It is not uncommon for the average person employed in a full-time job to spend 50% or more of their waking hours performing their work responsibilities. Add to this the work required to help manage a family and personal affairs, and we see that a large portion of a person’s adult life is occupied with work. Even for children, there is homework and chores. Some work is undoubtedly more labor-intensive than others. As such, labor may be viewed from a negative perspective or with a grin-and-bear-it attitude.
Some industries and companies have a variety of employees with certain professional skills and job titles. When those employees do not have a job title for whatever reason, or they do not possess skills worthy of special recognition, they simply may be thrown in with a group called “laborers”. I personally have witnessed and been associated with such a classification. Nonetheless, I would like to present the terms labor and laborer in light of the Bible, and more to the point, from God’s perspective.
Long ago, there was a king who, in his old age, took special interest in the vast array of work and labor of humanity, among other topics. His name was Solomon. His observations, conclusions, and insight have been recorded for us in scripture in the book of Ecclesiastes. This word (as a title for this book), being defined, means “One who addresses an assembly”. You are therefore that assembly at this moment. Consider for the moment some, but certainly not all, of the statements made by Solomon in scripture (Ecclesiastes) concerning this topic of labor:
What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? (1:3) Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and a grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun. (2:11) For what has man for all his labor, and for the striving of his heart with which he has toiled under the sun? (2:22) What profit has the worker from that in which he labors? I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. (3:9-11)
There is a pessimistic tone that pervades his writing. This is a time in Solomon’s life where he has not revered or served God as he did at first. This would cause any one of us to have a warped perspective. Despite this tone, there is truth and a lot to be gleaned from this book. The following is an example:
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: (4:9)
This statement is true regardless of the context, or the types of labor or laborers. However, let’s now turn our attention to a particular workforce – kingdom (of God) workers. According to the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:10, … we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. There is a certain labor that is God-ordained for every one of us!
If Labor Day, in the worldly sense or even the American sense, is for the purposes of honoring a workforce that has contributed to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of a country, we can likewise remember that we as believers have the opportunity to do the same; but for the Kingdom of God.
The Apostle Paul puts it this way to the Church at Corinth:
For we are co-workers (co-laborers) in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. (I Cor. 3:9)
Despite the fact that here we are assured that there are those who labor with us and alongside us, we may from time to time adopt the pessimism of Solomon. We may feel alone or that our efforts, no matter the size or extent, are also in vain, or a grasping for the wind! We may wonder if our words or actions for Christ truly matter, and doubt that we are making much of a difference at all. We may fall into the trap of believing that the labor is not worth the results; that our time has been wasted or would be better spent elsewhere. We may “grow weary in well-doing” (Galatians 6:9) and succumb to not doing anything for fear the results will be disappointing.
It was not to other apostles or other church leaders that Paul said this, but again, to all the Church: Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord isn’t in vain. (I Cor. 15:58)
Note that work of the Lord and a labor in the Lord is distinguished from labor in general. This is quite important, because we are assured that our labor in the Lord is NOT IN VAIN, no matter how we feel. We might want to briefly revisit what is it that qualifies as labor in the Lord? I believe that this is not as complicated as we may suspect. To labor in the Lord is to take what he says, and or what he has said already, and do it. Coining the popular phrase of our day – just do it!
Again, the Church is told that “whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Col. 3:17).” We are also to do everything in love, with a biblical support that abounds for that particular truth. This means that every believer is invited to participate – men, women, boys and girls. There is no “labor” insignificant; no “work” which does not qualify. In fact, the labor in the Lord can occur simultaneously with the other types of labor, and indeed should. And none of it, absolutely none of it, is in vain!
Paul, again speaking to the Church at large, sheds more light on this subject. We see in the following verse how this lifelong labor of love is to be produced, prompted, and the endurance of it to be inspired:
We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (I Thessalonians 1:3)
What a great pattern for us to follow! Let your lifelong labor of love, which matters indeed and is not in vain according to the promise of God, be recognized by these characteristics:
- Our work in the kingdom is to be produced by faith in God.
- Our labor in the kingdom is to be prompted by love (His).
- Our endurance in both is to be inspired by our hope in Jesus Christ.