After the Mayflower arrived in the New World in November of 1620, all the land was held in common, essentially a level of socialism. This experiment nearly marked the end of the colony, as land was divided equally among all the colonists and the labor necessary to improve and maintain it was expected from everyone without their work being rewarded in return. But this situation caused discontent and poverty. Governor William Bradford said, “Young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did regret that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense…that was thought injustice.” When Governor Bradford took charge in the second year of the colony after Governor Carver died, he changed from common ownership to the privatizing of the land, and as a result the fortunes of the Plymouth colony drastically changed. They literally went from a condition of nearly starving, to one of plenty. Governor Bradford said at their second feast of thanksgiving, “This had very good success, for it made all hands industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been.” In other words, through privatization the Pilgrims went from a condition of want, to a condition of plenty. His view of the value of work reflected the embracing of God’s instruction to man that hard work is rewarded by blessings and plenty.
When Thanksgiving became an official national holiday under Abraham Lincoln in 1863, it retained its focus on the precepts of God’s Word, the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, and the rich fruits of Western Civilization realized through hard work and private ownership of land. This was reaffirmed in President Ronald Reagan’s first Thanksgiving message in November 1981, when he said, “the unequaled freedom enjoyed by American citizens has provided a harvest of plenty to this nation throughout its history.” He then called on Americans to “recommit themselves to devotion to God, family, and hard work that has played such an important role in making this this great Nation.”
In our Christian lives there are many things that encourage us and give us hope, but we know there is nothing that brings hope like our salvation through Jesus Christ. In a world that struggles with the very concept of God, Christians not only believe in God, but we believe we can know Him and have a personal relationship with Him. That means we can receive encouragement from Him in His Word. It means that when we pray, we are confident that He hears us and is concerned about the things that are important to us. Remember Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus. This man was seeking to know God, and Jesus told him how he could be part of God’s family. John 3:3, “Jesus replied, I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Later John wrote about the family of God and the relationship between the Father and His children, and between His children. I John 5:1-3, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too. We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey his commandments.” As great as it might be to be part of a family here in this life, nothing can compare to being “born again by God’s power and becoming part of the family of God. During the Thanksgiving season, when we share in the fruit of our labor with our family members, we give testimony to the love we have for each other. We all like to talk about the good times that we have experienced with family, as well as how love and support has brought us through the difficulties of life. Looking in on a family from the outside you can only observe the testimony of their love for each other, but being part of that family brings a person into the love and acceptance they observed from the outside, and is our testimony to the world about our family. As a result of being part of the family of God there is the safety and peace that comes from knowing that when everything around us fails, we are part of a family that God Himself takes care of. This is our testimony to the world that the Jesus can provide the answers for the problems that people experience in their lives and it is this testimony that can causes someone to desire to be part of the family of God.
In the recent election cycle, there was much debate about societal responsibilities and obligations toward the unemployed, uninsured, and uneducated in our society. While many of those affected by economic downturns truly desire to work and can’t find employment, there are a number of U.S. citizens who have become generational welfare recipients, preferring to remain on government welfare. It is interesting to note that the biblical welfare system was a system of work and family. The Bible is harsh in its condemnation of laziness and makes the Christian work ethic abundantly clear: “If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially those of his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” 1 Timothy 5:8. Paul’s instruction to the church regarding those who preferred not to work, “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’” Instead, Paul instructs those who had been idle, “Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat” II Thessalonians 3:12. Although God’s original design for work was perverted by sin, God will one day restore work without the burdens that sin introduced. Until the day when the New Heaven and New Earth are set in place, the Christian attitude toward work should mirror that of Jesus. “My food, said Jesus, is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work,” John 4:24. Thanksgiving is a time that we can thank God for the opportunity and freedom to provide for our family through hard work. It is also a time to recommit to do the work God has called us to do as believers, by sharing the good news of the Gospel to a lost and dying world.
Robert Andrews, Ph.D.