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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
August 31, 2003
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 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.
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 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
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 Christ.”
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 5:2-4).
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 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. 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
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