Labor Day was established as an official holiday in the late 1800’s to celebrate the American worker. It has now lost much of it’s original meaning and now basically marks the end of Summer and the start of school.
In 1909, the American Federation of Labor convention adopted the Sunday before Labor Day as “Labor Sunday.” The intent was to focus on the spiritual aspect of the labor movement.
With that in mind, let’s turn to the Bible and see what we can learn about the spiritual side of the work we do.
I. GOD DESIGNED US TO WORK
Many people have a negative view of their jobs. How many of you have walked into a store or restaurant and found an employee who gives you the most unhappy of looks? Then they make it seem that it’s just the worst thing in the world that you came in? How many of you have been that kind of employee?
One can see this dissatisfaction with work expressed on t-shirts and bumper stickers. For example, “This job is sure messing up my fishing career;” “I only work so that I can afford the amount of fishing required to forget about work;” “I say we fish 5 days and work 2;” “A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work.” My personal favorite is, “Sorry I missed your call, I was on the other line.”
More seriously, the dissatisfaction with work is expressed in a general cultural trend to have the government take care of us more.
Is work a bad thing? Certainly it’s under the curse because of Adam’s sin (we’ll come back to that in a moment), but work in and of itself is a good and godly thing.
In Genesis 1, we find God working to make a world for mankind to work in.
24 And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so. 25 And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:24–25)
You may argue that this doesn’t seem like much work for God. You slave away all day in order to build something, and the Lord Almighty merely speaks it into existence. It’s true the amount of difficulty may differ, but work is simply activity that produces something. It can be physical or mental. It can be easy or hard.
When God created, he worked to produce something. That he enjoyed the process is clear because it says that he saw that what he had done was good—he was satisfied with his work.
Now look at the next verse:
26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. (Genesis 1:26)
God made mankind in his own image. In terms of work, that means that he gave man the same ability to work and create and to have enjoyment and satisfaction in his work. The proof of this is in the next chapter—
15 And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. (Genesis 2:15)
Make no mistake, God intended for Adam and his descendants to work. And this was before Adam and Eve sinned and threw all creation into the curse of sin. Work was meant to be something for us to do right from the very beginning. God always intended that work be part of the rhythm of life.
Even in the Garden of Eden, if there had been fishing (catch and release only!), there would have been times that Adam said, “I can’t fish right now, I have work to do.” And Adam would have been good with that. He wouldn’t have felt the need to put on a t-shirt with “I’d rather be fishing” emblazoned on the front. God designed us to work, and that’s good.
What happened? Why is work such a unhappy thing, at least from time to time? It’s because…
II. WORK IS UNDER THE CURSE
Genesis 3 is key chapter for understanding the Christian worldview—it’s a chapter that every Christian needs to have down pat.
Genesis 3 contains a huge part of the answer to the question, “Why is there suffering in the world?” And part of the suffering that we endure is work. Even if we generally enjoy our jobs, there are times that we don’t. There are times that we suffer through work—why?
Genesis 3 begins with a conversation between Eve and Satan, who appears as a serpent. Satan questions God’s command to not eat of the fruit of the tree of good and evil. His main argument was that God was holding out on Adam and Eve. God wasn’t letting them be all that they could be.
That crafty Satan snake says to her about the forbidden fruit:
5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. 6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. 7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. (Genesis 3:5–7)
Here we have the first human sin described and sin itself defined. What is sin? It’s more than doing something that God says is wrong. What is the motivation for doing something that God says is wrong? Sin is breaking God’s law because we are not satisfied with him and because we desire to our own god.
It’s critical that we understand this. Many people are against God because they think that he’s uptight about the “little mistakes” (from their perspective) they make in their lives.
But sin is wanting to step into God’s place and be god in our own lives. This is true of every sin that we commit, big or small.
God designed a creation that was very good—perfect. But we think that we know better than he in running our lives. As a result, we wreck his perfect creation. Mankind is like the little boys who come over and wreck the sand castle that someone just spent hours constructing.
We must understand the terrible thing that Adam and Eve did here (it wasn’t just a small sin of eating fruit from a tree). We need to understand how terrible it was to understand what God does in the next part of Genesis 3. He calls the guilty parties to a conference and he lays down a curse. In particular, he curses our labors.
17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; 18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; 19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. (Genesis 3:17–19)
If you think that Eve’s sin was minor—she merely took a fruit from a tree—a misdemeanor offense—then you will also think that God severely overreacts to the situation.
It’s like a parent grounding a child for two months for stealing a cookie from the cookie jar. Or someone getting life in prison for stealing a loaf of bread.
But it wasn’t just about stealing a fruit. It was that Eve and Adam wanted to be gods themselves. They tried to usurp the throne of God—they committed cosmic treason.
No amount of punishment can ever repay a sin like that against the infinite God. Not even an eternity in Hell can pay for sinning against God.
Compared to that, a curse on creation and our labors is only a small punishment!
This is where all the bad stuff in our world—hurricanes and tornados, natural and moral evil–come from. It’s ultimately from sin. Sin corrupts all our labors.
Why is work so unenjoyable? It’s the curse and sin working itself out in your job. The land grows weeds better than it grows wheat. Your boss and coworkers are sinful people (and you are also), so it’s hard to work around them at times (and hard them to be around you!)
Whether it is a cursed creation or a personal sin that makes your work harder, it still comes back to sin.
Another reason that work doesn’t seem very good to us is that, because of the curse on creation, everything decays. It’s the law of entropy. If you work to build a house, you have to continue to work to maintain it. If you don’t, it soon starts to fall apart. Solomon complained,
11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun…
17 Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit. (Ecclesiastes 2:11, 17)
This is so pessimistic that it might drive us to despair. Why work?
One reason is what we’ve already seen—we were created to work. We are made in the image of God who loves to work. Yes, we are broken people living in a broken world, but to find fulfillment, we must work.
We work because it’s a part of our purpose as humans. Those who don’t work find themselves spiraling downward even more.
Another reason to work, especially as a Christian, is that…
III. JESUS SHOWED THE NOBLENESS OF WORK
Jesus showed the nobleness of work in several ways, first, by being a laborer himself. He was a carpenter (Mark 6:3). The Greek word is τέκτων, and can refer to any sort of craftsman or builder. Jesus created things—perhaps tables and furniture. He did not seem to mind that his work would one day wear out and be thrown out. For him, the mere act of work was noble in itself.
Jesus also showed the nobleness of work in his teaching. In the Parable of the Talents, for example, Jesus commended those who worked to invest the money the master had given them.
23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. (Matthew 25:23)
But he came down hard on the one who simply buried his money—
26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant… (Matthew 25:26)
Jesus commended the work of the average person—like shepherds—and blasted the anti-work of thieves and lazy people:
10 The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. 12 But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. 13 The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. (John 10:10–13)
Jesus also showed the nobleness of work by declaring that his work was vital to his life—it was as important as eating:
34 Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. (John 4:34)
For the Christian, then, there’s no doubt that our Lord and Savior thinks that work is noble and laziness is detestable (cf. Proverbs 6:6-8). If we want to be like Jesus, we will work and we will find the nobleness in our work.
A Few More Texts About Work
There is much more we could say about work. Here’s a quick sampling of some other important texts—
We are to work to provide for ourselves and to give to the needy:
8 But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. (1 Timothy 5:8)
28 Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. (Ephesians 4:28)
We are to work with a mind that is focused on the Lord and his pleasure in our work:
23 And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; (Colossians 3:23)
Making our work as something we do unto to the Lord goes a long way towards making work in a fallen creation worth doing. It’s a matter of perspective.
It’s like a guy working on an assembly line. He is asked, “What does he do?” His response is, “I put in a bolt here and here and here.” Another guy on the same job says something different, “I build cars.”
One has a narrow perspective that limits his enjoyment in his work, the other sees a bigger picture.
The Christian is able to see the biggest picture of all—God’s enjoyment in us as we work.
Remember it’s a blessing to us when we are able to work and provide for ourselves:
2 For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: Happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee. (Psalm 128:2)
Also Remember Jesus’s Greatest Work For You
Jesus’s greatest work is without a doubt his work on the cross dying for our sins. It is a work that he went into willingly. It was not a pleasant work. What could be a more broken and miserable job than to die for the sins of a broken people?
Yet he did this job an attitude that we can carry into our own labors.
(1) Jesus committed himself to the will of his Father when he prayed, “…not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42).
Sometimes we may have work that we do not want to do. Maybe our job is less than ideal—it’s just a daily grind flipping burgers, stocking shelves, or turning bolts. But God’s will is for us to work, and if that’s all we got at the moment, then we should obey God’s will.
(2) Jesus did his work on the cross with the right perspective. Yes, it was painful, but the end result of his work is what he looked forward to—
…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)
We can also remember what we are working for in our own jobs. To support our families, to help the needy, and to have the pleasure and blessing of our Father above.
Let’s turn now to the Lord’s Supper and remember the work that Jesus did for us on the cross to buy our salvation.
Hughes, R. Kent. Disciplines of a Godly Man. 10th anniversary ed.; rev. ed. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001.
MacArthur, John F., Jr. What the Bible Says about Parenting: Biblical Principles for Raising Godly Children. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000.
Piper, John. Don’t Waste Your Life. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003.