The word labor can be used to describe a variety of activities. And I’ll leave that up to your imagination what those could be. But regardless of how you envision what the word describes, at its simplest level it will involve effort in order to accomplish the task.
We live in a world where convenience and easy access to resources and entertainment are all around us. It is becoming so convenient to get what we desire. We can order it in one minute and have it at our doorstep within a couple of hours. Now, this is not true of every place in the world but it is very common in many places. This is not to denigrate those who have access to such conveniences. This is merely an observation.
The reason I make the observation is to ask a question: what impact has this convenience had on how we understand our faith?
My friend, Pastor Drew Anderson, has written several blog posts and two follow-up books that speak in greater detail on the questions of how, in my particular case, the American cultural experience has impacted my Christian faith. And I think it’s a question worth exploring. I bring it up in this conversation about labor to highlight the fact that an integral part of the Christian experience is the work of building vibrant faith communities in those places where we live. This is not some overtly strategic campaign by a local congregation. This is the simple call of discipleship and to discipleship for which Jesus lived, died, and was resurrected.
As Jesus departed from this earth he instructed the disciples to go into all the world and make disciples. This was the labor to which they had been called. And it is the labor to which we must enter in. It is not one we can pass off to those with official titles or organizational endorsements. The call to obedience to make disciples is the work by which we will be judged when we stand before God. Not that it will put our salvation at risk, but it will be a measure of our faithfulness to what God requires of his people.
For some, this may seem harsh or even exaggerated. But I don’t believe that it is. Think for a moment about what Jesus said in Luke 18:8. In that passage, Jesus asks a simple question. It is a question offered after describing the parable of a woman who persisted in seeking justice from a judge. Jesus asked, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
When Jesus returns, what will he be looking for? He himself says he is looking for faith. But what will be the evidence that faith has persisted? It will be the presence of his people on the earth. For if they are not present it will mean that his command to make disciples will not have been obeyed. But as long as disciples are made and formed by the people of God the hope that Jesus will find faith endures.
The season of Lent is a good time to draw these various strands of thought together. What does it mean to serve the Lord with our labor? What does it look like to obey Christ in the making of disciples? I think the answer to these questions is simple in one sense and complex in another.
It is simple in that we are called to faithfully declare the gospel of Jesus Christ. This means we point people to Christ for salvation. This means we call all sinners to repent, to surrender their lives and purposes to those offered by God the father. And it means we should not make it complicated for people to understand this message.
This can be complex for a variety of reasons. But I think the one that concerns me the most is when we add requirements to the message of hope and salvation that Jesus never did. Living a life of obedience is hard enough without the added burdens we can impose upon ourselves or others. The Scripture is replete with examples of people doing this. And each time those who initially heard what Jesus said, and those of us who read it now, are admonished to fight against the tendency and temptation.
So as we think about our labor, may we never lose sight that we do not work in our own strength. But we labor according to the strength that Christ supplies us by the Holy Spirit (Colossians 1:29).