Labor Day Reflections

By Ward Shope

There seem to be two extreme reactions to work: those who avoid it, and those who adore it.  The avoiding camp believes implicitly that work steals meaning from life, squandering the energy and creativity that would be better spent on hobbies, relationships, and games.  Those who adore work pursue it to find meaning, accomplishment, and sometimes financial reward.   Of course, there is a pragmatic middle ground.  Plowing through work enables one to bring home the proverbial bacon.  It’s neither demonic nor divine. Work just makes life “work” in our culture.

That’s why it was so refreshing to hear a contractor I know speak with enthusiasm and excitement about his vision for his business.  While he seeks to ply his trade with expertise, he was more excited about what it offered the “community” of what we would call employees.  He  talked about working through conflict in the office with Christ as the reconciling cornerstone who brings repentance and forgiveness.  He spoke of how he has opportunities to mentor young people just entering the work force to learn a trade that everyone needs – and to do it with the character of Christ.  He shared that he’s been able to have an impact on the township level because of his work on public areas.

He can verbally witness to others in his business.  But that isn’t really what makes it unique.  What he’s seeking to contribute to is a society transformed by faith: a picture of what a culture of work might look like in heaven.  He sees himself as a missionary, finding ways to proclaim Christ in word and deed to individuals and to a culture that has lost its way.  And work is the instrument God has given him to do that.

I admit, it was a pretty rosy picture.  I’ve worked on an assembly line, delivered packages, pushed buttons at a call center and waved a traffic flag.  None of those appeared to be very glamorous.  Yet in every one of them, I had fellow workers who wanted to engage others and to be engaged.  I’ve had supervisors who simply saw us as a way toward advancement, but others who wanted us to grow and succeed.

As we talked, he referred to 1 Timothy 6:2.  “Those [servants] who have believing masters must … serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved.” He asserted the same must be true of those in authority over others – that they must be generous, kind, seeking the good of those under them.

And it reminded me that the practical principles of living out the gospel – the mutuality of care, faithfulness in relationship, seeking the good of others – doesn’t vary with position or circumstance.  It remains the same in marriage, in friendships, in youth groups, clubs, schools and the workplace.  In every condition, we are simply imitating the servant character of Christ towards others as the Spirit enables us.

One may have different opinions about the good or ill of the labor movement in America.  But wherever supervisors and those who are supervised live out the gospel, work finds its position restored – and a labor movement is a movement of the Kingdom.