“I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime, moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor—it is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 2:12-13 NASB).
I slapped that verse on the bulletin board in my kitchen the fall I turned twenty. My compatriots were heading off to college to “find” themselves, but I had two small children to guide and tend. I wasn’t domestic. Burnt food and culinary disasters had been my norm as a teen. When buried in a book, I always forgot to watch the pot. Yet, there I was, bequeathed with feeding those I loved, wiping soiled bottoms, and keeping a house. My brain itched for wider exploits, but I needed to learn to view my current God-given task, the one he had placed right before me, as a gift.
My great-grandparents were pioneers in Oklahoma and Kansas. They were also intellectuals. They came in covered wagons from more civilized climes. When you land on virgin sod, if you don’t work from sun up to sun down, you die. That reality is still the fact in most of the wider world today. This work ethic was instilled in me from the cradle. The dignity of mankind is united with labor, whether physical, in sweat and dirt and grime, or intellectual, in deep thoughts.
God created work in the Garden, bestowing upon Adam and later Eve the propagation of the bare-dirt-yet-seed-sown Garden (Genesis 2:5-7, 15; 1:28). Even before the Fall, their work was a gift from God, a blessing of value. Humanity is made to work, to take satisfaction in our labors, to feel joy in the completed task and in bending our whole selves to do it.
And now, after the Fall, we must learn this lesson anew. Work is a gift. It fulfills. It meets our needs. It helps others.
The bible is packed with reprimands and warnings to both the sluggard who takes only a little more rest from their work and a little more slumber than is required and to the complacent rich who pack their barns and rely upon themselves. As Americans, we find ourselves in a perilous place, because we have time for leisure from our work, and we have stockpiled resources.
About 25% of the world lives in absolute poverty with subsistence level earnings of $1.25 a day. Just twenty years ago, this was closer to 50%, but jobs have become more widely available. Now five billion people live on less than $20 a day, some say closer to 80% of humanity or more.
This is the bulk of the people on the earth. Seven days a week, they rise before dawn, work until the light fades, and then collapse into rudimentary shelters without plumbing. They face battles in the areas of health, education, housing, and daily safety.
This is what sin has done to the world—bring difficult work with little fruit. Yet God loves each of these suffering individuals just as dearly as he loves us, as we enjoy our comfortable lifestyle.
What can we do to help? We can work, and we can give.
“Do you not know that God entrusted you with that money (all above what buys necessities for your families) to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the stranger, the widow, the fatherless; and, indeed, as far as it will go, to relieve the wants of all mankind? How can you, how dare you, defraud the Lord, by applying it to any other purpose?” (John Wesley)
The bible is full of examples of working hard for the good of others, from Joseph applying his business skills and work ethic to prepare and administer famine relief in a way that built an empire, to Boaz looking out for his laborers and protecting the poor, to Nehemiah using his administrative skills to rebuild Jerusalem. Jesus and the apostles lived their lives for others, traveling constantly, pausing only for Sabbath rest, but otherwise laboring non-stop.
They brought the good news of God’s kingdom. The gospel shows no favoritism. Even if we must gain our daily bread on a day-by-day basis, we are not excluded from the family of God. By faith, Jesus’ death can pay for the sins of any human being, no matter their income.
For God so loved the world that he gave.
Follow the Master, who served to the point of exhaustion. We imitate him. He taught, healed, and fed, becoming so worn out from his labors that he could sleep in a wet boat in a raging storm (Matthew 8, Mark 4, Luke 8). He sacrificed his life, not just on the cross, but in all the days prior. That is the model of Christian work and service. We walk in his steps.
On this holiday, thank God for the work he has given. Consider using that work to spread the gospel and to help provide for the poverty-stricken world. Rejoice and do good in your lifetime.
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