Ask any secular American what Labor Day means to them, and he or she will likely say that it’s one last opportunity to relax and party at the end of the summer. Ask any Christian American, and he or she will likely say the same.
Even though Labor Day is a secular holiday, the idea is a good one, and Christians have more reason to celebrate it than anyone else.
So, here’s a brief outline of everything you need to know about this holiday.
The Historical Roots of Labor Day
In 1894, the country was in the midst of an economic depression. Hundreds of thousands of workers nationwide went on strike. To appease the labor unions and honor the American workforce, President Grover Cleveland signed legislation making Labor Day a national holiday. It would be celebrated across the country with a long weekend and a break from all labor. Today, Americans from across the political spectrum celebrate Labor Day, generally observing it as one last chance to party before the summer ends.
Yet, from an evangelical Christian perspective, there is good reason to adopt this secular holiday and fill it with Christian meaning. We should not celebrate it as a symbol of the radical labor movement, nor should we minimize it as a mere opportunity to party. Instead, we should realize that this holiday gives us the opportunity to celebrate God’s creation of the world as a place where businesses and workplaces exist; we should be thankful for the responsibility he places on our shoulders to work rather than mooch; and we should honor the Son’s own labors on the cross to save us from our sin.
The Real Reason We Have a “Labor” Day
As believers in Christ, we find profound significance in labor. In the Bible’s creation account, the opening scene depicts God at work. It begins with God working: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). And it ends with God working: “By the seventh day, God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day, he rested from all his work. 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” (Gen 2:2-3).
What’s more, smack dab in the middle of the creation account, we learn that God created human beings to work! He tells Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply,” which means that humans are to build families and societies. And he tells them to “till the soil” and “have dominion,” meaning that we are supposed to work hard and manage God’s good world so that we can provide for the families and societies we have created.
Finally, the Bible’s opening scene also underscores the importance of rest and leisure. God himself rested after working, and he expects us to do the same. The primary ways we rest are through natural rhythms (e.g. sleep) and a divinely-ordained day of rest, Sunday.
So, the real reason we have a “Labor” Day is that God created us—his image-bearers—with the calling and the capacity to work, and the calling and capacity to rest after our work.
The Best Way to Approach Our Labor
If God is the one who created us to work, there are a couple of implications. First, we should be grateful for the capacity to work and for the opportunities God has given us to do so. Second, we should do our work in a way that pleases God.
This second point is an important one. Think about Paul’s instruction to the Colossians: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward” (3:23-24). Or consider his words in 1 Corinthians: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (10:31) and “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (15:58). In other words, we should do our work to the very best of our ability because, ultimately, God is our boss and we report to him.
No matter what our workplace situation, we can glorify God. If we are unemployed and seeking employment, we can pray for God to send the right opportunity. If we are employed, we can do our work to the best of our ability, to the glory of God. If we are an employer, we can run the show in a way that pleases God and serves our employees and customers.
The Best Way to Approach Our Rest
If God is the one who commands us to rest after our labors, we should take heed. There is no honor in working relentlessly, with no rest, merely for the sake of wealth accumulation or some other motivation. But there is honor in working hard and then resting seriously. After all, God himself rested after his six days of creation. If rest is good enough for God, it should be good enough for us, too.
For that reason, if we’re able to rest on Labor Day, we should do it! Fire up the grill. Go to the pool. Take a nap. Spend time with family. Watch a movie. But above all, rest in the knowledge that God is working on our behalf, to conform us to the image of his Son, even while we are resting from our physical labors.
Labor Day in Eternal Perspective
While Labor Day is a time of celebration and rest, it also serves as a reminder of our eternal hope in Christ. As Christians, we believe that our labor in this world is not in vain, for it is building treasures in heaven.
After all, Jesus labored on our behalf two thousand years ago, as he gave his life on a cross. Through his redemptive labor, he gave us his name, “Innocent One,” and in return took upon himself our name, “Guilty One.” Because of his faithful labor, we have been set free.
May we never lose this eternal perspective. If we keep it in mind, it will transform our understanding of work and Labor Day itself. It fills us with gratitude. And it instills in us a sense of purpose and dedication to our daily tasks, knowing that our labor is contributing to God’s kingdom and will be rewarded in the life to come.
Give Glory to God for the Gift
In conclusion, although Labor Day is a secular holiday, and although it has been twisted in wrong directions by various people, Christians have good reason to take it as a gift from God. After all, God created this rhythm of rest and work, with Labor Day being a perfect time to celebrate it.
So, fire up the grill and enjoy the day. But above all, give glory to God.