The Labor of Love

“For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have showed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” —Hebrews 6:10

MINISTERING to the saints is one of the Christian’s most blessed privileges, and in our text the apostle described this as a “labor of love.” In I Thessalonians 1:3 the Apostle Paul writes of the “work of faith,” the “labor of love,” and “patience of hope.” The work of faith seems to refer to those activities of the Christian life which require faith to meet challenges, such as preaching the Gospel, and standing loyal for God, the truth, and the brethren in the face of opposition and persecution.

The expression “labor of love” seems to be descriptive of those kindnesses which we extend to our brethren because they are our brethren, and because we esteem it a great privilege to serve them—even to lay down our lives for them in rendering services which may tend to lighten their burden. All of the Lord’s people enjoy such opportunities—some more, and some less. Many of us have had labors of love extended to us, and how much we have appreciated these, and how much our own love for the brethren has thereby been increased!

Nor have these labors of love on behalf of the people of God been limited to the present Gospel Age. In the Jewish Age we have in mind the Prophet Elisha as being the recipient of the labor of love from a man and woman of God totally unknown to him until he became the benefactor of their love. The account of this is found in II Kings 4:8-18.

It is the story of a Shunammite woman, otherwise not identified, except that she is referred to as “a great woman.” It seems that at the time the Prophet Elisha, in his rounds of service, often passed through the town of Shunem. He apparently, in passing through, followed a road that was not far from the home of the “great woman” of the account. After noticing this, the woman used the first opportunity she had to assist, and “constrained him to eat bread. And so it was that as oft as he passed by, he turned in thither to eat bread.”—vs. 8

After this occurred a number of times the Shunammite woman said to her husband, “Behold now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God, which passeth by us continually. Let us make a little chamber I pray thee, on the wall; and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick: and it shall be when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither. And it fell on a day, that he came thither, and he turned into the chamber, and lay there.”—vss. 9-11

How much this “great woman’s” labor of love must have meant to the Prophet Elisha! And it was a simple act of kindness, beginning with taking him into her home for lunch, and then, with the consent and co-operation of her husband, building an extra room on the home so this man of God might have a place to rest when he needed it, and perchance to stay overnight. The kindness to this man of God was not without expense, because the building of an extra room on one’s home often is quite costly, but this woman’s love was great, and her spirit of sacrifice abounded toward God’s people, and we are sure the Lord was pleased.

Certainly Elisha was pleased. He instructed his servant to learn from the woman what they could do for her in return for all her kindness. She wished for nothing in return, but the servant learned from her that she was childless and that her husband was old, and that the probability of ever having a child was very slight. Elisha prayed to the Lord about this, and this prayer, coming from a righteous man, availed much. In due course the woman gave birth to a son.—vss. 11-17

But later, while the lad was still young, he suffered a sunstroke and died. Naturally Elisha was sent for, and he returned to the home, and restored the boy’s life. (vss. 18-37) Thus, while this “great woman” had not desired any favor from Elisha or from the Lord for her labor of love, she did receive a highly appreciated blessing, as is so often the case with those who unselfishly and wholeheartedly minister to the people of God.

Mary’s Labor of Love

Martha and Mary are two women of God who stand out prominently in the life of Jesus. Jesus loved them because of their devotion to God and to his Word, and they loved him for the same reason. Their brother Lazarus died, and Jesus returned from Galilee to Bethany, the home of these two devout women, and awakened him from the sleep of death. This was a genuine labor of love by Jesus, and they showed their appreciation in part by arranging for a special supper the next day, at which Lazarus and Jesus were present.

What a setting this was for a meal! Lazarus, who had been dead four days, had been awakened, and was with the others to enjoy the meal and the fellowship. Martha served at this supper. While it was in progress, Mary arose from the table, and using “a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, … anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair, and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment.”—John 12:3

This was a labor of love which was really very costly, and by it Mary, as best she could, showed her appreciation to Jesus for the great kindness he had bestowed upon their family by awakening her brother from the sleep of death. She had doubtless expressed her thanks to the Master before this, but in many cases words do not suffice, and this was so in the case of Mary: she wanted to back up her words with a pound of spikenard ointment with which she bathed the Master’s feet; and she wanted to use her own hair to wipe his feet.

As is usually the case, there was one at the supper who criticized this labor of love. It was Judas, but the record reveals that he was not sincere in his criticism. The lesson is that Jesus appreciated what had been done for him. Replying to Judas, Jesus said, “Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this.” Jesus recognized Mary’s labor of love as a real service that had been rendered to him. How wonderful that the Lord should cause the record of this to come down to us!

In another account Jesus said of Mary, “She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this Gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.” (Mark 14:8,9) What a wonderful example this truly is—“She hath done what she could!” We today do not have the opportunity of anointing the feet of our Lord, but we do have the privilege, in various ways, of rendering service to the members of his body still in the flesh. Are we doing what we can to render this “labor of love” on their behalf?


A member of the Early Church who was active in performing loving service for the brethren was Dorcas. Of her we read, “Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and alms deeds which she did.” (Acts 9:36) Dorcas became ill, and died, and “they laid her in the upper chamber.”

The disciples in the area heard that Peter was in the vicinity, so they sent for him. “Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and showing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them.” Then, putting them all from the room Peter through prayer restored Dorcas to life. This miracle soon became known throughout the area, and as a result of it many believed.

We have only this short account of the zeal of Dorcas in serving the widows by her sewing. But, like Mary, she did what she could, and as a result of her labor she brought blessings to many, and also—through God’s grace in awakening her from the sleep of death—many became believers. Thus through her labor of love the Gospel effectively reached others. How encouraging this must have been to Dorcas!


Another of those whose labor of love is noted in scripture is Lydia, the seller of purple, who maintained a home at Philippi. It was in Philippi that the first European church was established, and Lydia had an important part in connection with this, the first meetings of the brethren being held in her home. Paul and his companions were the first to take the Gospel to Philippi, going there in response to the call which he heard in a vision, “Come over into Macedonia, and help us.”—Acts 16:9

Arriving in Philippi, Luke writes that “on the sabbath we went out of the city by a riverside, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither. And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.”—Acts 16:15

Here was “labor of love” operating in the form of hospitality to the brethren. Evidently Lydia was not a poor woman. Although she is said to be of Thyatira, evidently she did business in Philippi and maintained a home there for convenience, and she invited Paul and his companions to be guests in her home.

The record states that God had opened Lydia’s heart, and now we see that opened heart reaching out to serve the brethren—to serve them in the best way she was capable of doing. She was not long enough in the truth, perhaps, to give a clear witness to the message, but she could care for the material needs of those faithful servants who were able to do this. Throughout the age the entertainment of the brethren active in the service of the truth has been a very important part of the total efforts of making known the glad tidings of the kingdom, and Lydia is in the forefront of this little band of servants whose labors of love have meant so much to the brethren.


Epaphroditus was a member of the church at Philippi, which was the first church to be established in Europe, and it was organized by the Apostle Paul. Paul was now in prison in Rome, and the brethren in Philippi decided to send him a gift to help supply some of his needs, and to comfort him. Epaphroditus was the brother chosen to take this gift to Rome, and to deliver it to Paul. This was evidently during the two years in which Paul was privileged to live in his own hired house, although in the custody of Roman guards.

It would seem that in addition to delivering this gift to Paul from the brethren at Philippi, Epaphroditus remained with Paul to serve him in whatever way he could.

Paul decided to let him remain for awhile—at least until he found out how things would go with him when his case came up for trial. He was hoping that then he would be set free and could visit the brethren at Philippi himself. Then he adds, “Yet I suppose it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labor, and fellow-soldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants. For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick.”—Phil. 2:25,26

It is evident that Epaphroditus had endeared himself to Paul by his faithful labor of love. The record shows also that this service had been rendered at great cost. Through his faithfulness Epaphroditus had become ill. Paul wrote that “he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him; and not only him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I send him therefore the more carefully, that, when ye see him again, ye may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful.”—Phil. 2:27,28

We can understand Paul’s feelings in this matter. He was being held as prisoner, and while it was for the cause of Christ, it is not an easy matter to be a prisoner, for whatever reason. This dear brother from Philippi had come with a gift from the church, and was serving him and became ill—seriously ill. Had he died, it would have indeed been a crushing blow to Paul—sorrow upon sorrow. But the Lord spared him. Epaphroditus had recovered and was now returning to his brethren in Philippi, and Paul wrote, “Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation: because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me.”—Phil. 2:29,30

Notice Paul’s exhortation—“hold such in reputation.” Paul believed in giving honor where honor is due, and he was sure that honor was due to Epaphroditus, for he had gladly risked his life to serve this beloved apostle—a service which Paul describes as “the work of the Lord.” We cannot visualize all the details involved in this service, but we can enter into the spirit which prompted it, and we can understand to some small degree how it must have brought comfort and joy into those weary days which Paul spent in the custody of Roman guards.

Throughout the Ages

Beginning in ancient times, and continuing even to our day, there have been faithful souls who have seen and used their opportunities to “minister to the saints,” and thereby have helped to lighten the burden of many of the Lord’s people. The Lord has promised to give his people the necessary strength for their every time of need; but often he uses his own people to render this assistance.

We have noted a few of the instances of this labor of love mentioned in the Bible, but we are sure that there were many other faithful souls who served in Bible times whose services are not recorded in the sacred Word. In many of our church gatherings today we have our “comfort” committees to serve and encourage those who are ill, or for other reasons need our help. Every brother and sister in Christ should think of himself or herself as a member of a universal comfort committee made up of all the Lord’s people this side the veil, and be on the alert to render help as opportunity and ability affords.

It is not in the big things, as a rule, that we are able to serve, but a cordial greeting at the meeting, a message of love and encouragement to a distant brother or brethren which may be dispatched by the congregation, and for which we have the privilege of voting. But these privileges may come in more definite form. We may learn of a brother or sister who is in need of much help, and help which will be costly to us. Let us not hold back in such cases either.

The Shunammite woman saw her privilege of building an extra room onto her home so that a prophet of God might enjoy periods of refreshment and rest. Dorcas sewed clothing for the widows in the church at Joppa. Not every woman is able to sew, but Dorcas was, and she used her ability to render a labor of love where it was needed. Epaphroditus did not hesitate to hazard his life in order to minister to the needs of the Apostle Paul.

All of us should emulate these faithful servants of the Lord and of his people to the extent possible, and by all means possess their spirit of sacrifice and devotion to the common cause of God in the earth. This is the true spirit of the Lord, the spirit with which we should seek to be filled as we lay down our lives in his service, following in the footsteps of Jesus, who gave his all.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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