Labor Day – “The Spirituality of Our Labor” – Colossians 3:23-24


labor-dayIt has been a while since we have used the national holiday of “Labor Day” as the occasion to preach on the doctrine of ‘vocation.’ But that is what we intend to do and so the text for our consideration today is from Colossians 3:23-24. Would you take out your bible and turn to Colossians 3:23-24, page 985 in your pew bible.

I. Our Labor is Spiritual Work
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Keep your bible open please. We’ll recite this together a couple of times again.

The national holiday of “Labor Day” was established in 1882 by an organization called “The Knights of Labor” which later became “The American Federation of Labor,” or the “AFL” which later merged with the “Congress of Industrial Organizations,” or the “CIO” which is known today as the “AFL-CIO.”

I highly doubt that there was any thought in the minds of those who first instituted “Labor Day,” to the Scriptural connection between the Christian life of faith and the labor that we do. But just because they didn’t see the connection doesn’t mean there isn’t one. In fact the Scriptures have a lot to say about the work that God’s people are given to do and the way God’s people are to do it.

In fact, God’s interest in our ‘LABOR’ is one of the very first things that we are faced with in the Scriptures. The very first thing that God does after He creates the world and the plants and the animals and the man, is “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to WORK IT AND KEEP IT.” (Gen.2:15).

It is as Adam does the LABOR that the Lord God has given him to do, that Adam carries out his life in faith. We need to be sure to hear that. Adam responds in faith and obedience to God by going to work and doing the job that God has given him to do, which happens to be ‘gardener.’

That may surprise us. Maybe we would have expected that the first thing that God would tell Adam is where church is and what time worship begins. But instead, God says to Adam, “I’ve got a job for you.” And the job is gardening. That doesn’t seem like very ‘spiritual’ work does it? But in fact, this is very spiritual.

II. Working for the Lord
Let’s read the text together again. “Whatever you do, work heartily, AS FOR THE LORD, and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. YOU ARE SERVING THE LORD CHRIST.”

“You are serving the Lord, Christ.” How often do we stop to consider that the work that we do, whether it’s a job we get paid for or not, is “for the Lord?” “You are serving the Lord Christ.”

We may have thought that we were working for ourselves, for our family, for our security, for our advancement, for a company. We thought were working for a paycheck, for the benefits. And certainly that is all a part of our work and we don’t want to take them away.

But what we want to see here is that this is not THE MAIN THING. And to make it THE MAIN THING is to miss THE MAIN THING which is – “you are serving the Lord Christ.”

I think that if we really believed this, it would have a profound effect on our attitude towards the work that we do. How often do we become frustrated with the work we do because we feel that we’re not appreciated? Or that we’re not being paid what we should be paid? How often do we become weary of the job we have because we feel it’s not very rewarding or fulfilling?

But if we were aware that we are ‘working for the Lord and not for men,’ that would change everything. Regardless of how ‘skilled’ or ‘unskilled,’ how ‘rewarding’ or ‘unrewarding’ our labor may be, we know where our REWARD comes from. “From the Lord we receive the inheritance as our reward.”

In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, the older brother complained that he had ‘toiled’ hard for his father and never received the kind of recognition that was being lavished on his ‘prodigal’ brother. To which the father replies, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” (Luke 15:31).

Our ‘inheritance from the Lord’ is not a ‘reward’ that is based on how we do our job and carry out our labor. That’s how ‘BONUSES’ work but not ‘INHERITANCES.’ Our ‘inheritance’ from the Lord is based on our being sons and daughters of the Father – which is the reward that Jesus Christ has won for us by His faithful ‘labor’ of reconciling us to God through His cross and resurrection.

How would it change our attitude towards our LABOR if we did our work as sons and daughters of the Father, who says, “all that is mine is yours”?

III. Serving the Lord Christ.
Let’s read the text together again. “Whatever you do, work heartily, AS FOR THE LORD, and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. YOU ARE SERVING THE LORD CHRIST.”

What we are talking about here falls under the heading of ‘vocation.’ Our ‘vocation’ includes whatever stations and jobs we have at any given time. You don’t have to go looking for a ‘vocation.’ It comes to you. And we always have multiple ‘vocations.’ And they change.

At times, our vocation is to be a child, a son or daughter, a brother or sister, a student. Then, our vocation changes and we are given the job of husband or wife, mother or father, grandmother or grandfather, employee, retiree, volunteer. All of these fit under the umbrella of “WHATEVER YOU DO…” “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men… You are serving the Lord Christ.”

‘Serving the Lord Christ’ by doing the job, the vocation that we have touches on something that Luther deserves the credit for developing, which he called the “Deus Absconditus.” Literally, the ‘hidden God’ or the ‘God who hides.’ Luther says that on this side of heaven, we never do see God’s face. On the other side of heaven we ‘will see Him face to face and as He is,’ but not here. Here, God hides behind masks. And those masks are the various vocations that He gives us.

Luther puts it like this, “All of our work in the field, in the garden, in the city, in the home, in the government… These are the masks of our Lord God, behind which he wants to be hidden and to do all things.” “God himself is milking the cow through the poor milkmaid on the stool.”

So, when we look for where or how God is at work in our life, or in our nation, or in the world, you find Him hidden behind the people doing their job as parents, spouses, carpenters, accountants, teachers, doctors, policemen, soldiers, politicians. You fill in the blank with whatever your ‘vocations’ happen to be.

Here’s how it works. When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “give us this day our daily bread,” how does God answer that prayer? It’s true that at times He has been known to deliver bread and meat from the sky – the manna and quail delivered to His people in the desert, or to multiply a few loaves of bread to feed 5000.

But usually, He gives people the job of farmer, baker, truck driver, grocery store worker. And as each one does their ‘job’ they are ‘masks of God.’ God is at work, answering our prayer through the worker.

Likewise, we pray that God would heal the sick and injured. And He can do that directly with the word of His mouth or the touch of his hand. But mostly He heals the sick and injured through doctors, nurses, and EMT’s and all of the other vocations associated with the medical field. They are the mask of God and as they do their ‘work’ they do it “as for the Lord and not for men.” But certainly also “for men.”

God takes care of children. But He does that through mothers and father who raise their children and care for them. And God calls some to be teachers, and bus drivers and athletic coaches and music teachers, and through their labor, they are the ‘MASKS OF GOD’ through whom God takes care of children.

We pray as we are taught, “deliver us from evil.” And God answers our prayer through those whom He has called to be policemen, firemen, government officials, soldiers and civil servants. They are the MASKS OF GOD. God is hidden in their labor.

IV. Work as Worship
And it is as each one does his job “heartily” “as for the Lord and not for men,” that his work becomes AN ACT OF WORSHIP to the Lord. If the farmer or teacher or mother or father is an unbeliever, God still carries out His care for others through them, but their work is not done in faith and is not pleasing to God.

But when another farmer or teacher or mother or father does the exact same work as “working for the Lord and not for men,” their work becomes AN ACT OF WORSHIP to God which pleases God because it is done in faith.

Knowing that the work that we do is “for the Lord” also means that WE STRIVE TO DO IT WELL. Luther puts it like this, “A Christian shoemaker needs to make good shoes, not bad shoes with little crosses on them.”

Author Dorothy Sayers picks up on this and writes, “The church’s approach to a carpenter is usually confined to an exhortation to live a moral life, don’t get drunk and attend church regularly. What the church should be telling him is that the very first demand that His religion makes on him is that he should make good furniture.”

V. Worship begins with confession and forgiveness
If we are to think of our ‘vocations’ in life as ‘WORSHIP,’ then we must also realize that, just as we do when we do in the Divine Service, we begin with CONFESSION AND ABSOLUTION.

It is interesting that the one place in his Small Catechism where Luther addresses the doctrine of vocation is under the heading of Confession. Luther asks, “What sins should we confess before God? The answer: “Before God we should plead guilty to all sins…” Which are these? “Consider your calling in life according to the 10 Commandments. Are a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife or worker? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything or done any harm?”

We all must confess that we are guilty of doing our labor ‘half-heartedly,’ AS FOR MEN AND NOT FOR THE LORD, with little or no consideration of the “MASK OF GOD” that I am.

But we must also firmly believe and not doubt that there is One who has been perfectly faithful to His vocation and the work He was given to do. Jesus Christ is the true ‘MASK OF GOD’ through Whom we see God at work for the good of His whole world.

Jesus did the work the Father gave Him to do, “heartily,” with all His heart. And by His labor we have the forgiveness of all of our sins, even our sins against our vocation and work.

And where there is forgiveness of sins there is life and salvation, the inheritance that is our reward.

Let’s read together once more:
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”

A very ‘spiritual’ Labor Day to you all.

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