Being thankful for … Work? November 17 2018

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

We recently attended a memorial service for a relative of “Uncle” Bob Schneider, President of BCF. At this particular service, the key Scripture passage was out of Ecclesiastes Chapter 3. If you had been a teenager in 1965, like I was, you would remember the U.S. rock group “The Byrds” putting Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 to music. The song (“Turn Tun Turn”) was almost word-for-word from the King James Version:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;” etc.
and ending with “A time for war and a time for peace.”

The point of the song seemed to be a plea for peace and tolerance during a time of our increasing involvement in the Vietnam War. But the passage used in the memorial service went on to include verses 12 and 13:

“I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor – it is the gift of God.”

Most of us have had a variety of jobs, paid and unpaid. Working in the home and bringing up children are certainly included in the “labor” category. Some jobs may have been interesting and intriguing. Others may have been more like just grinding through the day, perhaps hoping for it to end. Other jobs may have been highly stressful and draining, even dangerous. Labor comes in all shapes and sizes, but it is part of human life. 

On the surface, the book of Ecclesiastes might seem to be about the futility of life, not exactly a hopeful tone. The author begins the book with “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun? A generation goes and a generation comes, But the earth remains forever.”

But when we dig deeper into the book, we also find some treasures - words of hope tucked away in several passages related to this “gift of labor” referenced in 3:13. For example:

  • Ecclesiastes 2:24 – “There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God.”
  • Ecclesiastes 5:18 – “Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward.”

I have seen people who exude joy in jobs that would appear very mundane. I have also seen many people who are obviously unhappy in their work, even though the job might seem to be interesting, or at least well paid.

In Lesson 5 of Self-Confrontation, we have a little exercise in the Student Workbook, in which students first think of activities that they typically look forward to with eagerness, anticipation, and enjoyment. Many respond with significant events such as birthdays, vacations, hobbies, sporting activities, family events, etc. Not very many respond with “going to work.” While we all tend to look forward to these things, we see from the Word of God that the deeper joy comes from finding contentment in where we spend most of our time: the daily routines of life, and even in the ups downs of life.  Paul expressed this very well when he described the “secret” of contentment in Philippians 4:11-13:

“Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Philippians 4:13 is a great verse, but we often take it out of context, implying some sort of heroic act. But actually, it is about finding contentment in the daily routine and the ups and downs of life, which is only possible because of the grace and help of God. Paul understood as well as anyone that life is tough. It will bring peaks and valleys, victories and setbacks (humanly speaking), and as Solomon states, “a time to weep and a time to laugh.” Having peace and contentment through all these things IS the victory.

As believers, we have this ability because of what Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 9:15 as the “indescribable gift,” that comes from the “surpassing grace of God” (verse 14).  In other words, the challenges of life, though there may be many, are small in comparison with what we have already received. This is not to minimize how difficult things can be: family relationships, work situations, financial challenges, health problems, and even one’s daily “labor in which he toils under the sun.”

Our Creator designed us to experience and benefit from our labor. It is part of how He teaches us to love. Just think about it: when do we grow most in love – when we are engaged in fun activities and special events, or when we have to make difficult choices to obey God (or not)? These opportunities to make loving choices often come in the seemingly mundane tasks of life: taking out the garbage with cheerfulness, disciplining the children with patience and love, doing work ungrudgingly for a boss we perceive to be demanding, and so on.

When you think about it, the greatest opportunities to demonstrate sacrificial love are in the unpleasant situations of daily living. Why? Because it is in the daily tasks that we experience tests and trials, and it is in these same tests that we that we must choose whether to love God and others or to focus on ourselves.

No one said this would be easy. But think about how this could revolutionize our lives. Most of each day, and consequently most of life, involves fulfilling our daily responsibilities. Rather than begrudging the daily routine, we should look for ways to show joy and love each day’s work (even if we may not “enjoy” it), finding satisfaction as we grow in our love for God and neighbor.

The additional benefit is that others may take notice. This is not always true, as people may seek to take advantage of this or test us even further to see if we are “for real.” But personal examples of love have drawn many, many people to the Savior, especially when demonstrating love even when it was hard. As Jesus taught, it is easy to love those who show love to you. But people often take notice when we respond with love and contentment even when it is not natural or does not feel good to do so.

Living a life of gratitude and contentment is radical living in today’s world, and usually unexpected. But that is exactly what God’s Word is: radical and transformative. Contentment is the “heroic act” of Philippians 4:13. Paul’s “secret” of being content is only by the grace of God, and may our gratitude be apparent to others this Thanksgiving and throughout the year.

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Steve Smith