Monday, September 3, 2012

A Biblical View of Labor

A Biblical View of Labor
by Wesley G. Vaughn
© 2012

Text: Ephesians 6:5-9 

             Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is the last holiday of Summer.  It was established as a national holiday in 1894 to recognize the contributions of industrial workers.  It now celebrates all those who work, no matter their field of endeavor.  As we observe Labor Day, let’s consider what the Bible says about labor.

Labor is Worthy 

            Many people see labor as a curse, the result of sin.  The basis for this is Genesis 3:19, which says, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  According to this view, God sentenced Adam (and all who follow him) to work.  But is labor itself really the curse?  It is NOT the Curse.  There was Labor before the Curse.  God Himself labored.  Creation was His work, the fruit of His labor.  On the seventh day of Creation God “finished his work that he had done, and he rested . . . from all his work that he had done” (Gen. 2:2).

Labor is Ordained by God  

            “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15).  Before the Fall, humans were to work, to labor.  They had a job to do.  The angels, the Host of Heaven, have work to do, too, and they have not sinned; they are not under a curse.  There is work to do, and there are angels and people to do it.  God works, and we work too.

Labor is a Blessing 

            It is the Gift of God.  Ecclesiastes 3:13 says, “Everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man.”  (See also Eccl. 2:24) 

Labor is Honorable 

            Proverbs is full of statements about the honor of honest work, such as, “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty” (Prov. 14:23).  On the other hand, slothfulness is seen as dishonorable (Prov. 21:25).  Throughout history, Jewish rabbis have associated labor with honesty and integrity, while they consider laziness (sloth) as sin.

Labor is Beneficial 

            It provides needed exercise.  Exercise is needful for good health: it builds and tones the muscles, improves circulation and breathing, and produces an overall feeling of well-being. 

            It produces needed things.  Good work is productive, supplying food, fiber and other things for living.  Psalm 128:2 says, “You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.”

            It helps others.  Beyond supplying ourselves, we can help others with their tasks or give to them from what we have produced.  The Apostle Paul taught this as the opposite of stealing: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Eph. 4:28).

            It satisfies.  Accomplishment is a good source of satisfaction, especially when we see the fruits of our labors.

Worthy Examples of Labor

$          God worked when He created the universe, and He is working now sustaining the world, ruling, judging, listening to His children.

$          Solomon labored, even as the king.  In Ecclesiastes, he lists many of his ccomplishments.

$          Nehemiah worked as the Cupbearer to the King of Persia.  This was an administrative position with much responsibility.  He was probably in charge of all the buying and preparation of food and drink for the palace.  He took a leave from this job to go to Jerusalem to serve as governor and repair the walls, then returned to the palace to resume his duties.  Obviously, Nehemiah was not afraid of work.

$          Jesus worked as a carpenter before becoming a traveling rabbi.  The nature of His labor then changed to teaching, mentoring and healing.  Before this, as the Son of God, He had labored through Creation.  As the Angel of the Lord, He had guided the Old Testament saints.  His earthly labor culminated with the work of Salvation on the Cross, where He announced, “It is finished” (John 19:30).  Now, in Heaven, His duties include interceding for us and being the CEO of the Church.

$          Peter labored as a fisherman before Jesus called him to be a disciple.  Then his job description changed to “man fisher” (Matt. 4:19, Mark 1:17).

$          Paul was a tentmaker.  When he became a missionary, he continued tent making to support himself and his ministry team (Acts 18:3; 1Cor. 4:12; 1 Thess. 2:9).

Labor Balanced with Rest

            Labor is to be balanced with rest.  The natural cycle is to work in the daytime and sleep at night, though in some jobs this order is reversed (John 9:4).  The Old Testament law also prescribes a weekly day of rest.  “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates” (Ex. 20:9-10).  This day of rest is for our benefit.  Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). 

Labor is Worship

            Labor is obedience to God.  He put us here to work (Gen. 1:28; 2:15).  Paul told the Thessalonians that they should work (1 Thess. 4:11; 2 Thess. 3:10, 12) and gave himself as an example (1 Thess. 2:9; 2 Thess. 3:8).  Furthermore, we are told that whatever our labor may be, we are to do it as though we are working for God (Eph. 6:5-8; Col. 3: 22-25; Titus 2:9-10; 1 Pet. 2:18-20). Therefore, in our labor we serve God.

Labor is Witness

            Finally, our labor is a witness of our faith:  a witness to those we serve, a witness to those we work with, and a witness to our families.  Those who know us through our work judge us by our work.  They judge not only us, but our faith.  The testimony of our words carries more weight if our labor shows honesty, diligence, and a good attitude.

All Scriptures from the ESV