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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
September 5, 1999
In view that tomorrow is Labor Day, I thought it would be fitting to speak on the subject of "Honorable Labor" today.
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. Congress gave approval to Labor Day in the U.S. 1894, but here it gives both the "working" class and management a break from their labor. We celebrate it on the first Monday in September to reject any identification with Socialists or Communists.
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, or at least 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. Recall that this chapter tells the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden and that fateful day when Eve was deceived by the serpent resulting in her eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which God had commanded them not to eat (Gen 2:17). Eve then gave the fruit to Adam and he ate of it resulting in all mankind plunging into sin through him (Rom. 5).
As a result of their sins, Adam and Eve were forced to leave the Garden of Eden and God placed a curse on the serpent and upon Eve for their part in the fall of mankind (Genesis 3:14-16). God also placed a curse on Adam and the ground. Genesis 3:17-19 says, ""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 shall return".
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 curse.
On the North-East side of the parking lot is my garden. You look at it and see the plants. I look at it and think of a lot of sweat. I look out and see a lot of sweat. It takes sweat to till the ground even with the help of a roto-tiller. It also took a lot of sweat to keep the roto-tiller running. It took sweat to prepare the ground for the seed, then more sweat to plant the seed, and then more sweat to fertilize the seed. Finally the plants I want came up and start growing. That is the curse of labor. It is not just the toil of laboring hard and sweating, it is fighting against a cursed earth.
My garden plants start growing, but so did a lot of plants I do not want. Any of you who have planted gardens have probably noticed that it takes work to get the plant you want growing, but the weeds come up all by themselves. What I planted this year has not done that well because of the drought. I never even got the lettuce, carrots or Brussel Sprouts to come up, but the weeds are doing great.
I have also noticed that in those years when there is a good amount of rain, I find there are a lot of insects and plant diseases that attack my garden plants. But there are weeds that grow great in those conditions and are not bothered by the insects and plant diseases. And so it is that regardless of drought or rain, it takes work to get my garden plants to grow well, but the weeds to great on their own.
Such is the curse of labor. We can labor hard and still find that there may be little 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 only gain sorrow and grief for the satisfaction you labor 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 cannot be taken with you, and worse yet, all of it may 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. This is all part of the curse upon man.
This same theme is found in other scriptures. For example, Psalm 90:10 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 labor but also of misery, travail, trouble and sorrow.
An interesting thing I discovered in preparing this message was Gen 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 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 perhaps 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. Your children and mine can break in five minutes what takes you hour to put together!
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 have dominion over the earth. His first task was 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.
Even in Solomon’s negative state he saw that labor was good too. Eccl. 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 (Eccl 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 shame 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 Thess 3:10).
We live in a society that has lost much of its Puritan work ethic which is one of the many legacies given to this nation by its Christian forefathers that made this country great. The Puritans succeeded in this land because they understood that 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 Break.’"
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
First, consider that even as a child Jesus was busy about the business of learning. The Apostle John 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." The labor of a child is to learn and grow.
Second, consider 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. I can report from first hand experience that 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.
Third, consider 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 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. There are plenty of times that I am very tired after the morning services. Jesus also would get very tired from His ministries.
In Matthew 8:24 we find Jesus so tired that He was asleep in a boat that was in the middle of 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 is His example 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? Is it to be a teacher or a preacher? It may be that, but the work of the Lord is much more diverse than that. Part of working for the Lord includes using the specific gift or gifts with which the Lord has equipped you with to serve Him. 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 Cor 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 it says in Eph 4:12, "for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ."
Are you using the gift or gifts that God has given you? It does not matter what particular gift that is. Whether it is teaching, or helping, or organizing things, or showing compassion and mercy, every gift is honorable before the Lord. It does not matter how great or small the use of that gift is either. Teaching five year olds or preaching to the whole congregation, cleaning the church or cleaning for a friend in need, going to the hospital to visit someone or simply praying over the phone with someone who is hurting. Each and every gift and however the Lord uses it is work for Him and honorable before Him. There is no work too small, too menial, too insignificant.
We should also take into account that for true Christians, it is really Jesus that is the boss regardless of who signs the paycheck. Eph 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?
Another part of working for the Lord is letting other people see the godly character which has been produced in you by the work of the Holy. 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. Do your words and your actions demonstrate that you belong to Jesus Christ? Can other people see Him in you? This is also part of our labor for the Lord.
Let me 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 says the same thing, "and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds." What you do and say is a reflection of your heart, and if your heart has not been washed and sanctified by the Lord Jesus Christ, then the things you say and do – your works – will manifest themselves in unrighteousness of works that are evil, unloving, unholy. A heart made pure by the Holy Spirit will manifest itself in good works that bring praise to God.
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 whether that is due to some restriction placed upon you, your own death or the Lord’s return. 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 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?
Sermon Study Sheets KIDS CORNER
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) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times the term "Work" and "labor" is used in the sermon. Talk with your parents about the work you are doing now and what kind of work you would like to do when you are an adult. How are you currently working for the Lord?
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What is the origin of Labor Day? What is the curse of labor? How have you personally experienced its curse? How do you relate with Solomon’s words in Ecclesiasties about work? What is the blessing of labor? How have you personally experienced its blessing? Are you thankful for your work? What example of labor did Jesus give to us? As a child? As a young man? In his public ministry? What does it mean to labor for the Lord? What work for Jesus are you doing now? What do you think He wants you to do? Can you labor for the Lord while on the job for a secular employer? How? Are you do that? What is your attitude towards work? Who do you work for? Who is your real boss? Is He pleased with the manner of your work? Memorize Colossians 3:23,24 and share in church next Sunday how that affected your work during the week.
Sermon Notes – 9/5/1999 a.m.
The Curse of Labor
Ecclesiastes 2:10-11; 2:22-23
Ecclesiastes 2:18-21; 6:7
The Blessing of Labor
Genesis 1:28,29; 2:19-20
Ecclesiastes 2:24,25; 3:10-13
The Labor of Our Lord
As a Child
As a Young Man
In His ministry
John 4:34; 5:17; 5:36
The Labor for Our Lord
Matthew 16:27; Revelation 20:13
1 Corinthians 15:58
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