Darrow Miller and Friends

What’s Holy About Labor

As Americans observe the traditional end-of-the-summer long weekend, it’s appropriate to acknowledge that the Bible speaks to the matter of work.  Per the following excerpt from LifeWork by Darrow Miller, Labor Day is a fitting occasion to celebrate the sanctity of human work, a gift of God to his image bearers at the creation.

Scottish historian and social critic Thomas Carylyle (1795-1881) has captured the wonder of what our forefathers understood:

Laborare est Orare, Work is Worship. … All true Work is sacred; in all true Work, were it but hand-labour, there is something of divines. … no man has work, or can work, except religiously; not even the poor day laborer, the weaver of your coat, the sewer of your shoes. (Thomas Carlyle, Past and Present)

In 1520 Martin Luther published a short work called The Babylonian Captivity of the Church. As this tract began to circulate around Europe, it resulted in a firestorm that transformed entire cultures’ thinking on life and work. An anonymous story is told about two priests who read the pamphlet when it reached Holland. The following is part of what they read that so changed their way of thinking:

The works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks, but that all works are measured before God by faith alone … Indeed, the menial housework of a manservant or maidservant is often more acceptable to God than all the fastings and other works of a monk or priest, because the monk or priest lacks faith.

After reading the pamphlet, the priests announced that the doors of the church building would be opened only on Sunday. Through Luther’s writings, they had come to see that the work their parishioners did six days a week was no less sacred than the work they themselves did, that is, if each worked in faith. … In was not the nature of one’s work but the faith with which one worked that mattered.

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