Reading Time: 3 minutes

Why is ‘Labor Day’ an oxymoron?

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

facebook twitter instagram

Credit: Craighton Miller via Flickr

It’s been a busy holiday weekend. Here are some of the headlines: the Catholic Church declared Mother Teresa a saint. Hermine is ruining holiday plans on the East Coast. College football has seen a weekend of upsets: Wisconsin beat LSU, Houston won over Oklahoma, and Texas defeated Notre Dame in overtime. Serena Williams won her 307th match in a Grand Slam tournament, the most in the history of women’s tennis. And North Korea fired three ballistic missiles this morning.

Now we’ve come to the most oxymoronically named day of the year. According to the United States Department of Labor, Labor Day “is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

So workers are honored by a day in which we do not work. That’s like a music awards show in which there is no music. The fact that we reward laborers by giving them a day without labor says something important about the way our culture views work.

Many people see work as a means to a better end, a necessity that pays the bills for the things we’d rather be doing. We bifurcate work and the rest of life. Is this how God sees work?

According to the Bible, “God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). “Put” translates a Hebrew word meaning “place, situate, settle down.” This was intended to be his permanent station, not just his temporary location.

God settled Adam in Eden “to work it and keep it.” “Work” translates a word meaning “to cultivate, labor, serve.” “Keep” means “to watch, guard.” The syntax makes clear that this was to be his ongoing lifestyle, not just his occasional activity.

Note that God’s call to work came before the Fall. In the perfect paradise of Eden, men and women were intended to work. This was not just what they did in the Garden—it was their purpose and lifestyle there.

From this fact we can conclude that God’s perfect plan includes a “garden of Eden” for each of us, an assignment we are to “work” and “keep.” We have a calling that makes our lives relevant today and significant eternally. He wants to fill every moment of every day with purpose and fulfillment.

So choose to see your work as your ministry. Know that the division between “clergy” and “laity” is unbiblical. There is no distinction between the “secular” and the “sacred” to the God who made everything and calls it “very good” (Genesis 1:31). The first person you see tomorrow is someone for whom Jesus died. Your work is your service to your Father and your gift to his children.

Labor Day is a great day to make Jesus the Lord of every dimension of your life and ask his Spirit to redeem every hour for God’s glory and our good. Andrew Murray noted, “God is ready to assume full responsibility for the life wholly yielded to him.”

Will yours be that life?