The Day after Labor Day

Topical Scripture: 1 Corinthians 3:10–15

Labor Day is the day when we do the opposite of what the name says. It’s a bit oxymoronic, like “jumbo shrimp” or “plastic silverware.” Nonetheless, it’s good to have a day not to labor. But the day will soon be over, and the world will be waiting when we get back.

What could we decide today that would make the day after Labor Day as hopeful and fulfilling as possible?

There are more than 155 million Americans in full-time and part-time employment today. Researchers say we work for six reasons, on a scale from less to most meaningful:

  • Inertia: working to do what we’ve always done
  • Economic pressure: working to make a financial living
  • Emotional pressure: working to please family, friends, and society
  • Potential: working to fulfill personal goals for a better future
  • Purpose: working for a sense of accomplishment
  • Play: working because we find joy and fulfillment in what we do.

All six are legitimate, but obviously, the more we can move further to the side of meaning, the better. When we can’t believe someone pays us to do what we do, we’re in a good place.

In our walk through the Sermon on the Mount, last week we noted Jesus’ statement that whoever does and teaches the word of God “will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19).

The Bible describes specific rewards in heaven, crowns given to those who are faithful on earth. On Labor Day weekend, let’s explore the reasons to labor that have eternal significance.

Work for reward that lasts

Our text begins: “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it” (v. 10). Paul is describing his apostolic ministry as apostle to the Gentiles, a ministry that brought him to Corinth and led him to establish the first Christian church there. This is the “foundation” he laid; now that he has left the city, those who followed him in faith are “building on it.”

However, the apostle is clear: “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (v. 11). He is the one true foundation of the church, the rock upon which we stand as Christians.

Now Paul comes to our choice: “Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw” (v. 12). We can build on Christ using materials that are precious and last, or material that are cheap and temporal.

Here’s why we should give God our best: “each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done” (v. 13). The “Day” to which he refers is the day of judgment when “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Here’s the good news: “If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward” (v. 14). As fire reveals gold, silver, and precious stones for what they are, so God’s judgment will reveal the good works we have done in his name and for his glory. For them, we will “receive a reward.”

Here’s the bad news: “If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (v. 15). At question is not our salvation. If we have asked Jesus Christ to forgive our sins and become our Lord and Savior, he answered our prayer and made us the children. We will therefore “be saved,” no matter what. But we will forfeit eternal reward that God can give only to those who are faithful to him.

It stands to reason that we would want to work most for that which is most valuable. Eternal rewards in heaven are the most valuable purpose for which to work on earth.

Seek crowns in heaven

The Bible describes these rewards as “crowns.” It’s a powerful metaphor. In the ancient world (and today), crowns are made of the best materials and awarded only to the most significant people. To wear a crown is to be royalty, to be recognized above all others.

Scripture lists four such crowns that God wants to give all of us.

First, there is the “imperishable crown.” “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:24–25 NIV).

Here we learn about the importance of “strict training,” of running “in such a way as to get the prize.” This means to live with discipline, to know and live by God’s word, to walk with him daily as his Spirit empowers us.

Are you in “strict training”? Are you walking daily with your Lord?

Second, there is the “crown of life.” “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12 NIV). Jesus said, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

This crown comes to those who choose to suffer in order to be faithful to their Lord. When we take unpopular but biblical stands, when we share our faith with those who ridicule us, when we serve Christ in hard places and times, he knows what we do for him. And he rewards us forever.

When was the last time it cost you something significant to follow Jesus?

Third, there is the “soul-winner’s crown.” “What is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 NIV).

Paul is speaking of Thessalonians he led to Christ when he came to their city. There, he “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.’ And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women” (Acts 17:2–4).

Now he rejoices that these and others he helped find Christ will be “the crown in which we will glory.” Every person you lead closer to Christ is such a crown waiting for you. How many will you have in heaven?

Fourth, there is the “crown of righteousness.” “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7–8 NIV).

This crown comes to those who are faithful to the end, who glorify Christ with their lives and service until he calls them home. We cannot know that we will be faithful until the day we die. But we can decide every day to be ready to meet him every day, until that day comes.

Have you made that commitment yet today?


If we live with spiritual discipline, paying any price to serve Jesus, leading others to him and being ready to meet him daily, we will live and work in ways God can bless. We will give him our best and receive his best.

C. S. Lewis once said that there are two kinds of people. Some say to God, “Your will be done.” For them, meeting God in judgment will be reward and victory. To the others, God must finally say, “Your will be done.” They have rejected heaven, or rewards in heaven.

Is it his will or yours? You have only today to decide.

I’ll close with a personal word. More than four decades years ago, like millions of other people, I was preparing on Labor Day weekend to go to college. Choosing God’s will or my will was the major issue before me.

My dream was to become a professional tennis player or trumpet player. My parents, being a bit more realistic, would have preferred that I become a doctor. I knew that God had called me into the ministry of the word.

So, I kept all my options open. I chose to major in music, medicine, and religion, while keeping up my tennis game on the side. I tried to do my will and God’s will at the same time.

But I was miserable. I wasn’t happy in school or in life. I actually made plans to transfer to another university, hoping that would help.

Then, three of my professors befriended me. They gave me opportunities to teach Bible studies and preach sermons, to become involved in the ministry to which I knew I had been called.

And the more I served Jesus, the more I came to love Jesus. And the more I came to love the life he intended for me. Through that process, I chose to submit my life to God’s purpose for my life.

Looking back on that decision forty-three years later, I will always be grateful I chose his will over my own. Always.

I’ll make you a personal promise: if you’ll choose his will over yours, you’ll be glad you did. You will receive eternal rewards that far outweigh their cost, and you’ll live a life on earth of significance, purpose, and joy.

My college pastor told me something I’ve never forgotten: “The will of God never leads where the grace of God cannot sustain.” If you’ll live for God in heaven, you’ll live your best life on earth.”

This is the promise, and the invitation, of God.

Two Words That Will Change the World

Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:21–24

Ryan Diviney was a star athlete in high school before enrolling in West Virginia University in Morgantown. He planned to go into law and dreamed of becoming a judge or even a US senator.

On November 7, 2009, he and a friend got into a verbal altercation with some young men outside a Dairy Mart convenience store in Morgantown. Then a WVU student steaked up behind Ryan and punched him in the face. He fell to the ground, then another student kicked him in the head.

Ryan’s jaw was broken, his skull was fractured in two places, and he began bleeding from the brain. For nearly a decade, he lived in a vegetative state. His father quit his job to devote himself to Ryan’s daily care at home. His mother kept working, in part to maintain the family’s health insurance. His sister, inspired by her brother’s plight, became a special-education teacher.

Ryan died 10 years later at the age of twenty-nine.

The student who punched him spent a year in prison; the one who kicked him spent four years in prison. All these years later, Ryan’s father says he remains angry at the two. Any father would feel the same.

But imagine the difference if the two men who attacked Ryan came to his family today and said, “I’m sorry.” Or better, imagine the difference if they had said those words rather than attacking Ryan in the first place.

Imagine the difference in marriages if every couple sought reconciliation rather than pursuing retribution. Imagine the difference in friendships and employment relationships. Imagine the difference in national affairs and geopolitical challenges.

Is there a place in your life where you need to hear those words? Where you need to speak them?

Let’s see how two words can change the world, and how they can change your world and mine.

Refuse to hate or hurt

Jesus continues his Sermon: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be liable to judgment'” (v. 21).

They “heard” this because the rabbis read the law to them in the synagogue each Sabbath, including this Sixth Commandment (Exodus 20:13). A murderer was “liable to judgment,” the local tribunal composed of seven persons. These tribunals inflicted punishment for capital crimes.

Now we find Jesus’ commentary: “But I say you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (v. 22a).

Jesus is not dealing here with the simple emotion of anger. This is an inevitable human reaction to hurt or harm. And it was an emotion Jesus felt himself. In Mark 3:5 Jesus “looked around at them with anger” for their unbelief; in John 2:15 he drove the moneychangers out of the Temple. Ephesians 4:26 tells us, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” The emotion of anger is not a sin.

He is dealing with a different thing here. In the Greek language, thumos describes the spontaneous and unavoidable emotion of anger; it is not the word here. Orge is this word; it means anger that is long-lived, cherished in the heart, nursed and kept alive. The deliberate choice to continue holding onto your anger. Absolute unwillingness to pardon and move on.

Such cherished anger makes us “liable to judgment.” In other words, hating my brother is as wrong as the murder which hate spawns.

Jesus continues: “Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin” (v. 22b NIV). “Raca” was an Aramaic term of contempt which literally meant “empty-headed” or stupid. In ancient Judaism names were much more significant than they are for us. A name denoted a person’s character, and a word took on its own life and power.

So expressing your cherished anger by a term of contempt made you answerable not to the local tribunal but to the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of ancient Israel. They typically required reparations in money for such an insult to a person’s reputation and status.

Jesus then adds, “and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the fire of hell” (v. 22c).

“Fool” was the worst, most slanderous term you could use against a person in ancient Israel. It comes from the Greek word for “moron,” and meant a person who is morally deficient, corrupted, immoral, a person with no character or value whatsoever.

This level of anger deserves “the fire of hell.” The Greek says, “the gehenna of fire.” The Valley of Gehenna stood to the south of Jerusalem. During the reigns of wicked kings Ahaz and Manasseh, children were sacrificed to idols there. King Josiah stamped out such heinous sin, and make the valley a trash dump. Fires were kept burning there constantly to consume the trash; worms lived there and lived off the refuse. Jesus would later make Gehenna a metaphor for hell “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43, 48).

What is Jesus teaching us? Refuse to hate or hurt your brother. No matter what he may have done to you. In a moment Jesus will teach us how to reconcile with him. For now, how do we handle the anger our pain has caused?

Act on your anger immediately, before it takes root in your soul: “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26–27 NIV). Deal with this infection before it spreads. Admit it and give it to God.

Guard your tongue, especially while you are angry: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless” (James 1:26). What we say shows who we are.

Choose to pardon, for your sake and his. Tim Stafford: “I would rather be cheated a hundred times than develop a heart of stone.” A wise old saint added, “I will never allow another person to ruin my life by making me hate him.”

The Didache is the oldest theological document outside the New Testament. It gives us good advice: “Love those that hate you, and you will have no enemy” (1.3). Ask God’s help, and it will be yours.

Who has made you angry this week?

Make things right today

Now, how do we reconcile our relationship with this person? Jesus will tell us: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (vv. 23–24).

“Offering your gift at the altar” describes the holiest moment a Galilean peasant might ever experience. Very rarely were non-priests allowed before the altar at the Temple in Jerusalem, and only when they were bringing animal sacrifice for a very special occasion. Some would prepare for years or all their lives for this moment. This is something akin to baptism for us.

There you “remember that your brother has something against you”—not just that you have something against him. “Something” is anything. There is no distinction here as to whether this is just or not, whether you are wrong or wronged. If anyone has anything against you today, you qualify.

Leave your gift. Don’t give it to the priest but leave it where it is. Despite the holiness and significance of this moment. The person comes first: “go and be reconciled.” Take the initiative to make things right. Only then can you give your gift to God. You cannot be right with me if you are wrong with one of my children. Our heavenly Father feels the same way.

How do we attempt this reconciliation? I recently read an article in Psychology Today entitled “Making Amends.” It suggests that a meaningful apology requires three steps:

Regret: recognize that your action or inaction hurt this person, whether you intended such pain or not. Empathize with the pain they feel.

Responsibility: accept total responsibility for your actions or inactions.

Remedy: offer restitution or a promise to take action so that you do not repeat this behavior. Find a way to resolve the situation and restore the relationship.

Take the initiative to reconcile with your brother. Go to the person directly: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15). Don’t talk about the person, but to him.

Do it now. The poet Edwin Markham lost everything when an unscrupulous banker betrayed his business confidence. He hated that man. And he could not write poetry, but doodled circles on paper for hours. Finally, he realized he must forgive the man or die. He said aloud, “I forgive him.” For the first time in months, words began to flow. Looking at the circles on his paper, he wrote:

He drew a circle that shut me out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win.
We drew a circle that took him in.
Start your circle today.


Many stories have been told about the painting of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. One of my favorites is that da Vinci made the face of Judas similar in appearance to a personal enemy. As the artist thought of how much he disliked this man, it was easy to paint him as the traitor of our Lord.

However, when he turned to paint the face of Jesus, he could not. His eyes wandered to the face of his enemy, creating thoughts within his heart which made it impossible to concentrate on the beauty and purity of Jesus. He painted the face of Christ only after he painted out the face of Judas and reconciled himself with his enemy.

To paint the face of Christ tomorrow, whose face must you change today?