Labor Day isn’t one of those holidays that Americans classify as “religious.” We associate it more with the end of summer, the start of school for many districts, and the beginnings of the college and professional football seasons. However, we do tend to loosely classify Thanksgiving as “religious,” and I would submit to you that a holiday that celebrates the concept of work is just as Bible-based as one that celebrates the giving of thanks.
Of course, you won’t find a mandate for workers’ unions in the Bible. (And such unions were the launching pad for the Labor Day holiday.) What you will find, however, is a plethora of passages that sing the praises of work. Here are a few:
1. “He who has a slack hand becomes poor, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.” (Proverbs 10:4)
2. “The hand of the diligent will rule, but the lazy man will be put to forced labor.” (Proverbs 12:24)
3. “The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made rich.” (Proverbs 13:4)
4. “Do not love sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will be satisfied with bread.” (Proverbs 20:13)
5. “Be diligent to know the state of your flocks, and attend to your herds.” (Proverbs 27:23)
6. “He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows frivolity will have poverty enough!” (Proverbs 28:19)
7. “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.” (Ephesians 4:28)
8. “that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you.” (1 Thessalonians 4:12)
9. “For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10)
10. “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8)
The truth is that it has always been God’s will for men and women to work. Going all the way back to the garden of Eden, the Bible says that God put Adam in the garden to tend (cultivate) and keep (guard) it (Genesis 2:15). As for Eve, God’s command was, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). Does anyone want to argue that raising kids doesn’t involve work?
You see, the idea of Adam and Eve working was entrenched into God’s plan for them well before they sinned and fell from innocence. This means that work wasn’t a byproduct of the fall. The byproduct was that the work would now be hard. Adam’s job was to tend and keep the garden, but when sin came into the picture God said to him, “Cursed is the ground for your sake. In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground… (Genesis 3:17-19). Eve’s job was that of motherhood, but when sin came into the picture God said to her, “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception. In pain you shall bring forth children…” (Genesis 3:16).
Moving ahead into human history, God eventually began a new nation (Israel) with one man (Abraham). Ultimately, He gave that nation a body of law by which they were to live. We now call that body of law the Old Testament law, the law of Moses, or the Mosaic law. The moral center of it was found in the famous ten commandments which served as its introduction (Exodus 20:1-17). The fourth commandment on that list involved Israel’s keeping of a weekly Sabbath (rest) day. God said, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work…” (Exodus 20:8-10). Rather than me tracing the topic of the Sabbath all the way through scripture, let me instead draw your attention to the fact that the commandment also called for six days of labor. It’s yet another instance of God telling mankind, “I want people to work.”
For many folks, the dream is to make enough money to retire early and never work again. In the light of the Bible’s teaching, though, we have to seriously question that life goal. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against retirement; it’s just that we shouldn’t become slugs and sloths during our retirement years. Remember that there are all kinds of ways to work and all kinds of different jobs to do. Volunteering at a Christian ministry is work. Keeping the house is work. Tending to the yard is work. Putting out a garden is work. Babysitting grandchildren is work. You get the idea.
In conclusion, let me say that God understands the human body far better than we do, and He knows that it functions best when it is active. That’s why He commands us to work. He doesn’t see work as a necessary evil. To the contrary, He sees it as a foundational building block of human existence. And let’s admit that if He sees it that way, you and I should as well.