More than 80 countries in the world have a day which commemorates the value of work, and the contributions of workers to the well-being of society. In the United States and Canada, it is the first Monday in September.
The Bible has much to say about the dignity of work, which helps us to see our labor as more than “just a job.” And, of course, we should keep in mind the labor of many who may not receive a paycheck for what they do, but whose contribution is just as valuable. Studying at the university or changing diapers or volunteering at a soup kitchen is valued labor in the eyes of God.
The first thing to notice in Scripture is that God is a laborer. Genesis 2:2-3 says: “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” And what a work it was! We all would do well to have a day during our week, when we stop what we normally work at (the word “Sabbath” means “to cease”) to reflect on God and the work he is doing through us.
God’s work shows his wisdom. “How many are your works, LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures” (Psalm 104:24).
Jesus was the son of a laborer, and was a laborer himself (Mark 6:3). Jesus had callouses on his hands. He had strong muscles from swinging the hammer, pushing the saw, and shoving the plane. He sweated. He picked slivers out of his fingers.
The Bible shows work woven into the created order of all things. Genesis 2:15 says “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 says: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” Ephesians 4:28 says: “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.”
Do you have a difficult and discouraging job? Many do. Genesis 3:17-19 tells us that our work sometimes is not like tending a nice garden, but working the difficult, stubborn fields full of thorns. If you feel sometimes as though you slog through your job just to put bread on the table, know this: there is dignity in accomplishing just that. (See “In Search of Dignity”.)
The Bible warns those who are not working enough (“A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man”—Prov. 6:10-11). And it consoles those who have been working hard and need a rest, as was the case when Jesus’ disciples were working so hard they didn’t have time to stop and eat: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31). It must have been comforting to hear from the Lord Jesus Christ: c’mon, take a break. That is a message many of us in this high-pressured world need to heed. Sometimes we honor God not be doing more and more, but by taking a break—at God’s command.
And then there is the most important work of all. Work that doesn’t seem like work, because it is easy and simple, but accomplishes the most important thing in life: getting connected to God. One day a man asked Jesus about spiritual work: “What must we do to work the works God requires?” Jesus’ answer? “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:28-29). Believe. Just, believe.
So on this Labor Day holiday, take a break, and know that your labors are worthwhile.
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