LABOR DAY: Beyond the paycheck
As the mass production of factories, mills and mines increased, so did the misery of the common American worker. Low wages, long work days and unsafe working conditions eventually led to organized protests, strikes and workers' unions. Labor reforms increasingly improved workers' lives, including getting the kids out of the factories.
As the labor movement succeeded, the federal government in 1894 declared the first Monday of September an official holiday to honor and celebrate the contributions of the American worker.
For us who live on this side of the hardships of the Industrial Revolution, Labor Day tends to simply mark the end of summer, the beginning of cooler weather and the return of college football. But knowing a little of the history hopefully allows us to appreciate the reality of work in our lives and the blessings of our current conditions compared to that of the 19th century.
In addition, Labor Day can be an opportunity for more than just a cookout or taking advantage of the Labor Day sales, which if you stop to think about it, are ironic since Labor Day was conceived to give the worker a day off.
Even though the holiday's observance today is far from the original intent, the occasion does give us a moment to reflect biblically on ourselves as workers. Those of us who follow Christ through the Bible and who work need to have a robust biblical worldview in regard to work.
At the most basic level, work is the regular means through which God provides the material things we need for living.
In this regard, work is intrinsically good. In the beginning, God placed the man in the garden to work it and keep it (Genesis 2:15). The nature of the work is not detailed but it is clear that God gave Adam some kind of job. Work was part of the good creation.
After Adam's sin, the work became laborious (Genesis 3:19). However, God designed from the beginning that our provision would come through work. The goodness of work is always affirmed in Scripture. We are to be wise in our work and make future preparations through work so we have proper provision (Proverbs 6:6-11). We are to have a good work ethic so that our provision possesses the integrity of being earned (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12). We are to work to provide for ourselves and our family as a God-given responsibility (1 Timothy 5:8).
Additionally, God calls us to nurture generous lifestyles through our work. Although many of us don't fit the American category of rich, if we step back and make a global comparison, most of us are indeed rich.
The instruction of Scripture is that we should be mindful not to spend every dollar we make on ourselves. God provides through our work, and He instructs us that some of it is intended for others. Part of our stewardship is generosity, and an integral part of generosity is planning to be generous (1 Timothy 6:18-19). And, if we view our work and stewardship of God's provision in this way and obey, then we are assured that our generosity will not deprive us any need at all (Proverbs 11:24-25).
Lastly, God gives us work as a platform to glorify Him in how we do our work and how we model and share the Gospel.
It doesn't matter what kind of work we do, as long as it doesn't violate God's clear commands and principles. However, it does matter what we do with our work. Whether we are the pastor, politician, pottery thrower, police officer or public school teacher, our work space should be approached as a divine stewardship.
We should take pride in the quality of our work and give our best effort for the Lord's sake (Colossians 3:23-24). Our motivation for striving for excellence is founded on our desire to please our heavenly Father (1 Corinthians 10:31). However, we also know that a job well done is typically respected by people and brings favor.
Also, in any work setting there will always be the opportunity to demonstrate godly behavior in our speech and conduct. We can be looking for opportunities for Gospel conversations. We can see our work as space God has given us to advance the Gospel in deed and word.
When we see our labor as more than merely the means of a paycheck, we get a larger, God-sized vision of His purpose for our labor -- a vision that puts God's glory, the Gospel and blessing others at the center of our work.