Don’t Labor…in vain

Sermon – Listen to the Audio Recording by Clicking Here.

Labor Day Sunday – Message

Seeing as today is Labor day, I thought it would be good to stop and recognize why we even have this day on the calendar anyway. I mean, don’t you wonder why? I mean there are so many days declared by Congress and the Office of the President over the years, but do we even know what they are about or why we have them?

Perhaps you are a history buff and this is old news to you, but Labor day is a day set aside to highlight and honor the laborers in the United States. 

It was recognized by individual states, starting with Oregon. The majority of the remaining states officially went on to celebrate Labor Day. In 1894, congress passed the bill and President Grover Cleveland signed it into law. The first Monday of September was to be set aside as “Labor Day.” 

The law, unfortunately, only gave federal workers the day off. But all the states and districts  expanded it to all workers. I’ll tell you, It’s really hard to want to take that Monday off for me. It’s a day that if a worker decides or has to work – they usually get time and half. But I don’t have to worry about that as Monday is my day off at the grocery store I work at, anyhow.

But I can tell you, the work of people is important to a successful economy. And a thriving economy is one that people want to live in and want to move to. And for the contribution of those who have labored and continue to labor to keep our economy and our communities rolling, we celebrate and recognize them. 

You might be thinking, “That’s all well and good, but how does the scripture tie into this holiday?” Well perhaps it’s “low-hanging fruit” to focus on scriptures that use the word “labor,” but I think we can still learn what God says about the work of our hands.

The first thing to discover about our hard work and labor is that without God, it’s meaningless.

  1. God’s part is the one that counts

1 Unless the Lord builds the house,

    the builders labor in vain.

Unless the Lord watches over the city,

    the guards stand watch in vain.

2 In vain you rise early

    and stay up late,

toiling for food to eat—

    for he grants sleep to those he loves.

(Psalm 127:1-2 NIV)

Though in a moment, we will talk about our part in all this. (We don’t just sit by and watch. Laziness is not a spiritual gift.) These verses highlight the importance of recognizing that for something to succeed eternally, God’s hand has to be on it.

Sure, you can build big additions onto your church, remodel your parsonage, build up a big program focused on a specific people group and spend lots of money in the process…but if your church isn’t going the same direction as God, it will be in vain. It won’t eternally matter. 

So if the Lord doesn’t build the house, the builders labor in vain.

Then there’s the idea of the Watchman.  

“Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.”

Psalm 127:1b

In Ezekiel, God calls Ezekiel a watchman of the people of Israel.

7 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.”

Ezekiel 33:7 NIV

Ezekiel was meant to lead people toward repentance, dissuedding them from their sinful life. However, if that was actually just Ezekiel running around yelling at people with a megaphone and God was not in it? It was all in vain. It didn’t eternally matter.

Stores and companies sometimes have guards, stationed near the door or in the main lobby. They are there to deter dangerous characters and be on hand to take charge if a dangerous situation comes up. I’m also picturing security or bouncers outside a club or concert. That’s what the watchman is. But this watchman, without power, approval and resources from his boss, can’t do his job well. If the CEO supports the watchman, the watchman can do his job properly. If the boss is nowhere to be found, all bets are off.  

The idea in verse 2 takes it even further. “Hey you, laborer. Are you going into work early and staying late? Toiling hard to get paid? It’s all in vain.” What? “My work is in vain?” Yes, if the Lord isn’t there, working with you or maybe even more crucial…working before you. Besides all that, he is the one who gives rest.  Are you working so hard so you can finally afford that vacation with the family? What are you sacrificing in the meantime?

That last part of verse 2 is important to note: “for he grants sleep to those he loves.” Another translation of this verse, the NIrV phrases it this way.

“God provides for those he loves even while they sleep.”

Have you ever wondered how you keep breathing while you sleep? God did that. Or maybe how a garden grows while you sleep? Yeah, a farmer needs his or her rest. God is always at work, providing for us. Providing in ways we can’t even fathom.

So if God does all the heavy lifting, so to speak, what’s our part? 

2. We Participate in his Labor/work

Go all in

58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV

Paul instructs the Corinthians to go all in with the work the Lord is doing. When you see God is doing something somewhere, it’s important to join in. I think this shows itself to us very well when missionaries, (who are on furthlow) travel to different churches talking about the work they are doing around the world. They educate us, help us understand and care for the people they are reaching and then, God moves our hearts and we begin to intentionally participate in their work. 

We form prayer groups specifically for those missionaries and the countries they serve in. We may be able to give financially to help the work continue and grow. We may even receive the call to prepare to join them in the field and become a missionary ourselves. We participate in what God’s already doing and we give our whole selves to it.

This is how I got my first call to pastor after college. I had gone to interview for a children’s pastor position at a church up in Minnesota. I heard back a week later that they decided not to offer the job to me. I didn’t have enough experience. They were practically the only ones I heard from. (Apparently a college degree is not the only thing you need to be hired for a job).

At some point before the end of the year, I found myself in my home church in Marseilles, IL. There was a special speaker coming to talk about a new church plant in Bloomington, IL. While I sat there and listened to the pastor’s presentation, her call for prayer partners and her bold call for people to consider being part of the launch team, I found myself drawn to this cause. She and her husband had three kids under the age of ten. I saw those kids and God reaffirmed my call toward kids ministry and started moving me toward this group of people who would form Sanctuary International.

I served that church in various capacities for about 4 ½ years. I got to see some of those kids grow into teens. I grew personally and professionally as I pursued ministry in a bi-vocational setting. But it would not have happened if I had been dead-set on working in some high-level church, with a corner office and a big budget, full-time. I wanted and still want to be in the center of what God’s going. I encourage you to do the same and give it your all! It may not turn out to look like what you thought it should, but it certainly is exactly how God wanted it to be.

When it comes to working, there is a matter of “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.” Psalm 128:2 says:

——-

2 You will eat the fruit of your labor;

    blessings and prosperity will be yours.

Psalm 128:2 NIV

You can’t just put in minimum effort and expect fantastic results. You get out what you put into something. This verse in Psalms tells us our nourishment will come from what we work on.

How has God blessed you over the years as you’ve served him? For most of us, we’ve not served him as some kind of full-time missional call, but we are all called to serve Him in the ways he makes us able. Perhaps you’re calling, your work is being a prayer warrior. Needs come up and you bring them to God in prayer. You go to the very throne of God and lay the burdens you have before his feet. You cry out to Jesus on behalf of people who can’t do it themselves. Maybe they don’t even know him yet. And so you intercede for them. 

The blessings and benefits, the results are not just answered prayers, but changed lives. Your heart grows stronger and bigger as it is broken for the lost, the needy, the poor, the helpless, the sinner and the saint. You join Jesus in what he’s doing, give it all you got and you will “eat the fruit of your labor” because it will be a blessing words can’t describe.

Sharing a bit more of my journey’s story: I know I would not have met Jacki if I had moved to Minnesota right after college. We wouldn’t have dated and then got married. We wouldn’t have been able to work with kids and teens together. I wouldn’t have known how much she enjoys working in the nursery and caring for little ones at church. We wouldn’t have moved to Texas together, served and grew our family, adding Gianna and K’Leigh to the mix. We wouldn’t have known parenting together and the endless spiritual insights that parent brings. We wouldn’t have made the same friends in the various places we’ve lived in. Cared for the same people and families. 

I believe in free will, but I believe the best will to be in…the best life is the one lived right in the center of God’s will. I’ve tried to live my life there and I have received the fruit of my labor.  I’m thinking you might have a story or two of the blessings God has given you along your journey of serving him. The blessings of friends, family, experience, and personal growth.

Another very important verse concerning the work of our hands comes from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Believe it or not, there were some thieves in the church back then! We never hear of people stealing in the church these days, right? Let’s look at what he said in Ephesians 4:28

—-

28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Ephesians 4:28 NIV

Stop Stealing. (check!) Next step: WORK…do something USEFUL with your Hands.

I picture a member of the church in Ephesus pondering the following out loud:

“Why? Why do I gotta work? Surely someone can take care of my needs. The Roman government? Oh maybe I’ll just move back in with my parents. Having stuff is a human right, right?”

Paul wants to reprogram our thief. His or her heart needs to be changed. Stop doing the old stuff and start doing new, helpful stuff. But not just helpful to the individual, NO. It’s so that they can care for others who are in need. The needy don’t need a governmental handout when you or I can care for their needs. Perhaps that’s job training, encouragement, prayer, mentoring, financial management lessons and financial assistance. But this is a MAJOR reprogramming of a person. Going from Selfish to Selfless. “Take what I want” to “share what I have.

Sir Robin of Loxly a.k.a. Robin Hood is lauded for his desire to give to the poor, but unfortunately he had to steal it in order to give it in the first place. 

If someone is hungry, give them something to eat. 

There are a few homes in our community that must have vegetable gardens. The ones that I’m thinking about in particular have card tables out in their front yard, with a sign that says “take what you need.” On the table are large groupings of produce. Our family has enjoyed a few tomatoes from these generous folks.

They worked at those vegetable plants, caring for them. They picked the produce. They set out a table and sign and offered the veggies to anyone. No questions asked.

We join Jesus in our work when we get reprogrammed from selfishness to selflessness.

3. God completes his work

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Philippians 1:6 ESV

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time completing things. Perhaps it’s large projects, perhaps it’s just the dishes. But I’m glad I serve a God who has an excellent track record of finishing what he started. Want a few highlights? Let’s look at…

Genesis. When God created everything he did it in stages. He concluded each day by looking at his creation and declaring it “Good.” When he was done creating, Genesis 2:2-3 tells us:

2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”

Genesis 2:2-3 NIV

Want more evidence that God finishes what he starts? Let’s fast forward…like ALOT. all the way to the Crucifixion.

Jesus is hanging there on the cross for ours sins, taking them on himself and paying the price for our salvation. Then John 19:28-30 says:

28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

John 19:28-30 NIV

Jesus, God the Son, had finished His great work. Paying the price as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. It is finished.

In the book of Revelation, it’s revealed that the final judgement occurs. Death and Hades- who contained their dead–were tossed into the lake of fire. Those who didn’t have their names in the Lamb’s Book of Life are also tossed into that lake of fire. (Rev 20)

In the very last chapter of Revelation, there is a restoration of Edan. John sees this vision of the city that is God’s dwelling place.

3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

Revelation 22:3-5 NIV

God finishes what he starts. No projects hanging about. Done. Finished.

God completes his work.

Conclusion

Labor day. A day to acknowledge and celebrate the work of people. But if you’re a Christian, we celebrate so much more than that. We celebrate that our work and labor is not in vain when God is in it. We celebrate that He invites us to join him in his work. He draws men and women to himself, equips them and empowers them.  And they are blessed by the fruit of their labor.

And finally, God finishes what he starts. And that especially focuses on you and I personally. Do you think God is done with you? I’m here to tell you, he’s not. 

There is an old kid’s song: 

“He’s still working on me. To make me what I ought to be. It took Him just a week to make the moon and the stars, the sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars. How loving and patient He must be. He’s still working on me.”

Know that he is still working on you, but 

“…he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”


Listen to the following song by Steve Green. It’s called “He who began a good work in you.”

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