Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
—1 Corinthians 15.58
We find ourselves less than a week away from Labor Day, the federal holiday that is just over 135 years old … created to celebrate the American labor movement in our nation, and the laborers who have been the backbone of that movement. For most of us, it is a day that turns a regular weekend into the coveted “three-day weekend.” I wonder … do you think much about the word “labor” other than in its most banal usage as the daily grind of the work week?
“Manual labor” typifies the foundation of the labor movement. A phrase that we oft times interpret as work that is ordinary, unskilled, and monotonous. It is the kind of labor that most parents don’t dream about their children embracing as they grow up. But it is a necessary base to most of the “higher callings” that people typically see as more suited to their skilled labor endeavors. And most of us do some of it, if only when taking out the garbage or mowing the lawn. Sometimes “Labor Saving Devices” come into play in this realm, because of our desire to avoid manual labor. Tools and gadgets that save time or effort in what we see as time-consuming tasks at best, and grunt work at worst.
But labor can have other meanings for us, too. Sometimes we describe the things we do for our loved ones — and maybe especially our children and partners — as “Labors of Love.” This “work” communicates the willingness to take on a difficult, or onerous, or gritty task, so as to spare a loved one the need to do it, or as an expression of the love we have for those closest to us. We offer these gladly, and with a sense of joy due to the opportunity to honor, or protect, or ease the labor of those we love. Quite possibly, the highest expression of this kind of selfless labor, comes when the phrase “Labor Pains” is voiced. The surrender the mothers of in our lives accept and embrace so as to bring life to into the world, is quite possibly the highest expression of the word “Labor.” The toll is significant, in many ways changing forever the body of that mother who embraces the highest form of human labor. But it is offered with joy and love for the life that is brought into the world.
God also speaks to us of “labor” in the words of Scripture. Paul’s words, which lead off this devotion, remind us that “labor” is never offered in vain. But that when it is offered as a tribute to the God who has formed us, it becomes holy and valuable to God. So, as you barbeque this coming weekend, or sleep in, or read or watch sports or exercise … know that this secular holiday celebrating labor, has a bit of a crossover to our faith life, which also celebrates the “labor of God” in the world, and the “labor” we engage in on God’s behalf