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Work for Rest

Labor Day is a reminder that only Jesus can give us the life for which we wearily work.

What am I working for? That is the question we must ask ourselves. I have participated in numerous conversations with people telling me about how tired they are or how tired other people are. People are just tired of being tired.


Now, don’t get me wrong, work is theological because God put humanity to work from the very beginning (Genesis 2:8). But there is a difference between being tired of the work and being tired in the work. To be tired of the work is to no longer find pleasure in the work we do. But to be tired in the work is to experience mental and physical fatigue, even though the work itself still brings us satisfaction.


Laboring on Labor Day


Labor Day is supposed to be the day that we celebrate, well, work. But what we actually celebrate is the day off—if we are fortunate. Although it became a federal holiday in 1894, it originally started in states like New York as a day for labor unions to set their agendas and the country to honor laborers. It eventually evolved into appeasement from big business to give their workers the day off.[1] What was originally intended to be a purpose-driven day by striving for better working conditions, higher wages, and reasonable work hours became just the opposite. That is, the laborers who are off use that time to create work for their fellow laborers.


I must confess that I am as guilty as the rest because my holiday is spent making someone else work. The irony of Labor Day is that some of us are given the option to rest while others are required to work. Essentially, it still perpetuates the class divide that those who embraced a more Marxist ideology denounced—the privileged who are off work and the unprivileged who are at work.


When our day off becomes our day in, we have to ponder what exactly is the benefit. For the gains we thought we made have departed for some. And the fatigue that follows us day in and day out cannot be vanquished in a single-day celebration, once a year. We need something more—something enduring—that cannot be diluted, dissolved, or diminished. We need life.


Labor for Life


Life is not vacations in the Hamptons, eating at five-star restaurants, or hobnobbing with the bourgeoisie; it is a Person. In His discourse on life, Jesus instructs us not to chase after things, but to chase after Him. “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal” (John 6:27 NASB).


There are two principles about work that Jesus highlights.


1. Pursuing what you can consume is a goalpost that keeps moving. Let’s be honest, most of us work for those things we desire to consume. Before our pay hits our hands or our bank accounts, we have decided what we are going to spend it on: a home, a car, a vacation, clothes, or the latest gadget. The problem with pursuing these items is that they are temporary. As Merrill C. Tenney rightly observes, “Jesus was not commanding them to stop working for a living, but he was saying that their main quest should not be for food that readily perishes.”[2] We inevitably want a new residence, a new car, a new vacation experience, new clothes, or the newest gadget. But like this morning’s breakfast, the thrill only lasts for a moment before we are hungry again. Chasing after the material things of this world only satisfies our desires short-term, yet we find ourselves tired of the chase because we are pursuing momentary things. Our goal must be more than what we can get; it must be the one thing that only Jesus can give.


2. Pursuing what Christ offers is a gift that cannot be earned. What Jesus offers us is the gift of Himself. As God, He is the Creator of life, which makes Him the Source of all life. As such, He has the inherent power to give us what He possesses. But Jesus’s definition of work is not an activity of labor; it is an activity of rest. Jesus invites us to pursue the “food” of eternal life—an experiential and intellectual knowledge of the Father and Son (John 17:3). This work that Jesus requires of us is to trust in Him as the Source of everything we need in life: spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically (John 6:29).


Unlike life’s amenities that are fleeting, the life that Christ offers is eternal. It is a life that will not terminate or depreciate, but a life that will elevate. It is a life that elevates us from hell to heaven, from slave to heir, and from worker to worshiper. It is a life that changes our perspective of life by bringing us into communion with Him who is Life. Life in Jesus, then, is a labor-free day because it cannot be received via work; it must be received via faith. It is a gift given out of God’s gracious love for us, not a paycheck we have toiled for as our compensation. Thus, our pursuit in life must be Christ and not what we can consume.


Let Go of Your Labor


Labor Day is a day of contradictions. It is a day from work for some and a day of work for others. Yet, there is a hint of theology in this human holiday in that it reminds us that Christ offers us the gift of ceasing from our labor. If you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, Jesus invites you to stop chasing the things of this world and to put your trust in Him to give you a better quality of life that you will never experience without Him.


Rev. Isaac Hayes is an Assistant Pastor at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, Illinois, and author of Men After God’s Heart: 10 Principles of Brotherly Love. He is also a doctoral student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Follow Rev. Hayes on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @RevIsaacHayes.

[1] Zoe Sottile, “Why We Celebrate Labor Day and the Meaning Behind It,” CNN, last modified August 17, 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2022/09/05/us/labor-day-meaning-explained/index.html. [2] Merrill C. Tenney, “John,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 75.

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