“The Godliness of Labor
August 31, 2008; Rev. Carl W. Lindquist
First UMC, Lexington, NC
"Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone's bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6-8)
Labor Day weekend is an appropriate occasion to talk about Christianity’s view of work and labor. I would venture to guess that it is unlikely that you’ve heard a sermon on that topic! While it’s not an official doctrine of the church, such as you would find in a creed or a book of systematic theology, one can find in the Scriptures and in our tradition a definite perspective of work and labor that is important for us to be familiar with, given the importance of labor and working to our everyday lives.
So let me begin by saying that this year marks the 114th anniversary of Labor Day as an official America holiday, originally established by Congress in 1894 to honor the social and economic achievements of the American workforce. In the culture at large, Labor Day also has come to mark the official end of summer, the last chance to get away for a little vacation before the beginning of the busy fall season.
Today we want to very briefly look at what our faith understands about labor and work. In the Christian faith, what we find is that work, in the ordinary sense of the everyday, routine labor by which we earn our daily bread, our livelihood and the means to sustain our life, is regarded as both normal and inevitable, a part of God’s created order of things in the world.
In both the Old and New Testaments, productive labor is strongly encouraged. In the Old Testament book of Proverbs 10:4, for example, we read, “Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth”. The biblical writers did not think of labor as degrading, undesirable, or something to be escaped from. Unlike the ancient Greeks, who tended to think of working as beneath the dignity of a citizen gentleman, leaving it for slaves and other inferior people to do, the Jewish people looked upon daily work as a normal part of the divine ordering of the world, and no person was to be exempt from it.