son. This is the gospel, Jesus “marrying” us.

So here’s my idea. Jesus longs for a bride with work experience so that two become one. Jesus is a worker. He longs to wed a bride with dirt under her fingernails.

I think that’s the root of why we work. Jesus works. We work. Two become one. Whatever we do, we do it with all our heart, working for the Lord (Col.3:23).

But not just any ol’ work. It must be worship. Avodah is rendered as worship. Jesus worships. “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises” (Heb.2:12). Jesus longs for a bride who worships (Jn.23:24).

Our work must also bring beauty to the world. This is why avodah is also rendered as beauty, or craftsmanship. Jesus makes everything beautiful (Eccl.3:11). He gave us a sustainable planet and told us to work it (avodah, c.f., 2:15), to beautify it.

Our work must also be rendered as service (avodah) and ministry. Jesus came to serve (Mt.20:28). We are to serve (Gal.5:13). Jesus is the mediator (i.e., minister) of the New Covenant (Lk.22:20). He makes his bride ministers of the New Covenant (II Cor.3:6).

The New Covenant was inaugurated at the cross when we were betrothed (married) to Jesus. When we believe in him, we are “betrothed to Jesus, as to one husband, that we might be presented to him as a pure (prepared) virgin” (II Cor.11:2). We are presented to Jesus at the wedding banquet (Rev.19). Between betrothal and consummation, the bride prepares by getting dirt under her fingernails.

My sense is that few Christians imagine the scope of the gospel as being this wide. The most popular renditions shrink it to God loves you, you are sinner, believe in him, go to heaven. If that’s the sum of the gospel, what do we do between now and then? Why do we work?

Most Christians don’t have a compelling answer. They simply work. Their work is toil.

Other Christians do think about faith and work. But their reasons for work are abstract. Glorify God. Cultivate creation. Give dignity. Factually true, but lacking emotionally.

A growing number of Christians fall into two other categories.[1] The first is the mercenary Christian. A mercenary is a soldier of fortune. Mercenary Christians make a fortune in business. They interpret this as God’s good fortune—blessing—on their business. Since they’re “kingdom” people, this must be a “kingdom” business. Mercenary Christians are clueless about the gospel as God “marrying” us. They don’t know why we work.

The second category is the missionary Christian. They see their work as a platform for evangelism. Lots of well-intentioned God-talk here, but missionary Christians are also clueless about the gospel as God “marrying” us. They too don’t know why we work.

Jesus doesn’t want a featherbrain bride who is clueless about why she works. As the bride of Christ, believers will one day give an account of how they made flourishing cultures (II Cor.5:10). I doubt Jesus wants to hear: Say what?

Scripture indicates that while everyone’s cup of joy will be full, some cups will be larger than others (Lk.19:11-26). The largest cups of joy are reserved for those who have the most dirt under their fingernails. They recognize the church is the bride of Christ. They know our hubby is a worker. They want two to be one, so they know why we work.

But what do you think?


[1] Brandon Vaidyanathan, Mercenaries and Missionaries: Global Capitalism and Global Christianity in Emerging Economies (Cornell University Press, 2019)


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  1. Excellent insights, which remind me in the moment of Romans 12:1-2, where the Apostle Paul writes, “I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” Could this not also mean, “our spiritual service of work-ship?” I think so!

  2. Excellent article, Mike. The word “avodah”–with all its multifaceted meanings and uses in the Scriptures (work, beauty, service, etc.)–helps us avoid the common tendency of narrowly defining “worship.” We typically restrict our view of worship to singing in a pew when the Scriptures elevate worship to include everything in life done in service to God (1 Cor. 10:31).

  3. Thanks Gents!

    I might also add this understanding of work widens the gospel back to its original parameters. Put another way, if the good news is simply: Jesus came to me, a sinner, then there is no good news before we fell in Genesis 3. There is no good news in Genesis chapter one.

    But there is good news in Genesis one. The good news is God the Father, Son, Spirit seeks to “wed” their joy with us, beings made in his image.

    btw, since every person on the planet is made in God’s image, designed to be the bride of Christ, then every person on the planet intuits work is something more than simply profitability and/or a platform. They intuit it has some sort of purpose beyond those things.

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