The Dignity of Labor

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As we celebrate Labor Day weekend, I want to remind us of four key concepts about labor we too easily forget.

1. Work brings pleasure into the world.

Ecclesiastes 3:9-13 tells us that a worker should enjoy the fruit of his labor.
“What profit has the worker from that in which he labors?  I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God.”

When we experience some legitimate pleasure, we are eating the fruit of someone’s labor. When we sit down to an enjoyable meal at home or in a restaurant, we enjoy the fruit of labor.  When we sit to enjoy a sporting match, we enjoy the fruit of someone’s labor. When we sit to take in a concert, we enjoy the fruit of someone’s labor.  There is nothing like eating a fresh chocolate chip cookie my daughter baked, while I watch my son cut the grass!

2. Work alleviates pain.

 When we go about God’s business of destroying the works of the devil, we help a lot of hurting people.  When God’s people serve in hospitals, nursing homes, repair shops, agriculture, and hundreds of other noble occupations, they are doing much to alleviate pain around the world.  Jesus denounced the Pharisees for their rebuke of healing on the Sabbath.  He appealed to the power of work to alleviate suffering, “You hypocrites! Each of you works on the Sabbath day! Don’t you untie your ox or your donkey from its stall on the Sabbath and lead it out for water?  This dear woman, a daughter of Abraham, has been held in bondage by Satan for eighteen years. Isn’t it right that she be released, even on the Sabbath?” Luke 13:15-17

3. Work brings meaning to our lives. 

God worked and called it good.  When we do good work, it brings meaning to our lives.  Chuck Colson, in his book, “Why America Doesn’t Work,” he shares a story about the Nazi concentration camps in Hungary during World War II.  The camp guards would have the men move piles of rocks from one place to another each day.  The work was completely meaningless.  He writes,

“The futile labor continued, and in the days that followed dozens of prisoners went mad and ran from their work, only to be shot by the guards or electrocuted by the fence. Their captors didn’t care, of course. Indeed the commandant of the camp had ordered this monstrous activity as an ‘experiment in mental health’ to see what would happen when people were given meaningless work.  After seeing the results, he smugly remarked that at this rate there soon would be “no more need to use the crematoria.”  

We were created for rulership.  That’s why people without lives become busybodies – if they are not actively involved in partnering with God in their calling, ruling their part of the world for God, they will look to rule other people’s lives.

4. Work is not a curse but rather a partnership with the Divine – Worship

Ephesians 6:7 tells us to, “Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free.” God designed us to live and work as co-laborers with Him.  We messed up this partnership by turning away from God.  This introduced the curse.  The curse is not the field, the curse is the thorn.  The curse is not the machine but rather the sand in the gears. God worked and is still working. Humans are created in God’s image, which means we are workers.  We are created to cultivate and exercise dominion.

In the Jewish culture of the Bible and even today, work and a trade plays an important role.  The word for work and the word for worship are the same word: Avodah. Jewish Rabbi’s would have the education of a college professor and yet they would have a trade.  The father would say, “If you don’t teach your son a trade, you teach him to steal.”

In the Greek culture of the New Testament, it was not like that.  They thought work was a curse of the gods.  Their word for work came from a Latin word for “punishment” (ponos).  They had a two layered view of work. The first layer consisted of manual labor meant for slaves and the tradesmen, the second higher level was for the thinkers and rulers.

Christianity changed all this.  Christianity brought dignity back to labor. Christianity was always a working man’s faith. Jesus was a carpenter and a Rabbi.  Rabbi Paul, brilliantly educated, but also a man of trade

If work loses this vertical dimension, it will degenerate into predictable patterns.  We will return to the Greek dualistic stratification that we have seen arise in communism. We will have corruption in the marketplace as those in power fail to remember that to whom much is given, much will be required.  Without the awareness that we are working with and for God to bring blessing to the world through our labor, we see the exploitation of labor, stealing from employers, and jealousy of those who have more than us.

Labor is so fruitful, I coach those who are unemployed to serve somewhere.  It brings them a positive momentum that attracts employers.  If they sit around and collect unemployment without serving, they lose this momentum and the opportunity for blessing and meaning.  God created us to work.  And work brings meaning, blessing and beneficial resources to our lives!

For more on work and wealth creation see my website —

The Secret to Success: The Farmer’s Tan

farmers_tan_3I live in a beach community. I spent three summers as a life-guard at a public beach. I watched people come out and enjoy the sun and the surf. I loved it!  When I was in high-school, our spring break corresponded with the end of winter. Those who could afford it, went on a pilgrimage to a southern state for the week. When school started again, nothing said, “You’ve arrived” like the bronzed skin of those who migrated south of the Mason Dixon line. However, now that I’ve got a few more miles under my belt, I’ve come to value a different kind of tan – the farmers tan! Yes! When I see a young person take off their shirt on the beach and it looks like they still have a light colored shirt on, I say to myself – “There’s a kid I can admire.”

I’ve come to see the farmer’s tan as a symbol of something increasingly rare – work ethic. Not that you can’t get a great tan and have a great work ethic. I admit these two are not mutually exclusive; yet I’m worried about what is perceived as cool. Each culture throughout history has created a narrative around the tan. At one time, a pastie white complexion was sought after; for only those poor enough to work in the field had tans. Now, those wealthy enough to take extended time away from work can hang out on the beach and show off their bronzed bodies. Our nation has prospered enough that we don’t all have to produce. In fact, our status among our peers is often not how much we produce, but how much we consume. When I see a farmers tan I say, “Now there goes a producer.”

John learned to work on cars as a young man. He and his dad spent hours learning to add value to broken automobiles. He sports a great farmer’s tan. A year out of high-school Mercedes Benz is sending him to school as he is one of their shining stars. He will soon be one of their most sought after technicians. And I would not be surprised if I saw him driving one soon.

Aiden was one of my flight students. He learned to fly while still in high-school. He purchased fractional ownership in a plane and regularly wrote me $100 checks – as a senior in high-school. As long as I could remember, he had one of the greatest farmer’s tans. He earned his tan through many hours cutting the lawns. When you get on a plane to fly you somewhere, don’t be surprised to see this kid in the cockpit.

Cal has a tan only a vampire would love. He has earned this coveted status symbol by working two jobs, starting a social marketing business and going to college. At 18, he started an IRA, paid for a year of college and spent a semester studying in Beijing, China. I hope he buys me an island one day so I can open a school teaching the next generation what a real tan looks like.

If you know a kid with a great two-toned tan; tell him or her, “Way to go! We need more of you in our country!”

For more on economic prosperity and poverty reduction see.