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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Labour (2)

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LABOUR.—The verb κοπιᾶν in NT Greek signifies not only the weariness produced by constant toil (see John 4:6 κεκοπιακώς), which is the idea attaching to the word in classical writings (cf. Liddell and Scott’s Lex. s.v.); it also has reference to the toil itself (cf. Matthew 6:28; Matthew 11:28, Luke 5:5; Luke 12:27, John 4:38), and sometimes to its result in the field of operations (ὃ οὐχ ὑμεῖς κεκοπιάκατε = τὸν κόπον in John 4:38). This extension in the use of the word is not confined, however, to the NT, and it is probable that it is borrowed from the LXX Septuagint . We find it employed, for instance, in Joshua (Joshua 24:13). Nor is it unlikely that Jesus had in His mind this passage and was even conscious of a parallel between Himself and the warlike leader of Israel’s armies, who brought the nation into a land on the development of which they spent no wearisome toil (ἐφ ̓ ἢν οὐκ ἐκοπιάσατε, κ.τ.λ.). The perfection of Christ’s human nature is emphasized by the use of this word in the Johannine narrative of the woman of Samaria (John 4:6), and it is worthy of note that the record of this incident is peculiar to that writing (see Westcott’s Gospel of St. John, ad loc.).

Closely allied to this word is ἐργάζεσθαι and its cognates, ἐργάτης which occurs frequently in the Gospels, and ἐργασία almost peculiar to the Lukan writings. The last mentioned word not only implies the business or trade by which men gain their livelihood (Acts 19:24), but includes in its meaning the resultant gain or profit accruing (see Acts 16:16-19), and sometimes the trouble or toil involved in the pursuit of an object (Luke 12:58). An ethical content is imported into the word by St. Paul (Ephesians 4:19), just as is done in St. Luke’s Gospel where a Latinism (δὸς ἐργασίαν) is employed to emphasize the warning of Jesus with respect to the conciliation of an adversary. ‘In medical language it was used for the making of some mixture, the mixture itself—the work of digestion and that of the lungs,’ etc. (Hobart, The Medical Language of St. Luke, p. 243). At the same time it must not be forgotten that this word is found in the LXX Septuagint (cf. e.g. Wisdom of Solomon 13:19), where St. Luke may have become familiar with its uses. A similar spiritual significance frequently attaches to the words κοπιᾶν, κόπος, and ἐργάτης in the Gospel narratives (cf. John 4:38, Matthew 9:37 f. = Luke 10:2, Matthew 10:10 = Luke 10:7; Luke 13:27).

Considerations like these show us clearly in what spirit Jesus claimed the active support of His followers. Theirs was to be no half-hearted allegiance. They were expected to work in His cause ceaselessly and in spite of weariness, for the field of operations was large and the toilers few (οἱ ἐργάται ὀλίγοι, ὁ θερισμὸς πολὑς, Matthew 9:37 = Luke 10:2). The conditions as to remuneration which obtained in the case of the ordinary field-labourer held good in the case of those who preached the Gospel (ἄξιος γὰρ ὁ ἑργάτης τῆς τροφῆς αὐτοῦ, Matthew 10:10, cf. Luke 10:7). His disciples were reminded that they were the successors of a long line of toilers who sowed the seed, of which they were about to reap the fruit (ἄλλοι κεκοπιάκασιν, καἱ ὑμεῖς εἰς τὸν κόπον αὐτῶν εἰσεληλύθατε, John 4:38).

This is a thought which has a large place in the Pauline conception of Christian work, and the Christology of St. Paul enhances the dignity of, as it supplies the motive power which guides and strengthens, the toiler (cf. τολλὰ ἐκοπίασεν ἐν Κυρίω, Romans 16:12; see also 1 Corinthians 15:10, Galatians 4:11, Philippians 2:16, Colossians 1:29, 1 Thessalonians 5:12). With this conception of laborious effort as the norm of Christian life we may compare what is told of Rabbi Judah in the Midrash on Genesis, who sat labouring ‘in the law’ before the Babylonish synagogue in Zippor (Bereshith Rabba, § 33). We are reminded of the exhortation respecting those ‘who labour (οἱ κοτιῶντες) in the word and in teaching’ (1 Timothy 5:17). It may not be out of place to call attention here to those incidental statements which picture for us the Apostle of the Gentiles and his companions working day by day to supply their physical necessities (1 Corinthians 4:12 κοτιῶμεν, ct. [Note: contrast.] 1 Corinthians 9:6, 1 Thessalonians 2:9, 2 Thessalonians 3:8).

Not only does the life of Jesus exhibit the great example of self-sacrificing labour for the sake of the souls of men; it furnishes, moreover, the principle that human life in all its phases is, at its best, a life of service. In its earliest stages obedience to parental authority (καὶ ἦ ὑποτασσόμενος αὐτοίς, Luke 2:51) leads the way to willing obedience to a primal and fundamental law which conditions man’s living to the full his present life (see Genesis 3:19, ἑν ἱδρῶτι τοῦ προσώπου σου φάγῃ τὸν ἄρτον σου, κ.τ.λ.).

The question of His Galilaean neighbours who were familiar with the circumstances of Jesus’ early life, ‘Is not this the worker in wood?’ (ὁ τέκτων, Mark 6:3), shows clearly how fully He adopted this principle as regulating the preparatory discipline of His young manhood. Nor must we forget that it was amongst that class which is dependent for its livelihood upon its capacity for physical labour and endurance that Jesus gained His most thoughtful, whole-hearted adherents (cf. Mark 1:16-20 = Matthew 4:18-22, Luke 5:5 ff.), while many of His most beautiful and effective similes are taken from the surroundings of the busy life (cf. John 4:35 ff., Luke 10:2 f., Matthew 9:37 f., Matthew 20:1-15 etc.). On the other hand, He reserved His profoundest commiseration for those upon whom superfluous wealth had imposed a selfish idleness (see Matthew 19:23 ff. = Mark 10:23 ff., Luke 16:19 ff.), and perhaps the most caustic remark in connexion with the life led by the unjust steward was that in which he confessed his inability for honest physical work (σκάπτειν οὐκ ἰσχύω, Luke 16:3).

The remarkable apocryphal addition to Luke 6:4 found in Codex Bezae (D), while primarily having reference to the Sabbath controversy, may not be without its bearing on this question. This passage relates that Jesus ‘seeing a certain man working on the Sabbath day said to him, “O, man, if thou indeed knowest what thou art doing, thou art blessed; but if thou knowest not, thou art cursed, and art a transgressor of the law.” ’ Westcott believes that this saying ‘rests on some real incident’ (see his Introduction to the Study of the Gospels, App. C); and, indeed, the spirit underlying these words is not out of harmony with the general tenor of Christ’s known attitude towards the active life of busy service. Whether any man’s labour is a blessing or not to himself depends, of course, on whether he knows what he does and recognizes its bearing upon his whole life and character (cf. εἱ εἶδας in the passage just quoted, where there is evidently a reference to the relation between the work done and the doer of that work [see Cremer’s Biblico-Theol. Lexicon of NT Greek, p. 229]).

A charge, which has been brought again and again against the Christian religion, is that it is too exclusive in its other-worldliness to be of practical value in the midst of life’s stern realities. Enough has been already said to show that such an accusation misinterprets completely the moving spirit of Christianity. At the same time, we must not forget that at a very early period of the Church’s history there was a grave danger of professing Christians degenerating into idle dreamers and useless busybodies (περίεργοι, 1 Timothy 5:13, cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:11). Against this abuse St. Paul felt compelled repeatedly to contend (cf. Ephesians 4:28, 1 Thessalonians 4:11), while he set the example in his own life of unflagging industry (see Acts 18:3 etc.). There can be no doubt that in his restatement of the law of social economics (‘if any will not work, neither let him eat,’ 2 Thessalonians 3:10) St. Paul was profoundly influenced by the life as well as by the teaching of Jesus.

No thoughtful student of modern problems can fail to note how completely the future of the Christian Church is bound up with her attitude towards the labour question. Year by year that question assumes graver proportions as the danger of a complete breach between employer and employed becomes more formidable. Nor can there be any serious doubt in the mind of a loyal subject of ‘the Kingdom of the Incarnation,’ that in the true interests of Christian development and progress a real active harmony of aims and aspirations between capital and labour must be established. Representatives of both must be taught that the only solution of problems which seem to baffle them lies in the recognition of the truth that at bottom all human life is true and sacred according as it may be measured in terms of service. Jesus, who employed labourers in fields of activity selected by Himself (cf. Matthew 10:5), points out distinctly the complete identification of employer and employed as being the root idea underlying all vital progress (ὃς ἂν θέλη ἐν ὑμῖν εἶναι πρῶτος ἔσται ὑμῶν δοῦλος, Matthew 20:27, cf. Mark 10:43). Nor is the Incarnation above the sphere of this universal law. The Son of Man Himself (ὥσπερ) came not to be served but to serve (διακονῆσαι), yielding up even His life for the sake of His fellow-men (λύτρον ἀντὶ πολλῶν, Mark 10:45 = Matthew 20:28; cf. Luke 22:26 f.).

‘The labourer is worthy of his hire’ (Luke 10:7) is a basal principle both broad and deep. It does not mean either that the employer’s liability to his servant is discharged when he has paid him his stipulated wage, or that the latter’s duty to his master ends with the outward fulfilment of a set task. Personal relationship involving mutual responsibility forms an essential part in the Christian solution of this economic problem. For the labourer is no longer in the position of a bond-servant but of a friend, and is to be recognized as such (οὐκέτι λέγω ὑμᾶς δούλουςὑμᾶς δὲ εἴρηκα φίλους, John 15:15).

Literature.—See three remarkable addresses on social service by Westcott in his Christian Aspects of Life, especially that on ‘The Christian Law,’ in which he quotes from Bishop Tucker of Uganda the salutation ordinarily addressed in that country to a man engaged in manual labour, ‘Many thanks; well done.’ Consult also Westcott, Social Aspects of Christianity; W. H. M. H. Aitken, Temptation and Toil, p. 209; E. Griffith-Jones, Economics of Jesus (1905); and The Citizen of To-morrow (ed. S. E. Keeble), esp. ch. vi. with the bibliography on p. 123.

J. R. Willis.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Labour (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/l/labour-2.html. 1906-1918.

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