The debate on working to live vs. living to work

As a boy, I asked my teacher what Labor Day was about. She told me that it was a day to honor hard, honest work. My next sincere inquiry was, “If it’s a day to honor work, why is it a holiday from work?”

Actually, Labor Day in Canada can be traced back to April 14, 1872 when a parade was staged in Toronto supporting a union strike for a 58-hour work-week. So in fact, Labor Day celebrates the achievements of workers and their labour unions, not work.

There is, however, a place for the development of a good work ethic and labor can be very satisfying. For example, studies have indicated that children who are raised sharing the family workload and holding part-time jobs experience a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. They also tend to exhibit maturity and a balanced emotional life.

The same is true in ministry. Younger ministers often visited popular British preacher G. Campbell Morgan to ask him the secret of his success. Morgan always gave the same response. “Work; hard work; and again, work!” He lived up to his own advice. He was in his study at 6 a.m. daily searching for, in his own words, “rich treasures from my Bible to pass on to God’s people.”

The New Testament teaches that, “He who does not work shall not eat” and “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ…we command people…to get to work, and earn their own living” (2 Thessalonians 3:10,12).

This is not an attempt to build a case for, or to legitimize workaholism. On the contrary. Men’s Journal, reporting on George Clooney’s obsession with work, quotes Clooney as saying, “I wake up feeling like I’ve missed something. Sleep is something I actually have to force myself to do. I don’t look forward to it.” A classic example of living to work instead of working to live.

Always balanced in His approach, Jesus emphasized the importance of work, but also highlighted the need for rest. He explained in John 9:4 that He came to “…work the works of God who sent Him…” However, when ministry became so hectic that “…the disciples did not even have a chance to eat…” Jesus told them, “…Let’s go to a place where we can…get some rest” (Mark 6:31).

It would be nice to find the same healthy balance wouldn’t it? To enjoy work, but still appreciate our time off. Have a safe, restful and enjoyable Labor Day weekend.

— Pastor Ross Helgeton is senior pastor at Erskine Evangelical Free Church