Today is Labor Day in the United States. First proposed in 1882, it became a Federal Holiday in 1894 and has been celebrated on the first Monday of September ever since. Other countries have their own observance of Labor Day, most choosing the first of May. It is a day when we pause to honor labor and celebrate the significance honest work adds to our lives.
Labor has always been an important aspect of the Christian faith. The Apostle Paul worked as a laborer mending tents in Corinth in order to earn his own living. He wrote to the Colossians saying, ” Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” (Colossians 3:23-24). Much of the impact of early Christianity can be traced to the quality and dedication of work exhibited by the followers of Christ
After a century of professional missionary movements, we are discovering again that the way we work is the most effective means for improving the world and sharing the message of the risen Christ. A few years ago I met Debra. She went to Uzbekistan on a short-term mission assignment and decided to stay. She started a tailoring business, enlisted two women to work for her, mentored them as followers of Christ and helped start a new church. After two years, she gave the business to her co-workers and returned to the United States. I asked her what her church thought about what she did. She said no one asked.
On our recent assignment to Nuremberg, Germany, we met Kim. She and her husband moved to Nuremberg a year and a half ago, she says, “firmly convinced that God was using my husband’s company to bring us over to be “believers on the ground” in this country. We are very involved in our German church, seeking to help them develop a strong gospel and cross-centered emphasis, to support and help in any way we can.”
A few weeks ago, I was reviewing my sermon notes prior to the church service in Nuremberg when Eddie Wong walked in. I introduced myself and asked if this was his first time to the church. He said he had attended the Nuremberg church a couple years ago before going to China. He came to Germany and worked in a bakery to learn the trade, then moved to China where he worked in a bakery as a means to share the gospel with others.
Debra, Kim, Eddie are examples of a multitude of believers from all over the world who are discovering that work is far more than a way to make a living. It is the place where we demonstrate daily the character and presence of Christ and it can be the vehicle that enables us to share our faith anywhere in the world. Perhaps this Labor Day can serve as a reminder that our professions are far more effective in communicating the essence of the gospel than any church programs. How we use our professions to honor God and to serve others can change the world.