When I was practicing obstetrics and gynecology, I used to joke with my pregnant patients due around this time of year, that it was ok to take Labor Day literally. Especially when patients were over-due, I encouraged them to do so. If only that worked!
But what is Labor Day really about? Ah, what would we do without the Internet (and I’m old enough to remember the days without the Internet)? Labor Day was proposed by the Central Labor Union in New York City in the late 19th Century , as an exhibition to the public of “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community. This proposal was later adopted by various states, and eventually became a federal holiday in honor of workers, in 1894.
The U S Department of Labor has written in reference to Labor Day, “The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, the American worker.”
Ouch! That bothers me. Yes, workers, as opposed to slouchers, have helped build a great nation, but let’s rather pay tribute to God, the Creator of all things, the One to whom all tribute is due. After all, God even invented work. In Genesis 1 and 2 the Bible tells of God’s work of creation, that it was good, and that God rested when He was done. God told His people that they, likewise, should rest from their work, one day out of every seven (Exodus 20:8ff).
The New Testament is also not lacking in talking about work. Paul states in 2Thessalonians 3:10, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” In 1Thessalonians 4:11-12, he admonishes Christians to “aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”
There are Bible passages that talk of proper treatment of the worker. In 1Timothy 5:18 Paul repeats the metaphor of Deuteronomy 25:4 by reminding us “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, in case you didn’t get the image, he then quotes what Jesus says in Luke 10:7: “The laborer deserves his wages.”
Jesus teaches us the ultimate work ethic in John 6:27. “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” Paul underscores this by exhorting “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17) The things we glorify in this world are temporal. Our lives pass all too quickly and then we are forgotten on this earth. So let’s invest in eternity instead. May our words and deeds honor our Savior, Jesus.