“Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect,
not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.” 1 Peter 2:18-25
Labor Day, an annual celebration of workers and their achievements, originated during one of American labor history’s most dismal chapters. In the late 1800s, at the height of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, the average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks in order to make a basic living. Despite restrictions in some states, children as young as 5 or 6 toiled in mills, factories and mines across the country, earning a fraction of their adult counterparts’ wages. People of all ages, particularly the very poor and recent immigrants, often faced extremely unsafe working conditions, with insufficient access to fresh air, sanitary facilities and breaks.
On September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City, holding the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history. The idea of a “workingmen’s holiday,” celebrated on the first Monday in September, caught on in other industrial centers across the country, and many states passed legislation recognizing it. Congress would not legalize the holiday until 12 years later, when a watershed moment in American labor history brought workers’ rights squarely into the public’s view. In the wake of this massive unrest and in an attempt to repair ties with American workers, Congress passed an act making Labor Day a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories. More than a century later, the true founder of Labor Day has yet to be identified.
The passage of Scripture in 1 Peter 2:18 is one that we may tend to pass over because we think it has no application or relevance to us. The Apostle Peter is addressing how servants are to submit to their masters. When we think of servants or slaves, we think of one who is enslaved to another and has no rights, etc. We may think of Alex Haley’s book, ‘’Roots’’ and envision harsh treatment of slaves. But the word Peter uses here for servants is not the word used elsewhere in Scripture for servant or slave. That word is doulos and means one who is in permanent servitude to another, his will altogether consumed in the will of the other. The apostle Paul would often refer to himself as a slave or bond-servant of Christ and would use that word, doulos. But that’s not the word Peter uses here. He uses a word that means ‘’household servant’’ which is different from slavery. In fact, the root of the word for household servant is the same root of the word ‘’economy’’ which means ‘’household management.’’ In Roman life, one could volunteer to put themselves under the authority of a citizen in hopes of becoming a Roman citizen themselves someday. It was more along the idea of being an ‘’apprentice.’’ If you were a servant to a doctor, then you could become a doctor. It wasn’t a lifelong enslavement to the owner. So, the relationship that Peter is talking about can better be understood as an employee to employer relationship.
Some of you may be thinking, ‘’Yeah, that’s about right. My boss is a slave driver.’’ Wouldn’t it be great if every working condition were perfect? The truth is that rarely are any perfect, because working environments are made up of imperfect people. You may be in a job where your relationship with your employer or employees may be less than ideal. In fact, it may be a real chore for you to go to work on a daily basis.
I believe one way to look at your job is as a mission field. While it’s true that we ought to be fulfilled in what we do, our job is more about God working through us than us simply always enjoying our job. God has blessed you and placed you right where He wants you to be. Not just to collect a check, but to be the “salt” and “light” in a dark and sin stained world.