It’s wise to periodically pause and refresh ourselves on why we do what we do.
For those of us taking a break from our labors on this Labor Day (ironic, as it may be), here’s a triad of encouragements from the apostle Paul to remind Christians why we labor.
1) We labor not to be a burden to others. (2 Thessalonians 3:8)
If you don’t do your part to feed your own mouth, and you plan to keep feeding it, then you’re banking on someone else to provide food for you. Same with clothes and shelter and Internet. One of the Christian motivations for laboring at our jobs is being able to provide for ourselves (and our families, 1 Timothy 5:8), and not be a burden to others.
Paul recounts that while among the Thessalonians, he and his team did not “eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:8). Night and day they worked, making tents while preaching Christ crucified, so as not burden others.
It’s tragic when Christians take advantage of others. It’s a crying shame when the world gets this impression of us because some who claim our Jesus go soft on his teaching. Yes, there are times when sickness or disability or extenuating circumstances keep us from working, but in general, able-bodied followers of the Carpenter put themselves to work to cover their own needs and not become a burden to others.
2) We labor to be able to share with others. (Ephesians 4:28)
This second text now goes beyond the first. Not only do we Christians want not to be a burden to others, but we want to exceed what’s expected, by not just supplying for our own needs, but acquiring enough to be able to share with others.
Paul writes in Ephesians 4:28, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” Here is the transforming gospel of grace at work, not just covering the bases of what’s just, but going the extra mile to be positioned to show others mercy.
The Christian vision of labor is deeply others-oriented. Not only do we not want to burden others, but we want to lift their burdens. The Christian perspective is not to get mine, but to be able to help with yours — especially when we’re able to give freely from our hearts to others, not being constrained by some third party that takes from those who labor and gives to those who do not.
3) In Jesus our labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)
This third and final text applies now in particular to Christian “ministry” — to helping others, in word and deed, explicitly in the name of Jesus. Here is the pressed-down, shaken-together, and running-over encouragement we get in 1 Corinthians 15:58: “My beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
It is a profound thing in our labors to know that they are not in vain, to be assured that our efforts and energy aren’t wasted, to be confident that our work matters. How is it so? “In the Lord” — in Jesus, focused on him, powered by him, intent on giving him the glory.
May God give us the resolve to rest well today, and then the grace to get back at it tomorrow — for our joy, for the good of others, and for the glory of the one who labored for our eternal salvation.