Fruitful Labor - A Blessing from God
Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,
who walks in his ways!
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.
~ Psalm 128:1-2 (ESV)
The first Monday in September is Labor Day. It was established, at the urging of labor unions, to honor industrial workers and miners. Today it honors all who work for a living, not just those in unions. For Christians, this ought to be a special day, since it was God who made us to do useful work.
A common misconception is that labor is a curse, the result of sin. Work itself is not the curse, but difficulty, fruitlessness, dissatisfaction and frustration in our labor. First of all, God said that the ground itself was cursed and would not be cooperative with human labor.
Since the Flood and the following climate changes, some areas of the earth have been more easily productive than others. This includes animal life (such as fish), pastureland, plant life and mineral resources. God-given human intelligence has been used to make our labor more productive. This includes inventions, both ancient and modern. People have been able to make a living in just about any place on this planet, and someday may be able to do so on other planets as well.
The problems with our labor is related to the aim of our work, our attitudes toward work, and the attribution for our work. In other words, Why do we work? How do we see our work? Who gets credit for our work?
First, what is work? Work can be defined as effort, exertion. It can also be defined as the product of that effort. In other words, our work is what we do and what we produce.
AimWhat is our motive, our purpose for our work? Of course we work for the material benefits: wages or salary, commission, bonuses, royalties, net profits. We must be responsible and support us and those who depend on us. Jesus said, “The laborer deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7; 1 Tim. 5:18). And Paul said, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).
We can work to help others: Our work is a service to those we work for, whether employers, customers and clients, or (in the case of appointed and elected officials or those in non-governmental service agencies) the public and the needy.
We can work to serve and honor God. This is the highest motive, leading to wanting to serve others.
But there are lesser motives for work. There are people who just do what they like to do for work. Some are just trying to prove themselves to those who doubt their ability, etc. Some work for fame or recognition. Some persons work lead, supervision or management jobs because they want to be above others, to exercise authority. There are people who work excessively to compensate for an inferiority complex or guilt (a type of workaholism).
AttitudeHow do we see our work? How do we feel about our work? Or about work in general? Many people do not like their jobs. Do not like they people they work with. Some do not like responsibility. Many do not like working for others, and are itching to be their own bosses. There are people who want to get everything without having to work for it.
I know people who see work as a necessary evil. They say things like, “I’ll work as long as I have to, then I’ll just do what I want to do.”
According to the Bible, we should be co-workers with God. Obviously not His equals, but working alongside Him, following His direction, His lead. The writer of Ecclesiastes sees work as a gift from God (Eccl. 5:12, 18-20). Proverbs places great value on work and diligence. When we go all the way back to Genesis, we see that God gave the man and the woman work to do in the Garden of Eden.
In the New Testament, Paul tells his readers to work as though they were working for God, no matter what the job was, no matter who their employers were. Employer and employee, master and slave, apostle and menial laborer, they all work for God.
AttributionWe all like to get credit for what we do. We all like to be appreciated. It is right to acknowledge the efforts and accomplishments of others, especially those who serve us. In fact, Paul says we ought to honor those who labor among us, including those who preach and teach the Gospel.
On the other hand, we need to be careful to not take all the credit for ourselves, either for our efforts or for the outcome. For example, in evangelism Paul say that one plants, another waters, but God gives the increase. This language refers to farming, where the farmer and his crew plow, plant and irrigate. But God controls the weather and the fertility of the seed. God can hold back or detour the locusts. The farmer can stand guard against thieves and robbers, but who turns back an invading army?
As far as our own efforts are concerned, who gives us the strength we need to do the job? Who provides the opportunities? We did not choose where we were born, who our parents were, etc. We did not choose the era we live in. Most of us have little, if any, say in the course of work events. In reality, most of the credit for what we do goes to others, especially to God. In Luke 12:16-21, Jesus tell the story of a rich man who took all the credit for his bounty and was unwilling to share it. God said to him, “Fool!”
Work itself is not a curse. Fruitful labor is honorable. It is a gift from God. It should be a service to our families, to our community, and to God. Honorable work should by done honorably. And God deserves the first credit and the first fruits of our labor.