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You wake up and head to the kitchen guided by that familiar aroma. When you arrive, her hands are kneading the dough. The “top-rated” mixer that you gave her sitting on the kitchen counter. You know the mixer would save her some time, but for her this is a “labor of love.”

How many times have you heard that phrase? Its definitions ranging from “the act of doing something as a hobby” (Wikipedia) to “ a piece of hard work that you do because you enjoy it and not because you will receive money or praise for it, or because you need to do it (Cambridge Dictionary). But these definitions lack the passion intended in its use. The “labor of love” expression first appeared in English in the King James Version of the Bible, published in the year 1611, appearing in two Epistles of St. Paul:

  • 1 Thessalonians 1:3: Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father.
  • Hebrews 6:10: For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.

A labor of love is not an obligation or work. It is a gift characterized by sacrifice, not the expectation of reciprocity. When we do or give something expecting reciprocity, it’s no longer a gift but a trade. In distinguishing between work and labor, Living Stream Ministry explains:

“We need to understand the difference between work and labor. Work may be something which is not very deep and which may not be very difficult. Labor, however, is both deeper and harder than work. When we are doing work that is difficult to accomplish, that is labor. This labor should be of love. Love is the motivation and the characteristic of our Christian labor.”

Leadership is a labor of love; the opportunity to service others; not expecting something in return but for their benefit. John 3:16-18 (MSG) provides the greatest example of a gift and labor of love:

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.”

This doesn’t mean that leadership doesn’t involve work, rather that its motivation is our passion to serve, benefit, and edify others. It is demonstrated during good times (times of plenty) and bad times (famine). The biblical example of Joseph provides a wonderful example. Joseph (Genesis 37:26-28) was sold into slavery by his brothers and would become second in power only to Pharoah. However, when famine struck and he was afforded the opportunity to take revenge upon his brothers instead demonstrated love and compassion (Genesis 45: 4-5, TLB):

“Come over here,” he said. So they came closer. And he said again, “I am Joseph, your brother whom you sold into Egypt! But don’t be angry with yourselves that you did this to me, for God did it! He sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives.”

As leaders, our labor of love is expressed through modelling appropriate behaviors, showing compassion, carefully choosing the words we speak, and through the sacrifices we make (Ephesians 4:32, 1 Thessalonians 5:11, Titus 2:71 and John 3:16). But most importantly, when correcting inappropriate behaviors, providing honest feedback, avoiding gossip and divisiveness, and appropriately administering discipline (Galatians 6:1, Ephesian s 4:2, 1 Timothy 4:7, Titus 3:10 and Revelation 3:19). Ephesians 4:32 (ESV) reinforces these principles by telling us:

“Be kind, humble, gentle, and patient. Don’t be angry with each other, but forgive each other. If you feel someone has wronged you, forgive them. Forgive others because the Lord forgave you. Together with these things, the most important part of your new life is to love each other. Love is what holds everything together in perfect unity.”

Challenge: Author Sarah Kristenson and Executive Coach Lolly Daskal offer the following practical, powerful, yet simple advice:

  1. Serve others.
  2. Instead of judging people by their past, stand by them and help them build their future.
  3. Listen with curiosity, speak with candor, and act with integrity.
  4. Treat everyone with kindness–not because they are kindhearted, but because you are.
  5. Don’t try to make yourself great by making someone else look small.
  6. The best teachers are those who don’t tell you how to get there but show you the way.
  7. Seek to understand others.
  8. Show empathy for differences and affirm others.
  9. Apologize when you’re wrong.
  10. Celebrate their Achievements.
  11. Keep your promises.
  12. Appreciate those who have supported you, forgive those who have hurt you, help those
    who need you.

Our labors of love honor God. Like David, we are called to lead with “a true heart and skillful hands” (Psalm 78:72, NLT). Read your Bible and find passages to support the 12 suggestions and commit to putting them into practice.

Join our Encounter workshop and learn how to live, love, and lead like Jesus. 

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