1607) Luther on Labor

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A few quotes by Martin Luther (1483-1546) for Labor Day (paraphrased).


If God did not bless this earth, not one seed would grow, and there would be an end of everything.  Everything, therefore, depends on God; and yet, God wants me to work.  God will provide the sun, the rain, and the miracle of growth; but if I do not plow, sow, and harvest, I will have nothing.  God does not want me to sit at home, loaf around, say “God will provide,” and wait until a fried chicken flies into my mouth.  God wants me to work.


It is true, of course, that God could support you without work.  God could make baked potatoes, boiled peas, bread, and sausage grow on the table before you.  But He will not do this.  God wants you to use your head and to work.  He gives us wool, letting it grow on the sheep.  But the wool is not automatically converted to cloth.  We must work it up and make cloth out of it.  When we get the cloth, it does not promply become a coat.  A tailor must make it into a coat.  And so on.  In everything, God acts in such a way that He will provide, but we should work.


Those who are faithful in their positions are rare birds in this world.  For faithfulness entails labor and disgust.  He who wants to discharge his duties in a right, God-pleasing manner will soon see what trouble he has to expect and how heavy the burden is in this world of sin.  Consequently, he will often complain that it is a hard and miserable life.  Everyone would like a high position in a job with honor and prestige and an easy path and no trouble.  But this is not the way the world is.  


To be sure, work is commanded for the body, to give it exercise, and to keep it from being idle.  But a person should work is such a way that he remains well and does no injury to himself.  We should not break our heads at work or injure our bodies, even though I myself have not overcome the bad habit of overworking.  For we also serve God by doing nothing sometimes, as he himself commanded that we keep a Sabbath Day on which we should rest and do no work.


The human heart is like a millstone.  If you put grain on the stone, it revolves, crushes and powders it, and turns it into flour.  But if no grain is there, the stone revolves anyway; but now it crushes itself and becomes thinner, smaller, and narrower.  In like manner, the human heart wants something to do.  If it does not have the works of its calling to perform, the devil comes and brings temptation, melancholy, and sadness into the heart.  And then the heart consumes itself with despair and pines away.


Psalm 90:17  —  May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us, and establish the work of our hands for us.

Exodus 34:21  —  Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.

Colossians 3:23-24  —  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving.


My God, Father and Savior,
since you have commanded us to work in order to meet our needs,
sanctify our labor that it may bring nourishment to our souls
as well as to our bodies.
Make us constantly aware that our efforts are worthless
unless guided by your light and by your hand.
Make us faithful to the particular tasks
for which you have bestowed upon us the necessary gifts,
taking from us any envy or jealousy at the vocations of others.
Give us a good heart to supply the needs of the poor,
saving us from any desire to exalt ourselves
over those who receive our bounty.
And if you should call us into greater poverty than we humanly desire,
save us from any spirit of defiance or resentment,
but rather let us graciously and humbly receive the bounty of others.
Above all, may every temporal grace be matched by spiritual grace,
that in both body and soul we may live to your glory.
–John Calvin, Reformer  (1509-1564)