Monday, September 04, 2023

Come to Jesus, All Who Labor

(Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio)

It's Labor Day. Tomorrow, many return to work.  

Where do you work? What jobs have you had? 

I have...

  • worked as a stockboy at Kroger - my first job.
  • worked for two summers cutting lawns for the Rockford (Illinois) Park District.
  • worked two summers for Nylint Toy in Rockford, loading shipments into hot, stuffy boxcars.
  • ran a drill press in a factory.
  • operated an overhead grinder in a different factory.
  • worked as a custodian for Woodward Governor in Loves Park, Illinois.
  • painted apartments for a complex at Northern Illinois University.
  • been a youth leader for four years at Tabor Lutheran Church in Rockford.
  • been youth leader and interim pastor at First Baptist Church of Joliet, Illinois - for seven years.
  • served as a campus pastor for eleven years at Michigan State University.
  • served as a pastor at Redeemer Fellowship Church in Monroe, Michigan since 1992.
  • taught philosophy at Monroe County Community College for eighteen years.
  • taught in seminaries, in the U.S. and around the world
While these jobs were different in many ways, in one way they were the same. The common denominator in all of them was me. 

In Matthew 11:28 Jesus says, "Come to me, all you who labor, and I will give you rest." The Greek word we translate as "labor" is koipiao. It means:

1) to grow weary, tired, exhausted (with toil or burdens or grief); 2) to labor with wearisome effort, to toil;  2a) of bodily labor.

The word for "rest" is anapauo, which means:

1) to cause or permit one to cease from any movement or labor  in order to recover and collect his strength; 2) to give rest, refresh, to give one's self rest, take rest; 3) to keep quiet, of calm and patient expectation.  

Dallas Willard comments on this verse. He writes,

"Basically, we started out with the great verse where Jesus says, “Come unto me all you who labor.” I believe he is talking about laboring under religion, and I think the context in Matthew 11 bears that out. He is saying, “Come to me and accept your life with me in the kingdom of God as a little child would accept it, and just begin to live it.”" (Willard, Living in Christ's Presence: Final Words on Heaven and the Kingdom of God, p. 115)

I was twenty-one, and a new follower of Jesus, when I worked for Woodward Governor. My workday began at 4 AM, hours before the machine operators arrived. My job was to clean the oil and grease from around and on the machines. It was hard, unattractive, dirty work. But it was mostly energizing and life-giving. Work was different, because I was different. I had come to Jesus, and viewed myself as working hard, for his name's sake. 

The real issue is not the job, but who we really work for. The basic question is, "who do I belong to?" This determines whether or not we experience life, to include our jobs, as meaningless and bone-wearying, or purposeful and life-giving. When I began seeing my laboring as for the Lord, my true Employer, my attitude towards work changed.