It is sometimes one of those earworm songs that echoes on the way to work “Heigh-ho! Heigh- ho! It’s off to work we go”. The seven dwarfs from Disney’s animation classic Snow White didn’t know they would capture the sentiment of the Monday morning drive. Its joyous melody masks a dreary reality, that for many “work” is not fun, and we like fun. Labor Day is a recognition of those workers who have through their labors contributed to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. (It’s also when mattresses and cars go on special sale.) Why do we celebrate, recognize that which isn’t fun?
The concept of work in the Bible has both positive and negative connotations. In the positive sense work is viewed as a way to give glory to God. God created man and put him in the lush garden “to work it and take care of it.” (Gen. 2:15) Man’s care and stewardship of the garden would bring to him good things for him to enjoy as well as the garden would reflect God’s glory. The only prohibition was not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Of course, we know how that turned out. That brings the negative. Because of man’s sin, God pronounced his judgment, “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, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken, for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Gen. 3:19-17) It’s Adam’s fault. Because of sin, the disordered world brings frustration and requires great effort from our labor. I am sure we would like to blame others for our lack of fun and not look at our own contribution or the role sin plays in our lives concerning the choices we make, especially how we approach our work. If work and labor is distorted, if it isn’t how God intended it at the beginning, how do we celebrate work?
Our attitude should be that work is first and foremost a gift from God. Although frustrating and laborious, it is the means to a greater end. Work gives us the ability to provide for ourselves, our family, and others as we are able. As Moses taught the people, “when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God…You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” (Deut. 8:12,13,17,18) Our work provides the funds we need to supply our needs and more. We may mutter about being overworked and underpaid, which may be true, but the work we do provides what we need. That is God’s gift to us. Thanks for your generosity, God! Solomon, writing in Ecclesiastes, reflects upon the meaning of work. “I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 3:13,14) So that monotonous job, that endless labor, it all has a purpose – to provide the necessities for living, and to contribute to doing good for others. With gratitude comes generosity. My work produces wealth, or that which is above and beyond what I need. With my wealth, I can give to others. Work motivates me not only to provide for my own needs, but to serve others, to do good for others. That becomes God’s gift to others through our work.
Secondly, my work should reflect my relationship to Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul wrote this admonition, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord you are serving.” (Col. 3:23,24) Our work should be done with the utmost diligence. We should not do just the minimum, or just enough to get by. In our work, we are serving Christ. As such, I want to demonstrate how I love Jesus by doing the best that I can at what work I do. I wish I could say that I have always given my best. That is not always the case. I am sure that others would be guilty as well. It should be our resolve to do the best we can in all that we do, because we are serving the Lord.
Understanding the importance of work as it is a gift from God and a reflection of my relationship with Jesus helps us approach work with a different angle and to even celebrate work. Our work, when done in gratitude, generosity and in service to Jesus, becomes an offering to Jesus Christ our Lord. So “Heigh- ho! Heigh- ho! It’s off to work we go!” Have a wonderful celebration this Labor Day!
Rev. Andrew Wade is pastor of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Logan and a member of the Logan Ministerial Association.