With another Labor Day upon us, perhaps it’s time not only to recognize the value of laborers – workers whose services we all benefit from – but also to hit the “refresh” button for what we think about labor (work) itself.
These days much of the conversation seems centered around compensation for work: What the guaranteed minimum wage should be, if there should be a guaranteed minimum wage at all. I won’t wade into that debate, but I’m concerned that we’re greatly devaluing work if all we’re concerned about is how much we’re paid for doing it, along with benefits like health insurance and vacation time.
Because from the start, God ordained work. He placed humankind here on earth not to spend all of our time stopping to smell the roses. He had things for us to do. In the opening chapter of Genesis, it says:
“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every living creature that moves on the ground…. I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food'” (Genesis 1:28-20).
Later, Adam and Eve committed the fatal sin of eating from the one tree in the garden of Eden whose fruit was taboo for them. One of the consequences was that from that point on, work became hard: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you…. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food…” (Genesis 3:17-19).
Imagine, before their fateful fall from temptation into sin, Eve would ask Adam at the end of his work day, “Hi, hon! How was your day?” and he would respond, “No sweat!” Then they went and ruined everything.
Yes, work became difficult, challenging, even frustrating. But that didn’t make it bad. One of my favorite passages in the Scriptures concerning work is Colossians 3:23-24, which admonishes, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” As if the nameplate on the boss’s desk were to read, “The Lord,” or “Jesus Christ.”
The book of Ecclesiastes, which has a lot to say about work and its role in our lives, says similarly, “Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might…” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). We work to earn a living; there’s no question about that. But ultimately, if we believe the Bible, that livelihood also comes from God.
James 1:17 says, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” This assurance applies to many things, but we can be assured that work and the provision for our needs that we derive from it are included among these “good and perfect” things.
An interesting New Testament verse, 2 Corinthians 5:20, declares, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” One of the best places to serve as an ambassador for Jesus Christ is where we work, where we daily encounter and rub shoulders with people who need to hear about the Good News of Christ and see what faith in Him looks like when lived out on a daily basis.
At the same time, we can – and should – value the work and efforts of people who serve us. The apostle Paul exhorted believers, “Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you” (1 Thessalonians 5:12). While the context for this exhortation concerns pastors and spiritual leaders, the principle can easily be applied for anyone whose work enhances our lives, whether it’s the server in a restaurant, the plumber who comes to fix a persistent leak, the law enforcement officer who strives to keep lawbreakers at bay, the teacher who instructs and encourages our children, or the trash collector who hauls away our garbage.
What we get paid matters. We need money to buy food for our tables, clothes for ourselves and our loved ones, gas for the car, and for rent or the mortgage payment. Along with some of our “wants.” But to view work solely by how much compensation we receive is to greatly diminish the value of work and the dignity we receive from doing it. Work – using our abilities, gifts and experience – is a very special privilege and should be a source of joy. Let’s keep it in the right perspective.