Thursday, October 15, 2020
There are some holidays on our calendar whose meaning we reflect on, whether it is civic or religious. Whether it is Independence Day or Thanksgiving, these are days that were set apart to commemorate something important.
Labor Day was intended to be just that. As I understand it, this was a day set apart to honor the laborer and their contributions to society. Early Labor Day parades featured workers and labor organizations. I remember reading about a banner in one of these early parades that read, "Eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep, eight hours for recreation."
As I reflect on the nature of work from a biblical perspective, I am reminded that it is a reflection of God. God is a God that works, and he calls us, his people to work to fulfill his purposes. In order to understand this, we must find the true meaning for our work in the scriptures. 1 Timothy 2:15 says, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." If I am going to be an approved worker, I need to go to the word to learn what this means.
The place to start, as with anything else, is at the beginning, in Genesis. The reason one should start with Genesis is because this is what Jesus did. When they asked him about marriage and divorce, Jesus did not refer to the law of Moses, but went all the way back to Genesis, where God designed marriage and set the paradigm. The same is true for mankind and work. The very first command was to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it, and have dominion over it. This means that the taming, harnessing of the earth's resources, enculturation, and the building of society are all part of the mandate that God has given to the human race. Whether it is scientific discovery, teaching, art, literature, building, engineering, planting, growing, repairing, maintaining, cleaning, etc. it is all part of the mandate God has given to us.
This means that all work is ultimately God's work. This is why Colossians 3:23-24 says, "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." This means that there is no such thing as a "secular" job. All work is sanctified. Every individual person's work fits in some way with God's mandate to fill the earth and subdue it for his glory.
There is no meaning or significance in work apart from God. This is what the teacher in Ecclesiastes discovered after a lifetime of impressive accomplishments. Without God, there was no meaning or significance in any of it. When he instructs young people to remember their creator while they are young, he is calling them to reflect on the significance of work under God, rather than merely under the sun.
As God called mankind in Genesis to work in order to fulfill what many now call the "Cultural Mandate," he also calls us as Christians to work to fulfill what we call the "Great Commission." Redemption from the corruption of sin can only come through the Gospel. Romans 8:18-25 tells us that both the creature and the creation will be redeemed from the corruption of sin through Christ. To participate in his work of redemption, Jesus charged his followers to proclaim the Gospel to all creation.
All of this means that our Cultural Mandate and the Great Commission are connected. 1 Timothy 6:1 says, "Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled." Titus 2:9-10 says, "Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior." Working with honor and integrity is connected to the teaching of the Gospel.
Plagues were a common occurrence in ancient times. What was also a common occurrence was abandoning the sick to die. Even in an impressive place like Rome, the only people who received any kind of health care were the wealthy and powerful who had the money to hire a physician. There was no such thing as a hospital in first century Rome. This was because there was no pagan theological basis for the inherent value and dignity of the stranger. The only option for the poor would be a visit to a healing deity's temple, such as Asclepius. It was a common practice for people to carry their sick out of the house and leave them in the street for fear of catching the plague themselves. During a plague that struck in 250 A.D., it was reported that 5,000 died in one day in Rome. Bodies were left piled up in the street as pagans tried to appease the gods whom they believed were angry at them.
Into this situation came a group of people with a radically different view of human beings. They believed that humans have inherent value and dignity because they are created in the image of God. Their Lord, Jesus, had modeled and instructed love that gives sacrificially to all, especially those without status or money. As a result, they cared for the sick and the dying, taking great risk on themselves. Many of them contracted the disease and died. However, they viewed this as a type of martyrdom in the name of Christ. In the third century, Eusebius pointed out that only Christians showed sympathy to those who were sick. Christians not only cared for their own, but also for the pagans, many of whom had persecuted Christians, blaming them for angering the gods. These efforts became more organized over time, which gave rise to various orders whose purpose was to care for the sick and the dying. This, along with the Christianization of the culture, drastically changed the public attitude toward the sick. Rather than seeing the sick as those to be avoided, they were seen as those that needed to be cared for in the name of Christ. This divine motivation to care for the sick is what eventually led to public health care, clinics, and hospitals.
Later, in the early 1500's the plague came to Wittenberg in Germany. While many were fleeing, Martin Luther, a minister, believed that he was called to stay. Just as health care workers stayed to care for the bodies of the sick, so he was called to stay to care for the souls of the sick. He refused to abandon those in need.
During the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, A.B. Lipscomb, nephew to David Lipscomb, wrote an article in the Gospel Advocate about one Nashville church's response. As the hospitals became overwhelmed, The Russell Street Church of Christ offered its building as a field hospital. The editor, J.C. McQuiddy, praised this action in the next issues, citing the parable of the Sheep and the Goats as the authority to do this.
In 2015, medical missionary Dr. Kent Brantley, traveled to Liberia to serve in the name of Christ. While there, he contracted the deadly Ebola virus and survived with an experimental treatment. In February this year, he told Fox News, "The message I shared in 2014 is just as true and just as pertinent now as it was then: We must choose compassion over fear. We must choose to respond to people (even in deadly outbreaks of infectious diseases) with actions and words and attitudes that convey compassion and uphold the dignity of our fellow human beings."
The thing that all of these and many, many other similar examples have in common is the love of Christ. Love overpowers fear and causes one to run to the disaster to help rather than away in fear. John wrote that perfect love casts out fear. Paul wrote that the love of Christ is what compels us. Like our Lord who left Heaven to come here, we love in deed and in truth, and not with just words. It is that love, the love of Christ, that opens the door for the Gospel which brings about true spiritual healing, even in the face of violence, danger, sickness, and death.