What the Bible Says About Labor

And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
—1 Thessalonians 5:14


In the United States, Labor Day comes around the first Monday of every September. For many, the day means four important things: (1) it’s time for pumpkin everything, (2) the kids are back in school (3) it’s football season and (4) don’t even think about wearing white until after Memorial Day (last Monday in May).

But did you know the holiday started in the late 19th Century as a way to honor the many ways that the American labor movement contributed to the country’s strength, prosperity, laws and wellbeing? What’s more:

That’s a biblical concept.

The Apostle Paul wrote two letters that became the New Testament books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Paul wrote the letters to Christians in the Greek port city of Thessalonica, but the concepts he laid out apply to today’s labor pool.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:14, Paul identified four groups of people, highlighted below.

1. Employed and contributing members of society

These are people who use their talents, innovation and creativity to provide products or services that contribute to the wellbeing of their families, communities and nation. This is where we at Food for the Hungry work to bring people so they can end poverty in the lives of not just themselves, but of their entire community. (Read how Food for the Hungry helped one Cambodian community get to this spot.)

2. Idle people

In his second letter, Paul sternly criticizes people who are able to work but choose not to, saying, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10, NIV). I’d call that strong encouragement to turn off the TV and find a job, wouldn’t you? According to the Bible, welfare or development programs that reward able-bodied people for not working destroy their society’s wellbeing. These people use resources but are unwilling to apply their own creativity, innovation and muscles to help produce those resources, even when they could.

3. Encouragers

These are people who recognize that not all unemployed people are lazy. Many are simply young, immature, naïve or unskilled—living on the sidelines of life because they don’t know how to make a living. The encouragers provide training and coaching to sidelined people. That’s what Food for the Hungry means when we talk about “walking alongside” people. We help them learn skills to put their creativity and innovation to work. We also teach sidelined people to manage money, how to save money and how to become part of the employed first group. (Read about one woman’s experience with FH savings groups.)

4. The weak

There are people who need extra help. Maybe they’re disabled, elderly, ill or widows who need to take care of young children rather than spend their days at a job. In a healthy society, community members work together to care for those who are unable to work. But America’s half-century War on Poverty has proven that care must be taken in setting policies for providing help. It must be done in a way that it helps needy people without creating dependence and a larger group of people in the idle group that Paul identified. (Read what the Heritage Foundation says about America’s War on Poverty.)

Thoughts on Labor Day

Another biblical concept of America’s labor movement is in Luke 10:7:

… the laborer is worthy of his wages.

American labor unions came into existence to protect hard-working, diligent and faithful employees with fair wages, laws and working conditions. The unions and organizations collaborated to achieve these just conditions. But human nature took over, and in seeped a sense of entitlement that resulted in a “them vs. us” mentality. Each side began fighting against the other to get the best deal for their side. Away went the sense of collaboration for the good of all.

When we at Food for the Hungry work with communities, we try to instill and protect the collaborative aspect of a healthy society. We understand that poverty isn’t a lack of money. It’s a lack of a mindset toward honoring God through work, labor and contributing to the overall wellbeing of the community. And we work to strengthen the primary social institution: the family.

You can help us do that through your generous donation to the work of Food for the Hungry or through child sponsorship.