In the United States, we value work so highly that we have a holiday named “Labor Day,” which ironically is usually a day off of work for most people. Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. Labor Day became a national holiday by an act of the United States Congress on June 28, 1894.
Labor Day is the unofficial end of the summer holiday season even though summer is not over officially until September 21. Popular vacation destinations are known to reduce lodging rates and ticket prices after this unofficial end of summer. The holiday is usually marked with important sales among multiple types of retailers. I actually got a bargain on a new Honda Accord last year on the Labor Day weekend. Again, a holiday that commemorates the hard work of Americans and is supposed to be a rest for laborers, actually creates more work.
Does the Bible say anything about these issues? Absolutely. At the end of the creation account in Genesis we note that “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Genesis 2:3). This day was unique in several ways. First, God blessed the seventh day. He did not bless any of the other days, but He did bless the first man and woman (Genesis 1:22). Second, God sanctified this day. To sanctify something is to set it apart for a special purpose. Christian sanctification means that Christians are set apart for God’s special purpose of glory and holiness. The seventh day is unique among the other days of the week. Third, God rested on the seventh day. His work of creation was complete and God ceased from His work. Did God need to rest? Absolutely not because God never sleeps or slumbers (Psalm 121:4). The Hebrew word for rest is the origin of the word Sabbath.
Observance of the Sabbath Day was reiterated in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:9-11). God commanded Israel to observe the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8; Leviticus 19:3) in order to help them to understand the goodness of God (Deuteronomy 5:15). It later came to be a sign of the Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 31:13)
God also created work in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 2:15 states, “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.” God clearly put Adam into the Garden of Eden to work. In verse 20 of this same chapter, we note that Adam is the one who gave names to all the cattle, birds, and every beast of the field. God created Adam to work in the Garden of Eden. Work was created before the fall of man in Genesis 3 so it is good and not a result of the fall of man.
However, work did suffer horrific consequences as a result of the fall of man in Genesis 3. Not only did God curse the serpent (Genesis 3:14-15), the woman (3:16), He cursed the man, and similarly his work (3:17-19). Apparently, work was not as toilsome and laborious before the fall because God said the ground would now produce thorns and thistles. Work would cause man to sweat because of its difficulty, but this would be required in order to eat and survive.
Work still possesses dignity because scripture always portrays the lazy man negatively (Proverbs 12:24). Work is a gift from God (Ecclesiastes 3:13; 5:19), necessary (Proverbs 16:26, Ecclesiastes 6:7), and it should be done as an act of devotion to the Lord (Ephesians 6:7: with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men). Being a hard worker should be part of being a follower of Christ versus laziness or stealing (Ephesians 4:27; 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12). Those who work diligently will be rewarded (Proverbs 27:23-27).
By the time Christ came to the earth, the Sabbath was no longer a day to be enjoyed by resting. It had become a day to be observed in order to demonstrate one’s piety. Jesus observed the Sabbath by attending the synagogue (Luke 4:16) but was derided by the Pharisees on more than one occasion for healing on the Sabbath (Luke 6:6-9; 13:10-16; 14:1-5). The Pharisees even rebuked Jesus and His disciples because they plucked grain on the Sabbath even though they did so to eat. The Pharisees considered such an act as “work” that was to be avoided on the Sabbath. Jesus declared, “The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath” (Luke 6:5). What the Pharisees had forgotten was that the Sabbath was a blessing to be received from God. Jesus declared in Mark 2:27: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”
Jesus is our fulfillment of the Sabbath. Jesus gives true rest. Matthew 11:28-29: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” In his writings, Paul showed concern for restrictions placed on his converts, which undoubtedly included the Sabbath. Colossians 2:16-17, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.”
We are no longer required to keep the Sabbath as a part of the law; however, it is a principle laid down at creation that is still in effect. The Sabbath today is really all about physical and emotional rest. Why do I need to rest? I need to rest because I am not God. Tiredness and fatigue are signs that I need to recharge, rest and sleep in order to be used by God for His glory. During His earthly ministry, Jesus encouraged His disciples to rest from their heavy ministry load among the crowds. Mark 6:31 states, “And He said to them, ‘Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.’ For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.”
How do I apply the principles of work, rest and Sabbath to my life?
Work hard in whatever you do. Any kind of work is dignified and honorable to the Lord. The stay-at-home mom and housewife works just like the president of a Fortune 500 company. Get up early, do not cut corners, shirk slothfulness, and work hard. The Lord will honor it.
Rest regularly and purposefully. There is no glory in wearing yourself out for the Lord. An old saying goes, “I would rather burn out than rust out for the Lord.” But what God wants of us is to “last out.” And if we are to last out we must plan times for rest and relaxation. Do you observe a weekly Sabbath just to rest? Can you take a nap “to the glory of God?” This seems to be especially difficult for many who are in the ministry. We seem to be afraid that someone will see us doing nothing! However, we underestimate the physical, mental and emotional exhaustion that comes as the result of studying God’s Word, visiting the sick, counseling, and other ministry duties.
Plan yearly extended Sabbaths. Do you plan family vacations? At the beginning of each calendar year, your family’s vacation should be the first event to be listed. If your children are grown and out of the house, plan times for you and your spouse to get away to rest and “re-create.” I am within days of my family’s vacation to Disneyworld in Orlando. I am so excited I can barely contain myself! Even though it is not a family vacation where we will just lay by the pool, it is a time for me to be with my family creating memories without worrying about the demands of ministry. We have planned this vacation for at least 12 months. Consequently, we have already reserved a week and lodging for our 2016 vacation at Daytona Beach. You must be intentional about rest and recreation.
Find a hobby. All of us need something to do for enjoyment. This could include: genealogical research, woodworking, cross word puzzles, gardening, reading, golf or tennis. Hobbies serve as a mental diversion and allow us to rest our brains.
Charles Spurgeon said in his Lectures to My Students (regarding the need for rest): The bow cannot be always bent without fear of breaking… Repose is as needful to the mind as to the body… Even the earth must lie fallow and have her Sabbaths, and so must we… Rest time is not waste time. It is economy to gather fresh strength… A little pause prepares the mind for greater service in the good cause.
Get busy and go rest!