Labor of love

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If working in God’s Kingdom motivated by love seems vague or mysterious to you, let’s bring it down to earth a bit and put it in human terms.

So Jacob worked for seven years to acquire Rachel. But they seemed like only a few days to him because his love for her was so great, Genesis 29.20.

Set aside for the moment that Jacob “acquired” Laban’s daughter and that he had to work seven years to do it. Focus on the next statement. Seven years seemed like only a few days to him. Time was telescoped to almost nothing “because his love for her was so great.”

When we love deeply, effort seems almost effortless and time passes quickly.

We can readily identify with a man’s love for a woman. Even old people can remember their more passionate days. Let this earthly illustration be multiplied a million times to picture for us the love we can and ought to have for God and how that will transform the work we do for the gospel.

The apostle Paul is our go-to guy here.

Faith working through love

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision carries any weight—the only thing that matters is faith working through love, Galatians 5.6.

When Paul mentions “the only thing that matters,” he’s talking some heavy subjects. What follows has three elements: (1) faith; (2) work; (3) love. These are three essentials when it comes to pleasing God and living the true gospel.

Faith is put into motion. Inert, it has no effect and is as useless as a sock full of holes. What is it that causes this faith to work? Love.

Some people are motivated solely by obligation. Now, a sense of duty is a good thing. More of it is needed today, in this world that lives by rights and demands handouts. But the weight of oughtness by itself quickly grows heavy. Alongside it must come the motivation of love.

Some see God’s love here in this verse, but it seems more natural to understand it as summarizing our response to his grace. Like Jacob working seven years and not feeling the time pass by, our love activates our faith in a beautiful way.

Labor of love

Paul’s middle phrase in a series of three that marvelously describe the Thessalonians’ life in Christ has become a standard saying in English. Paul gave thanks for them

because we recall in the presence of our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and endurance of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Thessalonians 1.3.

The term labor expresses something that takes a lot out of you. But when it is done motivated by love, energies appear seemingly from nowhere and one can maintain the attitude of whistling while you work. God’s Word version puts it this way: “your love is working hard.” How wonderful is that!?

A great love

Our love for God can be great — much greater than Jacob’s for Rachel — because his love for us is greater still. The opening phrase of John 3.16 can be translated a couple of ways. One of them sounds like this, from the Worldwide English New Testament, which gets rather effusive, but maybe that’s the way to be: “God loved the world so very, very much.” As an editor I cut almost every single appearance of the adverb very. I’m happy to leave them both in this sentence.

When we love God so very, very much because of the wonderful gift of salvation in Christ, our work in his Kingdom will be a pleasure, and the years will pass like the blink of an eye.

One Reply to “Labor of love”

  1. This article emphasizes an important truth but I am sorry to see that the NET Bible adds the same false doctrine as the NIV in Galatians 5:6. “The only thing that matters is faith working through love” (NET). “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (NIV). “The only thing that matters/counts” is not in the original. The original says: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any power, but only faith working through love.” Faith working through love is the source of power for those who are in Christ, but it is not the only thing that matters. On the basis of the NIV, one young man told me that baptism is not important because “the only thing that counts is faith.”

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