After a long summer, Labor Day brings a welcome respite from work before the busy fall season begins. With cooler fall weather just around the corner and children back in school, this holiday is often celebrated in America as the symbolic end of summer. But its original purpose was to recognize the important achievements of workers during the Industrial Revolution, and today many countries hold similar celebrations to honor those who contribute so much to society. However, it is notable that Christian nations were the first to recognize and commemorate the goodness and dignity of honest labor.
The roots of Labor Day can be traced back to the first labor laws passed in England during the early 1800s and the first labor groups in the 1820s. The movement spread across the Atlantic to the shores of America and Canada, where groups quickly sprang up to champion the rights and protections of industrial workers. The first Labor Day celebrations in America were held in New York City with annual parades during the 1880s, which eventually led to its formal recognition as a national holiday in 1894. But like most holidays, its original purpose has largely been forgotten, since the former six-day, dawn-to-dusk work week with few benefits and safety provisions was replaced by 40-hour work weeks, 401(k) employee retirement accounts, sick leave, and paid vacations. Workers today never had it so good.
And yet, in one of the great paradoxes of human toil, there seems to be no reliable correlation between the diligence of hard work and the reward received for that labor. We all know that many good, hard-working people scrape to get by, while others live in grand style with seemingly little effort. This disparity underscores the fact that perfect “profit for labor” equity will never be fully achieved while humanity remains under God’s curse of death and decay due to our sin (Genesis 3:17-19).
King Solomon, who “surpassed all the kings of the earth in riches and wisdom” (1 Kings 10:23), noted this inequality best:
Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done, and on the labor in which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:11)
Solomon could give wise counsel if anyone ever could (1 Kings 3:5-12), especially concerning the “vanity” of a life centered “under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3) in contrast to a life focused on eternal things above the sun. If our goals and motives in working are concentrated on material things, there will only be “vanity and grasping for the wind” no matter what our economic status may be.
All true accounts, of course, will be settled by God and not by any fallible ledger of man. This is what the apostle Paul meant when he encouraged the bondslaves of his day to “whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24). When all accounts are finally settled at God’s great judgment seat, any “profit” we receive will not be based on quantity of services rendered but instead on their quality. For “each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it…and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is” (1 Corinthians 3:13).
Thus, it is not “how much,” but “what sort” that truly matters to God. Scripture assures us that if we are “abounding in the work of the Lord…[our] labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). This is ICR’s primary focus, and we aim to glorify the Creator and proclaim the truth of His marvelous message in everything we do. So while there is “no profit under the sun,” we invite your co-labor with us in a work that is forever focused above it.
* Mr. Morris is Director of Donor Relations at the Institute for Creation Research.