The American celebration of Labor Day was established to recognize the important part played by workers in the development of the nation during the Industrial Revolution. Many countries today hold similar celebrations in honor of work and those who contribute, but it is significant that the modern recognition of the dignity and importance of labor largely originated in Christian nations, especially Great Britain and America. In the United States, Labor Day itself seems to have started with an annual parade in New York City in the 1880’s, becoming a national American holiday in 1894. Like most holidays, however, its original purpose now seems to have been largely forgotten.
One of the great inequities of life is the lack of a consistent relationship between the diligence of hard work and the reward received for that labor. Some work hard all their lives yet live in poverty while there are those who inherit great wealth and see it grow abundantly simply on the interest received from investments. A perfect “profit-for-labor” equity will never be reached as long as the earth and mankind are under the dominion of God’s curse of bondage to sin and death (cf Gen. 2:17). The wisest and wealthiest man the world will ever know wrote this about the futility of work on earth: “Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun” (Eccl. 2:11).
We all discover the same thing, that as long as our goals and motives in working are “under the sun,” there will be “vanity (emptiness) and striving after the wind” no matter what our current social or economic status may be. We may climb the ladder of financial success but will find it leaning against the wrong wall. While there will never be perfect “profit-for-labor” here on earth, and while even those who are rewarded well for their labors often find an emptiness in it all, our true account will not be settled here on earth in the fallible account books of man, but rather in God’s books. It is to Him that we will each give an account of our lives one day (Ro. 14:12). To this end, Paul encouraged the bondslaves (laborers) of his day with this admonition: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father…Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men; knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Col. 3:17,23,24).
So, when all accounts are finally settled at His great judgment seat (II Cor. 5:10), the “profit” we receive will not be based on our rank and position, our earthly bank account, our quantity of services rendered, but on our faithfulness and the quality of our work, and whether or not we did it “as unto the Lord” (cf I Cor. 3:11-15). It is not “how much,” but “what sort,” and “why” that matters to God! While there is little “profit under the sun,” if we are “abounding in the work of the Lord, you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (I Cor. 15:58).
In The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer, he wrote this about work: “It may be difficult for the average Christian to get hold of the idea that their daily labors can be performed as acts of worship, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. We must offer all our acts to God and believe that He accepts them. Then hold firmly to that position and keep insisting that every act of every hour of the day and night be included in the transaction. Let us practice the fine art of making every work a priestly manifestation. Let us believe that God is in all our simple deeds and learn to find Him there. Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be as sacred as the work of the ministry. It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. The motive is everything. Let a man sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act.”
What a great, biblical perspective. It is a God-given privilege to be able to do useful work, whether that work consists of preaching God’s Word or improving God’s world and meeting the physical needs of others. Solomon, after writing of the vanity of labor when motivated by working “under the sun,” found a new, God-perspective, and wrote this: “Whatever your hand finds to do, verily, do it with all your might” (Eccl. 9:10).
If you struggle with meaning in your labors, start doing them as an act of worship unto the Lord and your work, no matter how seemingly meaningless, will bring God glory, and you satisfaction and purpose.
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work” (Thomas Edison)