Focusing on the value of work and celebrating its role in maintaining the health, welfare, and economic stability of our country is a good thing. Researchers tell us that average Americans (that’s probably not you, of course, since our readers tend to be characteristically above average) spend about 90,000 hours, or some one third of their lives working. Since we invest so much of our lives in that endeavor, it isn’t surprising that our Creator has a lot to say on the subject, and what better time to contemplate the issue than on Labor Day weekend.
There’s a Vital Distinction ~
Rather than attempt to highlight the value of human effort and hard work in our lives, it might be more encouraging to focus our thoughts in a different direction. It’s important to recognize that God places a clear and vital distinction between the concepts of grace and work, especially in the matter of forgiveness and redemption, but it’s important to remember, too, that the ideas do share a common source. God, in His infinite wisdom, created a unique blend of unmerited grace and a system of rewards for human effort. Together, those concepts ensure our eternal redemption and maximize our potential for blessing and benefit, both now and forever. Oddly enough, my favorite illustration of that principle didn’t come out of a seminary class or a Bible study group. It began with my first experience as a paid employee.
My first job was a part-time, cash-only, production-based enterprise. There was no baseline salary where I would be paid something for just showing up. I got paid nothing if I failed to produce, but at least there was no clock to punch, no boring management meetings, and no union dues. It was a simple one-to-one arrangement. I answered directly to the owner and there were no irritating intermediaries roaming around adding unnecessary stress and confusion to the job. All that was probably a good thing, since I was only five years old at the time.
A Counter-Offensive Called For ~
When my grandma fired up her wood-burning cookstove in our little farmhouse kitchen and opened the windows to offset the heat, the breeze wasn’t all that came in. The entire insect air force took advantage of the wide open access, and flies, wasps, mud-daubers, and other irritating aerial invaders would come in looking for a free meal. Clearly, some kind of strategic counter-offensive was called for and Grandma decided it was time for me to go to work. She handed me one of those 1950’s era fly swatters and said she’d pay me a penny for every one of those hateful little freeloaders that I managed to kill. I was speechless. Killing five flies meant that I could get my very own candy bar at the country store for five cents. Then I’d be able to eat it right in front of my greedy older brother without having to share it with him. This work stuff was going to be wonderful.
Before Grandma ever offered real money in exchange for doing something she directed me to do, she had devoted years of pouring out blessings on my brother and me that didn’t require any effort on our part. She demonstrated every day what unmerited grace was about. Grace was about our relationship, not our performance. Grace was about love, and Grandma loved my brother and me like she had given birth to both of us. We lived in her house for most of our early lives and were showered with every benefit she was able to provide. She and my grandpa put a roof over our heads, food on our plates, clothes on our bodies, and did all they could do to protect us from harm. When we were sick, Grandma was at our bedside. When we messed things up, she led the cleanup detail. If we broke something, she bore the loss of it. When we had our hearts broken because of some little thing that didn’t go our way, she dried our tears and promised that it would be okay.
Benefits of Grace Are Free ~
We didn’t earn any of those wonderful benefits she offered. They came along with being part of her family. We didn’t have a contract that stipulated what we’d get from her if we performed certain tasks at a designated level of proficiency. We were never threatened with losing our place at her table if we didn’t make an appropriate effort to reciprocate when she did good things for us. It hurts to admit it, but most of the things she struggled to provide were just accepted without ever acknowledging the sacrifices associated with them. I doubt that we ever questioned whether she felt like doing what she did for us, much less whether we deserved it. Grace is always about the character and the heart of the one offering it, not the performance of the one receiving it.
But work is different, and there was a clear distinction between grace and work in Grandma’s house. Her love, protection, and provision were freely given, but when she offered monetary compensation for something she wanted done, it had to be earned. Laziness or sloppy work affected both rewards and future opportunities. On the other hand, going beyond the basic requirements could also generate unexpected bonuses. Work was very conditional, and the rewards were personal and had material value. When we worked hard, we weren’t paid with a pat on the back and a hug. She might brag about what a good job we did, but we got paid with real money and could feel proud of having earned it. Grandma was more like God than I realized in those days.
Confidence on Two Levels ~
Salvation is not a negotiated contract between God and us that demands a contribution on our part. There’s no requirement that we meet certain standards and perform specific rituals. If we could have kept His Law, we wouldn’t have needed a Savior. Forgiveness for our sins is obtained by grace through faith, plus nothing. As Paul said clearly:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV)
The same love that offers such grace also provides rewards for things we do in His name, but that’s different from the blessings that flow our way because we’re part of His family. We can have absolute assurance in the grace that offers salvation, but we can also have confidence that work done in His name will not be ignored. This Labor Day we can embrace grace and work with fresh enthusiasm, because as Paul said again:
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 15:58 (NKJV)
Oh and one final thought. God isn’t the only one looking for workers. The devil always has a “Now Hiring” sign up. The salaries sound incredible, and he promises a lifestyle full of ease and excessive physical pleasure. The problem is that his paychecks eventually bounce — every time.
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to Tweet & Share from the pull quotes below. Each quote links directly back to this article through Twitter.
- “God, in His infinite wisdom, created a unique blend of unmerited grace and a system of rewards for human effort. Together, those concepts ensure our eternal redemption and maximize our potential for blessing and benefit, both now and forever.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Grace is always about the character and the heart of the one offering it, not the performance of the one receiving it.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Salvation is not a negotiated contract between God and us that demands a contribution on our part. There’s no requirement that we meet certain standards and perform specific rituals. If we could have kept His Law, we wouldn’t have needed a Savior.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “The devil always has a “Now Hiring” sign up. The salaries sound incredible, and he promises a lifestyle full of ease and excessive physical pleasure. The problem is that his paychecks eventually bounce — every time.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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