Labor Day falls every year on the first Monday in September.
This day was originally created to pay “national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of [the United States of America].”
Though this is an admirable goal and one that should be undertaken, there’s actually much more to Labor Day than labor itself.
Through our labor we can tangibly see the love of God. Through our labor, our vocation, our calling from God, God is at work through us expressing his love, care, and devotion for us.
Check out this excellent synopsis from Gene Edward Veith in The Doctrine of Vocation: How God Hides Himself in Human Work from the Modern Reformation:
All of the vocations are thus channels of God’s love. Gustaf Wingren, the Swedish theologian whose Luther on Vocation is probably the best book on the subject, summarizes the point:
In his vocation man does works which effect the well-being of others; for so God has made all offices. Through this work in man’s offices, God’s creative work goes forward, and that creative work is love, a profusion of good gifts. With persons as his “hands” or “coworkers,” God gives his gifts through the earthly vocations, toward man’s life on earth (food through farmers, fishermen and hunters; external peace through princes, judges, and orderly powers; knowledge and education through teachers and parents, etc., etc.). Through the preacher’s vocation, God gives the forgiveness of sins. Thus love comes from God, flowing down to human beings on earth through all vocations, through both spiritual and earthly governments.
Thus, God is graciously at work, caring for the human race through the work of other human beings. Behind the care we have received from our parents, the education we received from our teachers, the benefits we receive from our spouse, our employers, and our government stands God himself, bestowing his blessings.
The picture is of a vast, complex society of human beings with different talents and abilities. Each serves the other; each is served by others. We Americans have an ideal of self-sufficiency and often dream of being able to grow our own food, build our own homes, and live independently of other people. But our proper human condition is dependence. Because of the centrality of love, we are to depend on other human beings and, ultimately and through them, on God. Conversely, other people are to depend on us. In God’s earthly kingdom, we are to receive his blessings from other people in their vocations.
The purpose of one’s vocation, whatever it might be, is serving others. It has to do with fulfilling Christ’s injunction to love one’s neighbor. Though justification has nothing to do with good works, vocation does involve good works. The Christian’s relationship to God is based on sheer grace and forgiveness on God’s part; the Christian’s relationship to other people, however, is to be based on love. As Wingren puts it, “God does not need our good works, but our neighbor does.”
Be sure to read Dr. Veith’s entire article or his excellent book God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life.