Labor Day Meditation: The Eternal Value of Good Work

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10)

This past week, one of my meditations from Bonheoffer had to do with work. In his book, No Rusty Swords, he talks about work: “God has called each one of us to do His work in His time.” [1]

In his later years, Bonheoffer came to realize the importance of lay ministry and the ministry of the people of God in the world. In commenting on the passage I just quoted,  Charles Ringma, says, “We are not simply to be guardians of the good things that God has done in the past, nor are we only those who pray for what may happen in the future. We need to be intimately involved in the issues of our time. Different members of the Christian church will identify what these issues are differently. But however we arrange our priorities for our world, we must include caring for God’s creation, encouraging good government, sharing the Gospel, and proclaiming justice and righteousness.” [2]

This passage gives us some very deep and important teachings. First, Christians cannot just worship on Sunday, study our Bibles, and pray about the problems of our world. We have to work on making the world a better place as the Kingdom of God enters into the world through the live of believers. Second, we cannot wait complete agreement among Christians before we act. Different believers will see the world differently. Finally, we must all share our faith we must all speak out for justice and righteousness, public and private. We must all care for God’s creation. We must all work for better government. We must all tend for the garden that God has given us, whether it be large or small, important or insignificant.

The Bible begins with the human race in a garden we call “Eden.” Some Christians speak of Eden as if it was a place where there was no need to work. Genesis paints a somewhat different picture of this “garden,. Listen to two quotes from the Bible: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Genesis 2 puts it this way, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15).

This afternoon Kathy and I went out and bought some plants for our new home. We have a small back yard that was well kept by the former owners, but parts of it need a bit of care and new plantings. When we got home, I did not plant bed we are working on. It was mid-day and hot in San Antonio. I did not want to be sore tomorrow.

When I was a lawyer, I hardly ever worked in the yard. As a seminary student, I had no time. Then, we moved to Brownsville, Tennessee and our first church. Surrounded by farmers and gardeners on every side (and with plenty of guidance, advice and good counsel at hand, for which I am eternally thankful), I planted a garden in the back yard of the manse. When we moved to Memphis, my training in Brownsville allowed me to do most of the landscaping for a long time. Based on all this, I can convey to my readers one certain truth: Gardening, even in paradise, is hard work, especially on a hot, muggy, summer day.

The garden of Eden was never meant to be a place of leisure. God created the world. We were intended to be about the business of making that world more beautiful, more orderly, more just, and more productive. We human beings were made for work. We were made for the work of making the world a better place. We were made to till the garden of God’s good creation. We were made to expend the energy, strength, and brains that God has given to us in the precise way that we can best do that. We were made, and we are remade in Christ, “for the good works God prepared for us beforehand to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

This is Labor Day Weekend. It happens to be one of my favorite holidays. This is the weekend we celebrate the working people of America. Labor Day reminds us of all the endless generations of farmers who built a nation of plenty out of a wilderness. Labor Day reminds us of those who opened the West, built the transcontinental railways, created the greatest manufacturing nation in the world and made of our nation, the “Arsenal of Democracy” at a time of great danger to freedom. Labor Day reminds us of those who even today work and sweat that we might live in peace and plenty.

Those of us who have jobs we call, “White Collar” need to approach this day with a bit of humility. Interestingly for me, Jesus does not seem to have wanted to enter history either as a religious professional or as a “teacher of the law,” the two careers I have embraced. In fact he speaks ill of them both from time to time. He was content to be born and trained as a carpenter. Jesus was a laborer; and, his life, death and resurrection sanctified all laborers and all honest labor.

One reason that I did not work in the garden today was simple: I am waiting for Monday.

PS: Our hearts go out to all those who are suffering from Hurricane Harvey. Many people have asked about our family. We are fine. The hurricane really never caused any damage in San Antonio.


Copyright 2017, G Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Dietrich Bonheoffer, No Rusty Swords (New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1977). This book is a collection of Bonheoffer’s writings on a variety of subjects. Many years ago as a law student, this was a favorite work of mine.

[2] Charles Ringma, Seize the Day with Dietrich Bonheoffer (Colorado Springs, CO: Pinion Press, 2000), reading for August 25.