It's Labor Day: May We Labor With Love, With All Christ's Energy In Us
I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a five or six year old daughter working 12 hours a day. I can’t fathom what it would be like to send her into a textile factory, at daybreak with a teeny lunch in a kerchief, knowing she wouldn’t emerge until sundown. I can’t wrap my mind around what it would be like to work my own fingers to the bone, all while my sweet girl runs in and out of looms, ducking low, then jumping high to stay out of the way of rudimentary machinery.
But such was life for the average American 125 years ago when the United States witnessed our first Labor Day. It was then, in the late 1800s, that Americans first began protesting, demanding higher wages and fewer working hours. They had labored so, with the rise of the industrial revolution, giving 12 hours a day, six days a week, children and adults alike, to earn just enough money to get by.
They were dark days—marked by tenement housing, spreading disease, citywide fires, alcoholism, orphanages. Labor Day acknowledged the toil of the American worker and offered (lamely, I can’t help think) a day off.
Forced to Labor
But I live now, in 2019, in the land of plenty and ease. My children’s only labor is to babysit once in awhile, dog-sit here and there, and help keep our own household running. My labor is light too. I sit at a desk, in an ergonomic chair, type and speak words across the internet, and visit my fridge whenever hunger or boredom or writer’s block strikes.
We drive (in an SUV with AC) to the grocery store and scavenge food from shelves. The girls gawk at the chandelier in the pediatrician’s foyer every time we go in for well checkups. I pop an Advil as needed and turn the hose on my grass to keep it green. My days bear zero resemblance to my ancestors’ four or five generations ago.
Many do still live like that, though. People the world over still toil day in and day out just to survive. The day laborer in Latin America. The diamond miner in southern Africa. The garment weaver in southeast Asia. The migrant worker in North America. The brick maker in south Asia. The assembly line worker in the far east. The kidnapped sex worker in eastern Europe.
Even now, in the 21st century, there are more than 40 million men, women, boys, and girls who are exploited and abused as slaves. This too is so hard for me to wrap my mind around.
What’s it like to be a mom in a mine, a kiln, a brothel? Lord, have mercy.
Free to Labor
But I am free. So very free. I was born in a time and a place and into a family and skin color and socioeconomic status where I am glutted on opportunities and ease and safety and comfort. I can do so many things, run in so many directions, accomplish so many tasks.
My freedom, though, is not just of this world. It’s not just political and financial and physical. I have a freedom that is forever, for eternity. Jesus has set me free and I am free indeed (John 8:36).
You and I who live in the wealthy west and you and I who have been rescued and redeemed by Christ, have been granted freedom many times over. We are free now and we will be free forever. We’ve done nothing to gain these riches. We did not earn our wealth here on earth and we did not earn our sonship in heaven.
We are free. So what will we do?
Labor With Love
Paul said to the Galatians, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). This freedom has been granted that we might use it, not for ourselves, but to love others.
And Peter said to the early church who was persecuted and murdered for their faith, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another…as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:10-11)
Our health and wealth and citizenship and freedom and all that we have is a gift from our God. By the grace of God, we are what we are (1 Corinthians 15:10). And just as we did not conjure all this up ourselves, we are not meant to spend it on ourselves. It is not by us nor for us.
We have been given our freedom and all that we have, that we might love and serve others, in order that God may be glorified, because dominion and glory belong to him alone forever and ever.
Labor With All Christ’s Energy
As the redeemed of Christ, we are not only free, but we are empowered to labor with love. Our freedom allows us to work hard, “though it [is] not [us], but the grace of God that is with [us]” (1 Corinthians 15:10). It is “God [who] is able to make all grace abound to [us], so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, [we] may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).
This freedom and this power provokes us to testify to our good God who rescues, redeems, and empowers. It is “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ,” Paul said, “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:28-29).
Brothers and sisters, may our freedom lead us to labor.
May we serve and love others and proclaim Christ. May our freedom not be in vain. May our rest not go wasted. May our choices and wealth and self-determination lead us right back to the Giver of good gifts. May we walk in gratitude. May we be filled with the Spirit, with his passion and his purposes and his drive, to make him known.
This Labor Day, who can we love? How can we use our freedom for Christ’s sake—both by him and for him? With all his energy, with the strength that God supplies, where can we willingly lay ourselves down?
For us Christians in the United States, today is a a day off. A time for barbecues, back to school sales, the start of the football season, the last day to wear white amongst polite company. But as we break from our labor, may we remember just how free we are—not just here and now, but for all eternity. We are not slaves in this life, nor will we be in the next.
Let’s let Labor Day remind you and me to labor with love, with all Christ’s energy, for his name’s sake.