Monday is Labor Day. A holiday marked more by sales and the end of summer, than on its origins in labor. A true justice perspective on Labor Day examines both the social and Biblical messages on labor.
A social perspective on Labor Day
Labor Day originated as a federal holiday in 1894. The purpose was to recognize the importance of organized labor. As industrialization began, labor movements advanced the health, safety and fair wages of workers.
The Bible echoes this concern for the fair treatment of workers:
“Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.” James 5:4.
Labor Day is a holiday to give workers rest. In the late 19th and early 20th century this was critical as conditions were harsh and hours unregulated. The average workweek in 1890 was 100 hours. Not until 1916 did we adopt an eight hour work day.
While we’ve come a long way we remain the most overworked developed nation. At least 134 nations have laws setting the maximum length of the work week. The U.S. does not. Consequently we work 137 hours more than Japanese workers, 260 hours more than British workers, and 499 hours more than French workers. This doesn’t make us better. It makes us more stressed.
The Bible has much to say about rhythms of rest. Jesus encouraged us to not chase after the building of bigger barns (Luke 13: 13-21) or worry about money (Luke 13: 22-32). By sharp contrast he told us:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Mt. 11:28
A Biblical perspective on Labor Day
The Bible reflects social concern for workers. A biblical understanding of work also reflects the greater purpose of work. I reviewed this deeper application in a recent blog, What is the role of prayer in my business?
The Hebrew word for work is “Avodah” which is also translated as service and worship. Our work is intended to serve others and glorify God. We fail in that when we take advantage of others or cut corners in business. On the flip side Christian business leaders in the 3rd and 4th century by leading in the fair treatment of workers were a key factor in how Christianity changed the world.
We often over spiritualize Paul’s statement in I Cor. 15:58,
“Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
The context is living in light of eternity and how the gospel should change our perspective and our work. We work unto the Lord (Col. 3:23) but we work in expectation of a coming Kingdom.
The Eternal Perspective
Dr. Tony Evans just released a powerful CD series on The Eternal Perspective. His premise is that our expectations affect our behavior. Consider what he says,
“If you expect to become a doctor, I would assume medical school is part of your future. If you wish to become an Olympic track medalist, you should also expect a lot of physical training along the way…Christians have been blessed in many ways by God, including the free gift of salvation, which paves the way for us to spend eternity with Him. However, many believers today are not focused on the life that is to come; they are too busy focusing on the life they are currently living.”
A Kingdom perspective requires us to live the values of that kingdom. And the foundation of the throne of heaven is justice. We must not be so focused on our needs that we miss the blessing of serving others. God wants us to do justice in and through our work. Our deeds of justice go before us from our labor.
Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” Rev. 14:13
Open the Gates for Justice and Hope
On Friday, October 4 at Drury Lane Dr. Tony Evans will be launching a campaign to Open the Gates for justice and hope for all. Generous business leaders have already provided $237,000 in sponsorship. Each dollar given in advance helps advance the kingdom of justice for one of the least of these.
Last weekend I was volunteering in a newly opened gospel justice center in North Lawndale. North Lawndale is poor but this small church is making a difference. I met with Mary who is 81 with limited education and can barely see because of glaucoma. Mary helped her daughter by signing a car loan. The daughter defaulted but the finance company is suing Mary and she could not understand what was happening. There was no way to tell what was owed. She needed a bill of particulars, answer and appearance which are all things a lawyer like myself understands, but not an 81 year old disabled grandma.
I was able to pray with Mary, connect her with the church, and prepare her documents so we can cut through what is happening. The church is helping Mary and reaching out to the daughter. They will continue to walk alongside her while receiving expert coaching from myself or other volunteer attorneys.
On Friday I was leading training for two more churches in the city who will open their doors to open the gates for justice and hope. Your support makes this possible. Please join us on October 4. The event is free and an opportunity to support the work of justice will be provided.