[Written in connection with Labor Weekend, 2010]
“This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. When the Lord God made the earth and the heavens --- and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground --- the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being…..The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” ---- Genesis 4:4-7, 15
"It is the business of the Church to recognize that the secular vocation, as such, is sacred. Christian people, and particularly perhaps the Christian clergy, must get it firmly into their heads that when a man or woman is called to a particular job of secular work, that is as true a vocation as though he or she were called to specifically religious work."
----Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos?
In the calendar of national holidays, we’ve worked our way to Labor Day, perhaps one of the most misunderstood celebrations in our country. As the national economy shifts one way then another in industrial forms of output, our American workers and educational systems struggle to keep up with the trends. Honestly, many of our leaders in business and schools seem more to be “polishing the brass on the Titanic” than anything else!
Many business, government, and labor leaders genuinely are trying to help our society cope with the vast changes that have occurred and even greater changes that are to come. Giant shifts in the ways we prepare for and enter the work force are on the horizon. The working world of our children and grandchildren will be significantly different than our own!
BUT --- one thing that will not change in the future is that the foundational dignity for our common human life is found in work. The necessity of work was built into the covenant of creation by Almighty God, and it is an essential part of daily life. From Adam to the present, it is through the context of daily life and work that we bring glory to God (1 Corinthians 10:31). As the rest of American society celebrates in one way or another Labor Day and all those who work, it is especially true that people of faith clearly understand the absolute necessity of work in their lives!
Now, some people quickly interject that there are people who will not work. That’s true, of course, and we have the clear injunction of the Apostle Paul that people are to earn the bread they eat, and if they will not do so, others are not to feed them or assist them (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12)! Hunger is a powerful motivator to work!
But, what about the people who cannot work? There are exceptions to the rule of work for such as these. A few of these are: canceling the debts for the poor every 7 years (Deuteronomy 15:1-11); consolidating 3 years’ tithes to feed the Levites, aliens, widows, and orphans; and making provisions for the hungry (Deuteronomy 24:19-22 – note, even here the hungry must work by gathering the food for themselves).
As people of faith, we must not forget that the work-a-day world is the real arena of life! Our worship on the Lord’s Day and all the other auxiliary activities of our faith bring due honor and glory to God and prepare us for the rest of life. God is the Lord of all constituent elements of life, and our work should be done “as unto the Lord!”
The early Christians were drawn from a wide variety of vocations and jobs. Just a cursory listing of these would include carpenters (Jesus), fishermen (Peter, Andrew, James, John), tax collectors (Matthew, Zaccheaus), tent makers (Paul, Aquila, Priscilla), a merchant of purple (Lydia), soldiers (Cornelius, the Centurion, and others), and many slaves (Onesimus, etc). Included in the Church were beggars and the afflicted, as well as widows and orphans.
So, this week rather than complain that we have to work, give thanks to God that we can work! Remember --- the greatest spiritual impact on the world each day is made by people who work for a living and “practice what they preach” in front of others! How can we serve God while pursuing a “secular” vocation?
· By living our faith “in the world” – John 17:13-21
· By being “light” to our friends and coworkers – Matthew 5:13-16, Acts 13:46-48
· By using “secular” relationships to introduce Jesus – Luke 5:29
· By “living the Gospel” in front of others – Philippians 1:27
May God give you his presence and strength as you work – for a living and for Him!