Ask any secular American what Labor Day means to them, and he or she will likely say that it’s one last opportunity to relax and party at the end of the summer. Ask any Christian American, and he or she will likely say the same.
Even though Labor Day is a secular holiday, the idea is a good one, and Christians have more reason to celebrate it than anyone else.
Labor Day was first deemed a national holiday in 1984 by President Grover Cleveland. At the time, the country was in the midst of an economic depression. Hundreds of thousands of workers nationwide went on strike. To appease the labor unions and honor the American workforce, President Cleveland signed legislation declaring Labor Day be celebrated across the country with a long weekend and a break from all labor.
But we should not celebrate Labor Day as a symbol of the radical labor movement, nor should we minimize it as a mere opportunity to party. Instead, we should realize that this holiday gives us the opportunity to celebrate God’s creation of the world as a place where businesses and workplaces exist; we should be thankful for the responsibility he places on our shoulders to work rather than mooch; and we should honor the Son’s own labors on the cross to save us from our sin.
The real reason we have a “Labor” Day
As believers in Christ, we find profound significance in labor. In the Bible’s creation account, the opening scene depicts God at work. It begins with God working: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). And it ends with God working: “By the seventh day, God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day, he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it, he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Gen 2:2-3).
What’s more, smack dab in the middle of the creation account, we learn that God created human beings to work. He tells Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply,” which means that humans are to build families and societies. And, He tells them to “till the soil” and “have dominion,” meaning that we are supposed to work hard and manage God’s good world so that we can provide for the families and societies we have created.
What is clear from the very beginning of God’s Word is that work is not a curse but rather a good purpose through which humanity lives out a life of obedient worship to God. While work, service, and worship do not share the same connotation in modern English, the same word — avodah — is frequently used for each of these concepts in the Hebrew Scripture. “Work” and “worship” are two translations of the same word (Genesis 2:15). As Tom Nelson notes in his book, “Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work,” work and worship are not separate activities but are seamlessly integrated. Not only that but this relationship between work and worship is understood in the context of genuine liberation, as opposed to menial slavery.
The Bible’s opening scene also underscores the importance of rest and leisure. God himself rested after working, and he expects us to do the same through natural rhythms such as sleep and a divinely ordained day of rest, Sunday.
If God is the one who commands us to rest after our labors, we should take heed. There is no honor in working relentlessly, with no rest, merely for the sake of wealth accumulation or some other motivation. But there is honor in working hard and then resting seriously. After all, God himself rested after his six days of creation. If rest is good enough for God, it should be good enough for us, too.
Labor Day in an eternal perspective
While Labor Day is a time of celebration and rest, it also serves as a reminder of our eternal hope in Christ. As Christians, we believe that our labor in this world is not in vain, for it is building treasures in Heaven.
After all, Jesus labored on our behalf 2,000 years ago, as He gave his life on the cross. Through his redemptive labor, he gave us his name, “Innocent One,” and in return took upon himself our name, “Guilty One.” Because of his faithful labor, we have been set free.
May we never lose this eternal perspective. If we keep it in mind, it will transform our understanding of work and Labor Day itself. It fills us with gratitude. And, it instills in us a sense of purpose and dedication to our daily tasks, knowing that our labor is contributing to God’s Kingdom and will be rewarded in the life to come.
Dr. Rob Pacienza is Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, President of Coral Ridge Ministries and Founder of the Institute for Faith and Culture.
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