A Willingness to Work
This is Labor Day weekend. Tomorrow is the official Labor Day holiday.
As we know, Labor Day honors the American labor movement and the contributions workers have made to the development, growth, endurance, strength, security, prosperity, productivity, sustainability, persistence, structure, and well-being of the United States. Together, American workers have allowed us in this nation to have a very comfortable lifestyle. The same is true many other places in the world as products and ideas from our country have been exported abroad.
I suspect there will be a lot of barbecuing and other outdoor activities going on tomorrow as summer begins to wind down. However, may we each take at least a moment or two to be thankful for what we have in our country. Let’s thank God for giving so many Americans, over the years and now, a willingness to work. Yes, we have and do all benefit from American workers.
Having a willingness to work is important. In fact, it is Biblical, as will be seen in today’s message as we take a journey through a handful of Bible verses written about work. The first three verses are in the Old Testament. Two others are in the New Testament.
First for this message, a verse in the first book of the Old Testament. The Book of Genesis. A verse early in that book. Chapter 2, verse 15.
Se have occasionally studied the creation of the universe. We remember that everything on earth and everything we see above the earth - dry land, water, plants, animals, birds, and human beings, and the sun, moon, stars, and clouds - were created by God. God did all that in six days.
We also remember that part of creation was a garden in which the first two people, first Adam and soon Eve, were given the privilege of living. The Garden of Eden had beautiful gems on the ground. It had a good supply of water. There was wonderful food to eat.
Concerning the food to eat, Eden truly was a garden. In it were plants that provided food. But guess what. Every garden needs someone to tend it. It was that responsibility God gave to Adam. Genesis 2:15 states that “the LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” That was the first work assignment given. It validates the importance of work. Work is something God knew Adam needed to do. Adam needed something to do. Work is what God gave Adam to do.
Interestingly, when Adam was given work to do, it was easy to tend the Garden. We know that because Eden was perfect. For instance, there were no weeds at that time. As mentioned, there was a good water supply. I imagine the temperatures being pleasant, with low humidity.
Also interestingly - and unfortunately - the ease of work in the Garden of Eden came to an abrupt halt when Eve and then Adam, against God’s word, ate the fruit of the only tree in the Garden they were to avoid. That sin caused God to throw the first two people out of the Garden of Eden. Outside the Garden, and because of sin, God made Adam’s work difficult.
Here is how it is described in Genesis 3. “Cursed is the land. In toil you, Adam, will eat the crops from the ground. Thorns and thistles shall come forth. You shall sweat.”
The Garden of Eden was a wonderful place, but it was no longer Adam and Eve’s place after they sinned. From then on Adam’s work was difficult. That continues today. But may we remember it was God’s plan that people work. Work is therefore God-ordained. May we remember that as we toil at whatever work we are given to do. Let’s be thankful we have something to do. Whether it is to make a living or not, work is a gift from God. May we celebrate that this Labor Day weekend.
Our journey takes us next to the Old Testament Book of Proverbs, beginning with 14:23.
Remember Proverbs contains a collection of short sayings that describe various ways we, God’s people, are to live and what the results of our proper living should be. These are not necessarily statements of fact, but rather the way things should be and should work. Our prayers can be that Proverbs will be seen in real life.
I will highlight the second half of Proverbs 14:23 first. “Mere talk tends only to want.” That teaches that if all we do is talk, rather than do something - work at something -there will be no benefit coming our way.
My teaching days pop into my mind. Every now and then I would have a student who would complain about the assignments I gave. Every now and then the complaining went on for longer than it should have. Every now and then it got to the point the complaining went on longer than it would have taken to do the assignments.
What a waste of time. What a lack of benefit for that student. It was all talk and no action. How much better for such students - how much better for any of us who might be tempted to complain too long about what we are given to do - how much better to know the first part of the verse. “In all toil there is profit.” Hopefully financial profit if your work is your livelihood, but at least the satisfaction that you have work to do. At least the satisfaction of knowing you are making good use of your time.
Whether you are a student and your work is in school - and home doing homework - or you have business-world work to do or maybe volunteer work, and whether you work outside the home or inside, including being a housewife or househusband, even if you are retired, you have work to do. Let’s celebrate that this Labor Day weekend.
The next stop on our journey is a short distance away. Still in Proverbs, this time 16:3. This Old Testament thought is at the center of the New Testament verses coming up. Listen. “Commit your work to the LORD.”
Do you work outside the home? Commit what you do to God, asking Him to help you understand its worth.
Do you work inside your home? Commit what you do to God, asking Him to help you make the best use of the time given to such work.
Are you a student? Commit your studies to God, asking Him to help you study well.
Are you retired and have maybe volunteer work to do? Or are you retired and you work for the church, including praying? Commit what you do to God, asking Him to help you keep up with your work and that your work will be spiritually satisfying and profitable for you and for others.
Committing your work to God will help keep you interested in your work. It will help remind you of the importance of what you do.
It will also, as the second half of 16:3 words it, cause your “plans to be established.” What plans? How about your plans to be of use to God and others, to make God’s love and other blessings known by others, to feel good about taking advantage of opportunities to serve Him and others?
Commit your work to God. Let’s all do that a we celebrate this Labor Day weekend.
We now move on to the New Testament, where we will stop at two of the writings of the apostle Paul. First, I Corinthians 10:31.
To keep that verse in proper context, Paul is challenging Christians to live in ways that will not spiritually hinder those who are not yet believers in Jesus. Specifically, Paul is referring to what to eat and drink in front of others. Specifically, though Christians back at that time knew that all foods were lawful, there were some who would struggle if eating food offered to idols. To avoid hurting those who were bothered, Paul wrote, “Whether you eat or drink, do all to the glory of God.” In other words, make sure that even at mealtimes, what you do is honoring to the Lord and helpful for others.
But there are few more words in the verse. “Or whatever you do [could that extend to whatever work we do?], do all to the glory of God.”
Thinking of Labor Day, what does it mean to do our work to the glory of God? Maybe it is remembering that work is a gift from God, that we are to make good use of our time when we are working, and that we are to commit our work to Him.
The hope in I Corinthians 10:31 is that those who are not Christians will notice we value our work. That will let them know we are different. A positive difference.
That is important because it seems prevalent for people to complain about their work.
That was the case when I worked at a grocery store in high school and early college. I heard complaining sometimes in the teachers lounges in the schools in which I taught. Yes, there have occasionally been complaints heard from other ministers.
Let’s work at being different. Let’s make sure even our work attitudes - even whatever work is done in retirement - is glorifying to God. May that be a goal as we celebrate Labor Day weekend.
Then Colossians 3:23-24. To put this passage in context, it is in the middle of a paragraph in which Paul challenges Christians to live properly in all aspects of life. Christian wives are to be submissive to their husbands. Christian husbands are to love their wives. Christian fathers are not to provoke their children. Christian children are to obey their parents. Christian slaves are to obey their masters.
Then verse 23. “Whatever your task [whatever work you are given to do, for pay or without pay, at school, in the business world, at home, and student, employed, or retired, remembering work is a gift from God], work heartily.” Not half-heartedly. Not idly. Not slothfully. But with enthusiasm. With dedication. With commitment to do what is expected.
Most of us remember what happened on 9/11. The day in 2001 when terrorists struck our nation. Hijacked planes caused the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City. Another plane damaged the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Yet another plane crashed in Pennsylvania before it could be flown by hijackers into either the Capitol Building or the White House. What a horrific day it was.
I am not sure there was much that could have been done to stop the terror attacks from happening, but I still remember one of the comments sometime after that day. It was that we could not have expected the people on the ground at the airports to work very hard at noticing if something did not look or feel right because they were paid so little.
I still think what I thought then. They did not get paid enough to do the work they were expected to do? That they were paid to do? Really? That is way opposite of what the apostle Paul wrote. In I Corinthians, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” If you aren’t getting paid enough, go find another job to do. In Colossians, “Work heartily.” Paul continues, “Work as if you are serving the Lord and not men.” Yes, much employment is overseen by human people, but how important to remember it is the Lord who is the greater overseer.
“Work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men.” Why? Verse 24. “Knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.” The inheritance of being in the good graces of the Lord.
Which, as important as monetary pay is, pleasing the Lord is even better, knowing He will reward those who please Him, including by doing well whatever work we are given to do. As Paul completed the passage, “You are serving [whatever work you do] the Lord Christ. May we remember that. May we celebrate that this Labor Day weekend.
Today’s closing is a reading. It fits today’s message very well as it reminds us of God’s involvement in all we do.
God of shop and marketplace,
Of farm and studio,
Factory and shipping lane,
Of school and busy home:
Bless the produce of our hands.
Redeem our work for Kingdom use.
By Your grace, our efforts stand,
All offered up to You.
There in Eden, You proclaimed
That we should work the earth -
Stewards over all we named,
Delighting in their worth.
Through our fall we brought decay,
Lost access to Jehovah’s rest.
Through the cross, we rest in faith
And all our labor is blessed.
In Your image we are made:
Creative, like You are,
Forming goods for use and trade
Just like You formed the stars.
Send us out in power and skill
To worship through each task assigned.
By Your Spirit we fulfill
The holy, grand design.
Thank You, Lord, for work to do. Thank You for the challenge to commit our work to You, remembering that in all things, we serve You. Please make whatever work we do worthy of You. Amen.