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Volume 13, Issue 2: Femina

Loving Labor

Nancy Wilson

"Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us"—Romans 16:6

In the last chapter of romans, Paul mentions all the people he wants to greet and commends some of those who have been of particular help to him. Early on in this list is the verse above, where Paul mentions Mary who apparently ministered to Paul and his co-workers in a wonderful way. We can only imagine the sort of needs Paul and his entourage would have as they traveled. The obvious of course would be food and a place to sleep. But Paul would probably attract crowds of people who would want to listen to him teach. So Maryís hospitality may have extended beyond just those traveling with him. Whatever the case, it is obvious that Paul took special note of Maryís hospitality, for it was a blessing to him.

Notice that Mary bestowed her labor. What a lovely word. It suggests the image of a gift. This means her hospitality was not given grudgingly or sparingly. It is as though all her labor was wrapped up, tied with a ribbon, and given with the anticipation of delighting and pleasing. Hospitality that is bestowed is the sort the Scripture exhorts us to practice: "Use hospitality one to another without grudging" (1 Pet. 4:9). A grudging hospitality is not a joy to receive.
Mary bestowed much labor, not a little labor. And it was labor, real labor. Anyone who doesnít think hospitality is work has much to learn about giving. Maryís work probably included anticipating and preparing, organizing and directing, as well as hours in the kitchen and cleaning up. Though hospitality is a joy, it is labor-intensive. Paul was wise enough to know that Mary was working hard to provide for his needs. That is why hospitality is a precious gift: it is a gift of someoneís time and energy.
So what can we learn from Maryís example? First we must learn to bestow our gifts and services on our fellow saints. When God in His kindness establishes a loving, healthy Christian community, much hard work of serving one another is required among the saints. This may include putting people up, feeding them, loaning them cars, driving them to the airport, visiting them when they are sick, taking them meals, babysitting their children, buying them shower gifts, or shoveling their walks. Not only is a thriving church community dependent upon the labors of the saints to maintain it, but its very existence speaks of years of labor and self-sacrifice that have gone before in establishing it. Communities do not just spring up out of thin air. They are always the result of hard work over many years. Great blessings always require careful stewardship, and this necessarily mandates much labor that may be behind the scenes.
Scripture teaches that it is more blessed to give than receive. If you have ever been on the receiving end, as Paul was, you know how much of a blessing the labors of others can be. And if you have ever been very needy, as Paul was, you know how difficult it is to be left to fend for yourself. And yet, as blessed as it is to receive when we are needy, it is more blessed to be the giver. A healthy Christian community is characterized by people who labor for one another, looking after the needs of others (Phil. 2:4).
Though men and women alike have many opportunities to serve, women are uniquely suited for bestowing labor on the saints much like Mary. We can strive to provide for their needs in thoughtful ways to make their load easier to bear, whatever it is. Though we may not be privileged to have an apostle in our home, we are privileged to serve the people God puts in our path. Hebrews 13:2 tells us "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." 3 John 5—8 also mentions entertaining brothers and strangers, helping them on their way.
But serving has its temptations like everything else in this fallen world. We can labor as an end in itself instead of as a means to glorifying God. This is when we become too focused on the event and not on the people. We can become tired, distracted, and discouraged with "much serving" like Martha and forget that we are "bestowing." This can happen when we put together a big Christmas or Thanksgiving feast for many people, and then realize we have to feed them all again in the morning.
We may be eager to "bestow" labor upon some people who are very appreciative and who want to reciprocate. But what about those who wonít provide much of a return? Some saints (or family members) donít seem to notice our "great labor" for them. Jesus says to invite those who cannot repay us (Lk.14:12).
Mothers bestow great labor day in and day out. They do many things that no one seems to notice. Who sees the messes cleaned up, the noses wiped, the pots washed, the labor of managing the home? This is where it is necessary to remember Christís words on the subject: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Mt. 25:40).
Many times what is needed is a perspective adjustment. As women look at all their labor, they need to see what it really is: they are bestowing. Whether the recipients of all the great labor are family members, fellow churchmembers, traveling saints, or strangers, it should be seen as a privilege to bestow our labor upon them. It is a good work that not only blesses the giver and the receiver, but honors God and brings Him glory.

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