The labor of my hands is my professional occupation. The Bible puts great value on daily labor. Genesis 2:1ff. reminds us that God calls us to a rhythm of work and rest, and observed it himself in the act of creation. Jesus affirmed the call to work, “My father is still working and I am working” he says in John 5:17. And again, “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find at work when he arrives” (Matt. 24: 46).
- Our work enables us to earn a paycheck and provide for our families. In the depression era, putting food on the table and a roof over ones head was the overriding concern.
- Our work may enable us to pursue a lifelong passion; and contribute to the greater good of society.
- Our work may add to our sense of self-worth – and give more meaning to our daily lives.
- Our work may bring future rewards, like a paid vacation, medical benefits, or a pension.
But while being a professional may be biblical and certainly beneficial -- it’s not the best way to be a follower Jesus. Why? Because our walk with Jesus is not a 40 or 60 hour/week job…it’s a 168 hour/week way of life. I’m a pastor; but God save me from becoming a professional Christian. John Piper pleads with pastors, saying, “We are NOT professionals….There is no professional childlikeness; there is no professional tenderheartedness; there is no professional panting after God” (from John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals). Though I need the paycheck, I don’t want my deepest convictions and beliefs to be reduced to a paycheck.
In reflecting on this truth, it's occured to me that the biggest measure of my desire to follow Jesus is not how hard I work at my sermons; or how many people I visit in the hospital, or how well I provide leadership to our Session. The biggest measure of my desire to follow Jesus is probably how I act when I walk through the front door of my house at night; how I treat my wife and children. The other, might be the level of compassion I have for people when I am away from the church; or my desire to pray and to listen to his voice when no one is looking.
Most of you reading this right now are not “professionals” in ministry like I am, but I think there is a similar temptation for any follower of Christ to treat his/her spiritual life like a 40 hour/week job, what we do when we’re at church or around church people, instead of a 168 hour/week eternal calling. So it’s not surprising that in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he makes a distinction between two kinds of work…the labor of our hands, and the labor of love. Listen to Paul's words again from 1 Thess. 1:3 - “We always give thanks to God for all of you… remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 1:3). Paul calls their faith and service to Christ “a labor of love.” What does that mean?
The labor of love is my voluntary cooperation with God in his work. The labor we do for God is always a labor of love or it is nothing at all. We do it freely, voluntarily, in response to God’s freely given love for us. Unlike the labor of our hands, it is a work motivated not by profit, prestige, or personnel reviews, but by God’s love for us; and our love for God and other people.
Friends…we are not called to be professional Christians. We don’t follow Christ for a paycheck…but out of love for God and compassion for the lost.
Can we be professionals (teachers, nurses, builders, writers, caregivers, domestic engineers, students, pastors)…and Christians? Not only can we be, WE MUST BE. We can be certain that God desires Christians who are professionals; what he doesn’t desire is Professional Christians. God desires those who will join hands as his “fellow workers” (see Timothy's example in 1 Thess. 3:2); follow him out of the church, and into every arena of life.
I began by telling you the story of Bernice who stepped out of her professional role to perform a labor of love; that labor which love alone requires. Flash forward to 2005 when Bernice had discovered that the tiny baby whose life she saved had grown up to be a healthy, 6 foot 4 Anglican priest in British Columbia named Harold. She and her sister decide to visit Harold at his parish on a Sunday. What a meeting that must have been! Before the Communion Service, Harold identifies Bernice and says, “This woman saved my life”…and tells the whole story. As communion is served, a woman sitting next to Bernice apologizes: “In our tradition you are only allowed to receive communion if you’re a member of our church.” Bernice was very gracious, and conveyed her understanding.
But then, as the service came to a conclusion, Harold removed his outer vestments, and with the bread and cup in hand he walked to the back of the sanctuary where Bernice and her sister (who was not a believer at this time) were sitting. Harold knelt down before Bernice and said with tears, “Bernice, this bread is Christ’s body, broken for you…and this is his blood poured out for you.” Do you see what Harold did? Harold loved someone more than his profession or his power. He loved Jesus and this woman more; and so he removed his outer vestments, these signs of his profession and priestly authority, and (for Jesus' sake) honored this woman who saved his life so many years ago for Jesus’ sake – truly a labor of love.
My wife Lisa reflected on this story with me as we were talking the other night and pointed out the fundamental question that it raises: What are the vestments and the outer trappings of professionalism and power and pride that Christ is asking us to remove or lay aside in order to serve and honor and love someone in HIS name? Jesus set the example! He humbled himself, he took the form of a servant, laying aside the power and privilege he shared with the Father before the world began…so that he could live with us and lay down his life for us on the cross – the greatest labor of love this world has ever seen. God save us from becoming professional Christians; and like our Lord, help us to do the labor that love requires.