As we prepare to observe another Labor Day weekend, it is fitting to recognize and give thanks for the role of work in our nation. We especially admire those who have overcome difficulty or poor circumstances through hard work. “The price of success is hard work,” football coach Vince Lombardi once said. “The determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.”
God created work as pleasing, but after the fall in the Garden of Eden and as a result of sin it became a punishment. “Cursed is the ground because of you,” he was told. “By the sweat of your brow you will eat food until you return to the ground since from it you were taken” (Genesis 3:17, 19). In Ecclesiastes, an older Solomon looked back upon his life and cried, “Futility of futilities! What does a man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:3).
The Bible draws a clear distinction between “working in the world” and “working in the Lord.” There is a need for us to work to provide for ourselves, and God understands that. We are clearly told that since we have to work, we should do so diligently and industriously. “The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops” (2 Timothy 2:6), and, “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23). Even the apostles worked as they spread the gospel. “We were not idle when we were with you,” Paul told the Thessalonians. “On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-8). Paul concludes by saying, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
But as Solomon noted, such work and its results are temporary, and cannot ultimately satisfy. Just as He did in the Garden, God will provide not always what we want, but what He knows we need (Matthew 6:31-32), and our primary focus should always be our eternal relationship with Him. “Do not work for food that spoils,” Jesus said, “but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (John 6:27).
While our “work in the world” should not distract us from our relationship with God, we should also be “working in the Lord” to further His kingdom. This is the other part of our labor here on earth, the work of evangelism, outreach, and gospel ministry. Jesus said, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8). We produce this fruit through the gifting of the Holy Spirit, which comes through faith in Jesus (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). This fruit, or good works, is evidence of our faith (James 2:14-18) and a sign of a growing relationship in the Lord.
Even as we celebrate work this weekend, most people are looking forward to the day they retire and no longer have to work. While some have saved and planned for such a time, remember that we never retire from the Lord’s work. No matter how old (or young) you are, we all have a part to play in His kingdom. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).