Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
As all of you are well aware, tomorrow is Labor Day in the
U.S. and so it would seem to be a fitting time to talk about
work. Is labor a curse or a blessing?
I could not find in any of my books a definitive history of
the origin of Labor Day in the U.S., but the idea internationally
has been traced to a socialist named Robert Owen who declared
that May 1, 1833 was the beginning of the millennium. He was
quite wrong, but being wrong does not stop a lot of people from
saying stupid things. The first observance of a Labor Day was in
Paris on May 1, 1889. The reason for the May Day celebrations in
communist countries is related to this same theme of the
promotion and honor of the working people. In the U.S. the
celebration of the day not only gives the "working"
class a break from their labor, but management people as well.
Now work is one of those things we have a love – hate
relationship with. As one person put it, "Work is
something that when we have it, we wish we didn’t, and when we
don’t have it, we wish we did." That probably says more
about the nature of man than the nature of work. Another fellow
said, "When it comes to work, there are many who will
stop at nothing." Think about that for a minute!
Why such a love and hate for work? Why is it when we labor
hard we dream about when we can take a vacation, and yet, as
Anatole France put it, "Man is so made that he can only
find relaxation from one kind of labor by taking up
another." For some of us, by the time our vacations are
over we are looking forward to getting back to work so that we
can get some rest!
Labor has two sides to it. We find in the Scriptures that
there is one aspect of it we hate because it reminds us, or at
least it should remind us, of the curse that all mankind is under
because of Adam’s sin. Yet, at the same time, there is a side of
work that can be called nothing other than a blessing from God.
This morning I want to look at both the curse and blessing of
labor as well as take a quick look at the labor of our Lord for
us, and the labor we should do for our Lord.
THE CURSE OF LABOR
The curse of labor arises from Genesis 3. If you will recall,
this chapter tells the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of
Eden and the fateful day when Eve was deceived by the serpent
resulting in her eating the fruit of the one tree God had
commanded man not to eat from, the tree of the knowledge of good
and evil, which was in the midst of the Garden (Gen 2:17).
Mankind was not cursed because of Eve’s sin, but because Adam
took of the fruit that she gave him, and ate of it. Eve was
deceived, but Adam was not. Our sinful nature comes from Adam,
not Eve (see Rom. 5).
As a result of their sins, Adam and Eve were forced to leave
the Garden of Eden. Verses 14-16 tells us of God’s curse on the
serpent and upon Eve for their part in the fall of mankind.
Verses 17-19 tells us God’s curse on Adam because of his sin.
"17 And to Adam he said, Because you have listened to
the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I
commanded you saying, You shall not eat of it: ‘Cursed be the
ground because of you; In toil you shall you eat of it all the
days of your life; 18 Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for
you; and you shall eat the plants of the field; 19 By the sweat
of your face you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground;
Because from it you were taken. For you are dust; and to dust you
This is the curse of labor. Ever since Adam, man has had to
earn his living by the sweat of his face while fighting against a
cursed earth. Remember Adam and Eve had been in the Garden of
Eden where they took care of the garden, but that did not require
the kind of sweat that gardening requires now. They also did not
have to contend with weeds like we do now. Let me tell you about
a little first hand experience I have had dealing with this
Most years I have a decent size garden on the other side of
the parking lot. Most years people will tell me that I have a
nice garden. It is pleasant to look at a well ordered garden full
of good things to eat. This year I decided I would not plant a
garden. The major reason being that I did not want to be gone so
long and come back to a garden full of weeds. I enjoy gardening,
but it is a lot of sweat. It takes sweat to till the ground. It
takes sweat to plant the seed and fertilize the soil. And after
my seed comes up, so do a lot of other plants I do not want.
Those of you who garden are aware that it can be quite a struggle
to get the plant you want strong and healthy, while weeds come up
strong and healthy regardless of what you do. Over the years I
have noticed that if it is dry, my garden plants struggle to make
it, but there are weeds that do exceptionally well in dry
weather. When it is too wet, like this year, many of my crop
plants struggle to produce a decent yield, but those same
conditions produce a bumper crop of certain weeds!
That is the curse of labor. It is not just the toil of
laboring hard and sweating. It is fighting against a cursed
earth. It is laboring hard and finding that you may have little
or nothing to show for it.
Such is the meaning behind so many verses in Ecclesiastes in
which Solomon laments the vanity of life when it is lived apart
from God. Consider some of his statements and see how fitting
they are when we look at our own labor: 2:10 "And
whatsoever my eyes desired I kept nothing from them: I did not
withhold from my heart any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my
labor, and this was my portion from all my labor. 11 Then I
looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the
labor that it had cost me to do [them]; and behold, all was
vanity and pursuit of the wind, and there was no profit under the
sun. (Ecclesiastes 2 DBY) – 2:22,23 "For what has man
for all of his labor, and of the vexation of his heart, in which
he has labored under the sun? 23 For all his days [are] sorrows,
and his labor grief; yet, his heart takes no rest in the night.
This is also vanity."
You work hard and gain sorrow and grief for the satisfaction
it brings is brief. "All the labor of man is for his
mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled" (Ecclesiastes 6:7
DBY). That is a pretty good description of our labor. No
matter how much we may achieve, there is this feeling that it is
not enough, there is more to do, more to achieve, more to
accomplish. Our satisfaction is brief. That is part of the curse.
In addition, what you do gain by your labor can not be taken
with you, and worse yet, it may all be left to a fool. 18 And
I hated all my labor wherewith I had been toiling under the sun,
because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. 19
And who knows whether he will be a wise [man] or a fool? yet
shall he have rule over all my labor at which I have labored, and
wherein I have been wise under the sun. This also is vanity. 20
"Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all
the labor which I took under the sun. 21 For there is a man whose
labor [is] in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a
man that hath not labored in it shall he leave it [for] his
portion. This also [is] vanity and a great evil" (Eccl.
2:18-21). This is all part of the curse upon man.
This same theme is found in other scriptures as well, for
example Psalm 90:10 which says, "As for the days of our
years, in them are seventy years; and if by reason of strength
[they are] eighty years, yet [is] their strength labor and
sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away." The
Hebrew word here for labor not only carries the idea of exertion,
but also of misery, travail and trouble.
An interesting thing I discovered in preparing this message
was Genesis 5:29 which records Noah’s father Lamech saying, "And
he called his name Noah, saying, This [one] shall comfort us
concerning our work and concerning the toil of our hands, because
of the ground which Jehovah has cursed." In some fashion
Lamech saw in Noah, which means "rest" or
"comfort," hope to overcome the curse of labor. I do
not know how Lamech thought Noah was supposed to fulfill that
hope, but it certainly demonstrates that the pre-flood world also
understood the curse of sin upon labor.
All of us are also personally well acquainted with the curse
of labor. The satisfaction of it all is temporary, you cannot
take it with you, someone else reaps the benefit of all your
work, or you labor hard just to see all your hard work come to
nothing. How many times have you worked on some project only to
have the boss cancel the whole thing? Or you put something
together and see it break the first time you try it. I often
think children’s toys are purposely made to illustrate this
point. Children can break in five minutes what it takes a parent
an hour to make!
The curse of sin has made labor vexation, toil, grief and full
of sorrow. But not all labor is that way, for we find that there
is yet a shadow of God’s original design in labor because it is
also a blessing.
THE BLESSING OF LABOR
One of the things we should keep in mind about Adam and Eve in
the Garden of Eden, is the fact that Adam was busy with work from
the first day of his life. Genesis 1:28,29 records Adam’s job
description. "And God blessed them; and God said to them,
Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and
have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the
heavens, and over every animal that moves on the earth. 29 And
God said, Behold, I have given you every herb producing seed that
is on the whole earth, and every tree in which is the fruit of a
tree producing seed: it shall be food for you." Gen
2:19,20 records Adam’s initial task in fulfilling his
responsibility – 19 And out of the ground Jehovah Elohim had
formed every animal of the field and all fowl of the heavens, and
brought [them] to Man, to see what he would call them; and
whatever Man called each living soul, that was its name. And Man
gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the heavens, and to
every beast of the field…"
Adam’s primary job was to rule over the earth with the first
task being to name all the animals. Included within this
responsibility was the oversight of the Garden of Eden. There was
work to do in the Garden of Eden, and it was good for Adam to do
it. Scripture also talks about the value and importance of labor
and of doing a job well done.
Even in Solomon’s negative state he saw that labor was good
too. Ecclesiastes 2:24 "There is nothing better for man,
but that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his
soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw, that it was from
the hand of God. 25 For who can eat, or who can have enjoyment
without Him?" Solomon recognized that while the curse of
sin had made labor difficult and without the rewards that could
have been there, yet labor was the gift of God to men – "
I have seen the task which God has given the sons of men with
which to occupy their time. He has made everything appropriate in
its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that
man will not find out the work which God has done from the
beginning even to the end. I know that there is nothing better
for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime;
moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his
labor – it is the gift of God (Ecclesiastes 3:10-13)."
We also need to recognize that the work we have is given to us
by God, and we should thank Him for it. There is no disgrace in
honest work. There is disgrace in dishonest gain and in idleness.
Work is the remedy for a host of maladies including poverty,
sickness and melancholy. The Apostle Paul said that those who
would not provide for their own families were worse than
infidels. He also said that those who unwilling to work should
not eat ( 2 Thessalonians 3:10).
We live in a society that is quickly losing its Puritan work
ethic, which is one of the many legacies given to this nation by
its Christian forefathers. That work ethic made this country
great. The Puritans succeeded in this land because they
understood God desired them to be diligent workers. They did not
work to succeed, but succeeded because they worked. George
Fuermann reports the following notice seen at a company.
"To all employees: Due to increased competition and a
desire to stay in business, we find it necessary to institute a
new policy. We are asking that somewhere between starting and
quitting time, and without infringing too much on the time
usually devoted to Lunch Periods, Coffee Breaks, Rest Periods,
Story Telling, Ticket Selling, Vacation Planning and the
re-hashing of yesterday’s TV programs, each employee endeavor to
find some time that can be set aside and known as the ‘Work
Labor is the gift of God. We should be thankful for it and
endeavor to please the Lord as we do it. Jesus even set that
example for us by His own labor.
THE LABOR OF OUR LORD
Consider first that even as a child Jesus was busy about the
business of learning. Luke comments after the incident in which
Jesus at twelve years old was in the temple answering and asking
questions of the teachers there – "And Jesus kept
increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and
men" (Luke 2:52).
Consider second that prior to His entry into public ministry
all indications are that Jesus was involved in the family
carpentry business. My father worked as a carpenter while I was
growing up. I remember going out on jobs with him, and carpentry
is a lot of labor! Think about it, Jesus spent the bulk of His
life on earth in skilled labor! That is quite a testimony to us
about the importance of work.
Consider third that Jesus worked hard during His public
ministry. We tend to think of ministry as not much labor, but the
Scripture’s description of His ministry includes a lot of labor.
It was His habit to get up before sunrise and go off by Himself
to pray. He traveled all over the nation, and almost always by
walking from place to place. He was busy healing people of their
diseases and sickness, casting out demons and teaching and
preaching from place to place. I can tell you that preaching can
be exhausting. By Sunday night, I am usually quite weary from the
day’s labor in ministry. Jesus also would get very tired
from His ministries.
In Matthew 8:24 we find that Jesus was so tired that He was
asleep in a boat that was in the middle of a lake during a storm!
In Mark 6 we find Him trying to get away to a lonely place with
His disciples in order to get some rest. Verse 31 tells us that
they had been kept so busy that they had not even had time enough
to even eat!
Jesus demonstrated in His own life the value and importance of
labor and work. But more important than the work being done was
the person Jesus was laboring for. Jesus said in John 4:34, "My
food is that I should do the will of Him that has sent me, and
that I should finish His work." Jesus was here to do the
will of God and His work, or as Jesus said in John 5:17, "But
Jesus answered them, My Father works until now and I work."
Jesus’ works were a testimony that He was indeed from God the
Father, "But I have the witness [that is] greater than
[that] of John; for the works which the Father has given me that
I should complete them, the works themselves which I do, bear
witness concerning me that the Father has sent me (John 5:36).
Jesus’ example shows that work in itself is good, but even
more so, His example is that work done in fulfilling God’s will
is good. We are to be laborers for the Lord.
THE LABOR FOR OUR LORD
What do I mean by laboring for the Lord? Well, it begins by
becoming a true Christian and putting your trust in Jesus alone
for salvation from sin and its effects. Jesus said in John
6:27-29, "Work not [for] the food which perishes, but
[for] the food which abides unto life eternal, which the Son of
man shall give to you; for him has the Father sealed, [even] God.
28 They said therefore to him, What should we do that we may work
the works of God? 29 Jesus answered and said to them, This is the
work of God, that you believe on Him whom He has sent."
What labor for the Lord should we be doing? It begins with
attitude and work ethic. We are to demonstrate our godly
character by how we live and what we do in all situations. Jesus
said to us, "Let your light thus shine before men, so
that they may see your righteous works, and glorify your Father
who is in the heavens" (Matt. 5:16). Do your words and
your actions demonstrate that you belong to Jesus Christ? Can
other people see Him in you? That is the starting point of our
labor for the Lord.
Our laboring for the Lord is to take place wherever we are
employed. For true Christians, it is really Jesus that is the
boss regardless of who signs the paycheck. Ephesians 6:6,7 "Servants,
be obedient to them that are [your] masters according to the
flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as
unto Christ; Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the
servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart."
Regardless of who employs you, Jesus is really the one you are
working for. Are you laboring in a manner worthy of Him?
Then there is the laboring for the Lord in whatever specific
ministry that the Lord equips us to do. Romans 12, 1 Corinthians
12 and Ephesians 4 all talk about the gifts God has given to true
Christians so that they might serve Him. 1 Corinthians 12:7,11
tell us that each of us is gifted according to God’s will as
distributed by the Holy Spirit. The purpose of these spiritual
gifts is, as 1 Corinthians. 12:7 states, "the
manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." They
are given, as Ephesians 4:12 states, "for the work
of service, to the building up of the body of
Are you using the gift or gifts that God has given you? It
does not matter what particular gift that is. It could be
teaching, or helping, or organizing things, showing compassion
and mercy, or one of many other things. Every gift is honorable
before the Lord. It does not matter how great or small the use of
that gift is either. It is service to the Lord whether it is
teaching five year olds or preaching to the whole congregation;
cleaning the church or cleaning for a friend; doing hospital
visitation or simply praying over the phone with someone who is
hurting. Each and every gift and ministry the Lord uses is work
for Him and honorable before Him. There is no work too small, too
menial, too insignificant.
Let me also be clear that your works are very important, for
it will be by them that you will be judged. In Matt 16:27 Jesus
says, "For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his
Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man
according to his works." Revelation 20:13 applies this
in condemnation of the unsaved saying, "and they were
judged, every one of them according to their deeds." The
Christian will also have their works judged, though not for the
purposes of condemnation as with the unbeliever. 1 Corinthians.
3:12-15 states, "Now if any man builds upon the
foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,
13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it,
because it is [to be] revealed with fire; and the fire itself
will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work
which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. 15
If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he
himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire." There
are several rewards that God will give to those that faithfully
serve Him in different capacities (cf. James 1:12; 1 Corinthians
9:24-27; 1 Thessalonians 2:19,20; 2 Timothy 4:5-8; 1 Peter
What you do and say is a reflection of your heart. Jesus said
that "the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.
35 "The good man out of [his] good treasure brings forth
what is good; and the evil man out of [his] evil treasure brings
forth what is evil" (Mt. 12:34,35). If your heart has
not been washed and sanctified by the Lord Jesus Christ, then
your evil heart will reveal itself in the things you say and do,
evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false
witness, slanders, etc. (Matt. 15:18). A heart made pure by the
Holy Spirit will manifest itself in good works that bring praise
One last thing, don’t put off your labor. Jesus said in John
9:4, "I must work the works of him that sent me, while it
is day: the night comes, when no man can work." You do
not know when you will no longer be able to labor for the Lord.
You do not know then the Lord will return, and you do not know
when you will die. The time is always short. Are you making the
most of the time you have?
The curse of sin has left a negative aspect to labor. We work
hard and sweat and find it is a constant battle against all sorts
of problems. The fruits of labor are short lived at best and
sometimes are even completely worthless. That is all part of the
curse of sin.
But Labor is also a good thing. It is a gift from God by which
we earn our living, enable ourselves to serve others, and with
which we serve God. Jesus Christ Himself set the example for us
to work, both physically and spiritually. The most important
aspect of our labor is to keep in mind is that Jesus is our boss,
and regardless of what job we have, it is really Him that we
ultimately serve, and we should be "Therefore, my beloved
brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the
work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in
vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:58)
Are you working for yourself, for your boss, for some company,
or for Jesus?
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your
children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children –
draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon.
Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older
Children : Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many
times "labor" or "work" are said. 2) Discuss
with your parents how they feel about their jobs, what they think
of the Lord’s labor, and how you can labor for the Lord.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others:
What is the origin of "Labor Day"? What is its purpose?
What do you usually do during this holiday? How do you feel about
your work? Why? What is the "curse of labor"? What is
its origin? How does this curse affect your life? What are your
thoughts about the each of the following passages of Scripture:
Ecclesiastes 2:10-11; 2:22,23; 6:7; 2:18-21 and Psalm 90:10. What
is the blessing of labor? What are your thoughts about
Adam’s first work – Genesis 1:28,29; 2:19,20. Do you agree
or disagree with Solomon’s statements about labor in
Ecclesiastes 2:24,25 & 3:10-13? Why or why not? What should
be done with those unwilling to work – 2
Thessalonians 3:10? What is the puritan work ethic? What effect
did it have on our nation? What labor did Jesus do while on
earth? – While a child? While living with His parents and
siblings? During His public ministry? How did such labor affect
him? What labor is He doing now? What is the first work you
should do for the Lord? How can you work for the Lord even if you
are employed at a secular job? What spiritual gift as the Lord
given you? If you do not know, what are you doing to find out
(talk with the Pastor after the service). How does your ministry
fit in with all the other ministries at church? How will the Lord
judge your works in the end? How does your work reflect your
heart? If you need to make changes in your life, what are they?
And when will you make those changes?
Sermon Notes – August 31, 2003
Labor: Curse or Blessing
The Curse Of Labor
The Blessing of Labor
The Labor of Our Lord
As a Child
As a Carpenter
The Labor for Our Lord